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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday December 3 2008 - (813)

Wednesday December 3 2008 edition
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After Sharp Words On CIA, Obama Faces A Delicate Task
2008-12-03 00:22:33
For two years on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama rallied crowds with strongly worded critiques of the Bush administration’s most controversial counterterrorism programs, from hiding terrorism suspects in secret Central Intelligence Agency jails to questioning them with methods he denounced as torture.

Now, Obama must take charge of the C.I.A., in what is already proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of his transition to the White House.

Last week, John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who was widely seen as Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency, withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Brennan protested that he had been a “strong opponent” within the agency of harsh interrogation tactics, yet Obama evidently decided that nominating Brennan was not worth a battle with some of his most ardent supporters on the left.

Obama’s search for someone else and his future relationship with the agency are complicated by the tension between his apparent desire to make a clean break with Bush administration policies he has condemned and concern about alienating an agency with a central role in the campaign against al-Qaeda.

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U.S., India See Link To Militants In Pakistan
2008-12-03 00:22:01
American and Indian authorities said Tuesday that there was now little doubt that militants inside Pakistan had directed the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Indian officials said they had identified three or four masterminds of the deadly assault, stepping up pressure on Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of one of the worst terrorist attacks in India's history.

The emerging consensus came as the Bush administration increased its diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan over the attacks, dispatching the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the region. He will join Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was scheduled to arrive in India on Wednesday.

Both officials are expected to issue stern warnings to the government of Pakistan to crack down on militant groups in Pakistan near its borders with Indian-administered Kashmir and with Afghanistan, top American aides said.

Two senior American officials said Tuesday that the United States had warned India in mid-October of possible terrorist attacks against “touristy areas frequented by Westerners” in Mumbai, but that the information was not specific. Nonetheless, the officials said, the warning echoed other general alerts this year by India’s intelligence agency, raising questions about the adequacy of India’s counterterrorism measures.

Details of the attack planners also became clearer on Tuesday. The only gunman captured by the police told his interrogators that one of the main plotters was a fugitive known to Indian authorities: Yusuf Muzammil, a leader of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to a senior Indian police official and a Western official.

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A New Picture Of The Early Earth
2008-12-03 00:21:05

The first 700 million years of Earth's 4.5-billion-year existence are known as the Hadean period, after Hades, or, to shed the ancient Greek name, Hell.

That name seemed to fit with the common perception that the young Earth was a hot, dry, desolate landscape interspersed with seas of magma and inhospitable for life. Even if some organism had somehow popped into existence, the old story went, surely it would soon have been extinguished in the firestorm of one of the giant meteorites that slammed into the Earth when the young solar system was still crowded with debris.

Scars on the surface of the Moon record a hail of impacts during what is called the Late Heavy Bombardment. The Earth would have received an even more intense bombardment, and the common thinking until recently was that life could not have emerged on Earth until the bombardment eased about 3.85 billion years ago.

Norman H. Sleep, a professor of geophysics at Stanford, recalled that in 1986 he submitted a paper that calculated the probability of life surviving one of the giant, early impacts. It was summarily rejected because a reviewer said that obviously nothing could have lived then.

That is no longer thought to be true.

“We thought we knew something we didn’t,” said T. Mark Harrison, a professor of geochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. In hindsight the evidence was just not there. And new evidence has suggested a new view of the early Earth.

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Georgia Republican Chambliss Wins U.S. Senate Runoff Election
2008-12-03 00:20:20
Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss handed the Republican Party a firewall against Democrats eager to flex their new found political muscle in Washington, winning a bruising runoff battle Tuesday night that had captured the national limelight.

Chambliss' victory thwarted Democrats' hopes of winning a 60 seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It came after a bitter month long runoff against Democrat Jim Martin that drew political luminaries from both parties to the state and flooded the airwaves with fresh attack ads weeks after campaigns elsewhere had ended.

Minnesota - where a recount is under way - now remains the only unresolved Senate contest in the country, but the stakes there are significantly lower now that Georgia has put a 60-seat Democratic supermajority out of reach.

With 70 percent of the precincts reporting, Chambliss captured 60 percent to Martin's 40 percent. Chambliss' win is a rare bright spot for Republicans in a year where they lost the White House as well as seats in the House and the Senate.

"It's been a hard and tough four weeks," Chambliss said at a victory party in Cobb County. "We had a hardcore campaign on both sides and while things look good right now, we're going to continue to follow the returns as they come in."

