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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday October 26 2008 - (813)

Sunday October 26 2008 edition
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In U.S., Spending Stalls And Businesses Slash Jobs
2008-10-26 03:04:49

As the financial crisis crimps demand for American goods and services, the workers who produce them are losing their jobs by the tens of thousands.

Layoffs have arrived in force, like a wrenching second act in the unfolding crisis. In just the last two weeks, the list of companies announcing their intention to cut workers has read like a Who’s Who of corporate America: Merck, Yahoo, General Electric, Xerox, Pratt & Whitney, Goldman Sachs, Whirlpool, Bank of America, Alcoa, Coca-Cola,  the Detroit automakers and nearly all the airlines.

When October’s job losses are announced on Nov. 7, three days after the presidential election, many economists expect the number to exceed 200,000. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is likely to rise, perhaps significantly.

“My view is that it will be near 8 or 8.5 percent by the end of next year,” said Nigel Gault, chief domestic economist at Global Insight, offering a forecast others share. That would be the highest unemployment rate since the deep recession of the early 1980s.

Companies are laying off workers to cut production as consumers, struggling with their own finances, scale back spending. Employers had tried for months to cut expenses through hiring freezes and by cutting back hours. That has turned out not to be enough, and with earnings down sharply in the third quarter, corporate America has turned to layoffs.

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Commentary: For Whom The Bailout Tolls
2008-10-26 03:04:13
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Michael Winship, senior writer of Bill Moyers' Journal, which airs on PBS. It appeared on's online edition for Saturday, October 25, 2008.

During the Stock Market Crash in 1929, that curtain-raising overture to the Great Depression, stories abounded of Wall Street brokers rushing to their office windows and leaping to their deaths. But according to the late John Kenneth Galbraith and other economic historians, those accounts of suicide were, by and large, fairy tales. Perhaps they were more dark-hearted, wishful thinking than reality - revenge fantasies on the part of those whose real life savings had been wiped out by ravenous speculators.

Nonetheless, the myth of those fatal plunges, like so many urban legends, is hard to shake. With more than a drop of cold blood, some have asked why, during this current fiscal crisis, we haven't seen similar tragedies in the ranks of high finance.

A close look at the recent government bailouts may explain why. The fat cats at the top had nothing to worry their pretty little whiskers about. Not only have most of their businesses been saved, for now at least, but they've already been pretty successful at protecting their high-rolling lifestyles, and finding bailout loopholes that allow them to keep hauling in the big bucks. To that ancient business axiom, "Buy low, sell high," add this amendment: When you get into trouble, beg for a bailout. Then, new money in hand, continue to act with the rapacious greed of Caligula or the Sun King.

You may already have heard how AIG, the insurance giant, after being saved to the tune of $85 billion, threw a $440,000 shindig at a California spa and then blew another $86,000 on a hunting trip to the English countryside, picking off partridges just as they were asking the Feds for an additional $38 billion. Bit of a sticky wicket, that.

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Poll Shows Obama Leading McCain
2008-10-26 03:03:32

Handling terrorism and the war in Iraq continue to be relative strengths for John McCain, but few voters cite either issue as their top concern, limiting the Republican nominee's options for reframing the debate to his advantage as Election Day approaches.

In the Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll on Saturday, Obama has an overall lead of 53 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, but McCain draws even with the Illinois senator on the question of who voters trust to deal with terrorism and Iraq policy.

A majority of independent voters side with McCain in these areas.

Both overall and among those crucial swing voters in the middle, McCain's positioning on Iraq and terrorism is significantly better than it is on the economy, where Obama continues to hold a double-digit advantage.

Fifty-one percent of all voters call the economy the No. 1 issue in deciding their presidential choice., and Obama is winning these voters handily, by a 62 to 35 percent margin.

