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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday August 26 2008 - (813)

Tuesday August 26 2008 edition
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Russian Vote Sets Up Clash With West
2008-08-25 21:25:08

Russia was Monday night on another collision course with the west after Russian Parliament members voted unanimously to back independence for Georgia's two breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The move - which requires the approval of Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev - gives a strong domestic legal basis for the Kremlin to take control of the areas after Russia's invasion of Georgia this month.

Russia's upper house, or Federation Council, voted by 130-0 to call on Medvedev to support South Ossetia and Abkhazia's independence. The Duma passed the same motion by 447-0. Both houses are known for their slavish loyalty to the Kremlin.

The U.S. and the European Union swiftly denounced the vote. George Bush said he was "deeply concerned" by the move, and the White House said the vice-president, Dick Cheney, would visit Tbilisi next week. The E.U. said the breakaway regions should remain in Georgia. The German government called the move "in no way appropriate to either calming or defusing tensions".

There were strong signs last night that Moscow remains unmoved by the threat of western sanctions, which have been growing since Russia invaded Georgia after Georgia's military incursion into South Ossetia this month.

The U.S., France, Britain and other E.U. countries are considering punitive measures. These include ending NATO  cooperation with Moscow, freezing Russia's application to join the World Trade Organization, and suspending its participation in G8 summits.

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Financials Drag On Markets, Dow Drops More Than 240 Points
2008-08-25 21:24:46
Stocks sank in light trading Monday as worries about American International Group Inc. touched off broader concerns that the deterioration of the credit markets will bring more big losses for financial companies.

The major indexes lost about 2 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average fell by nearly 250 points, erasing a gain of about 200 points seen Friday. Bond prices also jumped as investors fled to the safety of government debt.

New York-based AIG was the steepest decliner among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow industrials after a Credit Suisse analyst cut his price target on the world's largest insurer and forecast steep losses for the third quarter. Adding to investors concerns, Fitch Ratings warned late Friday that it might cut its ratings on the company, which has been buffeted by investors' distaste for some of the types of complex debt instruments on AIG's books.

Banks and other financial institutions have struggled in part because of a spike in the number of homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. A report Monday by a trade group for real estate agents showed the number of unsold properties rose to an all-time high in July. Investors shrugged off a better-than-expected 3.1 percent increase in sales of existing homes that the National Association of Realtors' report also showed.

The news arrived as volume remained light, with many traders on vacation for the last week of August. Sean Simko, head of fixed income management SEI Investments, said the stock and bond markets are showing big moves in part because of the thin stream of trades.

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Japanese Study Finds Worrying Loss Of Blubber In Whales
2008-08-25 21:24:23

Scientists in Japan claim that their country's controversial whaling program, which has killed thousands of minke whales since the late 1980s, has established that the animals have lost significant amounts of blubber. Measurements taken from more than 4,500 slaughtered minkes show they are getting thinner at a worrying speed, the researchers say.

The team from the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, set up to analyze the results of the scientific whaling program, says its study offers the first evidence that global warming could be harming whales, because it restricts food supplies. They say the discovery could only have been made by killing the animals.

Crucially for the Japanese, the results have been published in a mainstream western scientific journal, Polar Biology. Campaigners say publication could offer scientific whaling a veneer of respectability, and bolster Japan's efforts to hunt more whales.

They fear Japan could use the results to support efforts to hunt endangered humpback whales for the first time in 50 years. The study claims the recovering humpback population in the Southern Ocean could also be hurting the minkes because of "interference" between the two species as they compete for food.

Campaigners and politicians say Japan's scientific whaling program is commercial whaling by another name and is unethical and unnecessary.

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Iraq's Prime Minister Wants U.S. Out Of Country By 2011
2008-08-25 14:33:32
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki Monday said an agreement on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq must include a firm withdrawal date and that Iraq wants them out of the country by the end of 2011.

It was the first time Maliki publicly demanded a deadline for the U.S. departure and announced a date, though news reports last week had indicated that a draft accord included 2011 as a conditional time frame for withdrawal.

Maliki noted that negotiations with the United States were still ongoing, but his comments made clear that the Iraqis are digging in their heels on the withdrawal deadline. The United States has emphasized that any date must be tied to conditions on the ground.

Maliki made no mention of that. He said the only agreement acceptable to Iraq was one that guaranteed it "full sovereignty."

"No foreign soldiers will stay on the land of Iraq" except for a "limited time frame and not an open one," said Maliki. "There is ... agreement between the two sides that there will not be any foreign soldiers in Iraq after 2011," he said.
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Stocks Drop Sharply On Financial Sector Worries
2008-08-25 14:33:05
Stocks sank in thin trading Monday as worries about the credit ratings of American International Group Inc. weighed on the financial sector. The major indexes at times fell more than 1 1/2 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which was off about 225 points.

Bond prices jumped as investors fled to the safety of government debt.

AIG was the steepest decliner among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow industrials after a Credit Suisse analyst cut his price target on the world's largest insurer and after Fitch Ratings warned late Friday that it might cut its ratings on the company, which has been buffeted by investors' distaste for some of the types of complex debt instruments on AIG's books.

