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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday November 1 2008 - (813)

Saturday November 1 2008 edition
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Princeton Report Rips New Jersey E-Voting Machines As Easily Hackable
2008-10-31 22:28:52
With eight days to go before the presidential election, a report was released by Princeton University and other groups that sharply criticizes the e-voting machines used in New Jersey and elsewhere as unreliable and potentially prone to hacking.

The 158-page report, which was ordered by a New Jersey judge as part of an ongoing four-year legal fight over the machines, says the e-voting machines can be "easily hacked" in about seven minutes by anyone with basic computer knowledge. Such hacking activity could enable fraudulent firmware to steal votes from one candidate and give them to another, said the report.

The controversy involves the Sequoia AVC Advantage 9.00H direct-recording electronic (DRE) touch-screen voting machines made by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems.

The report comes amid news stories in at least three states - West Virginia, Texas and Tennessee - where voters have told local election officials that they believe the e-voting machines they used tried to "flip" their votes to other candidates.

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U.S. Attorney General Mukasey's Private Trips Cost Taxpayers $155,800
2008-10-31 22:27:41
U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has taken personal trips on government jets almost every weekend since he took office less than a year ago at a cost to taxpayers of more than $155,800, Justice Department and Federal Aviation Administration travel records show.

Mukasey took so many trips to his home in New York on FAA, FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration planes that he was outside Washington a third or more of February, May, July, August and September. From November 2007 to September 2008, he traveled to New York 45 times, according to the records, which were released in late October in response to open records requests that McClatchy filed nine months ago.

Justice Department officials defended Mukasey's personal travel, saying that he has no choice but to fly on a government plane to see his family. Mukasey, unlike most other Cabinet members, is required to fly on government planes, rather than commercial ones, for security reasons, and he often worked from home, said the officials.

"When he travels personally, the attorney general pays what any other government official would pay for a commercial flight to that location," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement. "It would be unfair to penalize financially the attorney general because he is one of the few government officials required to use government aircraft for all travel."

Mukasey traveled with his wife on 17 of the trips, and eight of them were with four or five other relatives. Most of the trips with his wife and other relatives were one-way between New York and Washington, D.C.

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Bush Administration Makes Last Push To Deregulate
2008-10-31 17:06:52
The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.

"They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office," said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration's penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom. He called the coming deluge "a last-minute assault on the public ... happening on multiple fronts."

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DOH! Bernanke Says Mortgage System Needs Safeguards
2008-10-31 17:06:10
Development of a system that allows deserving borrowers to obtain home mortgages while minimizing the risks to the country’s financial system and the taxpayers must be “high on the policy agenda,” the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, said Friday.

Bernanke said the recent bailout of the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offered a much-needed chance to rethink and clarify the appropriate roles of government-sponsored enterprises whose ambiguous roles, partly public and partly private, have been cited as contributing to the difficulties in the mortgage markets and, consequently, the entire financial system.

“Government likely has a role to play in supporting mortgage securitization, at least during periods of high financial stress,” said Bernanke, speaking via satellite to a symposium on the mortgage crisis and the economy at the University of California, Berkeley. On Wednesday, the Fed cut the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge one another, by a half-point to 1 percent.

“But once government guarantees are involved, the problems of systemic risks and contingent taxpayer involvement must be dealt with clearly and credibly,” said Bernanke. “Achieving the appropriate balance among these design challenges will be difficult, but it nevertheless must be high on the policy agenda for financial reform.”

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U.S. Stocks Higher On Last Day Of Rollercoaster Month
2008-10-31 17:05:40

October is on track to go down in history as the worst month in the American stock market since 1987. But on Friday, investors were trying to end things on a positive note.

The major exchanges pushed higher on Friday, a quiet day in a tumultuous month that has seen the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fall more than 16 percent. The index fell 21.8 percent in October 1987.

In late afternoon trading, the S.&P. was 1.6 percent higher and the Dow Jones industrials average up about 130 points, or 1.5 percent. The technology-heavy Nasdaq was 1.1 percent higher.

