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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday December 31 2008 - (813)

Wednesday December 31 2008 edition
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California Weeks Away From Running Out Of Money
2008-12-31 03:48:11
The failure of California state lawmakers and the governor thus far to wipe out any of the state's projected nearly $42-billion deficit leaves California only weeks from running out of the cash needed to pay all of its bills.

On Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang sent a letter to government agencies advising them of whom the state won't pay if coffers run dry.

Californians may not be so troubled by who is on the top of the list to get IOUs: state lawmakers, who haven't been able to come up with a budget solution that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign.

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Russia Lengthens Presidential Terms From 4 Years to 6 Years
2008-12-31 03:47:40
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a constitutional amendment Tuesday extending presidential terms in the country from four years to six, a change that many suspect is intended to benefit his predecessor - and possible successor - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev gave final approval to the measure after a hurried legislative drive that lasted less than two months, ignoring complaints by the opposition that parliament is legally required to wait a year before ratifying any change to the constitution.

The extension of the presidential term is the first substantive amendment to Russia's post-Soviet constitution since it was adopted in 1993. The speed with which the Kremlin pushed the measure through parliament and the nation's provincial legislatures has prompted widespread speculation that Putin is planning to return to the presidency, perhaps as soon as next year.

After serving two terms as president, Putin stepped aside this year because he was constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term. He engineered the election of his protege, Medvedev, who then appointed him prime minister. With Russia facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, though, analysts say Putin may have concluded he would be better shielded from rising public discontent if Medvedev resigned and allowed him to return to the presidency for a new six-year term.

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Toxic Deposits By The Ton At Plant In Tennessee Coal Ash Spill
2008-12-30 16:36:10

In a single year, a coal-fired electric plant deposited more than 2.2 million pounds of toxic materials in a holding pond that failed last week, flooding 300 acres in East Tennessee, according to a 2007 inventory filed with the Environmental Protections Agency (E.P.A.).

The inventory, disclosed by the Tennessee Valley Authority on Monday at the request of The New York Times, showed that in just one year, the plant’s byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.

And the holding pond, at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a T.V.A. plant 40 miles west of Knoxville, contained many  decades’ worth of these deposits.

For days, authority officials have maintained that the sludge released in the spill is not toxic, though coal ash has long been known to contain dangerous concentrations of heavy metals. On Monday, a week after the spill, the authority issued a joint statement with the E.P.A. and other agencies recommending that direct contact with the ash be avoided and that pets and children should be kept away from affected areas.

Residents complained that the authority had been slow to issue information about the contents of the ash and the water, soil and sediment samples taken in and around the spill.

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Covina Police Say Pardo Intended To Kill Others
2008-12-30 16:35:41
Covina, California, police said Monday they believe that Bruce Pardo, who killed nine people at a Christmas Eve party, also intended to kill his mother and his estranged wife's attorney.

Lt. Pat Buchanan said Pardo had had a falling out with his mother and felt she was siding with his ex-wife, Sylvia, in their bitter divorce.

Buchanan said Pardo had found out his mother was invited to Sylvia's family's Christmas Eve party in Covina and had intended to kill her along with others gathered there.

His mother, however, did not attend the party due to illness.

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Israel Presses On With Gaza Strikes
2008-12-30 16:35:00
Israel's air strikes against targets on the Gaza Strip stretched into a fourth day Tuesday, continuing to destroy buildings allegedly linked to the militant Hamas movement as diplomatic efforts intensified to calm the situation.

European foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Paris on Tuesday and Arab diplomats are set to gather in Cairo on Wednesday to try to address the four days of intense violence, with Israeli planes conducting hundreds of strikes and Hamas militants firing hundreds of rockets - including some of its farthest reaching ever - into Israeli territory.

In advance of the Paris session, the European Commission called for "an immediate halt to military hostilities" in order to spare Gaza's civilian population, while demanding that Hamas also stop firing its rockets into Israel. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday had also called for a cease-fire. In telephone conversations, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner appealed to the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, to consider a truce to allow humanitarian relief supplies to enter the beleaguered Gaza Strip, the Associated Press reported.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said President Bush had spoken this morning with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, to discuss efforts to restore a cease-fire.

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Israeli Naval Ship Clashes With Gaza Aid Boat
2008-12-30 16:34:31
An Israeli naval ship clashed on Tuesday with a small boat carrying international activists with aid for Gaza, said an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Israel declared the coastal territory a closed military zone after it launched air attacks on Hamas targets on Saturday. More than 345 Palestinians have been killed in the attacks.

There were no reported casualties from the incident involving the small cabin cruiser "Dignity" that sailed from Cyprus late on Monday.

It was forced to divert to Lebanon, from where a naval vessel was sent to escort it into the port of Tyre.

Free Gaza Movement told Reuters their boat, carrying 3 1/2 tons of medical aid with 16 people aboard, was rammed and shot at in international waters 70-80 miles off Gaza by an Israeli naval vessel. There were Europeans and Americans on board.

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U.S. Plans Alternate Supply Route To Afghanistan
2008-12-30 16:33:57
The United States and NATO are planning to open and expand supply lines through Central Asia to deliver fuel, food and other goods to a military mission in Afghanistan that is expected to grow by tens of thousands of troops in the months ahead, according to American and alliance diplomats and military officials.

The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed by Pakistani security forces on Tuesday as they launched an offensive against militants in the region.

The militants have shown they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning cargo trucks and American Humvees over recent weeks. More than 80 percent of the supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan.

But the new arrangements could leave the United States more reliant on cooperation from authoritarian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor records when it comes to democracy and human rights.

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New Rules Add Police To Soldiers' Jobs In Iraq
2008-12-31 03:47:59
In late November, around the time the security agreement between the American and Iraqi governments was ratified, an order came down to Company C at its Sadr City outpost.

In accordance with the agreement’s new rules on searches and detentions, troops from Company C of the First Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, were to begin operating under a policy called “warrant-based targeting.”

Up to that time, First Lt. Jamen K. Miller’s platoon had been the most prolific in the company when it came to arrests, seizing more than half of those captured in the past seven months. But he soon found himself explaining to an Iraqi officer that, yes, a certain man his platoon had declined to arrest was a bad guy, but that nothing could be done yet without a warrant.

“The gears of the system,” Lieutenant Miller said of those first few days, “looked like they were coming to a halt.”

In many ways, Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite quarter in northeastern Baghdad, is on the front line of the recent security agreement. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, American forces have relied heavily on mass arrests without charges of people suspected of being insurgents.

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December U.S. Consumer Confidence Falls To All-Time Low
2008-12-30 16:36:19
U.S. consumer confidence hit an all-time low in December, dropping unexpectedly in the face of rising layoffs, in yet another sign that consumer spending is unlikely to pull the U.S. out of a yearlong recession any time soon.

Consumers have been nervous about spending for months - putting off big-ticket purchases, forgoing new clothes and choosing store brands at the grocery store - all of which may make this the worst holiday season for retailers in decades.

The Consumer Confidence Index measured by the Conference Board, a private research group, fell to 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November. That is its lowest point since the group began compiling the index in 1967, and below the previous low of 38.8 in October. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the index to rise incrementally to 45.

"Deepening job insecurity and falling asset prices are outweighing any optimism consumers may have derived from falling gas prices," said Dana Saporta, U.S. economist at investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort.

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U.S. Home Prices Fell Sharply In October
2008-12-30 16:36:00

Home values in 20 large metropolitan areas across the country dropped at a record pace in October as the fallout from the financial collapse reverberated through the housing market, according to data released Tuesday.

The price of single-family homes fell 18 percent in October from a year earlier, according to the closely watched Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller Housing Index. All 20 cities reported annual price declines in October; prices in 14 of the 20 metropolitan areas surveyed fell at a record rate as the financial crisis reached a critical point.

“October was clearly the free-fall month,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s. “Everything was going against us in October, without exception.”

After increasing steadily through the first part of the decade, home prices have fallen every month since January 2007, their slide accelerating as troubles in the housing market infected the broader economy and brought down financial firms.

Prices are falling at the fastest pace on record, a sign that the housing market is a long way from recovery.

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Blagojevich Intends To Fill Obama's Senate Seat, U.S. Senators Say They Won't Seat His Choice
2008-12-30 16:35:28

In defiance of U.S. senators who said they would not seat his pick, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today said he would go ahead and select former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to succeed President-elect Barack Obama in the Senate.

Blagojevich praised Burris for his "unquestioned integrity" and "extensive experience," calling him a senior statesman.

"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," said Blagojevich.