The financial sector has struggled in part because of a spike in the number of homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. A report Monday by a trade group for real estate agents showed that the number of unsold properties reached an all-time high in July. The National Association of Realtors' report that sales of existing homes increased 3.1 percent was better than Wall Street expected but investors appeared generally unimpressed by the overall findings.

The news arrived as volume remains light, with many traders on vacation for the last week of August. Sean Simko, head of fixed income management SEI Investments, said that the stock and bond markets are likely showing outsize reactions because of the thin stream of trades.

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Commentary: How Electronic Voting Could Be Secure and Why It Isn't Good Now.
2008-08-25 08:31:55

  As some of you know, I am the owner and publisher of Free Internet Press.  My day job is a high level systems/network administrator/engineer, Unix developer, and web developer.  I have many abilities, and have worked under many titles.  For 99% of the people that have worked with me, I am simply "that guy that can do anything."  Unfortunately (as I sometimes put it) I have an IQ over 130, which usually means I think through a lot of problems even if I have no responsibility to it.  I recognize that there are people that are smarter and more talented than myself, and I praise them, not berate them, for their work.  People like me frequently become frustrated because we know the answers, but can't do anything to do it.  I don't work for a fortune 500 company.  I don't have any direct influence on the government, other than what I write on this site.

  I've stayed fairly quiet on the electronic voting issues.  ! I agree when news stories come out saying that the systems are inherently flawed. 

  I have the answer, or at least a viable starting point, to making the voting system as fair as possible.   It may not be perfect, but if it could be 99.9% accurate, that's better than the constant bickering of "votes on machines in this precinct were changed", "paper ballots were miscounted", and the hanging chad "this vote didn't count because they didn't indicate well enough".

  As I write this, I am going to go from basic concepts to fairly high level topics.  If you don't understand them, that's fine.  Some people get stuck at doing much more than working a keyboard and mouse.  Some will find that I didn't include enough information.  Hopefully I will provide enough information to make some change.

  I used to work for a very large web site.  By the Alexa scale, it was a to! p 300 site.   Millions of people every day viewed hu! ndreds o f millions of documents flawlessly.  By my design, it could have done more.  That site also had an internal voting system.  The voting was unauthenticated, and completely anonymous by world wide viewers.  It typically held tens of millions of votes on thousands of topics.  Just like politics, people wanted to cheat.  In the case of that site, there were cash rewards for those who did very well.  I built working systems to eliminate fraud, forcing accurate results.   Retabulation on these tens of millions of votes happened every 15 minutes, with fraud being eliminated, and even punished (fraudulent voters would lose all previous votes).  In the end, it was less than 0.001% of the voters who were fraudulent, so without their votes it still left a valid response.

  All of this was done with one server, not a huge farm, and billions of dollars invested.  It was a few days of programming, and a lot of double check! ing and voting fraud analysis to see how fraud would be perpetrated.  Functional changes were very very rare, simply because it was originally designed to be bullet proof. 

  On occasion, people with items being voted on questioned why their scores changed.  Reports could be run to show their rankings, change over time, and even how their score fluctuated.  It was a slightly different voting scheme.  It took a 1 to 10 score by voters, rather than a yes or no, so the output wasn't a simple winner, but a comparison of final scores to show the winner.  With the report in hand, no contestant ever disputed beyond their initial complaint, because it was obvious that it was fair.

So, how would I redo the US electoral system to make it fair and honest?  Read on below.

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Commentary: Rich Countries Once Used Gunboats To Seize Food. Now They Use Trade Deals
2008-08-25 21:24:58
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Prof. George Monbiot and appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, August 26, 2008.

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines that sucked the guts out of India in the 1870s. The hunger began when a drought, caused by El Nino, killed the crops on the Deccan plateau. As starvation bit, the viceroy, Lord Lytton, oversaw the export to England of a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. While Lytton lived in imperial splendor and commissioned, among other extravagances, "the most colossal and expensive meal in world history", between 12 million and 29 million people died. Only Stalin manufactured a comparable hunger.

Now a new Lord Lytton is seeking to engineer another brutal food grab. As Tony Blair's favored courtier, Peter Mandelson often created the impression that he would do anything to please his master. Today he is the European trade commissioner. From his sumptuous offices in Brussels, Belgium, and Strasbourg, Austria, he hopes to impose a treaty that will permit Europe to snatch food from the mouths of some of the world's poorest people.

Seventy per cent of the protein eaten by the people of Senegal comes from fish. Traditionally cheaper than other animal products, it sustains a population that ranks close to the bottom of the human development index. One in six of the working population is employed in the fishing industry; about two-thirds of these workers are women. Over the past three decades, their means of subsistence has started to collapse as other nations have plundered Senegal's stocks.

