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Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday September 12 2008 - (813)

Friday September 12 2008 edition
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Chavez: Venezuela To Expel U.S. Ambassador
2008-09-11 22:39:01
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday he is recalling his own ambassador from Washington and expelling the U.S. ambassador from Venezuela.

"He has 72 hours, from this moment, the Yankee ambassador in Caracas, to leave Venezuela," Chavez told a crowd of supporters.

The president said he was making the moves "in solidarity with Bolivia and the people of Bolivia."

Bolivia's Evo Morales accused the United States Thursday of fomenting a coup d'etat by rich eastern department landowners against him, the country's first Indian president.

"We have seen reports about President Chavez's remarks but have not received any official diplomatic communication," said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman. "Our embassy in Caracas is looking into these reports."

Also Thursday, Chavez accused the United States of having backed a coup plot against him.

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Texas Governor, FEMA Urge Gulf Coast Residents To Take Hurricane Ike Seriously
2008-09-11 21:45:22
People along the Texas coast rushed to board up their houses and move inland Thursday as Hurricane Ike, a mammoth storm 500-miles across with 100-mile-per-hour winds at its center, churned across the Gulf of Mexico towards them.

The authorities ordered hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate low-lying areas from the Louisiana border to Corpus Christi. Traffic was building up on highways leading from the coast; some gas stations ran out of fuel.

Forecasters were predicting on Thursday night that Hurricane Ike would make landfall late Friday or before dawn on Saturday between the central Texas coast and southwestern Louisiana. Already whipping up 50-foot waves at sea, the storm is predicted to cause a surge of seawater in Galveston and Houston that could reach 20 feet above the normal tide, enough to submerge low-lying coastal areas.

“I cannot overemphasize the danger that is facing us,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said at a news conference in Austin.

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Obama, McCain Visit Ground Zero
2008-09-11 21:44:55
John McCain and Barack Obama walked side-by-side down the long ramp into Ground Zero Thursday, putting aside their increasingly testy campaign for a day to lay roses in the reflecting pool commemorating the terrorist attacks seven years ago.

The pair of adversaries were joined by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and McCain's wife, Cindy, for the brief, but solemn event.

McCain and Obama chatted with each other as they walked down the ramp, talked with workers, victims' family members and first responders, then stood silently.

It was a remarkable respite from an increasingly nasty presidential campaign. Both men had pledged to take a break from politics for a day, suspending all television commercials during the Sept. 11 commemorations.

Thursday night, the two candidates will appear, one after the other, at a forum on public service sponsored by Time Magazine and Columbia University.

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Delay Seen For Fence At U.S., Mexican Border
2008-09-11 21:44:25

The Bush administration is unlikely to complete 670 miles of border fence by year-end as required by Congress because of surging construction costs and problems acquiring private land along the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Department officials acknowledged Wednesday.

The department had completed 344 miles of fencing as of Aug. 29, about half its goal, congressional investigators reported. It has yet to acquire 320 parcels of land because of delayed court proceedings and disputes with private owners, mostly in Texas, said officials.

Administration officials also contended that they are running out of money. Costs for vehicle barriers have climbed 40 percent since February, to $2.8 million a mile, and 75 percent for pedestrian fencing, to $7.5 million a mile. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials did not provide details but said the $3.5 billion Secure Border Initiative faces a $400 million cost overrun.

Barring action by Congress, "we're out of money and operations will stop," border protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham told the House Homeland Security Committee. 

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U.S. Veterans' Suicide Attempts Jump 500 Percent In 5 Years, And Government Ignores It
2008-09-11 14:35:57
Veterans are killing themselves in growing numbers, but the government sees suicides as a way to lower the official processing time for claims.

This year, in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 7-13), the Army chose the theme "Shoulder-to-Shoulder: No Soldier Stands Alone," "to emphasize the strength of the Army Family when it works together to tackle tough problems."

It has not been a good week for the Army Family in spite of the special attention.

