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Friday, January 02, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 2 2009 - (813)

Friday January 2 2009 edition
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Rural Areas In U.S. Face Shortage Of General Practitioners
2009-01-01 17:37:14
It's not yet 9 a.m., and as most of his 27,000 neighbors are getting ready for Saturday chores, John Phillips has a familiar one in front of him.

Anesthetized and draped in blue is a 10-year-old boy with a red-hot abscess on his belly. An overhead lamp shines on a patch of iodine-scrubbed skin the size of a playing card. Phillips asks for a scalpel and bisects the glowing rectangle with a single cut.

About 200 miles to the west, Robert Kuhl has started his chores, too. The first is fixing the broken hip of a 94-year-old widow who fell the night before. Like so many of the 7,500 people in Creston, she would rather have the operation where she lives than in a big city miles away.

Through an incision in her thigh, Kuhl will saw off the broken end of the femur and replace it with a metal one that fits the joint socket. The procedure is called a hemiarthroplasty. Kuhl is the only person in an 80-mile radius who can do it. It will take him about 90 minutes.

Phillips, who is 61, and Kuhl, who is 57, are general surgeons. People like them are the backbone of rural medicine, and all across the country they are starting to disappear.

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NASA Climate Scientist Hansen Warns Obama That Glorbal Warming Policies Are Failing
2009-01-01 17:36:45
Current approaches to deal with climate change are ineffectual, one of the world's top climate scientists said Thursday in a personal new year appeal to Barack Obama and his wife Michelle on the urgent need to tackle global warming.

With less than three weeks to go until Obama's inauguration, Prof. James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, asked the recently appointed White House science adviser Prof. John Holdren to pass the missive directly to the president-elect.

Obama spoke repeatedly during his campaign about the need to tackle climate change, and environmentalists fervently hope he will live up to his promises to pursue green policies.

The letter, from Hansen and his wife Anniek, is a personal plea to the first couple. It begins: "We write to you as fellow parents concerned about the Earth that will be inherited by our children, grandchildren, and those yet to be born … Jim has advised governments previously through regular channels. But urgency now dictates a personal appeal."

In a covering letter to Holdren, Hansen explains that he wrote the letter a few weeks ago while in London. His wife had suffered a heart attack ("fortunately we were near a very good hospital") and while they waited for doctors to give the go-ahead to fly back to the U.S. he decided to compose his petition to the new first family.

Hansen has been one of the most prominent advocates of action to tackle climate change since he first spoke on the issue at congressional hearings in the 1980s. His testimony to the senate featured in Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" and he has received numerous honors for his work on the issue, including the WWF's top conservation award.

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Russia Cuts Off Natural Gas Supplies To Ukraine
2009-01-01 17:36:03
Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly, shut the entire flow of natural gas intended for Ukraine's domestic consumption Thursday morning after negotiations over prices and transit fees unraveled the day before.

“Gas deliveries in the Ukrainian direction were reduced by 90 million cubic meters per day,” Gazprom said in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency, or about the average daily consumption of the country of 46 million people which is at the peak of the winter heating season now.

Ukraine’s national energy company confirmed pressure in the country’s natural gas pipeline system had begun to drop Thursday morning, Reuters reported.

If the interruption continues, customers in Western Europe would likely experience shortages, since the same pipelines in Ukraine that are used for internal distribution are also used for export. That is a problem that has bedeviled Europe’s energy supplies from Russia for years.

About 80 percent of Russia’s gas exports to Europe go through Ukraine. In the statement Thursday, Gazprom said it was continuing to ship gas to Ukraine that was intended for re-export to Europe.

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Error Found In E.P.A. Report On Rocket Fuel Contaminant
2009-01-01 17:35:28
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed to follow its own guidelines and made a basic error in evaluating how a toxic contaminant in rocket fuel harms human health, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general.

The contaminant, perchlorate, has been found in significant levels in drinking water in at least 400 locations; scientific studies indicate that perchlorate blocks the necessary accumulation of iodide in human thyroid glands. Iodide insufficiencies in pregnant women are “associated with permanent mental deficits in the children,” said the E.P.A.

