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Friday, August 08, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday August 8 2008 - (813)

Friday August 8 2008 edition
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Britain Experiencing Biggest House Price Fall On Record
2008-08-08 03:01:11

Britain's biggest mortgage lender Thursday heightened growing recession fears when it revealed that the year-long credit crunch had wiped £20,000 ($40,000) off the cost of a home in the biggest annual fall in property prices on record.

On the day that rising inflation forced the Bank of England to leave interest rates unchanged at 5%, the Halifax said house prices last month were 11% down on a year earlier - the first double-digit decline since its monthly health check of the market was first published 25 years ago. Prices in the past six months have been falling at an annual rate of 20%, but the Treasury sought Thursday night to downplay the prospect of a stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers, saying it was only one of a number of options being considered for an autumn economic package.

Business groups and City (Intellpuke: City in London is the equivalent of Wall Street in the U.S.) analysts warned that deep and rapid cuts in the cost of borrowing would be needed next year to pull Britain out of its first recession in more than 15 years. House prices are falling more rapidly than they were in the property crash of the late 1980s and early 1990s, while official figures released Thursday showed orders for housebuilding 33% down on a year ago and orders for commercial property down 38%.

Fresh evidence of the impact of the global financial turmoil will emerge Friday when the Royal Bank of Scotland is expected to unveil losses of £1.2 billion ($2.4 billion) - the biggest in British banking history. Barclays Thursday announced profits down by a third, warning that it saw no end to the tough conditions of the past 12 months.

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Commentary: The Death Of A Nation
2008-08-08 03:00:49
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Ian Buruma, professor of human rights at Bard College, New York, and author of several books, including "The Limits of Tolerance". This commentary appeared in the Guardian edition for  Thursday, August 7, 2008. Prof. Buruma's commentary follows:

Belgium is in danger of falling apart. For more than six months, the country has been unable to form a government that is able to unite the French-speaking Walloons (32%) and Dutch-speaking Flemish (58%). The Belgian monarch, Albert II, is desperately trying to stop his subjects from breaking up the state. 

Apart from the king (who might be out of a job), who cares? First of all, the Walloons do. Although the French-speaking Belgians started the European industrial revolution in the 19th century, they are now living in a deprived rustbelt in need of federal subsidies, a substantial amount of which comes from taxes paid by the more prosperous, hi-tech Flemish. A handful of rightwing Dutch dreamers care, too, for they have visions of uniting Belgian Flanders with the Dutch motherland.

Alas for them, however, the Flemish have no such desire. Belgium, after all, became an independent state in 1830, precisely in order to liberate the Catholic Flemish, as well as the Walloons, from being second-class subjects in a Protestant Dutch monarchy.

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Study Cautions Against Strike On Iran's Nuclear Facilities
2008-08-08 02:57:00

A military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would probably only delay the country's progress toward nuclear-weapons capability, according to a study that concludes that such an attack could backfire by strengthening Tehran's resolve to acquire the bomb.

The analysis by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) found that Iran's uranium facilities are too widely dispersed and protected - and, in some cases, concealed too well - to be effectively destroyed by warplanes. And any damage to the country's nuclear program could be quickly repaired.

"Following an attack, Iran could quickly rebuild its centrifuge program in small, easily hidden facilities focused on making weapon-grade uranium for nuclear weapons," said principal author David Albright, ISIS president and a former U.N. weapons inspector.

The study, scheduled for release today, is based in part on a comparison of Iran's known nuclear facilities with Iraq's  Osirak reactor, which Israeli jets destroyed in a 1981 strike intended to curb Baghdad's nuclear ambitions. Although Israel struck a devastating blow against Iraq's program, a strike against Iran would be harder by several orders of magnitude, according to Albright and co-authors Paul Brannan and Jacqueline Shire.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Won't Ease Ethanol Requirements
2008-08-07 16:24:36
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) rejected on Thursday a request to cut the quota for the use of ethanol in cars, concluding, for the time being, that the goal of reducing the nation’s reliance on oil trumps any effect on food prices from making fuel from corn.

The E.P.A. administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said that the mandate was “strengthening our nation’s energy security and supporting American farming communities,” and that it was not causing “severe harm to the economy or the environment.”

The effect of the decision on fuel and food markets is hard to determine. Recently, high energy prices have led to even more ethanol production than the quota required. Rising corn prices, however, made some ethanol operations unprofitable, especially as oil prices started to fall.