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Nuclear Or Biological Attack On U.S. Called Likely
2008-12-02 16:15:10

The odds that terrorists will soon strike a major city with weapons of mass destruction are now better than even, a bipartisan congressionally mandated task force concludes in a draft study that warns of growing threats from rogue states, nuclear smuggling networks and the spread of atomic know-how in the developing world.

The sobering assessment of such threats, due for release as early as Tuesday, singled out Pakistan as a grave concern because of its terrorist networks, history of instability and arsenal of several dozen nuclear warheads. The report urged the incoming Obama administration to take "decisive action" to reduce the likelihood of a devastating attack.

"No mission could be timelier," says the draft report of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which spent six months preparing an assessment for Congress and the new president-elect. It adds: "In our judgment, America's margin of safety is shrinking, not growing."

The report, ordered by Congress last year, concludes that terrorists are more likely to obtain materials for a biological attack than to buy or steal nuclear weapons; but it says the nuclear threat is growing rapidly, in part because of the increasing global supply of nuclear material and technology.

"Without greater urgency and decisive action by the world community, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013," says the draft report, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Post. The Post reported excerpts from an earlier draft in Sunday's editions.

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Not Easy Being Green - Economic Downturn Hits Renewable Energy
2008-12-02 16:14:48
Cheaper oil is diluting demand for energy efficiency in Europe, and tighter financing is making it difficult for renewable energy companies to expand, or even survive.

It was only a matter of time. As the impact of the global financial crisis spreads into all corners of the economy, Europe's world-beating green energy sector is starting to feel the pinch. Plunging oil prices have made renewable energy sources relatively less cost-effective, while thinner profit margins have prompted big industrial users of power to tighten their budgets for sustainable energy programs - cutting into sales by green energy suppliers.

At the same time, the rising cost of capital is making it harder for both consumer and suppliers of alternative energy equipment and services to finance new green projects. The impact will be felt especially acutely by small, independent manufacturers and electricity producers, some of whom could go out of business or be forced to sell out to larger companies. "Small companies are more fragile, and some will have difficulties in financing their projects," says Colette Lewiner, global energy, utilities, and chemicals leader at consultancy Capgemini.

It's a dramatic change from just a few months ago. Earlier this year, European alternative energy companies such as German solar panel manufacturer Q-Cells and Danish wind-turbine maker Vestas were scrambling to keep up with global demand as prices for solar cells and wind turbines soared. Regulatory carbon reduction requirements in Europe and elsewhere, coupled with rising public eco-consciousness, promised a bright future for renewable power.

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Auto Woes Threaten To Wreck Volvo, Saab
2008-12-02 16:14:18
Iconic Swedish brands Volvo and Saab are both U.S. owned, but they may not benefit from any U.S. auto bailout. As the global car industry slumps, officials in Sweden are scrambling to save their biggest brands - without running afoul of European Union law.

Boxy and super-safe, Swedish cars have long been a familiar sight on the streets of America's suburban liberal enclaves. But now Volvo and Saab may fall victim to the worldwide slowdown in the auto market.

As U.S. automakers prepare to visit Congress again on Thursday to ask for a $25 billion bailout, Sweden's car industry is under tremendous pressure. The country's two biggest brands, Volvo and Saab, are owned by Ford and GM, respectively - but Congress won't be offering any charity to them.

American lawmakers have made it clear that U.S. tax money can't be used overseas, which means Volvo and Saab could be left out in the cold. "If GM gets money from the American government, then we're convinced that it will be earmarked for American interests," said Paul Akerlund, a union representative at Saab's main manufacturing plant in Trollhattan, Sweden.

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EPA To Curb Medical Incinerator Emissions
2008-12-02 16:13:35

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved Monday to curb pollution released by medical waste incinerators, ending an 11-year battle over how to best regulate the emissions.

Environmentalists hailed the move as an important precedent for controlling toxic releases into the air, saying EPA based its calculations on the availability of technologies to significantly clean up incinerator pollution. The facilities can install fabric filters to trap toxic particles or scrubbers to capture gaseous releases.

"This is the first time I've ever seen them do an air toxic rule right," said Jim Pew, a lawyer at Earthjustice, a Calif.-based environmental advocacy group that sued the agency over its initial proposal for regulating the incinerators more than a decade ago. "It's a big cut in emissions."

EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said no one from the agency was available to comment on the rule, which was technically promulgated Nov. 14 but published in the Federal Register Monday. It is subject to public comment for 75 days before being finalized.

