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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday September 13 2008 - (813)

Saturday September 13 2008 edition
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Monstrous Hurricane Ike Lashes Texas Coast
2008-09-13 00:51:34
Intellpuke: There are 3 articles on Hurricane Ike here. The first is by the Associated Press, the second by  Washington Post, and the third by the Los Angeles Times. As you'll read, Texas' Gulf Coast is now in the beginning stages of a catastrophic hit by Hurricane Ike.

A monster-sized Hurricane Ike bore down on the Texas coast late Friday, threatening to rattle the sparkling skyscrapers of America's fourth-largest city, shut down the heart of the U.S oil industry for days and obliterate waterfront towns already flooded with waist-high water.

Though nearly 1 million people evacuated coastal communities in the days leading up to the storm, tens of thousands ignored calls to leave and decided to tough it out. But as wind-whipped floodwaters began crashing into coastal homes, many changed their minds. Galveston fire crews rescued more than 300 people who were walking through flooded streets, clutching clothes and other belongings as they tried to wade to safety.

“We were going street by street seeing people who were trying to escape the flood waters,” Fire Chief Michael Varela said. “I'm assuming these were people who made the mistake of staying.”

At 600 miles across, the storm was nearly as big as Texas itself, and threatened to give the state its worst pounding in a generation. It was on track to crash ashore early Saturday near Galveston, the same site that suffered the nation's worst natural disaster when a legendary storm struck without warning and killed 6,000 more than a century ago.

Officials were growing increasingly worried about the stalwarts, and many communities imposed curfews to discourage looters. Authorities in three counties alone said roughly 90,000 stayed behind, despite a warning from forecasters that many of those in one- or two-story homes on the coast faced “certain death.”

At dark Friday, the Coast Guard suspended a search for a 19-year-old man who was lost in 6- to 8-foot waves off North Padre Island, about 10 miles east of Corpus Christi. Michael Moxly was with three other people on the southside of the Packery Channel Jetty when he was swept away.

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Subpoenas Authorized In Alaska Legislature's Investigation Of Palin
2008-09-12 19:52:02
A panel of Alaska legislators voted Friday to authorize subpoenas to the husband of Gov. Sarah Palin and a group of her aides to determine whether Palin improperly pressured a top state official to fire her former brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper.

The decision by the Alaska Senate's Judiciary Committee gives an independent investigator, Stephen Branchflower, the Legislature's legal backing to seek testimony from Todd Palin and 11 aides to Sarah Palin.

Branchflower said he had already amassed evidence showing that Palin's husband was "principal critic" of trooper Michael Wooten, who was married to Sarah Palin's sister before a bitter divorce.

The state attorney general and a private lawyer representing the governor have warned they would go to court to quash the subpoenas - raising the possibility of a constitutional clash that could simmer until after the November election.

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Refineries Threatened By Hurricane Ike
2008-09-12 16:56:54

The heart of the U.S. oil industry lies exposed to a crippling storm for the second time in two weeks as Hurricane Ike bears down on the Houston area and the Gulf of Mexico.

Companies have evacuated offshore production platforms and drilling rigs, and closed down refineries along the Gulf Coast that account for 19 percent of entire nation's oil refining capacity.

Once again the nation's energy security is being threatened by the weather rather than the geopolitical factors. Strategists usually focus on the U.S. reliance on imports of foreign oil, but lately the greater fear has been for the nation's own supplies and their vulnerability to Mother Nature.

"Ike couldn't have come at a worse time," said Daniel Ahm, an energy economist at Lehman Brothers. "Gustav had already ripped through with surprisingly little damage, but it is reminiscent of what happened with Rita and Katrina." The first of those 2005 storms caused relatively little damage, he said, but the second caused more in part because it "was inflicted on already weakened infrastructure," said Ahm.

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Editorial: Anything Goes, Apparently
2008-09-12 16:56:22
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, September 12, 2008.

It seemed inevitable that bad things would happen when President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney packed the top posts at the Department of the Interior with lobbyists who had spent their careers representing the very industries they were now being asked to regulate. But it was left to Earl Devaney, the department’s inspector general - and the busiest gumshoe inside the federal bureaucracy - to demonstrate just how bad things could be.

In three extraordinary reports delivered to Congress this week, Mr. Devaney found that officials at the Minerals Management Service - the division responsible for granting offshore oil leases and collecting royalties - accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drugs and sex with oil company employees as part of what he described as a broader “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.”