Blagojevich's news conference came less than an hour after U.S. Senate Democratic leadership issued a statement saying the Senate will not seat anyone the governor chooses to fill Illinois' vacant Senate post. The statement also is signed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, who has repeatedly urged Blagojevich not to name a replacement for the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

"This is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat," the statement read. "Anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus."

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Family Mourns 5 Daughters As Civilian Death Toll Mounts
2008-12-30 16:34:45
Trapped in the rubble, Iman Balousha, dressed in her green pajamas, said she could hear her sisters' cries. "Mother! Mother! Where is my mother? Pull me out!" Their muffled voices slipped through the toppled bricks.

Early Monday, an Israeli airstrike on the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip destroyed the family's house, located next to the Emad Aqeel mosque, the intended target, which was also flattened. Rescuers tried frantically to save the girls. Iman was lucky: She was half-buried in the debris.

One by one, the cries stopped, Iman recalled in an interview. She could see the leg of her 4-year-old sister, Jawaher, whom her family called Ayah. She could touch her hair. But minutes later, Ayah stopped breathing.

"I've lost five sisters," Iman, 16, said at a relative's house Monday evening, her soft voice fading. Tears slid down her face. Her mother, Samira, held her 16-month-old son, whose face was bruised and specked with dried blood.

"Does my 12-days-old baby have a rocket with her?" Samira demanded. "Or my son, does he have a missile with him? Or did my daughters have AK-47s beside them? Why did they target them?" The five daughters who died were ages 4 to 17.

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Pakistan Army's Move Against Taliban Shuts Down U.S., NATO Supply Line
2008-12-30 16:34:08
Backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery, Pakistani security forces on Tuesday shut down a crucial supply line for NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan as they launched an offensive against Taliban militants who dominate the Khyber Pass region.

NATO uses the Khyber Pass, an ancient trade and military gateway that cuts through the mountains on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, to transport the majority of provisions for troops fighting the resilient Afghan insurgency. Supplies are ferried from Karachi in Pakistan 700 miles north to Peshawar, and then trucked 40 miles westward through the pass and into Afghanistan.

Taliban militants, including forces led by an upstart lieutenant to the warlord Baitullah Mehsud, have taken over the area between the pass and Peshawar, and now routinely attack convoys with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles.

Many drivers in the convoys have already quit making the trip because the route is so deadly. Militants also ransacked a half-dozen supply depots in Peshawar this month, burning 300 cargo trucks and Humvees destined for NATO troops.

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7,600 Fossils From 100 Million Years Ago Found In China
2008-12-30 16:33:35
China claims to have found the world's biggest deposit of dinosaur bones in the old city of Zhucheng in Shandong province on the country's eastern coast.

Workers digging along a 300 meter slope on the outskirts of the city unearthed a densely packed layer of fossils that could be more than 100m years old. The state news agency Xinhua said that 7,600 samples had now been discovered, mostly dating from the late Cretaceous period, the era when dinosaurs are believed to have become extinct.

Zhucheng has become an important site for China's dinosaur hunters, with the world's largest remnant of the duck-billed hadrosaur discovered near the city more than 20 years ago. The city's unique importance to the world of palaeontology emerged in 1964, when oil prospectors working for the state geological bureau stumbled on a collection of dinosaur fossils during a routine dig.

Xinhua said the new findings included the skull of a large ceratopsian, a beaked flying dinosaur, along with bones thought to belong to the club-tailed ankylosaurus.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday December 30 2008 - (813)

Tuesday December 30 2008 edition
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The Crash: What Went Wrong?
2008-12-29 17:48:07
How did the most dynamic and sophisticated markets in the world come to the brink of collapse? The Washington Post examined how Wall Street innovation outpaced Washington regulation.

Part 1: The Beautiful Machine: Greed on Wall Street and blindness in Washington, D.C., certainly helped cause the financial system's crash. But a deeper explanation begins 20 years ago with a bold experiment to master the variable that has defeated so many visionaries: Risk.

Three men, partnering with American International Group, or AIG, built an elegant and powerful system that earned billions of dollars, operating in the seams and gaps of the market and federal regulation. The firm would alter the way Wall Street did business and eventually test Washington's growing belief that capitalism could safely thrive with little oversight.

Howard Sosin and Randy Rackson conceived their financial revolution as they walked along the Manhattan waterfront during lunchtime outings. They refined their ideas at late-night dinners and during breaks in their busy days as traders at the junk-bond firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert.

Sosin, a 35-year-old reserved finance scholar who had honed his theories at the famed Bell Labs, projected an aura of brilliance and fierce determination. Rackson, a 30-year-old soft-spoken computer wizard and art lover, arrived on Wall Street with a Wharton School pedigree and a desire to create something memorable.

They combined forces with Barry Goldman, a Drexel colleague with a Ph.D. in economics and a genius for constructing complex financial transactions. "Imagine what we could do," Sosin would tell Rackson and Goldman as they brainstormed in the spring of 1986.

The three men had earned plenty of money through short-term deals known as interest-rate swaps, a clever transaction designed to protect banks, corporations and other clients from swings in interest rates that threw uncertainty into the cost of borrowing the money necessary for their business operations.

They believed their revolution could never happen if they stayed at Drexel. Swaps in those days typically lasted no longer than two or three years. The trio envisioned deals lasting decades that would lock in profits and manage risks with unprecedented precision. But the junk-bond firm's inferior credit rating sharply raised its borrowing costs, making it a dubious and risky partner for such long-term deals.

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Stocks Decline On News Of Scuttled Dow Deal
2008-12-29 17:47:32

Stocks declined Monday afternoon after a week of relative calm, as a scuttled multi-billion dollar deal between Kuwait and one of America’s largest chemical companies underscored the depth of the global economic crisis.

Shares of Dow Chemical fell 15 percent after the government of Kuwait backed out of a joint venture to create a petrochemical operation, citing deteriorating oil prices and economic instability. The setback raised questions about whether Dow could go forward on a $15 billion purchase of the specialty chemicals company, Rohm & Haas, whose stock fell 16 percent.

Locked credit markets have doomed hundreds of deals this year, and reduced the global volume of mergers by a third.

“Look, people still can’t find financing,” said Russ Koestrich, head of investment strategy at Barclay’s Global Investors. “The long end of the credit market still remains fairly frozen.”

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Scenic Pakistani Valley Falls To Taliban
2008-12-29 17:46:59
Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.

The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.

''You can't imagine how bad it is,'' said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. ''It's worse day by day.''

The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.

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Gaza Residents Fear Israeli Tank Assault Is Near
2008-12-29 17:46:24
Residents of the Gaza Strip Monday braced for a long-feared Israeli tank incursion as warplanes pounded the bottled-up coastal enclave for a third straight day.

The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority announced the suspension of its peace talks with Israel in protest of the Israeli campaign against the rival Hamas movement, which controls Gaza. But Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised an "all-out war against Hamas and its kind."

As a third day of multiple air strikes pushed the Gazan death toll to 345, according to local medical sources, Barak addressed a stormy session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

"This operation will be widened and deepened as we see fit," said Barak, who promised "war to the bitter end" designed to neutralize the rocket fire from Gazan militants that had plagued southern Israeli towns.

Several Arab parliamentarians were ejected for heckling and interrupting Barak's speech.

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Arsenic Levels Too High In Water At California's Kern State Prison
2008-12-29 17:45:32
Beside a field of rolling tumbleweed in this remote Central Valley town, the state opened its newest prison in 2005 with a modern design, cutting-edge security features and a serious environmental problem.

The drinking water pumped from two wells at Kern Valley State Prison contained arsenic, a known cause of cancer, in amounts far higher than a federal safety standard soon to take effect.

Yet today, nearly three years after missing the government's deadline to reduce the arsenic levels, the state has no concrete plans or funding to do so. Officials spent $629,000 to design a filtration system and then decided not to build it, while neglecting to inform staff and inmates that they were consuming contaminated water.

After the prison finally posted notices last April on orders from the state Department of Public Health, the inmates continued drinking the water, under protest.

"We have no choice," said Larry Tillman, 38, who was serving time for burglary. "We should at the very least receive bottled water, or truck in water from another city."

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Russia's Ruble Continues To Slide
2008-12-29 17:44:34
Russia’s Central Bank on Monday allowed its plummeting currency to drop further on the last day of trading before the long New Year’s holiday, ending a roller-coaster year for the ruble on a historic low.

The ruble slid 1.5 percent on the Micex foreign currency exchange, to close at 34.9 rubles against the Central Bank’s euro-dollar basket.

It hit 29.2 against the dollar - a level that has not been seen since 2005 - and 41.7 against the euro - an all-time low. It is the third sharp drop in the national currency in five days, and the 12th since Nov. 11, when the supervised slide began.