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Pirates Fire On U.S. Cruise Ship In Hijack Attempt
2008-12-02 16:12:53
Pirates chased and shot at a U.S. cruise ship with more than 1,000 people on board but failed to hijack the vessel as it sailed along a corridor patrolled by international warships, officials said Tuesday. The captain of the M/S Nautica ordered passengers inside and gunned the engine, allowing the ship to outrun the pirates' speedboats in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, said a company spokesman.

"It is very fortunate that the liner managed to escape," said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia. He urged ships to remain vigilant in the area.

In a statement on its Web site, Oceania Cruises, Inc., said pirates fired eight rifle shots at the liner, but that the ship's captain increased speed and managed to outrun the skiffs.

"When the pirates were sighted, the captain went on the public address system and asked passengers to remain in the interior spaces of the ship and wait until he gave further instructions," said Tim Rubacky, spokesman for Oceania. "Within five minutes, it was over," he said.

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Wall Street Partially Recovers From Sell-Off, Dow Up 270
2008-12-03 00:22:20

Wall Street mounted a modest recovery on Tuesday, gaining back nearly half of the enormous collapse that opened the week, as investors picked up bargain-price stocks and pushed Treasury yields to record lows.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 270 points after crisscrossing the chart in the afternoon, swinging across a nearly 300-point range and even dipping into negative territory for a brief moment in the early afternoon.

By the end of the session, the blue-chip index was at 8,419.09, up 3.3 percent and reclaiming more than a third of its 680-point swoon on Monday.

While the gains provided some sense of comfort, the size of the trading range underscored the immense volatility and uncertainty that remained ingrained in the market. Investors are still not certain of anything, whether it is how long the recession will last or which company could be the next to teeter on collapse. Double-digit percentage point swings have become the norm for shares of some high-profile businesses, shifts that once took weeks to occur.

Citigroup and Bank of America both gained close to 12 percent, a day after each stock fell more than 20 percent. Financial shares were the day’s top performers, although General Electric led the Dow industrials with a 13.6 percent gain.

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G.M. Accepts Need For Drastic Cuts To Get U.S. Aid
2008-12-03 00:21:30
General Motors, increasingly desperate for a federal bailout to stave off financial collapse, told Congress on Tuesday that it was willing to drastically shrink every aspect of its operations to ensure its long-term survival.

On the same day that the industry reported its worst sales month in 26 years, the three Detroit automakers delivered new business plans to lawmakers in the hope of winning support for $34 billion in federal loans.

While the timing was coincidental, the dismal November sales report underscored the perilous financial condition of  G.M., the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler.

Their combined loan request was substantially higher than the $25 billion that the three companies had initially hoped to get from Congress two weeks ago.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said Tuesday that she had spoken with President Bush by phone on Monday about the need to help the auto industry and that she believed some sort of rescue would be provided, either legislatively or by the Bush administration.

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Obama Promises Governors He'll Be Listening
2008-12-03 00:20:45
The nation's governors came to tell tales of financial woe, but President-elect Barack Obama was already sold on them playing a role in the national economic recovery plan.

After convening almost a complete set of state chief executives Tuesday, Obama pledged "action, and action now" to address the budget shortfalls expected in no less than 41 states in the coming year.

"As president, I will not simply ask our nation's governors to help implement our economic recovery plan," Obama told an assembly of 48 governors gathered in historic Congress Hall. "I will ask you to help design that plan. Because, if we're listening to our governors, we'll not only be doing what's right for our states, we'll be doing what's right for our country."

The pledge is easier said than done. Twenty states have together cut $7.6 billion from their fiscal 2009 budgets, the National Governors Association reports. Thirty states say they are expecting additional shortfalls totaling more than $30 billion.

After tenuous relationships with the Bush administration, several governors - most of them Democrats - said they were hopeful the incoming president would take their counsel as he crafts his economic recovery plan.

They, in turn, promised to help Obama promote his proposal to the American people.
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In U.S., State Governments Want $176 Billion Slice Of Stimulus Money
2008-12-02 16:15:20

When President-elect Barack Obama arrives at Philadelphia's Independence Hall Tuesday to meet with the nation's governors, the main question will be not whether he will deliver fast fiscal relief to the states, but how much?

Obama and congressional Democrats have promised that soon after Inauguration Day he will sign an economic stimulus bill that could exceed $500 billion. The governors intend to request about $176 billion of that - $136 billion for infrastructure projects and $40 billion to bolster Medicaid health programs that serve the poor and disabled.

"The slowing economy is resulting in growing unemployment, increased demand for state services and significant declines in state revenues," said Gov. Jim Douglas (R-Vermont), who is vice chairman of the National Governors Association. "It's critical this happen as soon as possible."