Perchlorate can occur naturally, but high concentrations have been found near military installations where it was used in testing rockets and missiles.

The new report, issued late Tuesday, said the E.P.A. should not have looked at perchlorate individually, but should have followed its own guidance and examined the cumulative impact of perchlorate, other substances in the environment that inhibit the uptake of iodide by the thyroid and potentially inadequate supplies of iodide in American diets.

While the report criticized the agency’s analytical approach, it did not quarrel with two controversial regulatory actions involving perchlorate: one decision to set a safe dosage level four times greater than California’s, and a second not to require cleanup of perchlorate contamination.

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Britain's Chambers Of Commerce See 3 Million Unemployed In 2009
2009-01-01 17:34:37
Unemployment will soar above 3 million as Britain's manufacturers, retailers and service industries feel the full effects of the downturn, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which said economic output is set to fall this year by more than in the last recession of the 1990s.

The jobless count will rise to 3.1 million, or 10% of the workforce, the business group predicted. It said the U.K.  economy could shrink by as much as 2.9%, leaving the country to face the "distinct risk" of deflation this year. As a result, the government's depleted finances will remain in a parlous state for many years.

The BCC's gloomy forecast was matched by analysis from Experian that predicted that up to 1,400 retailers would be forced out of business over the coming year. The retail consultancy said there was no disguising that 2008 was "an annus horribilis" for the retail sector and there was little prospect of improvement in 2009.

A last-minute dash to the shops at Christmas failed to lift footfall figures to last year's level, said Experian. Shopper numbers were 3.1% lower in December than they had been in the same month of 2007, despite heavy discounting that in many cases wiped out profit margins.

Experian said there had been a 21% year-on-year jump in the number of retail insolvencies, with high-profile casualties such as Woolworths, Adams and Zavvi all calling in the administrators. It predicted a further 440 retail businesses would fail in the first four months of 2009, with a total of 1,400 going under in the year as a whole.

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Baghdad's Green Zone Reverts To Iraqi Control
2009-01-01 17:33:24
The Green Zone, for nearly six years the headquarters of the American occupation of Iraq, passed from American to Iraqi control on Thursday, in a handover that was marked by two ceremonies of speeches, poems and music on a blustery cold day in Baghdad.

The Iraqi flag was raised during a small ceremony at what had been the Republican Palace of Saddam Hussein  attended by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. 

In a speech broadcast on state television, Mr. Maliki said that the handover had a special meaning for Iraqis. “It means we have gotten rid of the most dangerous remains of the policies that the former regime adopted,” he said.

Later, on a street elsewhere in the 5.6-square-mile Green Zone, a second ceremony was attended by senior Iraqi security officials, including the defense minister, and senior American Army officers, including Lt. Gen, Lloyd J. Austin III, the second-highest ranking United States commander in Iraq.

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In U.S., New Sentencing Guidelines For Crack Create Challenges
2009-01-01 17:32:46

Michael D. Thompson, a former crack cocaine dealer, thought he deserved a break.

Sentenced in 2000 to 15 years and eight months in prison, Thompson asked a federal judge in the District to release him, arguing that he had received an unfair sentence and has turned his life around behind bars, earning a general equivalency diploma and completing a commercial driving course.

Federal prosecutors said that was a terrible idea. Citing Thompson's criminal past and prison disciplinary record, which includes threatening a prison official with a knife, prosecutors argued in court papers that the 37-year-old poses a danger to the community and should complete his sentence.

Thompson's case is one of thousands around the country in which crack offenders and their defense attorneys are sparring with federal prosecutors over how to interpret new sentencing guidelines for crack possession or sale. The guidelines were issued to right old wrongs. But they have led to time-consuming legal challenges dealing with the often long-forgotten consequences of the bloody crack wars in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Defense lawyers say they are correcting systemic sentencing flaws that removed their clients, mostly black men, from their communities for too many years. Federal prosecutors say they are working to prevent bad guys from returning to the streets to wreak more havoc. Both sides say they are seeking justice.