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Prosecutors File To Release Blagojevich Recordings
2008-12-29 17:44:07
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wants lawmakers to hear what Gov. Rod Blagojevich said on wiretapped phone calls.

Fitzgerald filed paperwork Monday to release conversations caught on wiretaps to the Illinois House panel considering impeachment proceedings. Federal prosecutors have asked a judge for permission to disclose a limited number of the intercepted conversations in a redacted form.

Fitzgerald says disclosing four calls wouldn't interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation.

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Concern Grows For Young Survivors Of Covina Shooting Victims
2008-12-29 17:47:44
Surviving family members Sunday were grappling with how to best care for the victims' children after a Christmas Eve slaying in Covina that left nine people dead.

At least 13 young people were orphaned after the shooting and two others lost one parent, according to a family attorney.

"We have to help them," said Jose Castillo, a relative who came to the Covina home Sunday to pay his respects.

The shooting occurred at the Knollcrest Drive home of Joseph and Alicia Ortega, who headed a large, close-knit family.

They were among those who police believe perished in the shootings but who have not been officially identified by the coroner's office.

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Inventors Find Inspiration In Nature
2008-12-29 17:47:12

For some, whale watching is a tourist activity. For Gunter Pauli, it is a source of technological inspiration.

"I see a whale, I see a six-to-12-volt electric generator that is able to pump 1,000 liters per pulse through more than 108 miles of veins and arteries," he said. The intricate wiring of the whale's heart is being studied as a model for a device called a nanoscale atrioventricular bridge, which will undergo animal testing next year and could replace pacemakers for the millions of people whose diseased hearts need help to beat steadily.

Pauli - who directs the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) Foundation in Geneva - is an unabashed promoter of biomimicry, the science of making technological and commercial advances by copying natural processes. At a time when many are looking for a way to protect Earth's biodiversity and reduce the ecological impact of industrial products and processes, a growing number of business leaders and environmental activists alike are looking to biomimicry as a way to achieve both ends.

"The idea behind biomimicry is that life has already solved the challenges that we're trying to solve," said Janine Benyus, who leads the Biomimicry Guild, a Helena, Mont.-based consulting group. "There are literally as many ideas as there are organisms."

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Gaza Death Toll Hits 300 In Third Day Of Israeli Air Strikes
2008-12-29 17:46:41
In a third straight day of deadly air strikes against the emblems and institutions of Hamas on Monday, Israeli warplanes pounded targets in Gaza including the Interior Ministry while the Israeli Army declared areas around the beleaguered enclave a “closed military zone.”

The attacks brought the death toll in Gaza to more than 300, according to Palestinian medical officials.

Israel says that its onslaught - its most ferocious against Palestinians in decades - is designed to prevent Palestinians from attacking towns in southern Israel with missiles. But a rocket fired from Gaza killed a man and wounded seven in the Israeli town of Ashkelon on Monday, the Israeli Army said. Three Israelis were also stabbed by a Palestinian in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, said the army.

The air strikes followed bombing late Sunday that hit the Islamic University in Gaza, a Hamas stronghold, and the Interior Ministry, according to Hamas. Footage recorded from Israeli warplanes showed bombs striking the entrances to tunnels allegedly used to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt.

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Food, Medical Supplies Grow Scarce In Gaza Strip
2008-12-29 17:46:11
The family of Um Shadi al-Bardaweel did not sleep. The Israeli air strikes and the explosions, the sirens and the screams of strangers outside their house near the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip kept them awake into the predawn hours Sunday.

At the first light of dawn, the mother of five sent her son to the bakery to buy bread. Hundreds of Palestinians had the same idea, joining a never-ending line. "There's no food in the market," Bardaweel explained in an interview with a reporter. Her son did not return until nightfall.

Then came another air strike close to their camp, rocking the house and shattering the windows. "Our children started screaming in a crazy way," she recalled. "After each air strike, my sons ask me: 'Why are we targeted? Will they arrest us? Will they come after us?' I tell them not to panic. We are far away from the shelling. But then tonight, the bombing reached our doorsteps."

As Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip continued for a second day, Palestinians struggled to survive amid a growing humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Israeli citizens living along the Gaza border prepared for retaliation from Palestinian fighters, fleeing their homes and readying bomb shelters.

Humanitarian aid groups sounded the alarm Sunday about what they described as a deteriorating medical situation in the strip and urged the opening of Gaza's borders to allow supplies to flow to hospitals. There are growing shortages of vital medicines and equipment, said the aid workers.

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Well Water Near Tennessee Spill May Be Unsafe
2008-12-29 17:45:16
Some water samples near a massive spill of coal ash in eastern Tennessee are showing high levels of arsenic, and state and federal officials on Monday cautioned residents who use private wells or springs to stop drinking the water.

Samples taken near the spill slightly exceed drinking water standards for toxic substances, and arsenic in one sample was higher than the maximum level allowed for drinking water, according to a news release from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the power plant where the spill occurred, the Environmental Protection Agency and other officials.

TVA spokesman Jim Allen said there are four private drinking water wells in the area affected by the spill and the agency should have tests from them this week.

"I think they were beyond the actual slide point of the material," EPA spokeswoman Laura Niles said of the wells. "There shouldn't be direct impact, but that's why they are sampling."

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Rahm Emanual Informs Blagojevich He Will Resign U.S. House Seat Friday
2008-12-29 17:44:19
U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois), who is set to serve as chief of staff to President-elect Barack Obama, will resign his U.S. House seat Friday. Emanuel sent a letter to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday indicating that he planned to step down at the end of the week. The new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 6.

Blagojevich has no power to appoint Emanuel's replacement - as is the case with Obama's vacated Senate seat. Instead, the letter triggers a provision under state law that gives Blagojevich five days to set a date for a special election to replace Emanuel.

The election to fill the seat on Chicago's North Side must be held within 115 days. The governor will likely set a date for a primary election as well.

Emanuel took a surprisingly personal tone in his missive to Blagojevich, considering that the nature of his communication with the governor's office regarding Obama's successor has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Blagojevich stands accused by federal authorities of attempting to sell his power of appointment over Obama's seat.

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Somalia's President Resigns
2008-12-29 17:43:44
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the cantankerous, 70-something president of beleaguered Somalia, resigned on Monday. The question now is: Will it make a difference?

Could it be the death knell of Somalia’s transitional government, whose zone of control is down to a few city blocks in a country nearly as big as Texas? Or will it be the government’s saving grace?

For weeks now, Western diplomats, Somali elders and United Nations officials have been crossing their fingers that Yusuf, who has been widely blamed for trying to block a peace deal with Somalia’s increasingly powerful Islamist insurgents, would step aside.

Yusuf was one of Somalia’s first warlords and he never seemed able to shake his warlord ways. Western diplomats have accused him of favoring his clan at the expense of all others, enabling corruption and too often trying to solve knotty political problems, which called for a little finesse, with the business end of a machine gun.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday December 29 2008 - (813)

Monday December 29 2008 edition
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Wall Street Faces Record Losses In Last Week Of 2008
2008-12-28 17:51:13
Investors are preparing to close out the last three trading days of 2008 with Wall Street's worst performance since Herbert Hoover was president.

The ongoing recession and global economic shock pummeled stocks this year, with the Dow Jones industrial average slumping 36.2 percent. That's the biggest drop since 1931 when the Great Depression sent stocks reeling 40.6 percent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index is set to record the biggest drop since its creation in 1957. The index of America's biggest companies is down 40.9 percent for the year.

With these statistics ready to play out this week, it is little wonder why investors are all too happy to close the books on 2008. Analysts are already looking toward January as a crucial period for the market as it tries to recover some of the $7.3 trillion wiped from the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 index, the broadest measure of U.S. stocks.

''It is hard to gauge a recovery because there's so many things out there that are interactive with each other,'' said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York. ''Nothing is in a vacuum. Anybody who is managing money has to be on the cautious side for at least the first six months of 2009.''

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GCC Summit To Focus On Global Financial Crisis
2008-12-28 17:50:49
The impact of global financial crisis and the sharp decline of oil prices on the economies of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states will figure high on the 29th GCC summit that begins in Oman’s capital Muscat on Monday.

“The GCC leaders will discuss the financial crisis in details to adopt a common vision on how to address its negative impact,” GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah said. He said GCC states are capable of overcoming the crisis.

The GCC, that groups Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, owns about half of the world’s proven oil reserves and a quarter of the world’s gas reserves. They supply more than a quarter of crude produced in the world daily.

