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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday November 30 2008 - (813)

Sunday November 30 2008 edition
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Many Experts Say U.S. Health-Care System Is Inefficient, Wasteful, Dangerous
2008-11-29 15:02:40

Talk to the chief executives of America's preeminent health-care institutions, and you might be surprised by what you hear: When it comes to medical care, the United States isn't getting its money's worth. Not even close.

"We're not getting what we pay for," says Denis Cortese, president and chief executive of the Mayo Clinic. "It's just that simple."

"Our health-care system is fraught with waste," says Gary Kaplan, chairman of Seattle's cutting-edge Virginia Mason Medical Center. As much as half of the $2.3 trillion spent today does nothing to improve health, he says.

Not only is American health care inefficient and wasteful, says Kaiser Permanente chief executive George Halvorson, much of it is dangerous.

Those harsh assessments illustrate the enormousness of the challenge that awaits President-elect Barack Obama, who campaigned on the promise to trim the average American family's health-care bill by $2,500 a year. Delivering on that pledge will not be easy, particularly at a time when the economic picture continues to worsen.

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Lifeline Of 30 Billion Euros Thrown To Germany's BayernLB Bank
2008-11-29 15:01:42
Germany's troubled BayernLB bank will be granted a bailout package worth 30 billion euros to help it survive the financial chill. Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer warned the bank's predicament is "very, very serious".

BayernLB has already earned itself the unenviable accolade of becoming Germany's first bank to request help from the government bailout funds. On Friday it added a massive bailout package to its trophy shelf: a €30 billion lifeline will be thrown to the ailing business.

To restore it to health, Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer said the Munich-based BayernLB would be granted €10 billion ($12.9 billion). He also said the bank requires lending guarantees to the tune of €20 billion. Of that he said he would seek €15 billion in interbank lending guarantees under the federal plan.

Germany's second biggest regional bank has been hit hard amid the financial domino effect. First, the U.S. subprime lending crisis and subsequent credit crunch left it, and many peers, with hefty write-downs. Then, BayernLB's problems deepened with losses generated by bank failures in Iceland.

Earlier BayernLB said it has applied for €3 billion from the federal bailout fund - a move which would mean that the state would have a relatively small say in the running of the bank.

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Germany Reaches Kyoto Emissions Commitments - For The Moment
2008-11-29 15:00:58
A new study shows that German has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the level pledged in the Kyoto Protocol; but a greater reliance on coal-fired power plants may soon reverse that trend.

When it comes to global warming and concurrent efforts to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, Germany has always tried to present itself as a leader. New data set to be released on Friday shows that the country has earned its bragging rights.

According to the most recent numbers collected by the "national emissions inventory," which keeps tabs on Germany's CO2 emissions, the country has already lowered its emissions to the level set out by the Kyoto Protocol agreement. In 1997, Germany pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent by 2012 relative to 1990 levels. New numbers indicate that the country has managed to reduce emissions by 22.4 percent, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitung which saw the report before it was published.

According to the Munich-based daily, the study points to the mild winter of 2006-2007 as being a factor in the recent decline. But it also says that greenhouse gas emissions from German households have been declining for years. The same trend has been observed when it comes to emissions from cars and trucks on the nation's roads.

Nevertheless, the study warns that emissions could tick upwards as a result of high energy prices for much of 2008, a situation that led many power plants to increase reliance on coal-generated power. The near future will also see a number of atomic energy facilities shut down in Germany as part of the country's turn away from nuclear power, a development that is likely to increase the use of emissions-intensive energy sources such as coal.

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Same Artists, Same Collectors, Less Champagne
2008-11-29 15:00:19
Next week, the most important art fair in the world - "Art Basel Miami Beach" - will begin amid gloom and financial chaos. What used to be a symbol of the art market's golden age could now help launch a global art market depression.