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Commentary: 2009 Brings Hard Choices For Future Of Capitalism
2009-01-01 17:37:01
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Timothy Garton Ash and appeared in the Guardian edition for Thursday, January 1, 2009. In his commentary, Mr. Ash writes: "Either a large part of humankind has to be excluded from the happy benefits of growth or our way of life has to change." His commentary follows:

Happy new year? You must be joking. 2009 will begin with a wail, and then get worse. Millions of people have already been put out of work, across the world, by this first truly globalized crisis of capitalism. Tens of millions more will be made jobless soon. Those of us lucky enough still to have work will feel poorer and less secure. To celebrate his Nobel prize in economics, Paul Krugman promises us months of "economic hell". Thank you, Paul, and a happy new year to you, too.

Economic troubles will exacerbate political tensions. But rumors of the death of capitalism have been exaggerated. I don't think 2009 will be to capitalism what 1989 was to communism. Maybe on 1 January 2010 I'll have to eat these words. Prediction is a mug's game. (In the Economist's predictive almanac, The World in 2009, the editor has a brave and amusing little column titled "About 2008: Sorry".) Yet as this year begins I don't see any serious systemic competitor on the horizon - in the way there appeared to be in the days of Soviet communism before 1989. The Hugo Chávez model of socialism depends on capitalists buying his oil, and if you fancy the North Korean model you need to see a doctor.

Something will be very wrong, however, if the assumptions of the kind of free-market capitalism - sometimes called "neoliberal" - that has appeared triumphant since 1989 are not re-examined in this 20th anniversary year. First there's the balance between state and market, public and private, the visible and invisible hand. Even before last September's meltdown, Barack Obama was trying to nudge his compatriots towards the idea that government is not always a dirty word. Subsequent months have seen a dramatic shift towards a larger role for the state, usually in spasms of desperate governmental improvisation, sometimes (as in Gordon Brown's London) ideologically legitimated as Keynesianism, sometimes (as in George Bush's Washington) just plain, unvarnished Desperationism.

How much of that shift is temporary and how much will endure is something we won't know by the end of this year. While most of the movement is towards strengthening the visible hand of government, it may not all go that way. A leading Chinese economic reformer recently argued to me that the Asian financial crisis of a decade ago had catalyzed more market-oriented reform of the Chinese economy, and this one would do the same.

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Top Hamas Leader Nizar Rayan Is Killed In Gaza Air Strike By Israelis
2009-01-01 17:36:20
An Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip killed a top Hamas political and military leader Thursday, along with several family members, as the militant group continued to launch its own rockets deep into Israeli territory.

The continued clash came amid rising global calls for an end to the bloodshed, which has killed at least 410 Palestinians and four Israelis.

The attack on Nizar Rayan, confirmed by Israeli officials, family members and Hamas, may signal a shift in Israeli tactics as the assault on the Gaza Strip entered its sixth day. After nearly a week of pounding police stations, security compounds, rocket-launching cells and cross-border tunnels, the Jewish state may be reviving its former practice of assassination strikes on Hamas leaders.

Rayan, 49, was the most senior Hamas official killed since the movement's co-founders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdulaziz Rantisi died in Israeli airstrikes less than a month apart in 2004, said a senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An Islamic scholar and a university instructor, Rayan was a force in both the political and military wings of Hamas, which controls Gaza. Even as most senior Hamas leaders went into hiding when the Israeli air barrages began, Rayan made a point of living openly in a home in the Jabaliya refugee camp. He encouraged other leaders to follow suit.

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Russia Ends Jury Trials For 'Crimes Against State'
2009-01-01 17:35:48
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paused in the last, quiet hours of a dying year to sign a controversial law that eliminates jury trials for "crimes against the state," a measure that lawyers and human rights groups fear will be the start of a dangerous exertion of Kremlin control over government critics.

The law does away with jury trials for a range of offenses, leaving people accused of treason, revolt, sabotage, espionage or terrorism at the mercy of three judges rather than a panel of peers. Critics say the law is dangerous because judges in Russia are vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation by the government.