Al-Atiyyah said GCC countries would be able to offset the impact of financial crisis thanks to the budget surpluses they had gained during the past five years in addition to the wise financial and monetary policies they adopted to confront the crisis.

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As Layoffs Rise In Dubai, Labor Complaints Triple
2008-12-28 17:50:24
As companies in Dubai announce thousands of layoffs as a result of the economic crisis, Ministry of Labor officials in the emirate are struggling to deal with an unprecedented number of complaints they receive everyday.

From a CEO of a company earning a salary of more than 100,000 dirhams per month to a construction worker with an income of 700 dirhams, the numbers of laborer complaints have tripled since the beginning of November.

No accurate figures of the number of layoffs or complaints are available, as the Ministry of Labor has not released any official figures. But a visit to the ministry’s office revealed long queues of workers who had lost their jobs or had not been paid for the past few months.

An official from the Complaints Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News that he had never handled so many complaints in his career.

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Throughout Middle East, Arabs Demonstrate Against Israeli Airstrikes In Gaza
2008-12-28 17:49:46
Angry demonstrations broke out across the Arab world Saturday and diplomats in the region called for emergency measures in the aftermath of Israel's deadly air attacks against Hamas security strongholds in the Gaza Strip.

Few expect the uproar to do more than reinforce regional trends: Pro-U.S. Arab governments continue to alienate large portions of their populations despite statements of protest against Israel, analysts said, while Iran and Syria score propaganda points for their continuing patronage of Islamic militant groups such as Hamas that fight Israel.

"It will give Iran and Syria a boost," said Sarkis Naoum, a columnist for the pro-Western Lebanese daily An Nahar. "They will use it to say to the Arab people, 'Your regimes, presidents and kings won't help. They turn a blind eye to what is happening'."

Pan-Arab satellite channels broadcast nearly nonstop images of bloodied Palestinian bodies, ambulances with sirens screaming and women wailing in hospital corridors. In interviews, enraged men and women from Yemen to Morocco condemned the air attacks, which came three days after militants in Gaza launched an estimated 30 rockets and at least 20 mortar shells at targets in southern Israel.

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Dan Rather's $70 Million Lawsuit Likely To Deal A Blow To Bush Legacy
2008-12-28 17:48:30

As George W. Bush prepares to leave the White House, at least one unpleasant episode from his unpopular presidency is threatening to follow him into retirement.

A $70 million lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favorable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. Bush had hoped that this controversy had been dealt with once and for all during the 2004 election.

Eight weeks before the 2004 presidential poll, Rather broadcast a story based on newly discovered documents which appeared to show that Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard ensured that he did not have to fight in Vietnam, had barely turned up even for basic duty. After an outcry from the White House and conservative bloggers who claimed that the report had been based on falsified documents, CBS retracted the story, saying that the documents' authenticity could not be verified. Rather, who had been with CBS for decades and was one of the most familiar faces in American journalism, was fired by the network the day after the 2004 election.

He claims breach of contract against CBS. He has already spent $2 million on his case, which is likely to go to court early next year. Rather contends not only that his report was true - "What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him," he says - but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush's second term.

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Suicide Bomber Kills Up To 30 In Pakistan School
2008-12-28 17:47:54
A suicide car bomber set off a powerful explosion outside a polling station Sunday in volatile northwest Pakistan, killing up to 30 people, including several children, authorities said.

The latest such attack occurred in Buner, a district adjoining the scenic Swat Valley. Pakistani troops have been battling Islamic insurgents over the last year in the valley, including some heavy fighting in recent days.

Sunday's bombing came as residents were voting in a parliamentary by-election, using a local school as a polling place. Some voters had brought their children along, and up to four youngsters were reported to be among the dead.

Some Pakistani news accounts said the attacker lured bystanders by pretending to be having mechanical difficulties, then blew up the car when a crowd had gathered around it, but other witnesses said the bomber rammed the vehicle into the school's boundary wall. The thunderous explosion left the street outside the school littered with bodies, with wounded people screaming for help. The force of the blast caved in the school's roof.
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State Trooper Says Election Delayed Alaska Drug Case
2008-12-28 17:46:53
The mother of Bristol Palin's boyfriend sent text messages discussing drug transactions less than a month after the young woman's mother, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was nominated as the Republican vice presidential candidate, according to court documents filed this week.

An affidavit from an Alaska state trooper, filed Monday, states that Sherry L. Johnston referred in her messages to two police informants to "coffee" as a code for the drug OxyContin. 

Johnston, 42, was arrested on felony drug charges last week after state troopers served a search warrant at her Wasilla home. She allegedly sold OxyContin tablets to the informants on three occasions this fall, the affidavit states. Police said two of the meetings were recorded by a hidden camera and a microphone.

Johnston is the mother of Levi Johnston,18. Sarah Palin announced in September that her daughter Bristol, also 18, was pregnant and that Johnston was the father. Their child was due to be born Dec. 18, her grandfather Chuck Heath told the Anchorage Daily News recently.

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Commentary: Anti-Global Warming
2008-12-28 00:58:45

  Editor:   I get around a lot.  I read lots (and lots and lots) of information.   Not only news sites, but technical analysis, studies, etc.  I may be the publisher of Free Internet Press, but by day job is technical based.  A little information is worthless, without having all of the information available.  I demand this from my coworkers and friends.  Unfortunately, here at Free Internet Press, to provide all the information available, we would need to concentrate on a single topic.  This would change us from being a news site to being an informational resource on a single topic.

  I've read a lot of disinformation on global warming lately.  It's cold in the Northern US this winter, therefore there's no global warming.  This news by itself has convinced some that global warming is a myth. 

  Global warming causes changes in our norma! l weather patterns.  What most people expect is drought and hurricanes.  This isn't always the case.  Changing weather patterns are exactly that.  Drastic changes in the weather are all an indication, regardless if its 110 degrees in the summer, or extreme snowfall in the winter, outside of the normal patterns.


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Analysis: Was 2008 The Beginning Of Another Great Depression?
2008-12-28 17:51:02
It wasn't 1929, but like that infamous year, 2008 is sure to be remembered by economic historians as one unlike any other.

"We had a much simpler financial system back then. The number of wild and crazy things that happened this year is completely without precedent in world history," said Alan Blinder, a Princeton University economics professor and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Where to begin? In March, there was the overnight collapse of Wall Street titan Bear Stearns, in hindsight the first domino to fall in what would become a meltdown of the global financial markets.

Maybe July's record oil prices of $147 a barrel, which helped spark inflation and send food and commodities prices spiraling upward worldwide? That gave Americans gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, and everyone said that gas would never be cheap again. On Wednesday, however, crude oil prices fell to just more than $37 a barrel, and gasoline was down to a nationwide average of $1.66 a gallon, thanks in part to the global downturn.

Then there was September's government seizure of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or back more than half of all U.S. mortgages. Washington, however, let investment giant Lehman Brothers collapse in a shock wave felt around the globe.

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Economist: Demand For Oil Will Fall By Largest Margin In 25 Years
2008-12-28 17:50:37

Global demand for oil in 2009 will fall by the largest amount for 25 years, according to the chief energy economist of Deutsche Bank.

Adam Sieminski said oil prices could hit a low of $30 a barrel next year, a fall of a quarter from today's price, because of the sickly global economy. He forecast an average price of $47.5 for the whole year for oil traded in New York. Deutsche Bank predicts global demand will contract by 1 per cent, or 1 million barrels a day, three times the fall seen this year and the biggest since 1983.

Sieminski is predicting much lower prices than most other analysts and even OPEC or the International Energy Agency (IEA). He said that other forecasts underestimate how much the global downturn would reduce demand for oil. The IEA forecasts that global demand for oil will rise by 400,000 barrels per day next year, but is expected to slash its numbers next month after the IMF revises down its economic growth projections for 2009.

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Israel Prepares Possible Gaza Invasion, Air Strikes Continue
2008-12-28 17:50:00
Israel began preparing Sunday for a possible ground offensive into the Gaza Strip as its air force continued to pummel the Hamas-controlled region with dozens of new missile strikes in a "shock and awe"-style operation that killed more than 280 Palestinians in the first 24 hours.

The Israeli military campaign, an attempt to destabilize the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, is the biggest and deadliest there since Israel seized control of the Mediterranean region from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israeli fighters have hit dozens of targets, including a mosque across from Gaza City’s main hospital, police offices, private homes, the Hamas television station and the central prison compound, where dozens of Palestinian inmates were locked in jail cells.

As Palestinians held scores of funerals across the Gaza Strip, Israel began calling up more than 6,500 reservists and moving more tanks to its Gaza border, signs that the Israeli military may be preparing to send in ground forces as the next phase of the campaign.

