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Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday February 13 2009 - (813)

Friday February 13 2009 edition
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Collapse Of European Industry Worse Than Expected
2009-02-12 18:42:20
New statistics released on Thursday show that Europe's industrial woes are even worse than expected. Many are concerned that the bad economy could lead to more protectionism.

There are few left who don't think the current economic crisis is bad. Still, there is still room for surprise when it comes to degree. When it comes to the economy in the European Union, new evidence published on Thursday shows that the crisis has hit the industrial sector with unforeseen force.

Eurostat, which compiles statistics on the European Union economy, announced that production had plummeted at the end of 2008. In December, the amount of goods rolling off the conveyor belts was 2.6 percent lower than November - and fully 12 percent lower than during the same time period a year ago.

The numbers confirm a Financial Times Deutschland article, citing an internal E.U. report, that both construction and manufacturing in Europe were being hit hard. In describing the downturn, Gunter Verheugen, the European Union's Industry Commissioner, did not mince words: "The extent and speed of the crisis is completely new," he told the paper.

The report added to a slew of bad news. On Wednesday a closely-watched survey painted a dismal picture of mood of European business. The Ifo Institute for Economic Research survey showed that sentiment within the 16-country euro common-currency zone declined for the sixth consecutive quarter - sinking to its lowest point since the survey started 16 years ago. Meanwhile, Spanish figures released on Thursday showed the once resilient economy had sunk into its first recession in more than a decade and a half.

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War Of The Future: National Defense In Cyberspace
2009-02-12 18:40:48
Germany's military, the Bundesweher, trains its own hackers - and it's not the only official effort to defend a nation from denial-of-service attacks. Governments around the world are preparing for the future of war.

This is what an officially appointed hacker looks like: A man with gray hair and a moustache, wearing a blue German Air Force uniform. His name is Friedrich Wilhelm Kriesel, and he's 60 years old, a brigadier general and the head of the Bundeswehr's Strategic Reconnaissance Unit.

Kriesel has been deployed to the front lines of a battle that has recently come in for special attention from the Bundeswehr. The general's task is to prepare for the wars of the future, parts of which could be waged on the Internet. Kriesel seems to be the right man for the job. With about 6,000 soldiers under his command, his unit already operates like an intelligence service.

Strictly isolated from the public at the Tomburg barracks in Rheinbach, a picturesque town near Bonn, 76 members of his staff are busy testing the latest methods of infiltrating, exploring and manipulating - or destroying - computer networks. The unit, known by its harmless-sounding official name, Department of Information and Computer Network Operations, is preparing for an electronic emergency, which includes digital attacks on outside servers and networks.

The uniformed hackers from Rheinbach are Germany's answer to a growing threat which has begun to worry governments, intelligence agencies and military officials around the world. Now that computers have made their way into practically every aspect of life, their susceptibility to attacks has risen dramatically. In the United States, experts have been warning for years against an "electronic Pearl Harbor," a "digital Sept. 11" or a "Cybergeddon."

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FBI Expecting Increase In Bailout Fraud
2009-02-12 15:27:43
Despite an expected wave of fraud in the trillion-dollar bailout that aims to stop the ongoing financial meltdown, federal law enforcement officials told Congress on Wednesday that they have nowhere near the level of resources to combat it.

Top FBI and Justice Department officials said they believed mortgage fraud and other types of corporate criminal behavior has contributed to the economic tailspin; and they said they already have more than 2,300 open investigations into suspected illegal financial activity - including 38 probes specifically linked to the crisis.

Those investigations are already straining the resources of the FBI and the Justice Department, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole and Acting Assistant Atty. Gen. Rita Glavin said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Yet the problems will worsen exponentially as the economy plunges, and as the Obama administration and Congress spend more than $1 trillion in various bailout and stimulus packages in an effort to forestall foreclosures, corporate bankruptcies and a prolonged economic depression, they said.

Pistole said he expected the number of major investigations to rise into the many hundreds, focusing on big-name companies that "everybody knows about," and to be similar in scope and complexity to the massive probe of energy company Enron Corp. after its collapse in 2001.