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In Beijing, World Leaders Pledge Broad Reform Of Financial System
2008-10-26 03:02:34
Leaders from Asia and Europe on Saturday called for new rules for and stronger regulation of the global monetary and financial system at the close of a two-day summit in Beijing as China assumed a leadership role in the crisis.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the world's economic problems had become so massive that measures beyond the many multibillion-dollar bailout packages announced might be necessary to avert further damage.

"We are very glad to see that many countries have taken measures that have initially proved effective. But this is not enough given the current situation, and more needs to be done," Wen said Saturday, a day after dire corporate earnings reports from all over the world pushed Wall Street to a five-year low.

Wen also said stricter regulation might be key to recovery. "Lessons should be learned from the financial crisis, and the responsibilities should be clarified for governments, companies and supervision, respectively," he said.

The Asia-Europe Meeting, last held in 2006, traditionally does not result in any policymaking. The gathering this year, however, took on a new urgency with the world teetering on the edge of a recession.

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Prominent Republicans Cross Aisle To Endorse Obama
2008-10-25 17:56:07

Joel Haugen, a Republican fighting a tough congressional race against the Democrats in Oregon, has fallen out with his party. The reason: his surprise endorsement of Barack Obama for the presidency.

"I believe in putting nation before party and my first priority is following my conscience with regard to what is best for America," Haugen said in a statement issued by his office today. "I have a huge amount of respect for John McCain, but I believe that he has more of a cold war mentality."

Haugen is just one of many Republican politicians, dubbed "Obamicans", who have defected to Obama. The latest high-profile desertions include Scott McClellan, George Bush's former press secretary, who endorses Obama in a taped CNN programme to be broadcast this weekend, and William Weld, the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997.

Weld, in a statement released Friday ahead of a press conference in New Hampshire, described Obama as "a once-in-a-lifetime candidate".

Last weekend, Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, Obama's biggest Republican catch so far, publicly backed the Democratic candidate.

It is unusual to see so many prominent Republican politicians and columnists shift, even allowing for the fact that party affiliations are more fluid in the U.S. than Europe.

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Economic Strife Pushes Latinos Toward Obama
2008-10-25 17:55:44
In the last days of the campaign, Republicans and Democrats are walking the precincts here in Las Vegas, Nevada,  with lists of registered Latino voters who may be the key to victory in the Western battleground states, and this is what they are finding: padlocks on front doors, "bank owned" placards in the yards and, among those still in their homes, growing support for Barack Obama's promise of change.

The Spanish-speaking canvassers - immigrants or children of immigrants themselves - come face to face with a frayed American dream. Many residents who answer an earnest knock say they have lost their hotel and casino jobs and are selling their cars while awaiting eviction notices.

"I'm for Obama," Gustavo Mora, 64, told a Republican campaign worker on his doorstep last week. "I'm losing my house. That one next door is gone. Across the street, Chinese people bought that house. ... The economy is so bad, and I am afraid [John] McCain has the same ideas as President Bush, since he's a Republican too."

Miriam Mora-Barajas, 26, responded that McCain understands the needs of entrepreneurs like Mora, who owns two ice cream trucks and that the candidate opposes raising taxes on small businesses because it means they will have less money to invest.

Mora said he didn't have money to invest as it was, and he wondered how he would rent an apartment with a credit record showing he defaulted on his home loan.

"We know Obama is younger and less experienced, but the country needs a change," said Mora.
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Commentary: Sorry, I Can't Find Your Name
2008-10-25 17:54:54
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, October 22, 2008, but I didn't want let it fall through the cracks.

Before Mississippi's March presidential primary, one county election official improperly removed more than 8,000 voters from the eligible-voter rolls, including a Republican Congressional candidate. Fortunately, the secretary of state's office learned of the purge in time and restored the voters.

It's disturbing that a single official (who acted after mailings to voters were returned) could come so close to disenfranchising thousands of voters. But voting rolls, which are maintained by local election officials, are one of the weakest links in American democracy and problems are growing.