Shares took a jump after the JPMorgan Chase, the banking giant, said that it would expand its program to modify mortgages in an effort to avoid foreclosures on up to $70 billion in loans. Chase said the changes were expected to be put in place in the next 90 days, and until those changes could be made, it would not put any loans into foreclosure.

If the Dow finishes higher, it would accomplish one thing that it has not done so far in October - two positive sessions back to back.

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Editorial: More Money For Detroit
2008-10-31 17:04:53
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, October 31, 2008.

Here is a measure of just how grim the economic outlook is: It seems to make sense to pump billions more taxpayer dollars into Detroit’s automakers even though down the road they could quite possibly go bust anyway.

The specific request by General Motors and Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that controls Chrysler, is preposterous: billions to help pay for a merger of dubious value. Neither automaker has been able to produce cars that consumers want to buy. Both are losing money hand over fist. Gluing them together would not change this dynamic. Still, there are two plausible arguments to support a general government bailout of Detroit’s lumbering car companies.

First, it is not unreasonable to believe that they might survive as self-sustaining companies if government money can get them over the credit crunch and deep recession that is expected in 2009.

In 2010, they are expected to offload responsibility for their retirees’ health care onto a new fund. It would cost them some $40 billion but would get the problem off their books and stop the hemorrhaging of money. They have negotiated new contracts with the auto workers’ union that eliminate retiree health care and allow for lower wages for new hires. They are slashing the production of gas-guzzlers. Some analysts believe they finally have a promising lineup of fuel-efficient cars.

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DOH! Sen. Stevens Insists He Will Be Vindicated
2008-10-31 17:03:49
If Senator Ted Stevens is feeling down about his felony convictions, his uphill battle for re-election or the sudden supremacy of his fellow Republican, Gov. Sarah Palin, on the Alaskan political stage, it would be tough to tell from the crunch of determination that has long shaped his face.

Even in good times, Stevens was never much of a smiler.

“Is he down?” said Bill Sheffield, a former governor of Alaska and a close friend. “No, he’s pretty up and thinks he’ll be vindicated.”

Sheffield said he spoke to Stevens on Wednesday, two days after the senator was convicted in federal court in Washington, D.C., of seven counts of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations. By Thursday night, at a debate with his Democratic rival, Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, Stevens said that not only would he be vindicated but that he had been the victim of a “massive abuse of government power,” one that legal scholars would study for years for the breadth of its injustice.

“I have not been convicted of anything yet,” he said, a reference to the fact that a conviction does not formally take place until a judge enters final judgment upon sentencing. The guilty verdicts, he said, were “a temporary situation,” an incremental setback until a judge throws them out or Stevens wins on appeal.

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Bio Lab In Galveston, Texas, Raises Concerns
2008-10-31 22:27:59
Much of the University of Texas medical school on the island of Galveston suffered flood damage during Hurricane Ike, except for one gleaming new building, a national biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world.

How a laboratory where scientists plan to study viruses like Ebola and Marburg ended up on a barrier island where  hurricanes regularly wreak havoc puzzles some environmentalists and community leaders.

“It’s crazy, in my mind,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston. “I just find an amazing willingness among the people on the Texas coast to accept risks that a lot of people in the country would not accept.”

Officials at the laboratory and at the National Institutes of Health which, along with the university, is helping to pay for the $174 million building, say it can withstand any storm the Atlantic hurls at it.

Built atop concrete pylons driven 120 feet into the ground, the seven-floor laboratory was designed to stand up to 140-mile-an-hour winds. Its backup generators and high-security laboratories are 30 feet above sea level.

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American Author Studs Terkel Dies At 96
2008-10-31 22:27:21
Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the voluble host of a popular radio show in Chicago, died Friday at his home there. He was 96.

His death was confirmed by Lois Baum, a friend and longtime colleague at the radio station WFMT.

In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr. Terkel relied on his enthusiastic but gentle interviewing style to elicit, in rich detail, the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens. Over the decades, he developed a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular.