The party lasted many years, and many thought it could keep on going forever. The clientele of the galleries and auction-houses would accept any price - $70 milion, $100 million, even $135 million. The only difficulty was in keeping a fresh supply of art. But if anyone could scare up a drip painting of Jackson Pollack, he could easily charge $140 million.

Over the last several years, auctioneers have regularly broken records and more and more galleries have opened worldwide - in cities like Beijing, a new one almost every day. In the new millennium, art seemed to sell itself.

"This market has grown out of the economic reality of the last two years," says Iwan Wirth, 38, who ranks as Europe's most important gallerist and lives in London and Zürich. But now the art market will learn what financial power really means. "The market will be changed by the world economic crisis," predicts Wirth. The ecstasy is cooling off. The boom times are over.

High-flying hubris has marked the entire industry, and nowhere more than at "Art Basel Miami Beach," the world's most thrilling fair of contemporary art. It is, in every respect, the most extroverted event in the art world: here, greed is a virtue, not a sin.

Since its founding in 2002, collectors, including wealthy hedge fund managers, have come to this sunny off-shoot of the Swiss fair "Art Basel" to snatch away the most expensive trophies from one another. Many stalls were sold out after only an hour. This shopping-battle developed into the community's favorite game.

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Bush Administration Moves Ahead On Oil, Gas Leases On Public Lands
2008-11-29 02:56:10

A decision by federal officials this week to press ahead with a controversial sale of oil and gas leases in eastern Utah is stoking the debate over how to balance the nation's needs for fossil fuels against concerns over the environmental impact on iconic national parks and other sensitive areas.

The Bush administration, which has sought to reduce American dependence on imports to meet the continuing demand for oil and gas, has aggressively pushed to open up energy exploration across broad swaths of the West, off both coasts, and in Alaska. But those initiatives regularly stir opposition from both environmentalists and advocates of faster development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Over the last four fiscal years, a Washington Post analysis of Bureau of Land Mangement records shows, the government has dramatically accelerated the pace of awarding oil and gas drilling permits on federal land. The total for the period is nearly triple the number issued in the corresponding years under former President Clinton, and the number of new wells sunk on federal land is more than double Clinton's record over the comparable period.

In the latest skirmish, the bureau announced Tuesday that it will proceed with most of a proposed sale of oil and gas leases on nearly 500 square miles of public land in eastern Utah, which had sparked protests from environmental advocates and National Park Service officials. Opponents fear the drilling activity will damage air quality in several nearby popular national parks.

The lease sales, due to take place next month, could pose a challenge for the incoming Obama administration, which will have to decide shortly after taking office whether to honor the contracts, seek to undo the leases or pay millions in taxpayer dollars to buy them back.

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U.S. Sends FBI Agents To Investigate Mumbai Attacks
2008-11-29 02:55:47
The government ordered FBI agents Friday to fly to India to investigate the bloody Mumbai attacks that killed at least five Americans. U.S. citizens still in the city were warned their lives remain at risk.

Intelligence officials looked urgently for clues about the identity of the attackers, a crucial unknown as Indian officials charged, without giving details, that "elements in Pakistan" were involved. A tentative rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed rivals could hang in the balance, and a U.S. counterintelligence official cautioned against rushing to judgment on the origins of the militants.

President George W. Bush pledged cooperation with Indian authorities and mourned the deaths of more than 150 people at the hands of gunmen who attacked targets across India's financial capital starting Wednesday night.

"My administration has been working with the Indian government and the international community as Indian authorities work to ensure the safety of those still under threat," Bush said in a statement from the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. "We will continue to cooperate against these extremists who offer nothing but violence and hopelessness."

Bush was receiving regular updates, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Friday night. Senior administration officials were focused on ensuring that Americans were being helped in every way possible, she said.

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In Bid To Jump-Start Global Economy, Nations Embark On Massive Public Programs
2008-11-29 02:55:00

In a bid to jump-start the beleaguered global economy, countries around the world are introducing massive public spending programs aimed at creating millions of jobs, boosting the use of green energy and modernizing infrastructure in a way that could transform urban and rural landscapes.

