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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday January 28 2009 - (813)

Wednesday January 28 2009 edition
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Tribunal: British Government Must Cabinet Minutes On Lead-Up To Iraq War
2009-01-28 03:22:07

Secret British government discussions about the Iraq war are to be disclosed after an information tribunal Tuesday ordered the release of cabinet minutes from 2003.

The decision follows a lengthy battle by campaigners, who have argued that the public interest in learning what was said about the planned invasion outweighs the public interest in cabinet discussions being kept secret.

Cabinet ministers have strongly opposed the request, arguing that the Freedom of Information Act was never intended to allow for the publication of information of this kind.

The tribunal upheld a decision by the information commissioner that details of the sessions on March 13 and 17 should be disclosed.

The meetings considered the highly controversial issue of whether the invasion was allowed under international law. Lord Goldsmith, who was attorney general at the time, initially suggested that the legality of the invasion was legally questionable before subsequently issuing legal advice saying that it would be compatible with international law.

This has given rise to persistent claims that ministers were not fully briefed on the possible legal pitfalls of an invasion.

Tuesday's ruling does not necessarily mean the minutes will be published because the government has 28 days to appeal.The tribunal said that the exceptional circumstances relating to the two cabinet meetings meant that publication was justified and that it would not set a precedent for the publication of all cabinet minutes.

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Obama Calls For Green Battle Against Economic Crisis
2009-01-28 03:21:32

U.S. President Barack Obama has said this week he wants to fight climate change, making the kind of statements the rest of the world has been waiting to hear for a long time. He's dressing his proposals up as an economic stimulus package, but can he drum up enough U.S. support for a deal in Copenhagen later this year?

When the new United States president walked into the East Room of the White House on Monday, he was supposed to focus on climate change, but Barack Obama first wanted to say a few words about the bleak economic climate, an area where he has some immediate decisions to make.

Frightening new figures have been jolting the U.S. economy in recent days. The list of companies making large cuts in employees is long: construction-machine builder Caterpillar is cutting 20,000 jobs, mobile phone giant Sprint is shedding 8,000, home improvement chain Home Depot will eliminate 7,000 workers. And the list doesn't end there - it is getting longer and longer, and includes blue chip companies like Microsoft, Intel and United Airlines.

"These are not just numbers on a page," Obama says. "As with the millions of jobs lost in 2008, these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold. We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose."

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Obama Meets With Republican Caucus On Economic Stimulus
2009-01-27 16:05:24
President Obama arrived on Capitol Hill early Tuesday afternoon for back-to-back meetings with Republicans in the House and Senate to try to draw bipartisan support for - and tamp down criticism of - his $825 billion economic stimulus plan.

A week after being sworn into office, Obama returned to the Capitol for the first of what his advisers said would be frequent visits with members of Congress. Yet it was still a rare event for a president, particularly a Democratic one, to sit down with the entire Republican conference.

Several Republicans said they would like the tax cuts to move more swiftly, according to people in the room, but the president replied that $275 billion was the most he would be willing to negotiate. The session stretched longer than an hour, with both sides conceding at several points that they have unwavable philosophical differences on many of the issues.

Obama walked into a meeting room in the basement of the capitol at 12:17 p.m., greeted by a moderate burst of applause from the audience of dozens of House Republicans. After a short while, another round of applause could be heard in the hallway outside the closed-door session taking place in Room HC-5. The loudest applause, attendees said, came when Obama decided to let the questioning go on, even though that meant senators would have to wait for him a while longer. The questioning lasted an hour.

“We had a wonderful exchange of ideas and I continue to be optimistic about our ability to get this recovery package done to put people back to work,” said Obama, speaking to reporters as he left the House meeting.

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Obama To Islamic World: 'The Americans Are Not Your Enemy'
2009-01-27 16:04:46
In an interview with one of the Middle East’s major broadcasters, President Barack Obama struck a conciliatory tone toward the Islamic world, saying he wanted to persuade Muslims that “the Americans are not your enemy.” He also said “the moment is ripe” for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The interview with Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language news channel based in Dubai, signaled a shift - in style and manner at least - from the Bush administration, offering what he depicted as a new readiness to listen rather than dictate.