As the economic downturn has swept from the housing market to financial institutions to the automobile industry, Obama has begun sketching out plans to address a recession that most experts project will be deep and long lasting. At the heart of his approach is a massive infusion of federal tax dollars.

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Can The Climate Survive The Financial Crisis?
2008-12-02 16:14:58
Just as the world gathers in Poznan, Poland, to come up with a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the global financial meltdown threatens to torpedo the effort. But could a world recession actually help the climate?

For years, the world has known it was coming. And yet now that the next level of negotiations on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol is beginning in Poznan, Poland on Monday, things have suddenly got more complicated. The global financial crisis and concurrent economic downturn threatens to weaken the resolve of the 186 countries present to take far-reaching steps against climate change.

"The financial crisis will have an impact on climate change," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on Sunday. "You already are seeing around the world a number of wind energy projects being pushed back."

The Poznan conference will see 10,000 delegates continue the process, begun in Bali last December, of cobbling together a new global treaty to replace Kyoto, which expires in 2012. The timeline agreed to last year calls for the new greenhouse gas emissions reduction agreement to be ready in 2009, allowing plenty of time for the treaty to be ratified by participating countries.

Yet, with stock markets around the world now plunging and a number of industries, particularly auto manufacturing in the United States and Europe, facing difficult futures, calls have been increasing in Europe to delay the introduction of more stringent rules aimed at increasing fuel efficiency and decreasing CO2 emissions from cars.

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Ford Motor Makes Concessions In Effort To Get Government Help
2008-12-02 16:14:30

Ford Motor Co., unveiling a business plan demanded by Congress before it approves aid for the Big Three U.S. automakers, disclosed Tuesday that it is seeking a bridge loan of up to $9 billion and that it expects to break even or become profitable in 2011.

The company also said it would invest about $14 billion in the United States on advanced technologies and products to improve vehicle fuel efficiency over the next seven years; and it provided initial details of a plan to build a family of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles. It said the last group, known as BEVs, would include a van for commercial fleet use in 2010 and a sedan in 2011.

In addition, Ford said it would cut costs further by selling its five corporate aircraft and would explore the possible sale of its Sweden-based Volvo brand. If the company needed to draw on a government bridge loan, Ford President Alan R. Mulally said, he would work for a salary of $1 a year.

The announcements came as executives of the Big Three - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - prepared to ask Congress for $25 billion in bridge financing to help them stay afloat as they implement plans aimed at restoring their long-term viability. Mulally, GM chief executive G. Richard Wagoner, Jr., and Chrysler Chairman Robert Nardelli are scheduled to appear before congressional committees Thursday and Friday to make their pitches.

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Pakistan Offers To Aid India In Terror Investigation
2008-12-02 16:13:47
Pakistan on Tuesday offered to set up a joint inquiry into last week's terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai and said it would cooperate with India as it investigates the three-day siege of the country's financial capital.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi extended the offer in a statement broadcast on national television, as pressure mounted from both India and the United States for cooperation in unraveling the attack. "Both countries will benefit from bilateral engagement. This is not the time for finger-pointing. Terrorism is a major challenge. It is a common enemy," said Qureshi.

The attacks by a band of 10 gunmen killed 174 and injured nearly 300.

Qureshi delivered his remarks as members of Pakistan's National Assembly held a special session in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad to discuss the country's response to the Mumbai assaults. Indian officials have pinned responsibility for the attacks on Pakistan-based elements of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a militant group linked to several previous terrorist attacks in India. The sole gunman to be taken alive, they say, has admitted that Lashkar was behind the terrorist rampage across the city.

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Council: Britain's Mortgage Market Will Grind To A Halt In 2009
2008-12-02 16:13:15

Britain's mortgage market will come to a standstill next year unless the government takes further action to help banks and building societies, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said Tuesday.

Director general, Michael Coogan, raised the prospect of "mortgage rationing" as he admitted the government's demand for mortgage lending to return to 2007 levels could not be achieved.

His warning echoed last week's prediction by the government's mortgage tsar, Sir James Crosby, that 2009 could see negative net lending for the first timeas more home loans are paid off than new ones are granted.

Addressing this year's CML conference, Coogan called on the government to take further steps to make life easier for mortgage lenders, including cutting the cost to the banking industry of funding the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

The scheme is currently paying out depositors in Bradford & Bingley, the collapsed Icelandic banks and London Scottish Bank, and Coogan said the contributions demanded by the government could amount to 20%-30% of the industry profits next year.

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