The viability of some of the plans remains unclear, but observers say the number of countries moving in tandem underscores the perceived severity of the coming global recession and the view that governments must at least temporarily pick up the slack as the hard-hit private sector sheds jobs and cuts spending.

It is time "to invest massively in infrastructure, in research, in innovation, in education, in training people, because it is now or never," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a recent public address.

World leaders are pursuing a variety of strategies to tame the economic crisis, including moves to unclog credit markets, strengthen financial institutions and ease monetary policy. Fiscal stimulus packages, in particular, have emerged as a favorite tool of policymakers. Some countries' plans are particularly bold: China is accelerating projects to build more nuclear power plants and a vast natural gas pipeline; Italy may erect the first bridge connecting Sicily to mainland Europe.

This past week, the European Union called for member countries to spend $258 billion to spur growth; France, one of the bloc's largest economies, is expected to announce a huge package next week. Britain has already unveiled a $30 billion proposal, and Spain a $14 billion plan.

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Wal-Mart Worker Dies In Shoppers Stampede
2008-11-29 02:54:12
Friday morning's two shootings in Palm Desert weren't the only violent deaths on Black Friday: Across the country hours earlier, shoppers straining to get into a Wal-Mart in a New York City suburb trampled an employee, said police.

The three fatalities struck a somber note on the day after Thanksgiving, which is traditionally a day of leftovers, football and bargains at the mall.

At 5:03 a.m. Friday, customers surged toward a Long Island Wal-Mart store's entrance.

A 34-year-old temporary employee was killed when a "throng of shoppers .. physically broke down the doors, knocking him to the ground," according to a statement from Nassau County officials.

He was declared dead at a hospital at 6:03 a.m. The exact cause of death has not been determined.

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'The Most Dangerous Woman In The World'
2008-11-29 15:02:03
Aafia Siddiqui was once considered a brilliant scientist. Then the U.S. government called her the new face of al-Qaeda - a Pakistani woman who ranked among America's top terrorism suspects. Now the MIT-educated mother of three is in custody, claiming her disappearance was a wrongful abduction by the CIA.

On July 17, 2008, men coming from evening prayers at the Bazazi Mosque in Ghazni, a provincial capital south of Kabul, paused when they saw a woman outside the building. They formed a circle around the stranger, who was wearing a blue burqa. She was cowering on the ground, with two small bags at her side, holding the hand of a boy of about 12. One of the men, fearing that this peculiar woman could be carrying a bomb under her burqa, called the police.

A short time later, more than 11,000 kilometers (6,800 miles) away, a telephone rang at the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Washington, D.C. Someone crossed the name Aafia Siddiqui from a list of suspects and wrote the word "arrested."

After two weeks Aafia Siddiqui was flown from the U.S. Air Force's Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan to New York. She was now wearing a tracksuit, had two bullet entry wounds in her abdomen and weighed around 40 kilograms (90 lbs.). Siddiqui is 1.63 meters (5'4") tall.

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Commentary: India Is Pointing In The Right Direction
2008-11-29 15:01:27
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Claus Christian Malzahn and appeared in the Spiegel Online edition for Saturday, November 29, 2008.

Mumbai a terror zone, and India bitterly points its finger at Pakistan. The unloved neighbor needs all the help the West can offer. Pakistan is nearly a failed state - and a U.S. invasion under President Obama can't be ruled out.

It is still not clear who exactly carried out the terror attacks in Mumbai this week. But the actions speak for themselves. The murderers expressly went after Britons, Americans and Jews. In the world's largest democracy, attacks were carried out by a determined minority against the will of an overwhelming majority. The crimes bear the clear and bloody fingerprints of militant, political Islamism.