So ending the quota might not have reduced the use of ethanol, but it might decline even with the quotas remaining in place. Still, the debate is fraught with symbolism - as a sign of unease over government intervention in the energy and food markets, with all the unintended consequences that ensue. The decision is an indication that Washington is unwilling to retreat from a policy that is very popular among grain farmers, if not among ranchers.

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AIG's Huge 2nd Quarter Loss Reveals Credit Market Woes Linger
2008-08-07 16:24:10
American International Group Inc. posted its third straight quarterly loss, a rude awakening to investors hoping that troubles in the insurer's mortgage market investments were starting to level off.

Shares of AIG fell nearly 8 percent in after-hours trading.

The world's largest insurer suffered a deficit of $5.36 billion in the second quarter after losing $5.56 billion, or $3.62 billion after taxes, in what are called credit default swaps, and writing down $6.08 billion, or $4.02 billion after taxes, in the value of other investments.

Credit default swaps are insurance policies to protect bondholders against defaults. Over the past three quarters, AIG has lost more than $25 billion, pretax, to credit default swaps, and more than $15 billion, pretax, in other investments.

Financial institutions that bet heavily on risky mortgage-backed securities have been pummeled since the start of the credit crisis. When the mortgages underlying these securities began failing, the value of the investments plunged, forcing companies like AIG to heavily mark down the value of their holdings.

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In U.S. Soaring Heating Prices Ignite Demand For Firewood
2008-08-07 16:23:40
On a recent scorching-hot summer day, workers at Reed's Firewood used heavy equipment to cut and split logs into firewood until it was too dark to see.

Despite its relentless pace, the family-run business is failing to keep up with demand as homeowners shellshocked by the price of heating oil look to old-fashioned firewood as a way to lower their bills this winter.

The cost of seasoned firewood in Maine has jumped roughly 50 percent from a year ago, but it remains a relative bargain when compared with heating oil, which is nearly $2 per gallon more than last year. Many customers are doubling their usual orders and some firewood dealers are turning away customers.

"We've really never seen anything like this before," said Lloyd Irland, who teaches forestry economics at Yale University and runs a consulting business in Maine.

While most heating oil customers aren't dumping the fuel altogether, they're using less by upgrading furnaces, turning down thermostats, insulating their homes and turning to alternative fuels, including firewood.

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Citigroup To Buy Back $7 Billion In Auction-Rate Securities
2008-08-07 16:22:52
Citigroup Inc. agreed Thursday to pay a $100-million fine and buy back more than $7 billion in troubled fixed-income securities from individuals who have been stranded in the investments for most of this year.

The settlement, with New York state Atty. Gen. Andrew M. Cuomo and other regulators, is likely to put pressure on other banks to cut similar deals over so-called auction-rate securities, which tumbled in value amid the credit crisis in February.

The deal with help an estimated 40,000 individual investors and others nationwide whose holdings have declined by about $500 million.

The nation's largest banking company agreed to repurchase the securities at face value from all small investors, charities and small businesses.

Customers who earlier sold their holdings at a loss will be made whole, Cuomo said at a news conference at his Manhattan office. Citigroup promised to repurchase the securities by Nov. 5.

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Hamdan Speaks At Sentence Hearing
2008-08-07 16:22:26
Salim Hamdan, the convicted former driver for Osama bin Laden, apologized to the victims of terror in a brief statement at a sentencing hearing on Thursday.

“It was a sorry or sad thing to see innocent people killed,” he said as he leaned on the defense table and gestured gently at the military tribunal here. “I personally present my apologies to them if anything what I did have caused them pain.”

He told the military panel deciding his sentence that he had continued working for bin Laden after a terror attack in 2000 only because he felt he had no options and was trapped “between two fires,” fearing arrest for his ties to bin Laden or further involvement in his activities.

The statement came during a brief sentencing hearing before the panel members were to begin deliberations on the sentence, expected at 2 p.m. Thursday. Prosecutors have recommended at least 30 years, but they said that the panel might consider that life in prison might be the most appropriate sentence.Before a lunch break, the panel members sent the judge a note asking how they would credit Hamdan for the nearly seven years he has been in detention. The note asked, hypothetically, how the time served would be accounted for if the sentence were 10 years. The judge is to give them instructions on the issue before they begin deliberations.

