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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday August 24 2008 - (813)

Sunday August 24 2008 edition
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Taliban Win Over Locals In Kabul
2008-08-24 00:18:04
While clashes in remote Helmand province in Afghanistan dominate the headlines, another battle is being waged by the insurgent's on Kabul's doorstep. There, the Taliban are winning support by building a parallel administration, which is more effective, more popular and more brutal than the government's.

Ismatullah stood at the crossroads in the dusty Afghan town of Maidan Shah, squinted in the blinding noon sun and stroked his long, grey beard. "What the governor said in our meeting was very good," he said diplomatically. "He quoted the Koran very correctly. But I am not sure how much power he has. Now I am going home - and the Taliban control my district, not him."

The tribal elder lives only a few miles from Maidan Shah, in a part of Afghanistan which, until a few months ago, was considered under the authority of President Hamid Karzai's central government. Maidan Shah is a typical Afghan town - a scruffy huddle of mechanics' workshops, stalls selling out-of-date Iranian jam, the charred frames of two fuel trucks burnt out in a recent insurgent attack, and a clutch of battered barrows from which destitute farmers in rags sell bruised apples and tiny brown pomegranates. A dozen men lie on the flat floor of the single restaurant amid clouds of flies, sip smeared glasses of tea and stare hard at strangers.

Follow the main road back towards the Afghan capital and in 15 minutes you will be at the narrow pass in the ring of craggy, dusty hills around the city known for centuries as "the Gates of Kabul". If there is a front line between the insurgents and the government, it is here, just a dozen miles south of the capital. There is no clear front line, of course - which is part of the problem.

In the U.K., it is the south of Afghanistan, where British troops are fighting, that has received most attention. Yet last week's battle in which 10 French soldiers died took place only an hour's drive from Kabul. It is in places like Maidan Shah, not remote provincial Helmand, that the struggle for Afghanistan will be won or lost. "The war in the south is basically a tough, bitterly fought stalemate," admitted one senior NATO officer last week. "It is around Kabul that the Taliban must now be stopped."

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Al-Qaeda Masters Terror On The Cheap, Avoiding Financial Dragnet
2008-08-24 00:17:43
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, al-Qaeda has increasingly turned to local cells that run extremely low-cost operations and generate cash through criminal scams, bypassing the global financial dragnet set up by the United States and Europe.

Although al-Qaeda spent an estimated $500,000 to plan and execute the Sept. 11 attacks, many of the group's bombings and assaults since then in Europe, North Africa and Southeast Asia have cost one-tenth as much, or less.

The cheap plots are evidence that the U.S. government and its allies fundamentally miscalculated in assuming they could defeat the network by hunting for wealthy financiers and freezing bank accounts, according to many U.S. and European counterterrorism officials.

In an ongoing trial here of eight men accused of planning to blow up airliners bound for the United States two years ago, jurors have been told how the accused shopped at drugstores for ingredients to build bombs that would have cost $15 apiece to assemble.

Similarly, the cell responsible for the July 7, 2005, transit bombings in London needed only about $15,000 to finance the entire conspiracy, including the cost of airfare to Pakistan to consult with al-Qaeda supervisors, according to official British government probes.

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Floridians Have Had Enough Of Fay
2008-08-24 00:17:10
Fay just won't quit. The tropical storm system that set a record with four landfalls in Florida chugged westward across the Gulf Coast on Saturday, and cities from Pensacola, Florida, to New Orleans prepared for inches of rain.

Showing that a slow-moving tropical storm can be as deadly and damaging as a hurricane, the storm killed at least 11 people in Florida and one in Georgia, said emergency officials.

Thousands of homes and businesses were inundated with floodwaters last week as the storm worked its way north from its landfall in the Florida Keys and zigzagged across the peninsula.

Fay's center made its fourth landfall around 1 a.m. Saturday about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, according to the Ntional Hurricane Center.Although the landfall was mostly uneventful in that area, bands of heavy rain and high winds in the eastern half of the storm pelted inland areas.