Israeli officials stopped short of saying that they were trying to bring down Hamas in Gaza and said the military campaign was designed to compel Gaza militants to end the rocket fire that’s killed seven Israelis in the last two years.

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Gaza Dealth Toll From Israeli Airstrikes Rises To 271
2008-12-28 17:49:31
Israeli warplanes and helicopters bombarded military targets across the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Saturday and Sunday, retaliating for Palestinian rocket fire into Israel with one of the deadliest assaults in the history of the 60-year conflict.

As Palestinian medical officials put the death toll at 271 and said many were unarmed civilians, the scale of the bloodshed unsettled the Middle East and alarmed world leaders involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Hamas officials called for a new Palestinian uprising against the Jewish state and a renewed wave of suicide bombings. Despite the heavy blow to their paramilitary organization, Hamas fighters in Gaza launched at least 110 rockets into Israel, killing a man and wounding six people in the border community of Netivot.

Israeli officials warned that the surprise offensive, apparently aimed at restoring a recently lapsed cease-fire on terms more favorable to Israel, was only beginning. Hundreds of Israeli troops massed along the Gaza border early today, and civilians on both sides braced for heavy combat in the days ahead.

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Commentary: Freedom Of The Press As A Foreign Concept
2008-12-28 17:48:17
Intellpuke:  This commentary was written by  Los Angeles Times journalist James Rainey and appeared in the L.A. Times edition for Sunday, December 28, 2008.

Yes, we reporters might get stuck covering the late shift or - egad! - a parade. When disaster strikes or a source calls back on deadline, the nights can be long. Newspaper layoffs and hard economic times can cast a pall over just about everything we do.

But those concerns seem a piffle every time I read dispatches from around the world about journalists who, fighting for the story, also must fight for their lives.

The day before Christmas, an international group condemned the protracted torture of a journalist in Pakistan. And militant Maoists ransacked the offices of an opposition newspaper in Nepal. Its crime? Using acronyms for two of the militant groups without distinguishing between them.

A couple of days later, news arrived that Zimbabwean journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko had been accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Mukoko - already in custody for challenging Robert Mugabe, the thug who runs her country - could face death.

Sadly, real press freedom remains elusive even closer to home, as revealed by another story just over our southern border.

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Father Of Three Snatched By Shark Off Australia Coast
2008-12-28 17:47:10
A snorkeler is believed to have been snatched by a shark as he swam last weekend with his son at a beach south of Perth. Witnesses reported seeing a dorsal fin and thrashing in the water before the sea turned red and the man vanished at the scene on Australia's west coast.

Father-of three Brian Guest, 51, who had campaigned for many years for the protection of sharks, had been looking for crabs on Saturday morning with his 24-year-old son when he was attacked about 30 meters (90 feet) from the shore.

Luke Tubbs told how a witness ran to his house in shock and screaming for help: "He just saw a big splash and then the shark roll over in the water with the guy and then [he saw] no body or anything."

Daniel Guest, who was swimming six meters (18 feet) away at the Port Kennedy beach, heard his father's screams but did not see the attack. He raced to shore when he saw blood in the water. His father's shredded wetsuit was found later, and aerial searches spotted a five-meter (15 feet) great white shark swimming in the area.

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Alaska Bar Association Urges Court To Reject Stevens' Plea
2008-12-28 17:46:42
The Alaska Bar Association says that U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' plea to keep his law license is based on a faulty reading of the rules and a mischaracterization of the seriousness of his conviction for lying on his Senate disclosure forms. The bar, in a pleading filed this week, urged the Alaska Supreme Court to reject Stevens' arguments that he wasn't really convicted and that his crime was not a crime under Alaska law.

The association said that even as an "inactive" member of the bar, Stevens is a danger to the public and an embarrassment to the legal profession.

The state bar initially sought a suspension of Stevens' license shortly after his conviction Oct. 27. Stevens opposed the suspension in a pleading to the supreme court, which regulates attorneys in Alaska. His license has already been suspended in two other jurisdictions, California and Washington, D.C.

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Sunday December 28 2008 edition
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Commentary: Anti-Global Warming
2008-12-28 00:58:45

  Editor:   I get around a lot.  I read lots (and lots and lots) of information.   Not only news sites, but technical analysis, studies, etc.  I may be the publisher of Free Internet Press, but by day job is technical based.  A little information is worthless, without having all of the information available.  I demand this from my coworkers and friends.  Unfortunately, here at Free Internet Press, to provide all the information available, we would need to concentrate on a single topic.  This would change us from being a news site to being an informational resource on a single topic.

  I've read a lot of disinformation on global warming lately.  It's cold in the Northern US this winter, therefore there's no global warming.  This news by itself has convinced some that global warming is a myth. 

  Global warming causes changes in our norma! l weather patterns.  What most people expect is drought and hurricanes.  This isn't always the case.  Changing weather patterns are exactly that.  Drastic changes in the weather are all an indication, regardless if its 110 degrees in the summer, or extreme snowfall in the winter, outside of the normal patterns.


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U.S. Economy Shrinks As IMF Warns Of Great Depression
2008-12-27 18:09:01
Intellpuke: This article appeared on's website edition for Tuesday, December 23, 2008, but I thought it merited a broader readership and didn't want to let it fall through the cracks.

The U.S. economy shrank in the third quarter, official data confirmed Tuesday, as the International  Monetary Fund's (IMF) top economist warned of a second Great Depression offering no respite from relentless gloom ahead of Christmas.

The abrupt 0.5 percent contraction of gross domestic product (GDP) in the world's largest economy was seen as marking the start of a steep downturn for the United States after GDP growth of 2.8 percent in the second quarter.

Stocks on Wall Street rose in early trading, however, as the contraction had been expected and was unrevised from a previous estimate. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.54 percent and the Nasdaq rose 0.60 percent.

"This report is largely old news," said John Ryding at RDQ Economics, who forecast fourth-quarter data out next month would be far bleaker.

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Floods Could Follow Ice In U.S. Midwest
2008-12-27 18:08:23
Rain and rapidly rising temperatures accompanied by thick fog threatened to cause flooding Saturday in theU.S. Midwest after days of Arctic cold, heavy snow and ice.

Thick ice on roads that contributed to dozens of deaths had thawed and mountains of snow turned into pools and streams of water.

"It's a Catch 22," said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. "We're getting rid of one problem, the ice, but we're getting another problem with the flooding."

The National Weather Service posted flood watches and warnings Saturday for parts of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri. As much as 2 inches of rain fell in two hours during the night in west-central Illinois, the National Weather Service reported Saturday.

And as warm air collided with cold, the weather service posted tornado watches for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kansas.

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In Britain, Threats To Mobile Phone Jobs Loom As Companies Cut Costs
2008-12-27 18:07:49

Thousands of British jobs are expected to be lost across the mobile phone industry in the first few months of next year as the networks look to cut costs in the face of fierce competition and the worsening economic slowdown.

Management consultants are being used by several mobile phone companies to advise on where cost savings can be made and a series of announcements on restructuring are expected early in the new year.

The five U.K. mobile phone networks - 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone - employ almost 45,000 people in Britain, from managers and network engineers to call center staff and shop assistants. Two of them - Vodafone and O2 - count Britain as the center of their international operations.

Last month Vodafone announced its intention to cut costs by £1 billion ($1.75 billion), mostly in the mature markets of Europe, as it reduced its annual sales forecast for the second time in four months.

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Grim Details Surface In California Massacre
2008-12-27 18:06:59
A man who carried out a Christmas Eve massacre and arson at the home of his former in-laws while dressed as Santa Claus apparently intended to flee the United States, but his plans were dashed after the inferno he created severely burned his arms and melted his red costume onto his body, police said Friday.

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, a laid-off aerospace worker, apparently shot some of his nine victims execution-style in a plot to destroy his ex-wife's family after a costly divorce that was finalized last week. He had airline tickets to Canada and $17,000 in cash on his body, some attached to his legs with plastic wrap and some in a girdle, said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney.

Armed with four guns, wearing the Santa suit and carrying a fuel-spraying device wrapped like a present, Pardo showed up at the home at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday as a party of about 25 people was underway, said police.

Raney said Pardo, 45, fired a shot into the face of an 8-year-old girl who answered the door and at first shot indiscriminately, then apparently targeted relatives of his ex-wife as other guests fled.

"There's some information that he stood over them and shot them execution-style," said Raney.

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How The West's Energy Boom Could Threaten Drinking Water For 1 In 12 Americans
2008-12-27 18:09:20

The Colorado River, the life vein of the Southwestern United States, is in trouble.