Hamdan’s statement was an unsworn plea for mercy permitted by the rules here, that allow for such a statement. The unsworn plea is permitted to an accused instead of taking the witness chair and risking cross examination.

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Armchair Astronomer Discovers Unique 'Cosmic Ghost'
2008-08-07 16:21:12
Hanny van Arkel was poring over photos of galaxies on the Internet last August when she stumbled across a strange object in the night sky: a bright, gaseous mass with a gaping hole in its middle.

"It looked a bit like an irregular galaxy, but I wasn't sure what it was," Van Arkel told CNN. So she posted a query on the Web site of the Galaxy Zoo project, which encourages members of the public to join in astronomy research online.

Van Arkel is a 25-year-old schoolteacher in Heerlen, The Netherlands, not an astrophysicist. But her startling find - a mysterious and unique object some observers are calling a "cosmic ghost" - has captivated astronomers and even caught the attention of the Hubble Space Telescope, which has agreed to take a closer look next year.

"This discovery really shows how citizen science has come of age in the Internet world," said Bill Keel, professor of physics and atronomy at the University of Alabama and a Galaxy Zoo team member. "There was a time when I spoke pejoratively of armchair astronomers. And I've gotten up at a star party and publicly apologized for that."

Not so long ago, the term "amateur astronomer" conjured images of stargazers peering through backyard telescopes, but today's citizen astronomers are as likely to be analyzing reams of sophisticated data collected by observatories and posted on space-related Web sites.

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Operation Of Large Hadron Collider To Begin Sept. 10
2008-08-07 16:19:51
Physicists, start your engines.

Officials at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, announced Thursday that their new particle accelerator, the world’s largest, would begin operation on Sept. 10. On that date, the physicists and engineers will make the first attempt to circulate a beam of protons around a 17-mile-long super-cooled underground racetrack known as the Large Hadron Collider.

The collider, 14 years and $8 billion in the making, has been built to smash together protons that have been accelerated to energies of 7 trillion electron volts, and examine the remains for clues to the origin of mass and new forces and particles in the universe.

The collisions will not happen immediately. The first step on the journey to new physics will happen this weekend, when engineers test their method of injecting high-energy protons, which are produced in a separate accelerator, the Super Proton Synchrotron, into the collider by sending a batch through one part of the racetrack.

In September, the first protons to circle the entire ring will have a relatively modest energy of 450 billion electron volts. Once the physicists and engineers have learned to drive their new machine and have achieved stable colliding beams at that energy, they will ramp up the energy to 5 trillion electron volts - unexplored territory - for a month or two of “pilot physics” before CERN shuts down for the winter to save money on its electric bill.

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Secret European Union Security Draft Risks Uproar
2008-08-07 02:56:46

Europe should consider sharing vast amounts of intelligence and information on its citizens with the U.S. to establish a "Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation" to combat terrorism, according to a high-level confidential report on future security.

The 27 members of the E.U. should also pool intelligence on terrorism, develop joint video-surveillance and unmanned drone aircraft, start networks of anti-terrorism centers, and boost the role and powers of an intelligence-coordinating body in Brussels, Belgium, said senior officials.

The 53-page report drafted by the Future Group of interior and justice ministers from six E.U. member states - Germany, France, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic -argues Europe will need to integrate much of its policing, intelligence-gathering, and policy-making if it is to tackle terrorism, organized crime, and legal and illegal immigration.

The report, seen by the Guardian, was submitted to E.U. governments last month following 18 months of work. The group, which also includes senior officials from the European Commission, was established by Germany last year and charged with drafting a blueprint for security and justice policy over the next five years.

Baroness Scotland, the U.K. attorney general, had observer status with the group to assess the implications for Britain, whose legal system, unlike continental Europe, is based on the common law.

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Commentary: Kafkaesque Rendition
2008-08-07 02:55:44
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Guardian national security editor Richard Norton-Taylor and appeared in the Guardian edition for Thursday, August 7, 2008. Mr. Norton-Taylor's commentary follows:

Lawyers acting for Binyam Mohamed, a British resident incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, are asking the high court to order the British government to disclose information that, they say, would show the evidence against him was obtained by torture.