At the center of the scandal is the royalty-in-kind program, under which the service takes delivery of oil and gas in lieu of cash payments from energy companies, then sells it to refiners. The program is vulnerable to manipulation at either end of the transaction, by overvaluing the oil and gas when it is received or undervaluing it when it is sold.

The program obviously needs a complete overhaul. It has already been the subject of multiple investigations - by Mr. Devaney; Dirk Kempthorne, the interior secretary; the Justice Department; and Congress - for mismanagement and conflicts of interest. In an earlier report in 2007, Mr. Devaney found that the agency had failed - through negligence and possible ethical lapses - to collect billions of dollars in royalties from oil companies for leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

His new reports add more shameful details, including allegations that agency employees accepted gratuities and other favors - meals, ski trips, sports tickets and golf outings with industry representatives - “with prodigious frequency.”

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Suspected U.S. Missile Strike Kills 12 In Pakistan
2008-09-12 16:56:00
At least 12 people were killed in northwest Pakistan on Friday in a suspected U.S. airstrike that Pakistani intelligence officials and experts say could further aggravate growing tensions with the United States over military operations in the region.

A U.S. Predator drone fired two missiles at a home in the village of Tolkhel in the tribal area of North Waziristan, near the border of Afghanistan, about 5:30 a.m., according to Ikram Khan, a resident who witnessed the attack from the nearby town of Miranshah. Khan said the drones were seen flying in the area near Miranshah, which is about a mile from Tolkhel, for several minutes before firing missiles at the home of a resident named Shadam Khan and a nearby school building. Ikram Khan said that several local Taliban had recently taken up shelter inside the school but that Shadam Khan was not believed to have any ties to the militant group.

Ikram Khan and other residents said that six of those killed were women and children. The others killed were Taliban fighters.

A Pakistani security official in Miranshah confirmed details of the attack, saying that several people were also injured and were taken to a hospital. The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because like many Pakistani officials he is not authorized to speak publicly on such matters, said Taliban fighters had cordoned off the area surrounding the bomb site and barred anyone from entering. The missile strike also prompted local tribesman in North Waziristan to register a formal protest with the tribal area's political administration, said the security official.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Virginia Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Spam Law
2008-09-12 16:55:16
The Virginia Supreme Court Friday invalidated the state's "anti-spam" law, designed to prevent the sending of masses of unwanted e-mail, by saying the law broadly violated the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, in particular anonymous speech.

The ruling, arising from the Loudon County criminal prosecution of Jeremy Jaynes of Raleigh, North Carolina, was also remarkable because the Supreme Court reversed itself: Just six months ago, the same court upheld the anti-spam law by a 4-3 margin; but Jaynes' attorneys asked the court to reconsider, typically a long shot in appellate law, and the court not only reconsidered but changed its mind.

Jaynes was convicted in 2004 of sending tens of thousands of e-mails through America Online servers in Loudoun. He was the first person tried under the law, enacted in 2003, and Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne sentenced him to nine years in prison.

Horne allowed Jaynes to remain free, even as his appeals were heard first by the state Court of Appeals, which rejected them, and then by the state Supreme Court.

Friday's ruling was written by Justice G. Steven Agee, who participated in the rehearing but has since retired. There were no dissenters.

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At Least 15 Dead, 70 Injured In Los Angeles Train Crash
2008-09-13 00:51:16
A Metrolink train and a Union Pacific freight train collided head-on in Chatsworth Friday afternoon, killing at least 15 people and injuring at least 70 others. Dozens of people were believed to be trapped in the wreckage despite the efforts of more than 250 firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

The number of fatalities makes this the deadliest Metrolink crash in the history of the Los Angeles area's commuter railroad.

One of the fatalities is believed to be the Metrolink engineer. Another is a Los Angeles Police Department officer, according to authorities.

Several cars derailed and the two trains collided with such force that the lead passenger car was wrapped around the Metrolink locomotive.

Firefighters initially battled a ferocious blaze in part of the wreckage. Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrell estimated that 350 to 400 people were on the train.
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Hurricane Ike Bears Down On Texas
2008-09-12 16:57:07

Hurricane Ike bore down on the Gulf Coast of Texas this morning, its leading edge already battering Galveston Island with storm-whipped waves as the National Weather Service warned residents in low-lying coastal areas that they "may face certain death" if they ignore orders to evacuate.