The uncomfortable resonance left behind by the series of attacks is that the criminals were almost omnipotent: They could strike where, when and - almost - whomever they wanted. The terror didn't just claim its victims in one awful moment; it spread out and lasted for days. There was a similar feeling during the terror attacks on the living quarters of Westerners in Saudi Arabia in 2004 as well as the battle at Pakistan's Red Mosque, in the center of Islamabad; but this time the terror overtook an entire city.

The attacks struck the heart of an Indian civil society that has always functioned fairly well, despite recurring conflicts between the country's Hindu majority and Muslim minority. The terror struck a country that is closely allied, politically and economically, with the West. The terrorists' mission can be neatly summarized: political, economic and cultural destabilization of the whole subcontinent.

The attacks were an attempt to spread religious war from the whole of Afghanistan and regions of Pakistan to their southern neighbor, India. It's obvious the terrorists follow the ideology of al-Qaeda, though it's unclear whether the head of that organization gave orders for this mission. Perhaps we'll never know - it wouldn't be the first time. But we can assume the murderers from Mumbai see themselves as part of an international movement in which Zawahiri and bin Laden hold high ranks.

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Thai Security Forces Clash With Protesters At Airport
2008-11-29 15:00:34
Anti-government protesters occupying Bangkok’s two commercial airports clashed at least twice with security forces on Saturday, raising tensions in the four-day standoff.

The Thai police said they would continue their efforts to negotiate with protesters and called the first clash a misunderstanding.

“We are ready to talk,” Lt. Gen. Chalong Somjai, of the Thai police, said in a news conference at a police station near Suvarnabhumi Airport, a giant complex that has served as a transportation and commercial hub for Southeast Asia. “We are trying to bring this to a peaceful conclusion.”

The Thai airport authority said Suvarnabhumi would be closed until at least Monday evening, dashing hopes for a quick resolution of the national crisis.

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Mumbai Siege Ends As Last Gunman Killed, Hostages Freed
2008-11-29 02:56:22
Security forces brought a three-day assault on India's financial and cultural capital to an end Saturday morning, killing the last remaining gunmen holed up in one of the city's luxury hotels after freeing hostages and recovering bodies from two hotels and a Jewish center Friday.

Pakistani officials, responding to charges by Indian leaders that the attack was carried out by an organization with ties to Pakistan, said a senior intelligence officer would travel to India, in an apparent attempt to ease tensions between the two nuclear-armed states.

Indian officials said they now believe that at least 15 gunmen carried out the operation after reaching Mumbai by sea. After an interrogation of one of the attackers, Indian intelligence officials said they suspected that a Pakistani Islamist group, Lashkar-i-Taiba, was responsible. An Indian intelligence document from 2006 obtained by the Washington Post said members of the group had been trained in maritime assault.

Authorities said that the death toll had risen to 195 as more bodies were discovered and that 295 people were wounded, the Associated Press reported, in attacks on the hotels, the Jewish center and several other sites in Mumbai. Among the dead were two Americans from Virginia; the American rabbi who ran the city's Chabad-Lubavitch center and his Israeli wife; and three of their visitors, including an American man, an Israeli woman and a man with U.S. and Israeli citizenship. In all, 16 non-Indians have been reported killed.

Explosions from fighting at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel could be heard outside the hotel early Saturday morning, and flames and thick, inky-black smoke were seen pouring from the first floor.

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E.U. Accuses Pharmaceutical Companies Of Padding Health Care Costs
2008-11-29 02:55:59
The European Union accused drug companies on Friday of adding billions of dollars to health care costs by delaying or blocking the sale of less expensive generic medicines.

One common tactic, said Neelie Kroes, the European competition commissioner, was for drug companies to amass patents to protect active ingredients in the medicines - in one case, 1,300 patents for a single drug. Another tactic, she said, was for pharmaceutical companies to sue the makers of generic drugs for ostensible patent violations, which tended to delay the availability of the lower-cost products for years.