The government is fighting the case. Of course, it does not want to reveal what Britain's security and intelligence agencies knew about the U.S. secretly transporting "enemy combatants" to places where they were likely to be tortured, the practice known as extraordinary rendition. To bolster its case, it has used its last resort, hoisting the flag of "national security". We have seen it before, most recently over the decision to stop the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) inquiry into allegations of bribery in the sale of warplanes to Saudi Arabia, and we will no doubt hear it again.

In this case, the government has told the high court that Britain is "hugely dependent in a number of areas on U.S.  intelligence". That intelligence relationship, it says, is grounded in the "fundamental principle" that no information passed between the two countries will be disclosed to a third party without the consent of the country that provided the information in the first place.

"Any disclosure, however limited, would seriously undermine this principle to the point that future cooperation between the U.K. and its most valuable intelligence partner, the U.S., would be severely jeopardized," the government argues. "This would pose a very serious risk to U.K. national security."

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Helicopter Carrying Firefighters Crashes Near Shasta - Nine Feared Dead
2008-08-07 02:55:04
A helicopter carrying a firefighting crew back to base for the night crashed in the remote reaches of northern California's  Shasta-Trinity National Forest on Tuesday evening, and nine of those on board are missing and feared dead, authorities said Wednesday.

The four others on board were critically burned, according to Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. Authorities have not yet identified all of the passengers.

The Sikorksy helicopter crashed about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday while taking off from a remote site about 35 miles northwest of Redding, in Northern California, officials said.

The chopper was shuttling a hand-crew back to its base in Junction City for the night, said Jennifer Rabuk, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. She said the crash site - Helispot 44 - was a "rough opening cut by chain saws" in steep rugged terrain with a tree canopy and underbrush.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are sending investigators to the scene to determine why the helicopter failed to lift off.

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Schwarzenegger Refusing To Sign Bills Without Legislature's Budget Plan
2008-08-07 02:54:27
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Wednesday that he would not sign any bills lawmakers send him until they pass a budget and would veto measures already on his desk before they can become law.

"There is no excuse for the Legislature's failure to reach a compromise and to send me a budget," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference, more than a month into the new fiscal year. "Until the Legislature passes a budget that I can sign, I will not sign any bills that reach my desk."

Under state law, bills sitting on the governor's desk for more than 12 days would automatically become law. Schwarzenegger said he would keep that from happening by exercising his veto if necessary: "I will veto anything on my desk."

"Some good bills will fail," he said. "But we do not have the luxury of stretching out this process any longer."

There are 13 bills on the governor's desk now, all of which originated in the Senate. Senate leaders said they would withdraw them before they could be vetoed. The bills could be resubmitted before the Aug. 31 end of the legislative session.

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FBI: Documents Tie Scientist To Anthrax Attack
2008-08-07 02:53:54
The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday outlined a pattern of bizarre and deceptive conduct by Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist who killed himself last week, presenting a sweeping but circumstantial case that he was solely responsible for mailing the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people in 2001.

After nearly seven years of a troubled investigation, officials of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department declared that the case had been solved. Jeffrey A. Taylor, the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said the authorities believed “that based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Some survivors of the attacks and members of Congress said they were persuaded by the evidence against Dr. Ivins, laid out in hundreds of pages of applications for search warrants unsealed for the first time; but some independent scientists, friends and colleagues of Dr. Ivins remained skeptical, noting that officials admitted that more than 100 people had access to the supply of anthrax that matched the powder in the letters.

Lawyers for Dr. Ivins reasserted their late client’s innocence and criticized the government for presenting what they called “heaps of innuendo” that failed to link him directly to the crime and would never have to be tested in court. “It was an explanation of why Bruce Ivins was a suspect,” said Paul F. Kemp, who represented the scientist for more than a year before his death on July 29 at age 62. “But there’s a total absence of proof that he committed this crime.”

The conflicting views of Dr. Ivins emerged in a day of emotional crosscurrents. At a morning memorial service at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, weeping Army scientists praised Dr. Ivins as a beloved colleague “known for his patience and enthusiasm for science,” as a written program put it. At the same time, at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, D.C., the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and bureau officials were explaining to survivors of the anthrax attacks and relatives of the five people who died why they believe Dr. Ivins was a mass murderer.

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Russia Claims Georgia Is Preparing For War
2008-08-08 03:01:00

The capital of South Ossetia came under heavy fire last night, hours after the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, denied Russian accusations that Tbilisi was preparing for war against the breakaway region.

"The assault is coming from all directions," said a brief statement on the separatist government's website.