The river's water is hoarded the moment it trickles out of the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado and begins its 1,450-mile journey to Mexico's border. It runs south through seven states and the Grand Canyon, delivering water to Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Along the way, it powers homes for 3 million people, nourishes 15 percent of the nation's crops and provides drinking water to one in 12 Americans.

Now a rush to develop domestic oil, gas and uranium deposits along the river and its tributaries threatens its future.

The region could contain more oil than Alaska's National Arctic Wildlife Refuge. It has the richest natural gas fields in the country. And nuclear energy, viewed as a key solution to the nation's dependence on foreign energy, could use the uranium deposits held there.

But getting those resources would suck up vast quantities of the river's water and could pollute what is left. That's why those most concerned are water managers in places like Los Angeles and San Diego. They have the most to lose.

The river is already so beleaguered by drought and climate change that one environmental study called it the nation's "most endangered" waterway. Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography warn the river's reservoirs could dry up in 13 years.

The industrial push has already begun.

In the eight years George W. Bush has been in office, the Colorado River watershed has seen more oil and gas drilling than at any time in the past 25 years. Uranium claims have reached a 10-year high. Last week the departing administration auctioned off an additional 148,598 acres of federal land for gas drilling projects outside Moab, Utah.

As still more land is leased for drilling and a last-minute change in federal rules has paved the way for water-intensive oil shale mining, politicians and water managers are now being forced to ask which is more valuable: energy or water.

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British Wildlife May Not Survive Another Wet Summer, Warns National Trust
2008-12-27 18:08:34

A third consecutive miserable summer in parts of the U.K. could spell disaster for many species of insects, birdlife and mammals, the National Trust warned Saturday.

The charity says three wet summers in a row in many regions could mean that creatures - ranging from craneflies (often called daddy-long-legs, though not the same as daddy-long-legs spiders in the U.S.) to species of butterflies, members of the tit family, puffins and bats - may struggle to survive in some places.

Matthew Oates, a nature conservation adviser for the trust, said: "After two very poor years in a row we desperately need a good summer in 2009 - otherwise it's going to look increasingly grim for a wealth of wildlife in the U.K.

"Climate change is not some future prediction of what might happen. It's happening now and having a serious impact on our countryside every year."

The warning comes in a yearly audit produced by the National Trust of how the weather in 2008 affected wildlife.

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Israeli Airstrikes In Gaza Leave At Least 205 Dead, Hundreds Wounded
2008-12-27 18:08:05
Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes Saturday throughout the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rockets fired into Israel from the Hamas-ruled territory, killing at least 205 Palestinians and wounding more than 350, Palestinian health officials reported.

Missiles launched by Israeli F-16 warplanes hit Hamas security installations, killing Hamas officials, policemen, security officials and bystanders, they said. Many people were reported still trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Following the strikes, Palestinian factions in Gaza launched dozens of rockets into southern Israel from the strip, killing a resident in the town of Netivot and wounding at least four others. Other rockets landed in the port town of Ashdod.

The Israeli military announced that the attacks were targeted at Hamas facilities and "this operation will be continued, expanded and intensified as much as will be required." Israel's Channel 2 television reported 60 aircraft took part in the strikes on 100 targets in the densely populated enclave.

There were no immediate signs that Israel intended to launch a ground incursion into the strip.

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At Least 24 Killed By Baghdad Car Bomb
2008-12-27 18:07:33
A car bomb killed at least 24 people, many of them Shiite pilgrims, and wounded 46 others when it exploded Saturday on a busy road in Baghdad that leads to the revered shrine of Kadhimiya, according to the Ministry of Interior.

That bombing, along with several others in recent weeks, was a stark reminder that even as violence has sharply fallen, insurgents still have the power to carry out deadly strikes in the heart of the capital. The attack’s timing and location appeared to be intended to reignite sectarian passions.

Millions of Shiites are preparing to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The observance falls during Muharram, the holiest month of the Shiite religious calendar, which begins Monday. Shiite families from across Iraq traditionally visit the shrine, with its shimmering twin golden domes, on Saturdays.

The explosion occurred at midday about 100 yards from Bab al-Dirwaza, one of the main gates to the shrine and the Kadhimiya district’s bustling market, which has been a pedestrian-only area for several years because of a spate of deadly attacks in the area. According to several witnesses, the car that exploded was parked outside the fence of one of the nearby parking lots.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday December 27 2008 - (813)

Saturday December 27 2008 edition
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Secret Child Divided Santa Gunman And His Wife
2008-12-26 17:38:06
The gunman dressed in a Santa Claus suit who opened fire at a Christmas Eve party in Covina, California, killing nine holiday revelers, had kept secret from his wife a child that he had fathered years ago, sources close to the family said Friday.

Investigators said Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, had been divorced earlier this year, and they believe the divorce was one of the main factors that drove him to go to the home of his former in-laws on Christmas Eve with the gun and explosives.

One incident that led to that divorce was a long-held detail of his past that Pardo hid from his wife.

About nine years ago, he and a girlfriend had a child. As a 1-year-old, the boy fell into a pool, nearly drowning. As a result, the child was left physically handicapped. Although Pardo did not support his son financially, he claimed the boy as a dependent for seven years on his tax returns.

When Pardo's wife found out about it from a family member, she demanded he stop claiming his son as a dependent. The situation helped lead to the divorce, said sources close to the family.

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The Reckoning - Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble
2008-12-26 17:37:40
"Usually it's the rich country lending to the poor. This time it's the poor country lending to the rich." - Niall Ferguson

In March 2005, a low-key Princeton economist who had become a Federal Reserve governor coined a novel theory to explain the growing tendency of Americans to borrow from foreigners, particularly the Chinese, to finance their heavy spending.

The problem, he said, was not that Americans spend too much, but that foreigners save too much. The Chinese have piled up so much excess savings that they lend money to the United States at low rates, underwriting American consumption.

This colossal credit cycle could not last forever, he said, but in a global economy, the transfer of Chinese money to America was a market phenomenon that would take years, even a decade, to work itself out. For now, he said, “we probably have little choice except to be patient.”

Today, the dependence of the United States on Chinese money looks less benign. And the economist who proposed the theory, Ben S. Bernanke, is dealing with the consequences, having been promoted to chairman of the Fed in 2006, as these cross-border money flows were reaching stratospheric levels.

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Firms Charging Thousands To Modify Mortgages - Non-Profits Offer Service For Free
2008-12-26 17:36:54

A growing industry has emerged to take advantage of the unprecedented wave of foreclosures, charging distressed homeowners for help negotiating better loan terms - a service provided for free or for a nominal fee by many nonprofits.

Such companies charge $500 to $2,500 or more and are drawing the ire of consumer advocates, regulators and lenders, who say many are just the latest version of foreclosure rescue scams and can make it more difficult for homeowners to get help.

"You don't need to go out and hire someone to help you," said Michael Gross, managing director of mortgage servicing for Bank of America. "It is very, at times, frustrating to find a homeowner who has paid a for-profit company $3,000 to $5,000 in an upfront fee, when they could have gotten the same or better assistance free."

Loan modification firms say they are taking up the slack left by unresponsive lenders and overwhelmed nonprofit groups. "Nonprofits are not as efficient as the regular market," said Moose M. Scheib, the head of Michigan-based, a loan modification firm that charges homeowners $1,500 to help renegotiate their mortgages. "I think the difference is probably more attention you get from us."

There do not appear to be federal laws that prohibit charging for this service, several law-enforcement officials and law professors said. Instead the practice is governed by a hodgepodge of state and local laws. Virginia does not appear to restrict its practice, according to the state's consumer services department. Officials with the District's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking said these companies would fall under statutes covering credit counseling services, and therefore must be registered.

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Retail Sales Fall As Analysts See Soft Post-Holiday Rush
2008-12-26 17:36:05
Retailers began their after-Christmas sales in earnest on Friday, but even if business is brisk, it will not make up for the dismal holiday shopping season.

Analysts who visit malls each year said stores were relatively quiet Friday morning compared with previous years. In general, customer traffic has been slower throughout the holiday season, and with retailers offering unprecedented bargains in the weeks before Christmas, post-holiday sales lost some allure.

“These are the same discounts we’ve seen before the holiday,” the chief industry analyst for NPD Group, Marshal Cohen, said. “Nothing new, nothing exciting.”

Cohen visited several Long Island malls Friday morning and said that there was a bit of a rush in the wee hours but that it subsided by 6 a.m. or so. He expected a lunchtime surge but said sales would not measure up to Black Friday, the blockbuster shopping day after Thanksgiving.