Some of these problems are no doubt the result of honest mistakes, but in far too many cases they appear to be driven by partisanship. While there are almost no examples in recent memory of serious fraud at the polls, Republicans have been pressing for sweeping voter purges in many states. They have also fought to make it harder to enroll new voters. Voting experts say there could be serious problems at the polls on Nov. 4.

When voters die or move to a new address, or when duplicate registrations are found, a purge is necessary to uphold the integrity of the rolls. New registrations must also be properly screened so only eligible voters get added. The trouble is that these tasks generally occur in secret, with no chance for voters or their advocates to observe or protest when mistakes are made.

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U.S. Is Resupplying Lebanon's Military
2008-10-25 17:53:55
For years, the Lebanese military was ridiculed as the least effective armed group in a country that was full of them. After the army splintered during the 15-year civil war, its arsenal slowly rotted into a museum of obsolete tanks and grounded aircraft.

Now that is starting to change. At the gates of the military base in Karantina, just north of Beirut, groups of soldiers drive in and out all day in new American Humvees and trucks, some of them toting gleaming new American rifles and grenade launchers.

The weapons are the leading edge of a new American commitment to resupply the military of this small but pivotal Middle Eastern country, which emerged three years ago from decades of Syrian domination.

The new wave of aid, the first major American military assistance to Lebanon since the 1980s, is meant to build an armed force that could help stabilize Lebanon’s perpetually fractured state, fight a rising terrorist threat and provide a legitimate alternative to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. That organization, which controls southern Lebanon, has refused to disarm, arguing that it is the only force capable of defending the country against Israel.

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Signs Of Economic Slowdown Spiral Around The World
2008-10-25 02:11:07

Pessimism about the global economy deepened yesterday as fresh evidence of a worldwide slowdown showed up in feeble corporate profit reports from Asia, sinking commodities prices, and a scramble by emerging economies to prop up their sagging currencies and avert credit defaults.

The signs of trouble popped up around the globe. Japanese giants Sony and Toyota, as well as South Korea's Samsung, the world's largest maker of memory chips, flat-screen televisions and liquid crystal displays, posted weakened profits and sales outlooks. Toyota's quarterly sales fell for the first time in seven years. Britain reported its first economic contraction since 1992.

Gloom about economic growth translated to low expectations for oil consumption. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Friday announced a cut of 1.5 million barrels a day in output - a move that still failed to arrest the slide in crude prices. Meanwhile, copper prices fell to a three-year low.

Investors around the world fled stocks and rushed to the relative safety of the U.S. dollar by pouring money into 30-year Treasury bonds, a refuge in times of uncertainty. That drove down the value of foreign currencies, from the ruble to the rupee and the zloty to the peso, forcing central banks to spend billions of dollars to prevent even further deterioration. The turmoil in currency markets threatened to reorder trade relations and complicate recovery efforts.

"I think we're moving into a new stage," said Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There is the danger of ever-widening spheres of disruption."

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U.S. Hedge Fund Admits 35 Percent Plunge In Value Since Downturn
2008-10-25 02:10:44

One of the world's biggest hedge fund managers, Citadel, told clients last night that two of its main funds have lost 35% of their value this year after rumors swept the market about its financial position.

The Chicago-based firm, which has $20 billion (£12.5 billion) of funds under management, blamed "panic" and "dislocation" on global exchanges for its predicament.

Citadel is run by 40-year-old billionaire Kenneth Griffin, an investment prodigy who was married at Versailles palace and who once spent a reported $60 million on a Cezanne painting.

On a conference call with investors, Citadel's executives said the firm's liquidity remained strong, with $8 billion of unused credit lines available.

"We've made it through 18 years," said Griffin. "We will make it through the next six to eight weeks."

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It's Official: The U.K. Economy Is Shrinking
2008-10-25 02:10:12

The Bank of England was under intense pressure Friday night to cut interest rates after new figures showed the economy had contracted for the first time in 16 years as it head into recession.