On Sept. 8, an altercation between a 22-year-old Fort Hood soldier and his commanding officer, a 24-year-old lieutenant, ended when the soldier first shot and killed his officer and then turned the gun on himself. Both were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, which had returned from a 15-month tour in Iraq in December. The division is currently in training to redeploy back to Iraq this winter for another 12 months - which in all probability will turn out to be the as good an explanation as any for the tragedy.

Then on Sept. 9, a V.A. report acknowledged that suicide rates for young male Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans hit a record high in 2006, the last year for which official records are available. Last week, the Portland Tribune reported that in 2005, the last year for which complete Oregon data has been compiled, 19 Oregon soldiers died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. That same year, 153 Oregon veterans of all ages, serving in various wars, committed suicide.

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Stocks Fall On Worries About Lehman, Financials
2008-09-11 13:32:49
Stocks declined but pulled off their lows Thursday as investors dumped shares of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and other financial names over worries it is becoming harder for them shore up their balance sheets. Gains in areas like transportation stocks helped dampen the market's decline.

Wall Street's latest unease about the financial sector follows Lehman's announcement Wednesday that it plans to sell its investment management unit and spin off its commercial real estate assets. The company is seeking to raise cash after making bad bets on holdings tied to real estate.

Traders and analysts appeared unimpressed with the steps outlined by the nation's No. 4 investment bank, punishing the stock. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs lowered their ratings on the stock to "hold" from "buy." Lehman fell $2.73, or 38 percent, to $4.52.

Other financials also logged steep declines as investors worried about the health of balance sheets across Wall Street. American International Group Inc. fell $2.74, or 16 percent, to $14.76 and Washington Mutual Inc. lost 29 cents, or 12 percent, to $2.03. Among other financials, Merrill Lynch & Co. fell $3.41, or 15 percent, to $19.89 and Morgan Stanley declined $1.45, or 3.7 percent, to $37.47.

"The steps they're taking are being seen by Wall Street as too little, too late," said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co., referring to Lehman. "You're looking at a company that was a $10 billion company last week that is a $3 billion company today."
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Iraq Cancels Six No-Bid Oil Contracts
2008-09-11 03:34:44
An Iraqi plan to award six no-bid contracts to Western oil companies, which came under sharp criticism from several United States senators this summer, has been withdrawn, participants in the negotiations said on Wednesday.

Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, told reporters at an OPEC summit meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Tuesday that talks with Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, Total, BP and several smaller companies for one-year deals, which were announced in June and subsequently delayed, had dragged on for so long that the companies could not now fulfill the work within that time frame. The companies confirmed on Wednesday that the deals had been canceled.

While not particularly lucrative by industry standards, the contracts were valued for providing a foothold in Iraq at a time when oil companies are being shut out of energy-rich countries around the world. The companies will still be eligible to compete in open bidding in Iraq.

The six no-bid deals were for work to increase Iraqi oil production from existing oil fields by half a million barrels a day - the same amount by which OPEC countries agreed Tuesday to reduce output. After its cancellation of the deals, Iraq reduced by 200,000 barrels per day its goal of producing 2.9 million barrels per day by the end of the year.

The deals would have been the first major oil contracts with the central government since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, though the Kurdistan region has separately signed more than 20 contracts.

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Editorial: Mississippi's Ballot Trick
2008-09-11 03:33:07
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, September 10, 2008.

Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour, and its secretary of state have come up with a particularly cynical dirty trick for the November election. Let’s call it: “Where’s the Senate race?”

Defying state law, they have decided to hide a hard-fought race for the United States Senate at the bottom of the ballot, where they clearly are hoping some voters will overlook it. Their proposed design is not only illegal. It shows a deep contempt for Mississippi’s voters.

Republicans have long had a lock on the state’s two Senate seats. But this year, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, has been running close to Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, in the polls. Mr. Wicker was appointed to the seat by Governor Barbour in late December after Trent Lott stepped down.