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Storm Blankets U.S. West With Snow, Ice Glazes The Midwest
2008-12-26 17:35:28
Yet another snowstorm closed highways in parts of the West on Friday, the latest in a tiring week of bad weather, and a dangerous sheet of ice in parts of the Midwest contributed to a looming flood problem.

Winter storm warnings were in effect Friday for parts of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the western Dakotas, and a blizzard warning covered the mountains of southwest Colorado.

"It's going to be a heck of a storm," said Chris Cuoco, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo. "We're expecting significant snowfall in all the mountains of Colorado. Even the valleys are going to see 4-plus inches of snow."

Up to 20 inches of snow was forecast in parts of the Rockies, along with wind gusts of up to 80 mph.

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Markets Little Changed In Light Trading Day
2008-12-26 17:34:41

Wall Street rose slightly in light trading on Friday as Americans looking for post-Christmas discounts returned to the malls, and a new report confirmed retailers’ fears about a dismal holiday season.

Retail sales from Dec. 1 through Christmas Eve were 8 percent lower than last December while November’s sales were 5.5 percent less, according to data released by SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors. Sales of clothing, electronics, luxury goods, appliances and furniture declined by double digits, as worried consumers pared their holiday spending amid the deepening economic malaise.

A 40 percent drop in gasoline prices contributed to the overall slump in the holiday sales figures. Excluding gas prices, spending fell 2 to 4 percent, SpendingPulse reported.

Wall Street, which has absorbed months of grim news and reduced profit outlooks from retailers, took the latest news in stride on Friday.

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TVA Coal Ash Spill In Tennessee Is Much Larger Than Estimated
2008-12-26 17:37:51

A coal ash spill that blanketed residential neighborhoods and contaminated nearby rivers in Roane County, Tennessee, earlier this week is more than three times larger than initially estimated, the Tennessee Valley Authority said on Thursday.

Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium that can cause cancer and neurological problems.

Authority officials initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond breached, but on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep. The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the Authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

Authority officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, telling reporters that the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time. The aerial survey was done on Tuesday, but the results were not released until Thursday. Calls to an Authority spokesman on Friday morning were not immediately returned.

Residents were stunned by the new numbers. “That’s scary to know that they can be off by that much,” said Angela Spurgeon, whose yard is swamped with ash. “I don’t think it was intentional, but it upsets me to know that a number was given of what the pond could hold, and the number now is more than double of what the pond actually held.”

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U.S. States Cut Medicaid Coverage
2008-12-26 17:37:19

States from Rhode Island to California are being forced to curtail Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, as they struggle to cope with the deteriorating economy.

With revenue falling at the same time that more people are losing their jobs and private health coverage, states already have pared their programs and many are looking at deeper cuts for the coming year. Already, 19 states - including Maryland and Virginia - and the District of Columbia have lowered payments to hospitals and nursing homes, eliminated coverage for some treatments, and forced some recipients out of the insurance program completely.

Many are halting payments for health-care services not required by the federal government, such as physical therapy, eyeglasses, hearing aids and hospice care. A few states are requiring poor patients to chip in more toward their care.

"It's not a pretty list at all," said Michael Hales, Medicaid director in Utah.

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New Data Reinforces Japan's Fear Of Recession
2008-12-26 17:36:33
Industrial output data from Japan on Friday intensified worries that the world’s second-largest economy was headed for a deeper and more protracted recession than previously thought as consumer and corporate demand around the world evaporates.

At the same time, fresh data indicated that Japan faces a period of deflation next year, while falling employment and consumer spending added to the bleak picture and highlighted how difficult it will be for Japan to extricate itself from the recession.

“It’s a big mess,” said Ryutaro Kono, chief economist for Japan at BNP Paribas, referring to the industrial output. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Industry output in November plunged 8.1 percent from a month earlier, the biggest decline on record. The fall surprised even the most pessimistic of forecasters, despite a flurry of announcements in recent weeks showing manufacturers like Honda and Sony racing to scale back production as domestic and overseas demand plummets.

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As Tensions Rise, Pakistan Moves Forces From Afghan Border Toward Indian Border
2008-12-26 17:35:47
Pakistan is moving some troops away from its western border with Afghanistan, where the United States has pressed it to combat Taliban militants, and stopping many soldiers from going on leave amid rising tensions with India, senior Pakistani officials said Friday.

A senior military official said in an interview that the decision to sharply restrict leave for soldiers was taken “in view of the prevailing environment,” namely the deteriorating relations with India since the Mumbai terrorist attacks last month. He added that the Pakistani air force was “vigilant” and “alert” for the same reason. A second Pakistani security official would not say where the forces were being sent, but confirmed the troop movements and the restrictions on leave, saying “there’s an obvious reason for that.”

The redeployment came as Indian authorities warned their citizens not to travel to Pakistan given the heightened tensions between the two nations, news agencies reported, particularly since Indian citizens had been arrested there in connection with a bombing in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The senior military official said that the Pakistani troops were being drawn from northwestern Pakistan, where the military is fighting Taliban militants on several fronts. He said that “essential troops in limited numbers are being pulled out of areas where no operations are being conducted,” or where winter weather had already limited their ability to maneuver.

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Singer, Actress Ertha Kitt Dies At 81
2008-12-26 17:35:02
Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died. She was 81.

Kitt, whose saucy rendition of "Santa Baby" became a holiday pop music classic, died in Connecticut on Christmas Day. Family spokesman Andrew Freedman said Kitt was recently treated at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for colon cancer.

A self-proclaimed "sex kitten," famous for her catlike purr, Kitt was one of America's most versatile performers, winning two Emmys and nabbing a third nomination. She also was nominated for several Tonys and two Grammys.

Her career spanned six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television. She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South and made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House.

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DIY Genetic Engineering
2008-12-26 12:22:46
The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering â€" a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday December 26 2008 - (813)

Friday December 26 2008 edition
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Analysis: Bush A Catalyst In America's Declining Influence
2008-12-25 16:46:31
The president oversaw a period of eroding economic and political power, in which the rise of China, India and others was a major factor, assisted by Bush and his policies.

As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline.

The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances - and often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along.

In the 1990s, America exerted leadership in all the remote corners of the globe, from the southern cone of South America to Central Asia. Now, the United States has largely left the field in many regions, leaving others to step forward.

Bush has been blamed widely for the erosion of American prestige. And the decline in U.S. influence is partly the result of the reaction to his invasion of Iraq, his campaign against Islamic militants and his early disdain for treaties and international bodies.

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Millions Of Older Americans Use Risky Drug Combinations
2008-12-25 16:46:02
At least 2 million older Americans are taking a combination of drugs or supplements that can be a risky mix - from blood thinners and cholesterol pills to aspirin and ginkgo capsules - a new study warns.

Among older men, the numbers are particularly alarming - one in 10 are taking potentially harmful combinations, according to the study.

The results aren't always disastrous, but older people are more vulnerable to side effects and drug-to-drug interactions. And patients need to know that just because lots of medicines and supplements don't require prescriptions doesn't mean they're harmless. Nor are some of these safe to take when you're prescribed other medications.

Experts say the take-home advice is to ask about any side effects of prescription drugs, and tell your doctor before taking other medicines.

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Commentary: Shoe-Hurler Raises Up Iraq's Reputation Abroad
2008-12-25 16:45:21
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by New York Times correspondent Mohammed Hussein, reporting from the Times' bureau in Baghdad, Iraq. It appeared in the N.Y. Times edition for Thursday, December 25, 2008. Mr. Hussein's commentary follows:

When traveling outside Iraq, I would sometimes hide my nationality by refraining from speaking in an Iraqi dialect. When Arabs would find out where I was from, I would be lectured about how Iraqis are too willing to accept the presence of American troops in our country. But after an Iraqi television reporter threw his shoes at President Bush during a news conference, other Arabs seem to have raised their opinions of us.

Arabs interpret Muntader al-Zaidi’s hurling of his shoes as an act of revenge for both the Iraqis and Palestinians, who many people here feel have also been wronged by the Americans.

“The Iraqi people are courageous people,” a taxi driver in Amman, Jordan, told me a few days ago. It was strange to hear this praise after hearing years of verbal abuse from Arabs in Jordan and Syria. When my uncle was shopping in the market in Amman recently he heard a voice yell: “Are you Iraqi?” In the past this would be followed by a speech about the war and the Americans. Instead the man yelled to my uncle: “You made us proud.”

As an Iraqi journalist, I’ve had a hard time understanding why Arab people are treating us with dignity now after this type of behavior. Throwing a shoe, especially at a guest, is a deep insult in our culture.

