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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday December 25 2008 - (813)

Thursday December 25 2008 edition
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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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Russia To Raise Nuclear Missile Output Fourfold
2008-12-24 16:33:42
Russia has thrown down a new gauntlet to Barack Obama with an announcement that it will sharply increase production of strategic nuclear missiles.

In the latest of a series of combative moves by the Kremlin, a senior government official in Moscow said the Russian military would commission 70 strategic missiles over the next three years, as part of a massive rearmament program which will also include short-range missiles, 300 tanks, 14 warships and 50 planes.

Military experts said the planned new arsenal was presumed to consist of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) rather than submarine-launched missiles. If this is the case, the plans represent a fourfold increase in the rate of ICBM deployment. The arsenal will include a new-generation, multiple-warhead ICBM called the RS-24. It was first test-fired in 2007, with first deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov boasting it was "capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems".

The new missiles will be part of a $180 Billion (£95 billion) defense procurement package for 2009-2011, a 28% increase in arms spending, according to Vladislav Putilin of the cabinet's military-industrial commission. There will be further increases in spending in the following two years.

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Commentary: Bush And His Cronies Must Face Reckoning
2008-12-24 16:33:09
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by columnist Jonathan Freedland and appeared in the Guardian edition for Wednesday, December 24, 2008. In his commentary, Mr. Freedland writes: "Heinous crimes are now synonymous with this U.S. administration. If it isn't held to account, what does that say about us?"

'Tis the night before Christmas and the season of goodwill. The mood is forgiving. Our faces warm with mulled wine, our tummies full, we're meant to slump in the armchair, look back on the year just gone and count our blessings - woozily agreeing to put our troubles behind us.

As in families, so in the realm of public and international affairs. And this December that feels especially true. The "war on terror" that dominated much of the decade seems to be heading towards a kind of conclusion. George Bush will leave office in a matter of weeks and British troops will leave Iraq a few months later. The first, defining phase of the conflict that began on 9/11 - the war of Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden - is about to slip from the present to the past tense. Bush and Blair will be gone, with only Bin Laden still in post. The urge to move on is palpable.

You can sense it in the valedictory interviews Bush and Dick Cheney are conducting on their way out. They're looking to the verdict of history now, Cheney telling the Washington Times last week: "I myself am personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road." The once raging arguments of the current era are about to fade, the lead U.S. protagonists heading off to their respective ranches in the west, the rights and wrongs of their decisions in office to be weighed not in the hot arena of politics, but in the cool seminar rooms of the academy.

Not so fast.

Yes, the new year would get off to a more soothing start if we could all agree to draw a line and move on. But it would be wrong. First, because we cannot hope to avoid repeating the errors of the last eight years unless they are subject to a full accounting. (It is for that reason Britain needs its own full, unconstrained inquiry into the Iraq war.) Second, because a crucial principle, one that goes to the very heart of the American creed, is at stake. And third, because this is not solely about the judgment of history. It may be about the judgment of the courts - specifically those charged with punishing war crimes.

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Putin Hails End Of 'Cheap Gas' Era
2008-12-24 16:32:14
If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has his way, Europeans' Gazprom bill will soon be going up. Despite fast-falling oil prices, he claims Europe will soon be hit with the bill for "sharply" rising natural gas field development costs.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says European consumers will have to get used to surging natural gas prices. "The expenses necessary for developing fields are rising sharply," the Russian government head told attendees at a meeting of gas-exporting nations in Moscow on Tuesday.

"This means that despite the current problems in finances the era of cheap energy resources, of cheap gas, is of course coming to an end," he added in his keynote speech. Russian energy giant Gazprom supplies about one-quarter of all the natural gas consumed by European Union member states via pipelines.

Russia has been in a standoff for months with Ukraine over unpaid energy bills and a planned hike in January of the price of gas. Gazprom - a monopoly controlled by the Kremlin - claims it is owed $2 billion and wants payment from Ukraine by Jan. 1. Russia is threatening to cut off gas to its onetime Soviet satellite state, in the middle of winter - again.
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Flu Outbreak Is Britain's Worse In 8 Years
2008-12-24 16:31:28

Britain is in the grip of a flu outbreak greater than anything seen in the last eight years, with soaring numbers of people falling ill, new figures show.