Hundreds of thousands were evacuating Galveston and a band of coastal Texas counties, while Houston residents stockpiled supplies and awaited what may be a direct hit on the country's fourth largest city -- with winds of perhaps 115 miles per hour expected at landfall.

The risk of staying was made blunt by the weather service: "Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single-family one or two story homes may face certain death," from the 20- to 25-foot storm surge that Ike is expected to push ashore, said the agency.

Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard officials were monitoring the status of a Cypriot freighter stranded about 90 miles offshore of Galveston. The 508-foot ship Antalina is in the path of the storm, but Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike O'Berry said the hurricane's high winds are preventing a helicopter evacuation of the 22 crew members.

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Weak Retail Sales Latest Sign Of U.S. Economic Slowdown
2008-09-12 16:56:44

News on the economy was mixed on Friday morning, with the release of a mildly relieving Producer Price Index  report and a discouraging retail sales report for August.

The price index for finished goods, a measure of the change in prices businesses pay, fell 0.9 percent in August after a 1.2 percent increase in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The August decline was the biggest since October 2006.

Consumers’ spending on retail and food decreased 0.3 percent in August after a 0.5 monthly drop in July, according to the Census Bureau.Economists had been expecting an increase of 0.2 percent.

“It’s a ray of hope on the inflationary front, but dark clouds on the horizon for consumers,” said the chief economist at Merk Mutual Funds, Joseph Brusuelas. “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.”

Stock markets initially fell on the reports, but stabilized by noon on Friday.

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Obama's Tone Sharpens As Party Frets
2008-09-12 16:56:10
Senator Barack Obama intensified his assault against Senator John McCain in Dover, New Hampshire, on Friday, drawing sharp connections between his Republican rival and President Bush through a coordinated, party-wide message as he confronts an invigorated Republican ticket and increasing nervousness among Democrats.

“The good news is that in 53 days, the name George W. Bush won’t be on the ballot.,” Obama told supporters here at an afternoon campaign appearance. “But make no mistake, George W. Bush’s policies will be on the ballot.”

Obama amplified his criticism of McCain through new television advertisements that portrayed the 72-year-old  McCain as an out-of-touch politician with a long career in Washington. The ads - among the most pointed attacks to be put out by Obama - depicted McCain as he looked when he was first elected to Congress in 1982, an attempt to undermine the new argument from McCain that he is the candidate of change.

A spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Alex Conant, accused Obama of “trying to destroy” McCain and his running-mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, with personal attacks.

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Palin Links Iraq To Sept. 11 In Talk To Troops In Alaska
2008-09-12 16:55:36
Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans."

The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself. But it is widely agreed that militants allied with al-Qaeda have taken root in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.

"America can never go back to that false sense of security that came before September 11, 2001," she said at the deployment ceremony, which drew hundreds of military families who walked from their homes on the sprawling post to the airstrip where the service was held.

Palin's return to Alaska coincided with her first extensive interview since she became the Republican vice presidential nominee. In the interview, with ABC News correspondent Charles Gibson, she was confronted with questions about the U.S. relationship with Russia and her fitness for office, and she appeared to struggle when asked to define the "Bush doctrine" on foreign policy. Palin drew repeated follow-up questions from Gibson about whether she believed in the right to "anticipatory self-defense" and crossing other nations' borders to take action against threats.

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At Least 32 Killed, 43 Wounded In Iraq Bomb Attack
2008-09-12 16:54:51
A car bomb ripped through a crowded commercial district in a mainly Shiite town on Friday, killing at least 32 people, said Iraqi officials - the latest attack north of Baghdad where violence has been slower to decline than elsewhere in the country.

The explosion in Dujail, which wounded 43 others, was apparently targeting a police station but instead badly damaged a nearby medical clinic, according to police. Concrete barriers largely protected the police station, said the officials.

The blast took place about 50 yards from the police station in an area packed with shoppers preparing for Iftar, the daily meal at which Muslims break their sunrise-to-sunset fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

Kamil al-Khazraji, the 33-year-old owner of a clothing store, said he was preparing to close when he heard the explosion.

"The ground under me was shaking. I went outside the shop only to see fire and dust all over the place," he said. "The area looked like a battlefield, with wounded people crying for help and scattered dead bodies."

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