“Division Street: America” (1966), his first best seller and the first in a triptych of tape-recorded works, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to “Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression" (1970) and “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do” (1974).

Mr. Terkel’s book “ â€˜The Good War’: An Oral History of World War II” won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

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U.S. Bureau Of Land Management Proposes Opening Utah Wilderness To Drilling
2008-10-31 17:06:23

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is reviving plans to sell oil and gas leases in pristine wilderness areas in eastern Utah that have long been protected from development, according to a notice posted this week on the agency's Web site.

The proposed sale, which includes famous areas in the Nine Mile Canyon region, would take place Dec. 19, a month before President Bush leaves office. The targeted areas include parts of Desolation Canyon, White River, Diamond Mountain and Bourdette Draw.

The bureau has sought to open these public lands to energy exploration since 2003, though it had earlier classified them as having "wilderness character," but the agency has been repeatedly blocked by federal court and administrative rulings.

"Previous administrations proved that there can be a balance between wilderness protection and oil and gas development," said former bureau director Jim Baca, who served under former President Bill Clinton, in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has worked tirelessly to appease the oil and gas industry no matter the cost to our national heritage of wild and untamed places."

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Poll: Growing Doubts On Palin Take Toll
2008-10-31 17:05:58

A growing number of voters have concluded that Senator John McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is not qualified to be vice president, weighing down the Republican ticket in the last days of the campaign, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

All told, 59 percent of voters surveyed said Palin was not prepared for the job, up nine percentage points since the beginning of the month. Nearly a third of voters polled said the vice-presidential selection would be a major factor influencing their vote for president, and those voters broadly favor Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.

In a possible indication that the choice of Palin has hurt McCain’s image, voters said they had much more confidence in Obama to pick qualified people for his administration than they did in McCain.

After nearly two years of campaigning, a pair of hotly contested nominating battles, a series of debates and an avalanche of advertisements, the nationwide poll found the contours of the race hardening in the last days before the election on Tuesday. Twelve percent of the voters surveyed said they had already voted. These were among the findings:

-- Obama is maintaining his lead, with 51 percent of likely voters supporting him and 40 percent supporting McCain in a head-to-head matchup.

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In U.S., September Consumer Spending Fell 0.3 Percent
2008-10-31 17:05:30

Consumers shied away from big-ticket items in September, as wages remained basically stagnant and people began to tuck more money into savings - further evidence of a pullback by American households.

Overall consumer spending dropped 0.3 percent in September compared with the month before, while disposable income - the money left after taxes - barely crept ahead of inflation, increasing by 0.1 percent. A drop in spending on big-ticket consumer items, particularly automobiles and parts, accounted for much of the decline in overall spending, with a drop of 2.9 percent in September compared with the month before.

Savings rates, notoriously low in a society accustomed to financing spending with credit cards and home equity loans, increased for the second straight month, to 1.3 percent of disposable personal income, or about $140 billion.

The drop in consumer spending upends what has been a mainstay of the U.S. economy. Through recession, countless natural disasters and a major terrorist attack, there has been one constant: American consumers have bought more stuff in any given quarter than they did in the previous one.

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China Widens Food Tests On Signs Of More Contamination
2008-10-31 17:04:19
Chinese regulators said Friday that they were widening their investigation into contaminated food amid growing signs that an industrial chemical called melamine had leached into the nation’s animal feed supplies, posing even deeper health risks to consumers after the recent tainted milk scandal.

The announcement came after food safety tests earlier this week found that eggs produced in three different provinces in China were contaminated with melamine, a chemical that is blamed for causing kidney stones and renal failure in infants. The tests have led to recalls of eggs and consumer warnings.

The reports are another serious blow to China’s agriculture industry, which is already struggling to cope with its worst food safety scandal in decades after melamine tainted milk supplies sickened over 50,000 children, caused at least four deaths and led to global recalls of goods produced with Chinese dairy products earlier this fall.

The cases are fueling global concerns about contaminated Chinese food. In Hong Kong, food safety officials announced this week that they would be testing a wider variety of foods for melamine, including vegetables, flour and meat products.

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