Rains and strong wind gusts blitzed Tallahassee, the state capital, for more than 24 hours, knocking down trees and power lines and cutting electricity to more than 12,000 customers, said city officials.

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Afghanistan's President Karzai Assails U.S.-Led Air Strike
2008-08-23 18:16:52
Afhanistan's President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned on Saturday a coalition air strike that he said killed up to 95 Afghans - including 50 children - in a village in western Afghanistan on Friday, and said his government would be announcing measures to prevent the loss of civilian life in the future.

Government officials who traveled to the village of Azizabad in Herat Province on Saturday said the death toll had risen to 95 from 76, making it one of the deadliest air strikes on civilians in nearly seven years of war.

The American military said Saturday it is investigating the attack.

The Karzai government has expressed outrage over recent air strikes that have led to civilian deaths, as popular support for the coalition presence in Afghanistan dwindles. The tension comes at a delicate time for the American-led coalition, which is facing a resurgent Taliban with a perceived shortage of troops, leading it to rely more on air power to battle militants.

Karzai also denounced the coalition after an air strike on July 6 killed 27 people in a wedding party - most of them women and children, including the bride - in eastern Afghanistan.

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CIA Denies Helping Bush Administration Produce Phony Documents On Saddam-Terrorist Link
2008-08-23 18:16:17

The controversy over a best-selling author's account of forgery and deception in the White House deepened Friday with a new CIA denial that it helped the Bush administration produce phony documents suggesting past links between al-Qaeda and Sadddam Hussein.

Author Ron Suskind's book "The Way of the World," released earlier this month, contends that the White House learned in early 2003 that the Iraqi president no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction but went to war regardless. Suskind wrote that the information was passed to British and U.S. intelligence officials in secret meetings with Tahir Habbush, Iraq's spy chief at the time.

Moreover, in an allegation that implies potentially criminal acts by administration officials, the author wrote that White House officials ordered a forgery to influence public opinion about the war. The book contends that the CIA paid Habbush $5 million and resettled him in Jordan after the war. Then, it says, in late 2003, the White House ordered the CIA to enlist Habbush's help in concocting a fake letter that purported to show that Iraq helped train Mohamed Atta,  the Egyptian-born al-Qaeda terrorist who led the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Such a letter surfaced in Iraq in December 2003, but its authenticity quickly came into question.

The CIA and White House denied Suskind's account when the book was first released but, Friday, the CIA issued a more extensive rebuttal based on what the agency called an internal investigation involving a records search and interviews with junior and senior officers who were directly involved in the agency's Iraq operations at the time. As for the claim that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter, the agency said: "It did not happen."

"CIA has made its own inquiries overseas and no one - no individual and no intelligence service - has substantiated Suskind's account of Habbush or the bogus letter," the agency said in a prepared statement. "At this point, the origins of the forgery, like the whereabouts of Habbush himself, remain unclear. But this much is certain: Suskind is off the mark."

Suskind, whose claims are now the subject of two congressional investigations, Friday continued to stand by his book and accused the CIA and White House of orchestrating a smear campaign. "It's the same old stuff," said Suskind, who said his findings are supported by hours of interviews, some of them taped. "There's not a shred of doubt about any of it."

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After Prosecutor's Firing, A Shift In Case By Justice Dept.
2008-08-23 17:00:43
U.S. Justice Department officials have reversed course and approved a plea deal in a controversial death penalty case that may have prompted the firing of a U.S. attorney in Arizona nearly two years ago, according to court records and interviews.

Alleged methamphetamine dealer Jose Rios Rico is scheduled to appear in federal court in Phoenix on Sept. 2 to change his plea to capital murder and weapons offenses. The debate over whether to seek the death penalty against Rios Rico was a source of considerable tension between officials at Justice Department headquarters and former U.S. attorney Paul K. Charlton.

