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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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