It was Obama’s first televised interview from the White House and the first with any foreign news outlet.

In a transcript published on Al Arabiya’s English language Web site, Obama said it is his job “to communicate to the Muslim world that the Americans are not your enemy.”

He added that “we sometimes make mistakes,” but said that America was not born as a colonial power and that he hoped for a restoration of “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.”

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Treasury Secretary Geithner Sets New Lobbying Rules
2009-01-27 16:04:10

Timothy F. Geithner was confirmed by the Senate Monday as Treasury secretary and will immediately face tough sledding as the Obama administration prepares to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to try to rescue the financial system.

Geithner's first act at Treasury, announced Tuesday morning, was issuing new rules that take aim at limiting the influence of lobbyists seeking rescue funds from the department's $700 billion financial rescue program. The rules, which are modeled on restrictions already in use that limit lobbying on tax matters, would restrict employees' contact with lobbyists in connection with applications for bailout funds or disbursement of those funds. They also require certification to Congress that decisions for using the bailout money are based only on investment criteria and the facts of the case.

In a statement on Treasury's Web page, Geithner said the rules were designed to ensure that taxpayers "know that their money is spent in the most effective way to stabilize the financial system."

His next steps could be more controversial. Within a week or so, Geithner and other senior administration officials are likely to announce a mix of initiatives that would offer more government money to financial firms and help these institutions deal with mounting losses from toxic assets, which are backed by failing mortgages and other troubled loans, according to two sources in contact with Obama officials.

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Commentary: Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy
2009-01-27 16:02:39
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by New York Times writer Dennis Overbye and appeared in the New York Times' edition for Monday, January 26, 2009. Mr. Overbye's commentary follows:

All right, I was weeping too.

To be honest, the restoration of science was the least of it, but when Barack Obama proclaimed during his Inaugural  Address that he would “restore science to its rightful place,” you could feel a dark cloud lifting like a sigh from the shoulders of the scientific community in this country.

When the new president went on vowing to harness the sun, the wind and the soil, and to “wield technology’s wonders,” I felt the glow of a spring sunrise washing my cheeks, and I could almost imagine I heard the music of swords being hammered into plowshares.

Wow. My first reaction was to worry that scientists were now in the awkward position of being expected to save the world. As they say, be careful what you wish for.

My second reaction was to wonder what the “rightful place” of science in our society really is.

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Bombings, Killings Threaten Gaza Truce
2009-01-27 16:01:58
Palestinian fighters detonated a bomb near the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning, killing an Israeli soldier, the Israeli military said. Later in the day, Israeli gunfire killed a Palestinian farmer, and an air strike critically wounded two men, at least one of whom was a Hamas gunman, according to Gazan medical officials.

The attacks marked the worst outbreak of violence since Israel and Hamas pledged to hold their fire more than a week ago, following 22 days of war. Although there was no indication that either side planned to resume full-scale hostilities, the killings escalated tensions on the eve of a visit by Washington's new Middle East envoy, former Democratic senator George J. Mitchell.

An Israeli soldier was severely wounded in the bomb blast, and two were lightly injured, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The soldiers had been patrolling on the Israeli side of the fence at the time of the attack. There was no immediate assertion of responsibility.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement that the attack on the Israeli forces was "a grave and unacceptable incident," adding, "and we will respond."

A 27-year-old Palestinian farmer was killed soon after the attack, Gazan medical officials said, but it was unclear if the two incidents were related. Late in the afternoon, a drone aircraft fired on a motorbike in the city of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. The driver and another man were injured, and medical officials said they believed that at least one of the men was a Hamas fighter. The Israeli military would not immediately comment on the report.

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American Author John Updike Dies At 76
2009-01-27 16:00:52
John Updike, the Pulitizer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76.

Updike, a resident of Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, died of lung cancer, according to a statement from his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

A literary writer who frequently appeared on best-seller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir ''Self-Consciousness'' and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams. He was prolific, even compulsive, releasing more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s. Updike won virtually every literary prize, including two Pulitzers, for ''Rabbit Is Rich'' and ''Rabbit at Rest,'' and two National Book Awards.