The news hammered the FTSE 100 index, which lost as much as 9% of its value at one point, wiping £90 billion off the value of leading shares. It also clobbered the pound, which suffered its biggest fall against the dollar since 1992, to below $1.53 - a six-year low. As recently as July, the pound would buy $2, but it has been falling rapidly on evidence that the economy is slumping. The pound also hit a record low against the euro Friday of just under 82 pence.

Official data showed gross domestic product contracted by 0.5% in the July to September period - a much bigger amount than expected, the first fall since early 1992 and the biggest drop since the fourth quarter of 1990.

"It's a big shock that the decline is so large. It is truly dire," said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec.

Barring a miraculous bounce in the current quarter, the economy will fulfil the technical definition of a recession - two quarters of contraction. Economists expect at least four more quarters of shrinkage in a row, which would be as bad as the recessions of the early 1990s or early 1980s.

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Radioactive Scrap From India Used To Make Elevator Buttons In France
2008-10-25 02:09:15

India's nuclear authorities have admitted radioactive scrap was exported from the country to make lift buttons in France.

French firm Mafelec sent thousands of lift buttons to the elevator maker Otis, which put them in hundreds of lifts in the country over the summer.

Otis said it removed the buttons after France's nuclear safety authority (ASN) announced this week that 20 workers who handled them were exposed to doses of radioactivity ranging from 1 to 3 millisievert (mSv). The French legal limit for people who do not work in the nuclear industry is 1mSv per year.

The ASN said it had classified the incident at Mafelec as level two on the international nuclear event scale. The scale goes from zero, which means no safety risk, to seven, which means a major accident.

The safety agency said the buttons contained traces of radioactive cobalt-60. Four Indian firms made the components, an Indian official said. It was unclear where the contaminated scrap originated â€" although metal was traced to a foundry in the western state of Maharashtra.
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Russia Decries U.S. Sanctions On Arms Exporting Company
2008-10-25 02:08:38
Russia reacted angrily Friday to U.S. sanctions leveled this week against an arms trading company, calling them an "arrogant application" of American laws abroad.

Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said the U.S. move to ban government agencies from dealing with Rosoboronexport, a state-owned company managed by a close friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was "absolutely incompatible with the new realities in the current world structure."

In addition to the Russian firm, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions against companies in China, South Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly selling technology to Iran, North Korea and Syria that could lead to weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. has stepped up its international efforts to apply diplomatic pressure on Iran to make it halt the development of nuclear materials that might eventually be used in a bomb.

"If somebody in Washington thinks that in this way the United States will make Russia more accommodating in accepting the U.S. approach to the solution of the Iran nuclear problem, this is a mistake," Lavrov told reporters Friday.

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Commentary: Republicans Summon Ugly Old Ghosts
2008-10-25 02:06:54
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Joseph L. Galloway and appeared on the McClatchy Newspapers website edition for Friday, October 24, 2008.

This is an autumn of great discontent as not just the United States, but the entire world trembles on the brink of an economic recession that may bring the kind of pain that's known only to the oldest among us.

With days to go before Election Day, the nation watches as a presidential candidate and his political party unravel, frantically dragging every ugly ghost out of the closet in an attempt not only to fool everyone, but also to scare everyone.

They appeal to the worst remnants of racism that cling like kudzu to a dying magnolia. Their robot phone dialers intrude on millions of uneasy citizens with messages of hate and fear and envy and greed.

They try to paper their opponent with guilt by association: He associated with a man who, decades before they ever met, belonged to a group of wild-eyed student revolutionaries.

They and their forces of darkness falsely claim that he's a Muslim at the same time they attack him for belonging to a Christian church whose black minister aimed angry sermons at white America.

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Financial Meltdown Worsens Food Crisis
2008-10-26 03:04:28
As shock waves from the credit crisis began to spread around the world last month, China scrambled to protect itself. Among the most extreme measures it took was to impose new export taxes to keep critical supplies such as grains and fertilizer from leaving the country.