The last big flu outbreak occurred in 1999/2000, when 22,000 people died, which is 10 times the average for a winter flu season.

The latest figures from the Royal College of GPs show 69 cases of flu in 100,000 population for this week. In the last two weeks, the rate has climbed steeply, from 28 in 100,000 two weeks ago, to 40 last week and now 69.

The rise is across all regions of the U.K. and all age groups, but it appears to be the young and middle-aged adults who are hit hardest. The rate has soared to 80 in 100,000 in the 15 to 44 age group and to 76 among 45 to 64-year-olds. These tend to be more socially active people - teenagers, young adults and workers who refuse to stay home when they feel ill.

The worsening outbreak will cause problems for the health service over the Christmas break, especially combined with the spread of the vomiting bug norovirus. These highly transmittable diseases are hitting hard at a time when GP practices will be closed and hospital staff reduced because of the holiday.

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Israel Weighs Options As Gaza Rocket Fire Intensifies
2008-12-24 16:28:26
Palestinian militants from Gaza increased the range and intensity of their rocket fire against Israel on Wednesday as the Israeli security cabinet weighed options that include broader military action or efforts to renew a truce that recently expired.

More than 60 rockets and mortars were fired at southern Israel by the afternoon, said the Israeli military. The rockets slammed into the Israeli border town of Sderot, the yard of a house and a water park in the coastal city of Ashkelon, an Israeli factory at Nir Oz near the Gaza border, and hit a house outside the Western Negev town of Netivot.

The strikes caused extensive damage and widespread panic among the residents, but no serious injuries. Scores of adults and children were treated for shock, said the emergency medical service.

The security cabinet meeting lasted about five hours, but no details were made public regarding any decisions about Gaza. An official spokesman for the Israeli government, Mark Regev, suggested that a renewal of mutual calm was still possible but that Israel’s patience was running out.

Israel “will answer quiet with quiet,” said Regev, “but will answer attacks with a response designed to protect our people.” Apparently preparing public opinion abroad for possible military retaliation, he said the sole responsibility for the deterioration in the south lay with Hamas.

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U.S. Economic Indicators Keep Pointing Down
2008-12-24 16:33:52
New claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, the government said today, as layoffs spread throughout the economy, more evidence the labor market is weakening as the recession deepens.

If that wasn't enough sour economic news for Christmas Eve, a report by the Commerce Department showed that consumers cut spending for the fifth straight month in November.

So, how did the markets respond? With a shrug, more or less, at a time when Wall Street seems to expect the worst.

In a shortened day that saw the markets close at 10 a.m., Pacific time, the Dow Jones industrial average rose nearly 49 points at 8,469. Trading was light.

Back to the bad news.

The Labor Department reported that initial requests for jobless benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 586,000 in the week ending Dec. 20, from an upwardly revised figure of 556,000 the previous week. That's much more than the 560,000 economists had expected.

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Oil Prices Hit Near $35 A Barrel On Dour Economic News
2008-12-24 16:33:27
Crude prices tumbled Wednesday following a string of economic reports that painted an ugly picture of the nation's economy, suggesting that demand for energy will continue to erode. Light, sweet crude for February delivery fell $3.63 to settle at $35.35 in a shortened day of trading. Prices fell as low as $35.13 just before the market closed for the holiday.

Investors expecting more evidence of slowing U.S. energy demand got a bit of a surprise as the Energy Department reported crude inventories dropped last week.

But Americans continue to cut back on driving amid the worst recession in a generation, leading to growing stockpiles of gasoline and eroding demand for motor fuel.

"I don't see anything out of this report that's really going to change this downward move," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates. "Things are going to remain under downside pressure through the balance of this year and probably into the new year."

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The Bottomless Pit: Germany's Faltering Bank Bailout Program
2008-12-24 16:32:42
The German government whipped its €480 billion bank bailout package through parliament in record time, but now the program has run into trouble. The banks are still fighting for survival, the money market isn't functioning properly, and the taxpayers' money is being burned.