Although deprived of a Nobel, he did bestow it upon one of his fictional characters, Henry Bech, the womanizing, egotistical Jewish novelist who collected the literature prize in 1999.

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In Europe, Financial Crisis Drives Down The Cost Of Pollution
2009-01-27 03:48:59
As the economic effects of the financial crisis deepen, it has become surprisingly cheap to pollute. Prices for carbon dioxide emissions permits have fallen below 12 euros per ton. Some companies are selling them to generate much  needed cash.

The ongoing financial crisis, as has become clear in recent weeks, is bad for both budgets and business. It is also, it turns out, bad for the environment.

Prices for carbon dioxide emission certificates in Europe have fallen drastically in recent weeks as companies have slowed down production to keep pace with falling demand. In addition, some companies have begun selling their certificates as a way of generating much needed - and otherwise difficult to obtain - cash. The result has been an oversupply of emissions certificates that has driven the price down below €12 ($15.58) for every ton of CO2 emitted. As recently as last summer the price was close to €30 ($38.94) per ton.

Such a low price is concerning for two reasons. On the one hand, it removes the incentive for companies to make improvements aimed at cutting back their greenhouse gas emissions. The idea behind the European Union Emission Trading Scheme is to create a financial disincentive to pollute. Analysts say that a price per ton of emissions of at least €20 is necessary before it becomes cost effective for companies to install environmentally friendly technology.
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Europe's Gas Pipeline War
2009-01-28 03:21:54
The most recent conflict between Moscow and Kiev over natural gas supplies has reignited the controversy over new transit routes. Europe could get its future gas from the highly controversial Nord Stream pipeline to the north, or via the Nabucco pipeline to the south - but will either ever get built?

A grey-green carpet lies on the snow, leading to a wooden stage erected between construction trailers and bulldozers. Heavy snowflakes are falling under a gray sky. They land on the neatly parted hair of two men as they cross the carpet, walking almost in lockstep, and step onto the stage.

They have come here to this spot in the Russian taiga to celebrate a "historic event," as one them says: the launch of "one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world."

He waves to two workers in red protective suits standing below, and they switch on their welding equipment. As the sparks fly, they weld together two thick gas pipes.

Viktor Zubkov, the chairman of energy giant Gazprom since stepping down as Russian prime minister, and Alexei Miller, the company's CEO, are symbolically inaugurating a new pipeline. It will run from the city of Ukhta, where the ceremony is being held, northeast to the Yamal Peninsula in the Artic.

Ukhta is a provincial city in the autonomous republic of Komi, 350 kilometers (218 miles) from the Arctic Circle. Built by prisoners, the city was once part of the famous Gulag archipelago described by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. The only trees that can survive the biting cold so far north are small birch trees and stunted pines.

Yet there are riches in the region. By 2030, up to 360 billion cubic meters of natural gas are expected to be flowing through Ukhta toward the West each year. A portion of that gas is intended for a pipeline that has become the center of a bitter dispute in Europe that now borders on a clash of cultures.

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Commentary: Rewriting The Rulebook For 21st Century Capitalism
2009-01-28 03:21:16
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Jeffrey Sachs and appeared in the Guardian online edition for Wednesday, January 28, 2009. Mr. Sachs is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the millennium development goals; and author of the book "Common Wealth". In his commentary he writes: "Technology is at the core of Obama's plans for a sustainable future. In this new era of public action, the U.S. is back in the lead." Prof. Sachs' commentary follows:

One of President Barack Obama's historic contributions will be a grand act of policy jujitsu - turning the crushing economic crisis into the launch of a new age of sustainable development. His macroeconomic stimulus may or may not cushion the recession, and bitter partisan fights over priorities no doubt lie ahead. But Obama is already setting a new historic course by reorienting the economy from private consumption to public investments directed at the great challenges of energy, climate, food production, water and biodiversity.

The new president has taken every opportunity to underscore that the economic crisis will not slow, but rather will accelerate, the much-needed economic transformation to sustainability. He made this clear again on Monday with new commitments on climate change. The fiscal stimulus, soon to go before Congress, will lay down the first steps of a massive generation-long technological overhaul - embracing the power sector, energy efficiency in buildings, public and private transportation, and much more. The U.S. has lagged behind the world in such efforts for 30 years. Yet with America's technological prowess, and Obama's pivotal commitment, it is likely to jump to the lead.