Charlton had argued that the case was short on forensic evidence and was not suitable for what he called "the ultimate penalty." But officials in Washington overruled him in fall 2006, and he later became one of nine top prosecutors who were fired en masse that year. In congressional testimony last year, then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said Charlton's reluctance to support the administration's position on capital punishment in the case amounted to "poor judgment" and attracted criticism in the department's political ranks.

This week, however, a federal judge in Arizona directed both sides in the Rios Rico case to appear "for a change of plea," signaling that authorities now in control at Justice have backed away from the hard-line stance. Gonzales resigned from the department last year as the scandal over the U.S. attorneys' firing intensified. He was replaced by longtime federal judge Michael B. Mukasey. 

James J. Belanger, a defense lawyer for Rios Rico, said details of the plea agreement are still being finalized. "The parties' intention is to go ahead and resolve the case," he said. "We've reached the parameters of a plea" that would not involve capital punishment.

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Editorial: What The Voters Know
2008-08-24 00:17:53
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Sunday, August 24, 2008.

It came as no surprise when the latest New York Times/CBS News poll showed voters focused overwhelmingly on economic issues. Jobs are disappearing. Incomes are falling. Home equity is evaporating. Prices are rising. Debt loads are crushing.

What is most striking is voters’ belief that neither candidate is paying enough attention to their distress. Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama have spoken at length about the economy. But voters have yet to hear what they believe are compelling answers.

In one key area - the causes and cures for declining wages - the voters are right: neither candidate has adequately addressed the issue. Both have to give fuller explanations of how they plan to run government without running the country ever deeper into the red.

For all that, the two men have revealed fundamentally different economic philosophies and policies.

Taxes are at the core of each candidate’s economic agenda. Mr. McCain’s proposed tax cuts are directed mostly at the wealthy; Mr. Obama’s are aimed at lower- and middle-income Americans and paired with tax increases for the wealthy. This page has long decried the high-end tax cuts of the Bush years. And Mr. McCain’s plan to continue them, while piling on more, will neither grow the economy nor raise revenue. The mega-deficits they would create would be a drag on any growth.

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Britain's National Trust Warns Of Losing Coastal Landmarks From Rising Sea Levels
2008-08-24 00:17:22

Some of Britain's most famous coastal landmarks will be radically changed or even lost because it is no longer possible to hold back rising seas and coastal erosion, according to the National Trust.

The castle of St. Michael's Mount off the coast of Cornwall, the white cliffs of Birling Gap in East Sussex, Studland beach in Dorset and the dunes of Formby, near Liverpool, are among the places which could alter dramatically. In one of the most extreme cases to be identified by the trust, the entire 18th-century fishing village of Porthdinllaen on the northwest coast of Wales could be left to crumble into the sea.

The report on the 10 coastal hotspots will be published this week to highlight the problems of climate change which threaten about 70 sites around the coastline owned by the trust.

Phil Dyke, the National Trust's coast and marine adviser, said the decision to stop protecting many coastal areas was driven by the rising cost of damage, because global warming is causing more sea-level rises and more intense storms which exacerbate erosion, and because protection measures often cause damage farther along the coast, for example, depriving nearby beaches of shingle and sand. On one site in Cornwall the trust estimated it would cost £6m to build defenses which would only last about 25 years.

The report highlights the difficult decisions which will have to be taken across Britain and around the world as landowners and governments decide how to cope with the impact of climate change on habitats and built infrastructure, particularly after a tradition of pitting engineers against natural change.

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U.S., Global Economies Slipping In Unison
2008-08-23 18:17:06

Economic trouble has spread far beyond the United States to major countries in Europe and Asia, threatening American businesses with the loss of foreign sales and investment that have become increasingly vital to their sustenance.

Only a few months ago, some economists still offered hope that robust expansion could continue in much of the world even as the United States slowed. Foreign investment was expected to keep replenishing American banks still bleeding from their disastrous bets on real estate and to provide money for companies looking to expand. Overseas demand for American goods and services was supposed to continue compensating for waning demand in the States.