About 5,700 miles away, in Nairobi, farmer Stephen Muchiri is suffering the consequences.

It's planting season now, but he can afford to sow amaranthus and haricot beans on only half of the 10 acres he owns because the cost of the fertilizer he needs has shot up nearly $50 a bag in a matter of weeks. Muchiri said nearly everyone he knows is cutting back on planting, which means even less food for a continent where the supply has already been weakened by drought, political unrest and rising prices.

While the world's attention has been focused on rescuing investment banks and stock markets from collapse, the global food crisis has worsened, a casualty of the growing financial tumult.

Oxfam, the Britain-based aid group, estimates that economic chaos this year has pulled the incomes of an additional 119 million people below the poverty line. Richer countries from the United States to the Persian Gulf are busy helping themselves and have been slow to lend a hand.

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Plan To Monitor Global Warming From Space In Jeopardy
2008-10-26 03:03:58

A major program to monitor climate change from space could be in jeopardy after it emerged that the British government is poised to slash funding for the project.

Climate scientists and campaigners have expressed deep concerns over the likely cut to the £128 million (about $220 million) promised to the Kopernikus program, which came to light just days after the government stepped up its commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

"The worry from the scientists is that it is essential to understand and monitor this change globally and it's not clear at this stage whether we're going to have the essential measurements to do that," said Paul Monks, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Leicester.

Kopernikus is the world's most ambitious environmental monitoring project. Led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and funded by European member states to the tune of more than €1 billion, it features satellites and a network of ground stations to monitor the effects of climate change, such as deforestation and coastal erosion. It has the specific purpose of providing accurate data for policymakers around the world.
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British Businesses Batten Down For Deep Recession
2008-10-26 03:02:54

Almost four in five British businesses are cutting back on everything from hiring new staff to paying for the office Christmas party, as they batten down the hatches for a deep recession.

Even before Friday's official figures revealed that the economy had swung into reverse for the first time since 1992, bosses had begun a series of austerity measures, according to a survey of more than 1,000 firms by the Institute of Directors.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Bank of England governor Mervyn King both conceded last week that a recession is in store.

"After 15 years of economic growth the party is over," said Graeme Leach, the IoD's chief economist. "The pressure on the corporate sector to do something to cut costs is now really starting to come through - but I think people need to be prepared for a lot more bad news over the next 12 to 18 months."

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Israeli Party Leader Seeks Early Election
2008-10-26 03:02:00
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ran out of options in her efforts to form a government and decided her only choice would be to press for early elections, now likely to be scheduled for February, party officials said Saturday night.

An associate of Livni’s, Otniel Schneller, a legislator from her party, Kadima, said by telephone that after the ultra-Orthodox party Shas turned her down on Friday, the hope was that another religious party, Yahadut Hatorah, would join in addition to the leftist Meretz party. While Meretz said yes, Yahadut Hatorah said no on Saturday, leaving her with too few votes in Parliament to govern comfortably.

The move to elections effectively ends any slim hope that existed for a peace deal with the Palestinians before President Bush leaves office in January. Israel’s elections were due to take place in 2010.

After consulting her closest aides at her home in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, Livni called the Labor Party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak,to inform him of the decision because he had agreed to join with her in a coalition. An associate of Barak’s said that he simply wished her luck.

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Commentary: Banking's Little Secret - Despite Bailout, No Loans
2008-10-25 17:55:58
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by New York Times writer Joe Nocera and appeared in the New York Times edition for Saturday, October 25, 2008.

“Chase recently received $25 billion in federal funding. What effect will that have on the business side and will it change our strategic lending policy?”

It was Oct. 17, just four days after JPMorgan Chase's chief executive, Jamie Dimon, agreed to take a $25 billion capital injection courtesy of the United States government, when a JPMorgan employee asked that question. It came toward the end of an employee-only conference call that had been largely devoted to meshing certain divisions of JPMorgan with its new acquisition, Washington Mutual.