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Pakistan Says Attack In Mumbai, India, Partly Planned On Its Soil
2009-02-12 15:27:25
Pakistan acknowledged for the first time in public on Thursday that parts of the murderous Mumbai terror attacks were planned on its soil and said six new suspects were being held, including “the main operator.”

Rehman Malik, the senior security official in the Interior Ministry, said the attackers had set sail from southern Pakistan to Mumbai, where they used inflatable boats whose engines had been purchased in the southern Pakistani port of Karachi.

“Part of the conspiracy was done in Pakistan,” Malik said in a televised news briefing Thursday. He said a formal police inquiry had been launched “and I want to assure our nation, I want to assure the international community, that we mean business.”

His remarks offered the fullest public accounting so far of Pakistan’s investigation into the Mumbai attacks last November, when 10 attackers went on a murderous spree through luxury hotels, a Jewish center and other targets, leaving 163 people dead.

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Pope Benedict: Denying Holocaust Is 'Intolerable And Not Acceptable'
2009-02-12 15:27:04
The Vatican said Thursday Pope Benedict XVI would make his first visit to Israel in May and the pontiff told Jewish leaders denying the Holocaust is not acceptable in a message aimed at easing rancor over a bishop's claim that the Nazis did not kill 6 million Jews.

The pope met with about 60 American Jewish leaders on Thursday and assured them the Catholic Church was "profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism," issuing his strongest condemnation yet of Holocaust denial.

The furor blew up after Benedict lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who denied the Holocaust, sparking outrage among Jews and Catholics alike. The Vatican said Benedict did not know about the views of Bishop Richard Williamson when he agreed to lift the excommunication.

"The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity," Benedict told the visiting leaders, using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. "This should be clear to everyone, especially to those standing in the tradition of the Holy Scriptures."

"It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable," he said during the meeting in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

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More U.S. Employers Fighting Unemployment Benefits
2009-02-12 03:47:20
As rolls swell in the recession, workers find firms are contesting claims by alleging wrongdoing or quitting in a bid to not pay benefits.

It's hard enough to lose a job, but for a growing proportion of U.S. workers, the troubles really set in when they apply for unemployment benefits.

More than a quarter of people applying for such claims have their rights to the benefit challenged as employers increasingly act to block payouts to former workers.

The proportion of claims disputed by former employers and state agencies has reached record levels in recent years, according to the Labor Department numbers tallied by the Urban Institute.

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Halliburton, KBR Agree To Pay $579 Million Fine For Bribery
2009-02-12 03:46:47
Halliburton and Kellogg Brown & Root have agreed to pay $579 million in fines related to allegations of foreign bribery, the biggest fines ever paid by U.S. companies in a foreign corruption case, federal authorities and the companies said Wednesday.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice alleged that Houston-based Halliburton and KBR were part of a joint venture that spent $182 million to bribe Nigerian government officials over a 10-year period to win more than $6 billion in construction contracts.

Halliburton, which owned KBR during the time of the alleged actions and spun it off in April 2007, will be responsible for paying all but $20 million of the penalty.

KBR, one of the top U.S. government contractors, pleaded guilty to violating the federal law banning companies from paying bribes to get business in foreign countries. Halliburton did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

Federal authorities alleged that the companies used agents in Tokyo, Japan, and Gibraltar to funnel money to Nigerian officials, who gave the companies contracts to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island, on the Western African country's coast.

The companies' efforts to obtain the contracts, alleged in court documents, sound like scenes from a James Bond movie.

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Britain Slammed By More Bad Economic News
2009-02-12 03:46:15
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown suffered his darkest day of the recession Wednesday when he was forced personally to sanction the removal of one of his closest banking allies as a City regulator, unemployment climbed to two million and the Bank of England warned that the economy will have shrunk by a chilling 4% by the summer. (Note: In London, the City is equivalent to Wall Street in the U.S.)

Sir James Crosby was forced out of his job at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) after allegations by a whistleblower. To add to Brown's woes, it emerged that the FSA had taken on Crosby as its deputy chairman even though it had been concerned about the risks being taken by the HBOS banking group he had been running since 2002.