Who knows Claudia Hillenherms? Almost no one, and yet, for some time now, she has been one of the most powerful women in Germany.

To reach Ms. Hillenherms, one has to pass through a thick, heavy steel door. The painters have left their paint buckets standing in the stairwell of the historic building that belongs to Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank. Everything there smells new and seems temporary.

Until two months ago, the villa in the Taunusanlage park in Frankfurt was being used as a training site for six central bankers from developing countries. But then they were suddenly forced to move to a different location because the Special Fund for Financial Market Stabilization (SOFFIN) needed a home.

Now the building serves as the headquarters of Germany's bank bailout program.SOFFIN has been charged with making €480 billion ($672 billion) available to German financial institutions. Those who want a piece of the pie must deal with Claudia Hillenherms. Hillenherms, an accountant by trade and a specialist in the valuation of companies, is on loan from her employer, publicly-owned regional bank Landesbank Hessen-Thuringen (Helaba). At Helaba, she was responsible for managing the bank's takeover of a savings bank, Frankfurt Sparkasse.

Her new job as head of the financial stability measures is far more complex. In addition to protecting German financial institutions from failure, she has been charged with ensuring that the banks can continue to pursue their central purpose - injecting money into the economy.

If this doesn't happen, government stimulus programs, no matter how large, will fail, and the foundations of the German economy will begin to crumble.
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In Reversal, Court Allows Bush Pollution Plan For Coal
2008-12-24 16:32:01

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed itself on Tuesday and temporarily reinstated a Bush administration plan to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants.

In July, the court struck down the rule, saying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had exceeded its authority in devising a new emissions-trading system to reduce that pollution, and must rewrite the rule to fix its “fundamental flaws.” Environmentalists criticized the decision as a major setback for clean air.

In Tuesday’s decision, the court said that having a flawed rule temporarily in place was better than having no rule at all. The agency must still revise the rule but has no deadline for doing so.

The regulation, known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, had been the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s re-engineering of the Clean Air Act. It set significant targets to reduce pollution around the power plants and in the downwind states whose air quality was affected by the emissions.

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Toxic Melamine Suspected In Chinese Seafood
2008-12-24 16:29:27
Melamine in Chinese-produced milk powder has sickened hundreds of thousands of children and added to a growing list of made-in-China foods banned across the globe. Now, some scientists and consumer advocates are raising concerns that fish from China may also be contaminated with the industrial chemical.

China is the world's largest producer of farm-raised seafood, exporting billions of dollars worth of shrimp, catfish, tilapia, salmon and other fish. The U.S. imported about $2 billion of seafood products from China in 2007, almost double the volume of four years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Industry experts and businesspeople in China say that melamine has been routinely added to fish and animal feed to artificially boost protein readings. And new research suggests that, unlike in cows and pigs, the edible flesh in fish that have been fed melamine contains residues of the nitrogen-rich substance.

Melamine, commonly used in plastics and dishware, can lead to urinary problems such as kidney stones and even renal failure.
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Mysterious Link Between Sleep And Heart Disease
2008-12-24 16:28:05

People who don’t get much sleep are more likely than those who do to develop calcium deposits in their coronary arteries, possibly raising their risk for heart disease, a new study has found.

The 495 participants in the study filled out sleep questionnaires and kept a log of their hours in bed. At night they also wore motion-sensing devices around their wrists that estimate the number of hours of actual sleep. At the beginning, none of the participants, who were ages 35 to 47, had evidence of coronary artery calcification.

Five years later, 27 percent of those who were sleeping less than five hours a night on average had developed coronary artery calcification for the first time, while only 6 percent of those who were sleeping seven hours or more had developed it. Among those who were sleeping between five and seven hours a night, 11 percent had developed coronary artery calcification, the study found.

After accounting for various other causes, the researchers concluded that one hour more of sleep per night was associated with a 33 percent decrease in the odds of calcification, comparable to the heart benefit gained by lowering one’s systolic blood pressure by 17 millimeters of mercury.

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