Tbilisi said it was trying to "neutralize" rebel forces which it said were attacking Georgian villages, a senior official told Reuters. Casualty figures were unclear, but the escalating violence has raised fears of an all-out regional war, drawing in Russia, which has close ties with South Ossetia's separatist leadership.

Earlier last night, Saakashvili had offered a unilateral ceasefire and called for talks with the South Ossetian separatist leaders, but South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity blamed Georgia for the renewed fighting and called Saakashvili's ceasefire call a "despicable and treacherous" ruse, Interfax reported.

The Russian foreign ministry joined in the criticism, saying "the actions by Georgia in South Ossetia bear witness to the fact that the leadership of that country can no longer be trusted," said the agency.

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Bolten, Miers Continue To Resist Congressional Subpoenas
2008-08-08 02:57:11

White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers Thursday asked a federal judge to delay an order to cooperate with Congress while they appeal the ruling.

The court filings indicate that Bolten and Miers will continue to resist subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee as the Bush administration heads into its final months.

The plans for an appeal come in response to a ruling last week by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates. He rejected the administration's broad claims of executive privilege and ordered Bolten and Miers to comply with congressional subpoenas.

Lawmakers are seeking testimony from Miers and documents from Bolten related to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. After Bates' ruling, Democrats announced they would schedule hearings on the issue in September - less than two months before the presidential elections.

Obtaining a delay could head off such hearings until after the elections. The subpoenas also expire at the end of the year.

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Incumbent Tennessee Congressman Loses Primary Election
2008-08-08 02:56:48
A freshman U.S. representative on Thursday became the first Tennessee congressman to lose a primary since 1966 after a bruising campaign in which he was accused of selling out to "Big Oil".

Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe beat freshman U.S. Rep. David Davis by a 500-vote margin in the solidly Republican 1st District in the northeastern corner of the state.

Davis left his campaign party Thursday night without conceding the race, but Roe declared victory in a speech to supporters.

"I will try to serve you with dignity and honesty, just like we ran this campaign," said Roe. "Ain't it fun to win one?" 

With all precincts reporting, Roe had 25,916 votes, or 50 percent of the vote, to Davis' 25,416 votes, or 49 percent.

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Pakistan's Coalition Prepares To Impeach Musharraf
2008-08-07 16:24:26
Pakistan's ruling coalition announced Thursday it would seek to impeach President Pervez Musharraf unless he agrees to resign. The move could usher in a fresh round of turmoil in Pakistan, which has spent the last 18 months in a state of political upheaval.

Pakistan is considered a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, although relations have lately been badly strained by American doubts as to whether Pakistan's new civilian government has the resolve to confront Islamic militants.

Thursday's announcement marks the most decisive joint action yet by the two main parties in Pakistan's ruling coalition, which have mainly squabbled their way through their first five months in office.

"The coalition ... decided that it will immediately initiate impeachment proceedings," Asif Ali Zardari, head of the Pakistan People's Party, told a news conference in Islamabad. "The coalition leadership will present a charge sheet against Gen. Musharraf."

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U.S. Jobless Claims Rise To Highest Point In Six Years
2008-08-07 16:23:59
The number of newly laid off people signing up for jobless benefits last week climbed to its highest point in more than six years as companies cut back given the faltering economy.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance rose by a seasonally adjusted 7,000 to 455,000 for the week ending Aug. 2. The increase left claims at their highest level since late March 2002.

A program to locate people eligible for jobless benefits played a role in the increase, said a Labor Department analyst.  However, the analyst could not say how much of a role.

The latest snapshot of layoff filings was worse than analysts expected. They were forecasting new claims to drop to around 430,000.

The new layoff filings were distorted by the outreach program to notify people that they could qualify for additional benefits under a new law.

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As Bush Lands In Beijing, China Bristles At Speech
2008-08-07 16:23:14

President Bush arrived in Beijing late today to begin his Olympics visit, even as the Chinese government reminded the world that it opposes interference from other countries on human rights issues. The stern warning from the Foreign Ministry came a day after Bush spoke out in Bangkok against China's detention of political dissidents and religious activists.

"We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential," said Bush. "We press for openness and justice, not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs ...

"The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings."

Hours later, China issued a statement saying its relations with the United States "has developed steadily in the last few years" and praising bilateral communication and cooperation between the two countries.