Mississippi election law clearly states that federal elections must go at the top of ballots. And the secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, plans to list the state’s other Senate race - incumbent Thad Cochran is running far ahead of his Democratic challenger, Erik Fleming - where it belongs, right below the presidential contest.

But Mr. Hosemann argues that because the Wicker-Musgrove race is a special election to fill the remainder of Mr. Lott’s term, he is free to place it at the bottom, below state and county races.

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U.S. Government Helping Arrange Sale Of Lehman Bros.
2008-09-11 21:45:33

The Federal Reserve and Treasury are actively helping Lehman Brothers put itself up for sale, and officials are hoping a deal will be in place this weekend before Asian markets open on Monday, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The government is looking for an agreement that would not involve public money. One scenario that is emerging includes multiple suitors acquiring different pieces of the venerable investment bank, which has suffered staggering losses from its business in real estate and mortgages.

The situation was still fluid Thursday night, and there was no guarantee what form an agreement would take, or even that it would be in place by Monday, the sources said on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to speak.

Regulators have been in touch with Lehman on almost an hourly basis in recent days. And high-ranking officials including New York Federal Reserve President Timothy F. Geithner, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr.,  and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke have been discussing a broad range of possibilities for Lehman, trying to determine what risks each outcome would pose to the financial system.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox and Lehman Chief Executive Richard S. Fuld have also been speaking several times daily.

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FDA: Infant Formula From China Contains Melamine
2008-09-11 21:45:07
Tainted infant formula from China may be on sale at ethnic groceries in this country, even though it is not approved for importation, federal officials warned on Thursday.

However, the Food and Drug Administration stressed that the domestic supply of infant formula is safe.

FDA officials are urging U.S. consumers to avoid all infant formula from China, after several brands sold in that country came under suspicion of being contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics. Officials said there have been reports from China of babies developing kidney stones as a result. There have been no reports of illnesses in the U.S.

"We're concerned that there may be some infant formula that may have gotten into the United States illegally and may be on the ethnic market," said Janice Oliver, deputy director of the FDA's food safety program. "No infant formula from China should be entering the United States, but in the past we have found it on at least one occasion."

After hearing of the latest food safety scandal in China, the FDA checked with formula manufacturers who have approval to market here. But none receive formula or ingredients from China. Formula manufacturers get close scrutiny from the government. They are required to register with the FDA and comply with specific nutritional standards.

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Palin: Ukraine, Georgia Should Join NATO Even If It Risks War Between U.S. And Russia
2008-09-11 21:44:44
Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin said Thursday the Ukraine and Georgia should join NATO, even at the risk of antagonizing Russia and forcing the United States into a war with the nuclear-armed nation. She added that the United States should "show support" for Georgia by possibly imposing "economic sanctions" on Russia.

Palin's remarks, from an interview with ABC News that the network posted on its website, were strikingly devoid of the diplomatic language generally used by U.S. officials when discussing relations with Russia. She appeared to echo the tougher language of her running mate, Sen. John McCain, who has called for Russia to be removed from the elite Group of Eight powers.

The Bush administration has taken a more cautious approach, seeking to bolster Georgia with a $1 billion aid package after Russia's incursion, but not directly penalizing Russia. Earlier this week, the administration withdrew from Congress a civil nuclear agreement with Russia, but that move was in part to preserve it for the incoming administration if relations with Russia improve.

Asked by interviewer Charles Gibson whether under the NATO treaty, wouldn't the United States be obligated to defend Georgia if Russia invaded, Palin replied: "Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help."

Palin asserted that democracy movements in Ukraine and Georgia - which most experts say are incomplete - "showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO," adding Russian prime Minister Vladamir "Putin thinks otherwise."

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U.S. Law 'Fails To Protect' Corporate Whistle Blowers
2008-09-11 14:36:07
The U.S. federal law protecting corporate whistleblowers is failing to shield employees in the way that was intended, according to a non-profit group that is lobbying legislators for tougher rules.