A parallel piece of legislation, pushed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and still awaiting discussion in parliament, seeks to expand the legal definition of treason to such a degree that observers fear that anybody who criticizes the government could be rounded up by police - and, because of the law signed Wednesday, tried without jury.

Little discussed in state media, the changes to Russia's criminal code would arm the government to crack down on any whispers of dissent, distressed human rights groups and lawyers have warned. The changes also seek a stronger hand for the FSB, the modern incarnation of the Soviet KGB, by giving the state wider latitude in cases that fall under intelligence agency rather than police jurisdiction. Some critics point back to the days of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as a comparable legal structure.

"It's a preparation for terror, although not the grand terror of the 1930s," said Andrei Illarionov, a fellow at Washington's Cato Institute and a former economic advisor to Putin. "They are much smarter now. They are preparing some kind of selective terror against those who are courageous enough to speak up."

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Meteors May Have Ended Global Warming On Earth In Past
2009-01-01 17:34:56
At least once in Earth's history, global warming ended quickly, and scientists have long wondered why.

Now researchers are reporting that the abrupt cooling - which took place about 12,900 years ago, just as the planet was emerging from an ice age - may have been caused by one or more meteors that slammed into North America.

That could explain the extinction of mammoths, saber-tooth tigers and maybe even the first human inhabitants of the Americas, the scientists report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The hypothesis has been regarded skeptically, but its advocates now report perhaps more convincing residue of impact: a thin layer of microscopic diamonds found in rocks across America and in Europe.

“We’re up over 30 sites, as far west as offshore California, as far east as Germany,” said Allen West, a retired geology consultant who is one of the scientists working on the research.

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The Debt Trap: Colleges Profit As Banks Market Credit Cards To Students
2009-01-01 17:34:17
When Ryan T. Muneio was tailgating with his parents at a Michigan State football game this fall, he noticed a big tent emblazoned with a Bank of Americalogo. Inside, bank representatives were offering free T-shirts and other merchandise to those who applied for credit cards and other banking products.

“They did a good job,” Muneio, 21 and a junior at Michigan State, said of the tactic. “It was good advertising.”

Bank of America’s relationship with the university extends well beyond marketing at sports events. The bank has an $8.4 million, seven-year contract with Michigan State giving it access to students’ names and addresses and use of the university’s logo. The more students who take the banks’ credit cards, the more money the university gets. Under certain circumstances, Michigan State even stands to receive more money if students carry a balance on these cards.

Hundreds of colleges have contracts with lenders but, at a time of rising concern about student debt - and overall consumer debt - the arrangements have sounded alarm bells, and some student groups are starting to push back.

The relationships are reminiscent of those uncovered two years ago between student loan companies and universities. In those, some lenders offered universities an incentive to steer potential borrowers their way.

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Environmentalists Take Issue With Interior Department's 'List Of Achievements' Under Bush
2009-01-01 17:33:01

As President Bush's tenure comes to a close, independent experts and administration insiders are delivering their assessments of his government's performance over the past eight years. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has posted his own verdict on his department's Web site, and the upshot is that he did great.

Under the heading "Bush Administration Accomplishments at the Department of the Interior," the agency lists 26 achievements it has made since 2001. Some of the policies and programs named have received bipartisan accolades, such as the National Park Centennial Initiative, which will add at least $1 billion to the park system's budget over the next decade, along with another $1 billion in federal matching money that must be paired with an equal amount in private donations.

Interior also lists some of its most controversial policies, including its decision to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act while circumscribing the move's broader implications.

The fact sheet states: "After months of careful study and the development of new, cutting edge scientific techniques to properly identify, track and predict the effect of declining sea ice on polar bear populations worldwide, the Department proposed and then listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Department further developed a Polar Bear action plan to help protect the bear."

Kempthorne has emphasized repeatedly that this decision cannot lead to federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions, even though such emissions are fueling the warming that is shrinking the sea ice on which polar bears depend for survival.

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