Which, of course, it also got thanks to the federal government. Christmas came early at JPMorgan Chase.

The JPMorgan executive who was moderating the employee conference call didn’t hesitate to answer a question that was pretty politically sensitive given the events of the previous few weeks.

Given the way, that is, that Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., had decided to use the first installment of the $700 billion bailout money to recapitalize banks instead of buying up their toxic securities, which he had then sold to Congress and the American people as the best and fastest way to get the banks to start making loans again, and help prevent this recession from getting much, much worse.

In point of fact, the dirty little secret of the banking industry is that it has no intention of using the money to make new loans; but this executive was the first insider who’s been indiscreet enough to say it within earshot of a journalist.

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Asian, European Leaders Urge New Finance Rules
2008-10-25 17:55:27
Leaders from Asia and Europe on Saturday called for new rules and stronger regulation of the global monetary and financial system at the close of a two-day summit in Beijing as China assumed a new leadership role in the crisis.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the world's economic problems had become so massive that measures beyond the many billion-dollar bailout packages already announced might be necessary to avert further damage.

"We are very glad to see that many countries have taken measures that have initially proved effective. But this is not enough given the current situation, and more needs to be done," Wen said Saturday, a day after dire corporate earnings reports from all corners of the world pushed Wall Street to a five-year low.

Wen also said stricter regulation might be key to recovery. "Lessons should be learned from the financial crisis, and the responsibilities should be clarified for governments, companies and supervision, respectively," he said.

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General Motors, Driven To The Brink
2008-10-25 17:54:21
In late May, senior executives at General Motors confronted a decision that few thought they would ever face: whether to continue developing the next generation of one of the most successful products in G.M.'s 100-year history - the full-size sport utility vehicle - or to punt the program entirely.

It’s rare for an automaker to pull the plug on high-profile initiatives, much less one involving a $2 billion, top-to-bottom overhaul of a high-volume vehicle that once helped it rake in cash.

This was also G.M.’s flagship platform, code-named CXX, which would underpin popular models like the Escalade, Yukon and Suburban, brawny tanks that had defined the auto giant’s image for more than 15 years.

The executives killed the CXX project without a single dissenting vote. And with that, the era of the big S.U.V. was as good as dead, done in by soaring gasoline prices and consumers fleeing to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

“It would have been very difficult in today’s environment to spend a couple of billion dollars to do a replacement,” said Robert A. Lutz,G.M.’s vice chairman and head of product development. “Reality had set in.”

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Foreigners Shot To Death In Kabul
2008-10-25 17:53:38
A security guard working for the international shipping company DHL opened fire Saturday, killing the company's country director and his deputy before turning the gun on himself, said officials.

The shooting took place in front of the DHL office in downtown Kabul. One Briton and one South African were killed in the attack, said the British Foreign Office and South African government.

The preliminary investigation found one of the Afghan security guards protecting the DHL compound opened fire on the car carrying the two foreigners when it pulled into the company headquarters, said Mirza Mohammad Yarmal, an Interior Ministry official.

The guard then put the Kalishnikov rifle to his own head and killed himself, said Yarmal. Blood was on the vehicle's windshield and pooled on the ground in front of DHL headquarters.

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Guantanamo Official Targeted In Two Investigations
2008-10-25 02:10:54
A Pentagon official overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals is the subject of two investigations into his conduct, including one wide-ranging ethics examination into whether he abused his power and improperly influenced the prosecutions of enemy combatants.

An internal Air Force investigation into the activities of Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann appears to be the more significant of the two probes because it was launched only after a preliminary inquiry found sufficient grounds to move forward, said military officials.

The Air Force is reviewing allegations that Hartmann bullied prosecutors, logistics officials and others at Guantanamo - resulting in cases going to trial that were not ready and the prosecution of at least one individual on charges that were unwarranted - and assertions that he advocated using coerced evidence despite prosecutors' objections.