Obama has started with the most important first step: a team of scientific and technological advisers of stunning quality, including two Nobel laureates (Steven Chu and Harold Varmus), and longstanding leaders in climate, energy, ecology and cutting-edge technologies. He has also focused on two core truths of sustainable development: that technological overhaul lies at the core of the challenge, and that such an overhaul requires a public-private partnership for success. Taking shape, therefore, is nothing less than a new 21st-century model of capitalism itself, one which is committed to the dual objectives of economic development and sustainability, and is organized to steer core technologies to achieve these twin goals.

Consider the challenge of a bankrupt automobile sector, with General Motors and Chrysler on the verge of insolvency, and Ford not far behind. Rather than viewing the crisis merely as a traditional left-right debate over bail-outs versus market-driven bankruptcy, Obama recognized that the near-bankruptcy of the sector calls for a hands-on approach to transform the core of automotive technology itself. In the Obama strategy, GM will not be closed to punish it for past corporate or societal mistakes. It's worth far too much as a world leader in the electric vehicles of the 21st century.

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U.S. Consumer Confidence Drops Further In January
2009-01-27 16:05:14
Americans' mood about the economy darkened further in January, sending a widely watched barometer of consumer sentiment to a new low, a private research group said Tuesday, as people worry about their jobs and watch their retirement funds dwindle.

The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index edged down to 37.7 from a revised 38.6 in December, lower than the reading of 39 that economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected. In recent months the index has hit its lowest troughs since it began in 1967, and is hovering at less than half its level of January 2007, when it was 87.3.

''It appears that consumers have begun the new year with the same degree of pessimism that they exhibited in the final months of 2008,'' Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement. ''Looking ahead, consumers remain quite pessimistic about the state of the economy and about their earnings.''

The Present Situation Index, which measures how shoppers feel now about the economy, declined slightly to 29.9 from 30.2 last month. The Expectations Index,which measures shoppers' outlook over the next six months, decreased to 43.0 from 44.2.

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Defense Secretary Gates: More Troops Need For 'Long Slog' In Afghanistan
2009-01-27 16:04:27

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates Tuesday signaled sharply lower expectations for the war in Afghanistan, warning the conflict will be "a long slog" that U.S. and allied military forces - even at higher levels - cannot win alone.

Gates said the U.S. military expects to be able to send three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan from late spring through midsummer to fill a security vacuum "that increasingly has been filled by the Taliban."

Still he said that he would be "deeply skeptical" of any further U.S. troop increases, saying that Afghan soldiers and police must take the lead - in part so that the Afghan public does not turn against U.S. forces as they have against foreign troops throughout history.

U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be "modest" and "realistic," Gates said in his first congressional testimony as Pentagon chief under President Obama. "If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose, because nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience and money," Gates testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Valhalla is used as a synonym for heaven, but in Norse mythology it is a great hall where heroes slain in battle are received.

Civilian casualties resulting from U.S. combat and air strikes have been particularly harmful to progress in Afghanistan and must be avoided, Gates stressed. "My worry is that the Afghans come to see us as part of their problem rather than part of their solution; and then we are lost."

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In Effort To Take U.S. In New Direction, Obama Continues To Roll Back Bush Policies
2009-01-27 16:03:52

President Obama announced a series of new policies Monday intended to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, capping a week of widespread changes aimed at reversing the legacy of George W. Bush.

In his first seven days in office, Obama has banned the use of controversial CIA interrogation tactics, ordered the closure of the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and begun planning for the drawdown of troops in Iraq. He also imposed stringent limits on lobbyists, unveiled an $825 billion stimulus plan, and ordered a halt to any last-minute rules and regulations put in place by his predecessor.

The moves are part of an effort by Obama to follow through on his campaign promise to forge a new direction in Washington, administration officials said. "What you have seen in the first week is rapid change and a resetting of our global agenda," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "The president believes we can't afford to continue what we are doing. We can't afford to slow down."