Kroes made her comments Friday while presenting the preliminary findings of a broad investigation into accusations of anticompetitive practices in the drug sector. She also turned her sights on the generics companies, which she said had received $200 million from pharmaceutical companies over seven years in exchange for holding their products off the market.

Patients and health care systems in Europe would have saved at least 3 billion euros, or $3.8 billion, from 2000 to 2007 - or shaved 5 percent off the medical bills - if companies had let generics into the market sooner, she said.

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Pakistani Militants At Center Of Investigation On Mumbai Attacks
2008-11-29 02:55:35
Pakistani militant groups on Friday became the focus of the investigation into the attacks in Mumbai as India and its archrival Pakistan jousted over who was responsible. Both sides pledged to cooperate in the probe, but tensions remained high amid fears the conflict could escalate.

Pakistan initially said Friday that it had agreed to send its spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, on an unprecedented visit to India to share and obtain information from investigators there. Later Friday, however, Pakistani officials changed their minds and decided to send a less senior intelligence official in Pasha's place, according to a Pakistani source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It is unclear what prompted the reversal, but the Pakistani source said the Islamabad government was "already bending over backwards" to be cooperative and did not "want to create more opportunities for Pakistan-bashing." Pakistan's defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told reporters in Islamabad, "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."

Meanwhile, Indian authorities ramped up their accusations that the plot had Pakistani connections. "Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved," Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at a news conference in New Delhi. Other Indian officials echoed the statement, but none provided details.

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2 Gunmen Kill Each Other In Shootout At California Toys 'R Us
2008-11-29 02:54:27
Most shoppers headed to the Toys "R" Us in Palm Desert on Friday morning clutching their "door buster" ads and their shopping lists. At least two men walked into the busy store armed with their guns.

Instead of the usual frantic chaos on Black Friday, the year's busiest shopping day, mayhem erupted in the electronics department about 11:30 a.m., leaving two men dead in a gunfight and crowds of shoppers ducking for cover.

Joan Barrick, 40, of Desert Hot Springs, said she was buying a Barbie Jeep for her daughter when two women started brawling. As the women swung at each other, the men they were with also started arguing.

The younger of the two lifted up his shirt and flashed his handgun, pulling the handle from his baggy pants pocket. The other man yanked out his own handgun and started chasing him down the aisle and firing, said witnesses.

Barrick hid behind a stack of DVDs and recited the Lord's Prayer. "If I'm going to die, I need to make peace," she said. "A lot of people were crying. I was crying. We were all very, very scared."

As the two men ran shooting through the aisles, shoppers dumped their purchases. LaToya Jenkins, 20, had already bought a remote control bike. She dropped it and ran. Others left behind shopping carts full of the bargain-priced toys they had come in search of.
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Mexican President Defends War On Drug Cartels
2008-11-29 02:53:55
President Felipe Calderon and his government defended their fight against public corruption and drug trafficking Friday, asking for greater powers to go after organized crime. They conceded that most Mexicans feel unsafe and that many police are unqualified to do their jobs.

One hundred days after calling for a sweeping overhaul of security forces, including a reorganization of the federal police into a single agency, Calderon and his cabinet cited some successes, such as the recent arrest of several drug captains and corrupt officials. But they acknowledged that the extreme violence unleashed in Mexico was daunting.

"We know the challenges are many and that the road that we have to travel is long and difficult. But we cannot and will not back down," said Calderon, who appeared with his government ministers at a day-long National Security Council  meeting in which they reported on their fight against organized crime and the drug cartels.

More than 4,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Calderon declared war against the cartels in early 2007. The campaign has transformed border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez into war zones, complete with 20,000 occupying troops.

Calderon touted the recent arrest of Noe Ramirez Mandujano, a former chief of the anti-organized-crime unit at Mexico's attorney general's office, who is accused of taking at least $450,000 from drug traffickers in exchange for information about police investigations. Other top law enforcement officials have also been detained in recent weeks in "Operation Clean House," including Mexico's former liaison to Interpol, the international police organization.

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