But many other Arabs don’t feel this way. In Amman, people would stop me and ask to hear more about the shoe throwing. “We heard the good news from Iraq,” a neighbor said. My Iraqi friends living in Syria and Lebanon say they have also all been praised.

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U.S. Army: Many More Active Troops Are Needed
2008-12-25 16:44:09

The Army needs to add at least 30,000 active-duty soldiers to its ranks to fulfill its responsibilities around the world without becoming stretched dangerously thin, senior Army officials warn.

"You can't do what we've been tasked to do with the number of people we have," Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford said in an interview last week. "You can see a point where it's going to be very difficult to cope."

Already, the Army lacks a strategic reserve of brigades trained and ready for major combat, said officials, and units being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving new soldiers at the last minute, meaning they have insufficient time to train together before crossing into the war zone.

The demand for soldiers extends beyond those countries, with the Pentagon creating new missions that require troops trained in cyber-warfare, homeland defense, intelligence-gathering and other areas, said Ford. "We have five to 10 new missions, and we are already stretched now."

The Army is currently on track to grow to 547,000 active-duty soldiers next year, up from 482,000 before the war. Ford and other Army officials say that, with rising demand for ground troops for Afghanistan and other contingencies, the increase is insufficient.

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Russia Predicts First Budget Deficit In A Decade
2008-12-25 16:43:32
Russia will run a budget deficit in 2009 for the first time in a decade as low oil prices take their toll on government revenue, a Kremlin official said Wednesday, the state RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Arkady Dvorkovich, the president's economic adviser, said the size of the deficit was not yet clear but it would be covered by the reserve fund - money put away for a rainy day when oil prices were soaring.

The business newspaper Vedomosti reported Wednesday that next year's budget deficit could be 5 percent or more of gross domestic product. The report cited unidentified officials in the Finance Ministry and other government agencies.

The 2009 budget was based on an average oil price of $95 per barrel. A revised macroeconomic prognosis completed last week brought the expected oil price down to $50, but oil is currently trading for less than $40.

"The deficit has been caused mainly by falling oil prices and therefore it is completely logical to use the reserve fund to cover the budget deficit," Dvorkovich told reporters in the Kremlin, said the news agency.

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Bush Withdraws Fast-Track Pardon For Developer Who Defrauded Home-Buyers
2008-12-25 16:41:57
In an apparently unprecedented move, President Bush on Wednesday revoked a pardon he had issued 24 hours earlier for a politically connected real estate developer who defrauded hundreds of low- income home buyers - acknowledging that White House aides had not fully described the scope of the crimes and the context of the clemency application.

The Christmas Eve reversal came after it was discovered that the pardon of Isaac Toussie had not met Justice Department guidelines, and that Toussie's father had donated $28,500 to the Republican National Committee, prompting some of Toussie's victims to complain that he got his record cleared thanks to his political ties.

The pardon also threatened to embarrass Bush because Toussie bypassed normal procedures and took his case directly to the West Wing, hiring a former top lawyer in the White House counsel's office, Bradford Berenson, who had access to the president's most senior advisers.

It is not clear that Bush is legally allowed to revoke the pardon, according to some analysts.

The issue of presidential pardons has been especially sensitive since President Clinton granted a series of last-minute pardons for well-connected criminals - most notably fugitive financier Marc Rich, who had been indicted on tax evasion and other charges.

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Report: U.S., World Face Much More Rapid Climate Change
2008-12-25 16:46:18

The United States faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested, according to a new report led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The survey - which was commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and issued this month - expands on the 2007 findings of the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Looking at factors such as rapid sea ice loss in the Arctic and prolonged drought in the Southwest, the new assessment suggests that earlier projections may have underestimated the climatic shifts that could take place by 2100.

However, the assessment also suggests that some other feared effects of global warming are not likely to occur by the end of the century, such as an abrupt release of methane from the seabed and permafrost or a shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean circulation system that brings warm water north and colder water south; but the report projects an amount of potential sea level rise during that period that may be greater than what other researchers have anticipated, as well as a shift to a more arid climate pattern in the Southwest by mid-century.

Thirty-two scientists from federal and non-federal institutions contributed to the report, which took nearly two years to complete. The Climate Change Science Program, which was established in 1990, coordinates the climate research of 13 different federal agencies.

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Federal Officials Bring Fewer Stock Fraud Prosecutions Than 8 Years Ago
2008-12-25 16:45:45
Federal officials are bringing far fewer prosecutions as a result of fraudulent stock schemes than they did eight years ago, according to new data, raising further questions about whether the Bush administration has been too lax in policing Wall Street.

Legal and financial experts say that a loosening of enforcement measures, cutbacks in staffing at the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a shift in resources toward terrorism at the F.B.I. have combined to make the federal government something of a paper tiger in investigating securities crimes.

At a time when the financial news is being dominated by the $50 billion Ponzi scheme that Bernard L. Madoff is accused of running, federal officials are on pace this year to bring the fewest prosecutions for securities fraud since at least 1991, according to the data, compiled by a Syracuse University research group using Justice Department figures.

There were 133 prosecutions for securities fraud in the first 11 months of this fiscal year. That is down from 437 cases in 2000 and from a high of 513 cases in 2002, when Wall Street scandals from Enron to WorldCom led to a crackdown on corporate crime, the data showed.

At the S.E.C., agency investigations that led to Justice Department prosecutions for securities fraud dropped from 69 in 2000 to just 9 in 2007, a decline of 87 percent, the data showed.

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Obama Honors Troops In Holiday Message
2008-12-25 16:44:21
President-elect Barack Obama released a sobering message for the nation on Christmas Eve, recognizing the sacrifice of the country's service men and women while calling on Americans to find inspiration in a founding father to overcome current economic struggles.

In a holiday radio address posted online Wednesday, Obama cited Gen. George Washington's improbable crossing of the icy Delaware River on Dec. 25, 1776, when Washington's troops won victories against the British that "gave new momentum to a beleaguered army and new hope to the cause of independence."

"Many ages have passed since that first American Christmas," said Obama. "We have crossed many rivers as a people. But the lessons that have carried us through are the same lessons that we celebrate every Christmas season - the same lessons that guide us to this very day: that hope endures, and that a new birth of peace is always possible."

On a day when the nation's unemployment filings reached a 26-year high, Obama turned to Washington to stoke hope in the battered American workforce.

"If the American people come together and put their shoulder to the wheel of history, then I know that we can put our people back to work and point our country in a new direction," Obama said in the weekly address, which is scheduled for radio broadcast on Saturday. "That is how we will see ourselves through this time of crisis and reach the promise of a brighter day."

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Maryland Files Claim Again Texas Firm Over Voting Machines
2008-12-25 16:43:50
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler filed a claim against Premier Election Solutions to recover $8.5 million spent by the state to fix problems with the company's touch-screen voting machines.

The claim against Texas-based Premier, formerly Diebold, alleges that state elections officials were forced to spend millions of dollars to address a host of security flaws in the machines from 2003 through the November election.

Many of the problems could have compromised the integrity of the election had they not been fixed, said officials. Now the state wants its money back.

"The Board of Elections took the position that they should fix the system first and worry about the payments later," said Austin Schlick, the attorney general's chief of litigation. "In Maryland, we did things over and above what any other state has done" to ensure a smooth election, he said.

Maryland plans to withhold payment of approximately $3.5 million it owes Premier for preparations for the 2008 election until the matter is resolved, Schlick said.

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Man In Santa Suit Kills At Least 5 At Holiday Party
2008-12-25 16:43:08
In a bizarre Christmas Eve rampage, a 45-year-old man in a Santa Claus outfit showed up at a party in a Los Angeles, California, suburb and opened fire at a group of revelers, killing at least five people and injuring several others, including two children, the authorities said on Thursday.

The suspect, identified by witnesses as Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, later killed himself, said police.

The shooting, which may have been prompted by a marital dispute, occurred just before midnight Wednesday at a two-story home on a cul de sac in Covina, a suburban town about 22 miles east of Los Angeles.

At least three bodies were initially discovered inside the home - which went up in flames moments after the shooting -  and coroners found “several” more bodies as they sifted through the rubble at the scene on Thursday morning, according to the Associated Press.

Investigators said that about 30 people were inside the home celebrating on Christmas Eve when the costumed man knocked on the door. When a guest opened it, the man stepped inside the house, pulled out a handgun, and immediately started shooting, Lieut. Pat Buchanan of the Covina Police Department said in a telephone interview.

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Happy Holidays!
2008-12-25 01:32:38
Sincere wishes that you and yours enjoy warm, happy and ... ahem ... filling holidays!

May the New Year bring you success, happiness and peace. ... And maybe some more of that filling!
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