Now, high energy prices, financial systems crippled by fear, and the decline of trading partners have combined to choke growth in many major economies. The International Monetary Fund expects global growth to slow significantly through the end of this year, dipping to 4.1 percent from 5 percent in 2007.

“The global economy is in a tough spot, caught between sharply slowing demand in many advanced economies and rising inflation everywhere,” the I.M.F. declared last month in its official World Economic Outlook.

All this means that economic troubles in the United States could intensify into the presidential election season and beyond. It could also make it harder for financial companies like Lehman Brothers - which has been seeking fresh investment in South Korea - and the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to attract much-needed capital from abroad.

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Warren Buffett, Others Clash On Danger Posed By U.S. Debt
2008-08-23 18:16:40
Two long-term views of the U.S. economy were on vivid display at a town hall meeting here Thursday night, with the world's richest person on one side and pretty much everybody else on the other.

If there is general agreement that times are tough in the short term - the markets are flighty, foreclosures are widespread and jobless claims remain high - there is sharp disagreement on what the future holds.

Some, such as super-investor Warren E. Buffett, believe that the economy is merely experiencing a "correction" and that subsequent generations of Americans will have a much higher standard of living than those alive today.

Others, such as David M. Walker - former U.S. comptroller general and a traveling Cassandra on the perils of the mounting national debt - fear that the economy is at an inflection point and could be headed toward disaster if something isn't done, immediately.

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FDA To Revise Rules On Children's Cold Medicines
2008-08-23 17:00:53
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday announced plans to revise standards for over-the-counter cough and cold medications for children, a step that could lead to removing the popular products from the market.

In response to rising concerns that the products are ineffective and could be unsafe, the agency said that, for the first time in decades, it will revamp the criteria that have allowed the products to remain on drugstore shelves.

"Modern science has advanced since, and this is an opportunity to apply modern science to evaluate these products," said Janet Woodcock,director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

As the first step in that process, the agency will hold a special hearing Oct. 2 to begin to consider a series of questions, including: What types of studies should be done to evaluate the products? Should the products remain available without a prescription? How should the doses be determined? Should products that combine different ingredients remain available?

"This is the beginning of getting drugs that are widely used in children in the over-the-counter world using the same modern approach we've started using for prescription drugs," said Woodcock.

The announcement is the latest response to a petition filed in March 2007 by a group of pediatricians asking the FDA to restrict the use of the products, citing a lack of evidence that they work and mounting evidence that they can cause hallucinations, seizures, trouble breathing, heart problems and other complications, including occasionally deaths.

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Obama Picks Biden As Vice Presidential Running Mate
2008-08-23 15:10:36
Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) was announced as Barack Obama's running mate early Saturday, adding an elder statesman of Washington politics to the Democratic ticket just days before the start of the party's convention in Denver.

The Obama campaign sent out a text message to millions of supporters nationwide at about 3:10 a.m. Saturday declaring Biden the choice and inviting people to watch the joint rally they are scheduled to hold at 3 p.m. Eastern time in Springfield, Ill. But news of the selection leaked in the hours before that, as Secret Service agents were dispatched to Biden's home in Delaware and other candidates on Obama's short list of vice-presidential possibilities were informed they had not gotten the job.

Biden, 65, a sharp-witted, voluble foreign policy expert has held two of the most important jobs in the Senate: chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, previously, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He brings a degree of stature to the ticket as well as a poignant personal story that includes the deaths of his wife and daughter in 1972.

Biden's home state of Delaware has just three electoral votes, but he is originally from Pennsylvania, a critical swing state that has 21. And he can exude a "regular Joe" vibe that supporters believe will help Obama among working class white voters who are becoming a vital electorate in the campaign.

Democrats largely embraced the choice - although some supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) expressed disappointment that Obama's top primary challenger was barely considered as his running mate. Clinton herself issued a statement praising Biden, and some people close to her said the choice of Biden validated their belief that experience is an important trait in the race - even though the 36-year Washington veteran does not project an image of "change."

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