The European Union has two big fish problems. One is that, partly as a result of its failure to manage them properly, its own fisheries can no longer meet European demand. The other is that its governments won't confront their fishing lobbies and decommission all the surplus boats. The E.U. has tried to solve both problems by sending its fishermen to west Africa. Since 1979 it has struck agreements with the government of Senegal, granting our fleets access to its waters. As a result, Senegal's marine ecosystem has started to go the same way as ours. Between 1994 and 2005, the weight of fish taken from the country's waters fell from 95,000 tons to 45,000 tons. Muscled out by European trawlers, the indigenous fishery is crumpling: the number of boats run by local people has fallen by 48% since 1997.

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Bush Administration Seeks To Reduce Whale Protection Areas
2008-08-25 21:24:32

The Bush administration Monday proposed scaling back protected zones for endangered whales in the Atlantic Ocean,  yielding to cargo companies' concerns about new speed limits for ships in these areas.

The proposal, unveiled Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), could end more than a year of wrangling between federal fisheries scientists and the White House over new measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale. About 300 of the whales remain, and researchers say their tiny population has been reduced further by fatal collisions with large ships.

In July 2006, NOAA announced plans to create 30-nautical-mile buffer zones off of several East Coast ports, in which ships would be required to slow to 10 nautical miles per hour during certain times of the year.

Cargo companies said that this would cause their ships to lose time and burn more fuel, and the proposal was held up for months by the administration.

Monday, in a document called an environmental impact statement, NOAA announced a change. Its new plan would reduce the buffer zone to 20 nautical miles, or about 23 standard miles.

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U.S. Coalition: U.K. Risks Climate Leadership Over Dirty Coal
2008-08-25 21:24:04

The British government will lose its leadership position on climate change and risk scuppering a global deal to cut emissions if it presses ahead with a new generation of dirty coal power, say leading U.S. scientists and environmental leaders.

The heads of three influential groups, representing more than 2 million members, have written to the foreign secretary, David Miliband, warning that the U.K. proposals for up to eight new coal plants threatens the chance of the U.S. joining a post-Kyoto international agreement to be agreed in 2009.

It is the first public sign of growing international anger over the plans and will add to pressure on Miliband and the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, to oppose the government's new coal policy in cabinet. Most immediate is the decision on whether to approve the first major planning application for a new coal plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, the site of this month's Climate Camp protest.

In the U.K., there has already been heavy criticism of the plans to build new coal plants, without technology to capture and bury the large volumes of carbon dioxide emitted. Lord Smith, the new head of the government's Environment Agency, recently added forcefully to condemnations by the Environmental Audit Committee, the Royal Society, City investment groups, the government's environmental adviser Jonathon Porritt, former chief scientist Professor Sir David King, and the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank.

The letter, now revealed to the Guardian, is signed by the heads of the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council.It argues Britain is in a particularly important position because of "your government's historic commitment to lead on global warming in Europe and around the world."

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Pakistan's Ruling Coalition Collapses Amid Dissent Over Judges, Presidency
2008-08-25 14:33:22
Pakistan plunged deeper into political chaos Monday as a top party in the country's coalition government vowed to quit the coalition and support an opposition candidate for the presidency.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said he plans to vigorously oppose his one-time political partner, Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People's Party and widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The announcement, which came a week after Pervez Musharraf resigned as Pakistan's president, set off a heated race for the presidency and raised questions about the future of the shaky alliance between the United States and Pakistan's top political leaders.

Sharif said he decided to quit the coalition government after Zardari, who assumed leadership of his party after Bhutto's assassination in December, announced plans to run for president on Saturday and reneged on a promise to reinstate dozens of judges deposed by Musharraf.

"We have been forced to take this decision, which we take with great regret," Sharif said during a nationally televised news conference in Islamabad on Monday. "Zardari pledged in writing to reinstate the judges within one day of Musharraf leaving."

Sharif's party selected former Supreme Court chief justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui to run for president. Siddiqui, a long-time political ally of Sharif, was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court in July 1999. He was later ousted from the bench when he refused to legally endorse the military coup led by Musharraf that ended Sharif's term as prime minister in 1999. A stalwart critic of Musharraf and Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies, Siddiqui is a highly respected figure in Pakistan's increasingly powerful legal community and could pose a serious challenge to Zardari.

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Maple Leaf Foods' Shares Drop As Meat Recall Expanded
2008-08-25 14:32:53
Shares in Maple Leaf Foods, which expanded a nationwide recall of its cold cuts over the weekend after its products were linked to four deaths and dozens of illness, fell to their lowest level in seven years during trading on Monday.

The stock of the company, which is Canada’s leading food processor, was down about 10 percent on the Toronto exchange. At the same time, a conference call with analysts offered more in the way of uncertainty than answers about the company’s future.

Canadian health officials announced over the weekend that their tests confirmed that the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria found in some cold cuts made by a Maple Leaf plant in Toronto plant matched the strain that has killed four people and caused 21 confirmed cases of listerosis.

The relatively long incubation period for the illness, which can be fatal for the elderly, infirm and people with compromised immune systems, means that public health officials anticipate that other cases will develop.

Three victims were women who lived in retirement homes in Ontario. The fourth victim was a man in British Columbia.

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