"As for the divergence on human rights and religions, we always advocate that both sides talk from a basis of mutual respect and equality, to enhance understanding and diminish divergence, and enlarge mutual consensus," the statement said, according to a translation provided by the Associated Press.

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Editorial: Guilty As Ordered
2008-08-07 16:22:35
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, August 7, 2008.

Now that was a real nail-biter. The court designed by the White House and its Congressional enablers to guarantee convictions of high-profile detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - using evidence obtained by torture and secret evidence as desired - has held its first trial. It produced .. a guilty verdict.

The military commission of six senior officers (whose names have not been made public) found Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who worked as one of Osama bin Laden’s drivers until 2001, guilty of one count of providing material support for terrorism.

The rules of justice on Guantanamo are so stacked against defendants that the only surprise was that Mr. Hamdan was actually acquitted on the more serious count of conspiring (it was unclear with whom) to kill Americans during the invasion of Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.

The charge on which Mr. Hamdan was convicted seemed logical since he did work as Mr. bin Laden’s driver. But it was still an odd prosecution. Drivers of even the most heinous people are generally not charged with war crimes.

It is impossible, in any case, to judge the evidence against Mr. Hamdan because of the deeply flawed nature of this trial - the blueprint for which was the Military Commissions Act of 2006, one of the worst bits of lawmaking in American history.

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California Company Recalls Beef After Virginia E. Coli Outbreak
2008-08-07 16:21:41

A California company is voluntarily recalling 153,630 pounds of frozen ground beef, some of which has been linked to an outbreak of E. coli bacteria that shut down a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Virginia, this week, said federal officials.

S&S Foods of Azusa, California, is recalling 30-pound boxes of ground beef that went to distribution centers in Milwaukee and Allentown, Pennsylvania, on the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), agency spokeswoman Laura Reiser said Thursday. The meat was sent to food-service companies and institutions only, and is not being sold on retail shelves, said Reiser.

FSIS has termed the recall "Class I," meaning the meat - which contains E. coli O157:H7, a toxin-producing strain - presents a "health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death," the agency Web site states.

So far, Reiser said, the only E. coli cases linked to the meat are from Goshen. State health officials said yesterday that at least 27 confirmed cases of E. coli infections have been linked to the camp.

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Obama's National Muslim Coordinator Resigns
2008-08-07 16:20:10
Barack Obama's national Muslim outreach coordinator has resigned amid a controversy of over his connections to a man who the Justice Department named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the racketeering trial last year of several alleged Hamas fund-raisers.

Mazen Asbahi, a Chicago lawyer who had been appointed to help Obama reach out to Muslims, stepped down on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported late last night.

The paper had inquired about his relationship with Jamal Said, who served on a board with Asbahi in 2000 that is a subsidiary of the North American Islamic Trust, which holds titles to mosques, Islamic centers, schools, and other real estate around the country. Said had been named in an investigation of alleged Hamas fund-raisers, which ended in a mistrial last year, the paper reported.

"I am stepping down from the volunteer role I recently agreed to take on with the Obama campaign as Arab-American and Muslim American coordinator in order to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change," Ashabi wrote in a statement Obama's campaign staff released last night.

Obama aides said Asbahi had only worked in his volunteer position in the campaign since July 26 and they would appoint a new person to the job.

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Freddie Mac's Big Loss Dims Hopes Of Mortgage Crisis Turnaround
2008-08-07 02:56:57

The gloom over the nation’s housing market deepened on Wednesday as Freddie Mac, the big mortgage finance company, reported a gaping quarterly loss and predicted that home prices would fall further than previously projected.

The announcement disappointed those hoping that the housing market might be bottoming out and heightened worries that the government could be forced to rescue Freddie Mac and the other mortgage finance giant, Fannie Mae. The news also signaled that mortgage rates are likely to rise.

In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Freddie Mac said that “there is a significant possibility that continued adverse developments” could cause the company to fall below government-mandated capital levels. In an interview, the company’s chief financial officer, Anthony S. Piszel, said that warning did not imply the company believed that risk was likely or imminent.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which lubricate the housing market by buying mortgages from banks and other lenders and touch nearly half of all the nation’s home loans, have been severely weakened by the slump in the housing market. The downturn has forced millions of Americans out of their homes, cost Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars and helped depress the broader economy.