Yet despite such ambitions, Obama and his aides are also facing a stark reality: Rolling back eight years of the Bush administration is not going to happen overnight.

Obama's call for tougher vehicle emissions standards, for example, ran into immediate opposition from major business and auto industry groups. His plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison has angered Republicans who object to transferring suspected terrorists to U.S. facilities. Many of those same Republicans are also fighting his economic stimulus proposal, arguing that it is too costly and would ultimately be ineffective, while others have attacked his plan to quicken the pace of troop withdrawals from Iraq.

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U.S. Home Price Index Fell Again In November
2009-01-27 16:02:24

Battered home values in 20 of America’s biggest metropolitan areas fell even farther in November as the full force of the financial crisis broke over American homeowners, according to a widely watched measure of housing prices released Tuesday.

Home prices in November dropped 18.2 percent from a year earlier, not quite as bad as economists had expected, but still the steepest plunge on record, according to the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Prices in 11 of the 20 metropolitan areas surveyed fell at record rates, and 14 areas reported double-digit declines from November 2007.

The 20-city index for November fell to 154.59, its lowest point since January 2004.

“The disappointing news is that the declines are still accelerating,” said Adam York, an economic analyst at Wachovia. “It emphasizes just how much stress the housing market is under.”

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New York's Attorney General Subpoenas Thain Over Merrill Bonuses
2009-01-27 16:01:24
The New York state attorney general on Tuesday issued subpoenas to former Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain and Bank of America's chief administrative officer, J. Steele Alphin, amid an investigation into bonuses Merrill paid executives just before being sold to Bank of America.

Thain, 53, was serving as the head of the newly combined company's wealth management division before he resigned last week. The resignation came shortly after reports surfaced that billions of dollars were paid to Merrill executives in late December.

Those bonuses were paid as Merrill was about to report a $15 billion fourth-quarter loss, and while Bank of America was seeking more federal funds to help it absorb the mounting losses at the New York-based investment bank.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation will center on trying to determine why the timetable for paying the bonuses was moved up to December from its normal period in January; who knew about the bonuses; and how Merrill could justify spending billions of dollars on bonuses knowing its was on the brink of reporting a multi-billion loss for the quarter, a person familiar with the probe told the Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

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Iceland's Center-Left Party To Lead New Government
2009-01-27 16:00:37
Iceland's center-left Social Democratic Alliance Party was chosen Tuesday to form a new government with the Left-Green movement following the collapse of the conservative government amid deep economic troubles.

President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson made the decision after Prime Minister Geir Haarde, who had led the island nation since 2006, was toppled Monday by angry protests over the country's slide into economic ruin.

The Greens will be a junior partner until general elections are held. Haarde had called for new elections in May, but Grimsson said Tuesday that elections could be called at any time from late March to early June.

The shift portends a renewed debate over Iceland's place in Europe. Haarde's conservative Independence Party had dominated coalition governments since 1991 and has long been skeptical over the prospects of Iceland joining the  27-nation European Union.

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Russian Journalists Put Their Lives On The Line
2009-01-27 03:48:51
Nowhere in Europe is live more dangerous for journalists than in Russia, and no Russian newspaper has as many of its journalists killed as Novaya Gazeta. After the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova, the newspaper's publisher wants to provide its reporters with guns.

A simple glass case stands next to the door leading to the editorial offices of the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Inside are displayed the newspaper's trophies, including the mobile telephone that former first lady Raisa Gorbachyova gave the paper a decade-and-a-half ago, as well as various awards and certificates.

The display cabinet also contains shrapnel that was removed from the bodies of war correspondents during surgery, and the computer that investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya used to write her articles. The upper shelf is reserved for the portraits of the victims of contract killings: Politkovskaya, Yuri Shchekochikhin and Igor Domnikov.

Now space will have to be made for two more portraits. They are still hanging on the wall, together with a black ribbon of mourning: a photo of prominent attorney Stanislav Markelov, 34, who represented the newspaper in various trials, and a portrait of Anastasia Baburova, 25, who wrote about Russian fascists for the paper. Neo-Nazis have been celebrating her violent death on the Internet since she was killed last week - and plotting to hunt down other journalists.

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