It also is looking into allegations that Hartmann made intentionally misleading statements, both in public and during the Guantanamo tribunal proceedings, in an effort to downplay the direct role that he played in the overall prosecution effort and in several cases, according to interviews with military lawyers.

A second investigation, being conducted by the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General, was sparked by the complaints of at least two military officials about Hartmann's allegedly abusive and retaliatory behavior toward them within the Office of Military Commissions. That office oversees the prosecutors and defense lawyers in the terrorism trials taking place at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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Veterans: Candidates Agree That The Veterans Administration Is Broken
2008-10-25 02:10:31
Even as the country heads into an era of tighter budgets, John McCain and Barack Obama are united on giving more help to the nation's veterans and overhauling the agency that cares for them.

McCain, one of the nation's most celebrated veterans, and Obama, who never served in uniform but became an advocate for veterans issues soon after entering the U.S. Senate, generally agree that the Department of Veterans Affairs does some things well and other things quite poorly.

While veterans issues have come into the limelight only briefly during this election, the two campaigns have sparred over how best to improve access to the V.A.'s health-care system.

"We expect whoever becomes president to take care of America's veterans," said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the oldest major veterans' advocacy group in the country.

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Iraq's Prime Minister Won't Sign Troop Deal
2008-10-25 02:09:39
Fearing political division in the parliament and in his country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki won't sign the just-completed agreement on the status of U.S. forces in Iraq, a leading lawmaker said Friday.

The new accord's demise would be a major setback for the Bush administration, which has been seeking to establish a legal basis for the extended presence of the 151,000 U.S. troops in this country, and for Iraq, which won notable concessions in the draft accord reached a week ago.

"No, he will not" submit the agreement to the parliament, Sheikh Jalal al Din al Sagheer, the deputy head of the Shiite Muslim Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, told McClatchy. "For this matter, we need national consensus."

Instead, Sagheer said, Iraq's political leaders are considering seeking an extension of the United Nations mandate for the presence of U.S. troops, which will expire on Dec. 31. Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has assured Iraq that it wouldn't veto an extension, he said, adding that one was likely to last between six months and a year.

Ali al Adeeb, the chief of staff of Maliki's Dawa party, said Wednesday that the Iraqi parliament "cannot approve this pact in its current form."

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Comedian Franken Becomes Serious Contender
2008-10-25 02:08:58
Al Franken settled into the Wagon Wheel Cafe and for 45 uninterrupted minutes talked with a handful of Minnesota farmers about the promise of cellulosic ethanol, the impact of the sinking dollar on crop prices and his pledge to secure a seat on the Agriculture Committee if he is elected to the U.S. Senate.

Then the Democrat worked the diner crowd, shaking hands and asking for support like a seasoned statesman, betraying no hint that he was once a longtime writer and actor on "Saturday Night Live" and a sharp-tongued liberal talk-radio host.

Nevertheless, after Franken left, Jodi Dickey dismissed his candidacy, saying it was "like Tina Fey running for office." Then the undecided voter thought a bit more about the state of the country and reconsidered. "Actually, maybe that's not such a bad idea."

The political climate this year is such that Franken - best known for starring in an "SNL" skit in which his character stares into a mirror and attempts to reassure himself that, doggone it, people like him - has pulled ahead in his Senate race against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

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Wolf Advocates Protest Bush Administration Move
2008-10-25 02:08:23

The Bush administration is trying again to take the gray wolf of the northern Rockies off the federal endangered species list.

Having lost in court this summer in a legal battle with conservationists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to reopen for public comment its 2007 proposal to delist the wolves.

"The position of the service is, we think the wolves no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. We're asking the public to weigh in to that," Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said in an interview Friday.

Wolf advocates immediately protested.

"This is the Bush administration's last-gasp attempt to remove protections for wolves," said Louisa Wilcox, a senior wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston, Montana.

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