“Basically, things are still bad,” said Steven D. Persky, chief executive at Dalton Investments, a $1 billion fund in Los Angeles. “Freddie Mac is telling us that nobody really knows how much worse they will get.”

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Scientist: Prepare For Global Temperature Rise Of 4 Degrees Celsius
2008-08-07 02:56:25

The U.K. should take active steps to prepare for dangerous climate change of perhaps 4 degrees Celsius, according to one of the government's chief scientific advisers.

In policy areas such as flood protection, agriculture and coastal erosion Professor Bob Watson said the country should plan for the effects of a 4C global average rise on pre-industrial levels. The E.U. is committed to limiting emissions globally so that temperatures do not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius. (Intellpuke note: I did a quick check and 4 degrees Celsius equates to approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit.)

"There is no doubt that we should aim to limit changes in the global mean surface temperature to 2C above pre-industrial," Watson, the chief scientific adviser to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), told the Guardian. "But given this is an ambitious target, and we don't know in detail how to limit greenhouse gas emissions to realize a 2 degree target, we should be prepared to adapt to 4C."

Globally, a 4C temperature rise would have a catastrophic impact.

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FBI: Hospitals Used Homeless In Medicare Fraud
2008-08-07 02:55:26
FBI agents served search warrants Wednesday morning on three California hospitals as part of an investigation into alleged Medicare fraud involving homeless patients who were recruited from skid row.

Dr. Rudra Sabaratnam, an owner and the chief executive of City of Angels Medical Center, and Estill Mitts, an alleged patient recruiter, were indicted by a federal grand jury last week on 21 counts of health care fraud, money laundering and income tax evasion.

The men were arrested Wednesday morning as part of the federal government's criminal investigation, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

"It's a scheme that ranged from street operatives to the CEO of a hospital," said U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien, adding that he expects several more arrests in coming weeks.

At the same time, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo announced civil litigation against the three hospitals and their operators in what officials said was a "scheme to defraud the Medi-Cal and Medicare programs out of millions of dollars."

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Tests Point To Beef In Boy Scout Camp E. Coli Outbreak
2008-08-07 02:54:44

E. Coli found in ground beef at a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Virginia, matches bacteria found in samples taken from some sick campers, lab tests have confirmed, and a state health official called beef the "prime suspect" in the outbreak that shut down the camp this week.

State and federal officials are investigating how the meat was tainted and the illness was spread at the Goshen Scout Reservation near Lexington, Virginia, which has hosted Washington, D.C., area Scouts for four decades.

J. Michael McMahan, an environmental health supervisor with the Virginia Department of Health, put forth a theory Wednesday. He said there was a "huge" chance that the ground beef was contaminated before it reached Goshen and that it was passed out to some campers to cook over a fire, a camp tradition. However, because the meat was still partly frozen, it might not have cooked enough to kill harmful bacteria, he said.

McMahan said that interviews with sick campers seem to support the theory but that the investigation is continuing. Beef was "the prime suspect" from the beginning, he said.

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Military Panel Convicts Bin Laden Driver In Split Verdict
2008-08-07 02:54:07
A panel of six military officers convicted a former driver for Osama bin Laden of one of two war crimes charges on Wednesday but acquitted him of the other, completing the first military commission trial here and the first conducted by the United States since the aftermath of World War II.

In a setback for the military prosecutors, the commission acquitted the former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, of a conspiracy charge, arguably the more serious of the two charges he faced. At a trial that included references to the landmark Nuremberg war-crimes trials of Nazi leaders in the 1940s, Hamdan was convicted on a separate charge of providing material support for terrorism.

The split verdict gave both sides in the long debate over the procedures here grounds for their competing claims. Supporters said the system’s fairness was illustrated by the careful verdict, while critics said the trial, which featured secret evidence and closed proceedings, demonstrated the injustice of the Bush administration’s military commission system.

Hamdan, who has said he is about 40, could be sentenced by the panel to anything from no imprisonment to a life term. The sentence is to be determined after a separate proceeding before the same panel, which began Wednesday afternoon, after the announcement of the verdict. At that hearing, the defense worked to portray Hamdan sympathetically as a man with few choices who felt “betrayed by bin Laden” when he learned about terrorist attacks.

The sentence is expected to be announced as soon as Thursday. Its severity could provide an insight into the military panel’s view of the case, which has been criticized because Hamdan was a minor figure in al-Qaeda. 

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