The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which contained new pro-whistleblower provisions when it was passed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, "has helped few whistleblowers actually achieve justice", according to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), an advocacy group that provides legal advice to whistleblowers.

Many cases against defendant companies have been dismissed on the grounds that employees who worked for a corporate subsidiary are not necessarily covered by the whistleblower provision, according to Richard Moberly, a University of Nebraska law professor. "The provision is supposed to be interpreted broadly but it is being interpreted very narrowly," he says.

Tom Devine, legal director of the GAP, said this could have the effect of letting some foreign companies operating in the US "off the hook". "For any whistleblowers who want to challenge misconduct of foreign companies, the law is not even a paper tiger unless the specific retaliation can be traced to a parent corporation," he said.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, it has ruled in favor of whistleblowers 17 times in the 1,273 complaints filed from 2002 to the start of this month. Meanwhile, 841 cases were dismissed, 162 were withdrawn and 107 are pending. The data did not specify reasons for dismissals.

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Critics: Under Palin, Wasilla Charged Rape Victims For Exam
2008-09-11 14:35:35

Two state leaders lashed out at the public record of Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday as witnesses in a new "Alaska Mythbusters" forum coordinated by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Speaking to a teleconference audience of reporters around the nation, former Gov. Tony Knowles and current Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein - both Democrats - accused Palin of misleading the public in her new role as the vice presidential running mate of Arizona Sen. John McCain.

While some of their complaints have already been aired, Knowles broke new ground while answering a reporter's question on whether Wasilla forced rape victims to pay for their own forensic tests when Palin was mayor.

True, said Knowles.

Eight years ago, complaints about charging rape victims for medical exams in Wasilla prompted the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill -- signed into law by Knowles -- that banned the practice statewide.

"There was one town in Alaska that was charging victims for this, and that was Wasilla," said Knowles.

A May 23, 2000, article in Wasilla's newspaper, The Frontiersman, noted that Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies regularly pay for such exams, which cost between $300 and $1,200 apiece.

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Bush Said To Give Orders Allowing Raids In Pakistan
2008-09-11 03:34:57
President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.

“The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable,” said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. “We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued.”

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for al-Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.

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Palin's Pipeline Is Years From Being A Reality
2008-09-11 03:34:31
When Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska took center stage at the Republican convention last week, she sought to burnish her executive credentials by telling how she had engineered the deal that jump-started a long-delayed gas pipeline project.

Stretching more than 1,700 miles, it would deliver natural gas from the North Slope of Alaska to the lower 48 states and be the largest private-sector infrastructure project on the continent.

“And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence,” said Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. “That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are opened, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart.”

The reality, however, is far more ambiguous than the impression Palin has left at the convention and on the campaign trail.

Certainly she proved effective in attracting developers to a project that has eluded Alaska governors for three decades. But an examination of the pipeline project also found that Palin has overstated both the progress that has been made and the certainty of success.

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As Hurricane Ike Approaches, Thousands Flee Texas Coastal Areas
2008-09-11 03:32:46

Thousands of people fled coastal areas of Texas on Wednesday as Hurricane Ike, having spun away from Cuba  and roared into the Gulf of Mexico, moved toward the state with growing strength.

After pummeling Haiti, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean, the storm refueled in the gulf and headed toward landfall somewhere from Corpus Christi northeastward to Galveston. It is expected to arrive early Saturday as a Category 4 hurricane, that is, one with maximum sustained winds of at least 131 miles per hour.

With memories of Hurricane Dolly in July still fresh, officials in Brazoria County, Galveston and other locations arranged for more than a thousand buses and began transporting residents to shelters and community centers farther inland. Some cities began evacuating medical patients with special needs, and school districts along the coast, including Corpus Christi’s, canceled classes through the rest of the week.

As the first evacuees arrived in San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth and elsewhere early Wednesday afternoon, President Bush declared an emergency in Texas and offered federal aid to state and local officials. Gov. Rick Perry  issued a disaster declaration and activated 7,500 National Guard troops.

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