In a statement issued Wednes night, the FSA admitted it had long-standing issues with the way HBOS managed the risks it took but was not concerned enough to prevent Crosby becoming one of Britain's most influential regulators.

In a further blow to the prime minister, the Guardian newspaper reported that senior bankers warned cabinet ministers this week that, although they support an overhaul of city bonuses, they will resist the freeze demanded by the public; they said traders would simply defect to competitor banks if they were not rewarded.

Brown will come under renewed pressure Thursday to clarify his policy on bonuses - and his handling of the economy more generally - when he is quizzed by select committee chairmen for two hours.

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Internet Broadband Oversight Given To ... Agriculture Department?
2009-02-12 03:44:35

Congress has targeted more than $6 billion to wire rural America with Internet service as part of the nearly $790 billion stimulus plan. Yet the bill would place much of those funds in a U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) program that has been criticized for its past management of grants, raising concerns among some public interest groups.

Under a deal House and Senate leaders negotiated Wednesrday, about $1.5 billion would fall under the oversight of the USDA's Rural Utilities Service, a program launched in 2002 to connect farming towns to high-speed, or broadband Internet, according to a Senate Commerce Committee aide.

Some public advocacy groups are critical, citing a September 2005 report on an investigation by the USDA's inspector general that found that $236 million, or more than one-quarter, of the program's loans under review "was either not used as intended, not used at all, or did not provide the expected return of service."

The Secretary of Agriculture and some congressional supporters say the program has been changed to address the problems.

According to the report, $45.6 million went to wire several luxury subdivisions near Houston, Texas. About $30 million in loans defaulted, and the agency approved another $137 million in loans even when applications weren't completed. A separate report from the inspector general in June found that $430,000 went to a Lubbock, Texas, high-speed Internet service provider that used the money for pilot lessons for its president and treasurer.

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Commentary: The Geopolitics Of Food Scarcity
2009-02-12 18:41:07
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Lester Brown, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Earth Policy Institute and author of "Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing To Save Civilization". Mr. Brown's commentary appeared on Spiegel's online edition for Wednesday, February 11, 2009.

In some countries social order has all begun to break down in the face of soaring food prices and spreading hunger. Cold the worldwide food crisis portend the collapse of global civilization?

One of the toughest things for us to do is to anticipate discontinuity. Whether on a personal level or on a global economic level, we typically project the future by extrapolating from the past. Most of the time this works well, but occasionally we experience a discontinuity that we failed to anticipate. The collapse of civilization is such a case. It is no surprise that many past civilizations failed to grasp the forces and recognize signs that heralded their undoing. More than once it was shrinking food supplies that brought about their downfall.

Does our civilization face a similar fate? Until recently it did not seem possible, but our failure to deal with the environmental trends that are undermining the world food economy - most importantly falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures - forces the conclusion that such a collapse is possible.

These trends are taking a significant toll on food production: In six of the last eight years world grain production has fallen short of consumption, forcing a steady drawdown in stocks. World carryover stocks of grain (the amount remaining from the previous harvest when the new harvest begins) have dropped to only 60 days of consumption, a near record low. Meanwhile, in 2008 world grain prices have climbed to the highest level ever.

The current record food price inflation puts another severe stress on governments around the world, adding to the other factors that can lead to state failure. Even before the 2008 climb in grain prices, the list of failing states was growing. Now even more governments in many more low and middle-income countries that import grain are in danger of failing as food prices soar. With rising food costs straining already beleaguered states, is it not difficult to imagine how the food crisis could portend the failure of global civilization itself.

Today we are witnessing the emergence of a dangerous politics of food scarcity, one in which individual countries act in their narrowly defined self-interest and subsequently accelerate the deterioration of global equilibrium. This began in 2007 when leading wheat-exporting countries such as Russia and Argentina limited or banned exports in an attempt to counter domestic food price rises. Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, banned exports for several months for the same reason. While these moves may reassure those living in exporting countries, they create panic in the scores of countries that import grain.

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Sen. Gregg Withdraws As Commerce Secretary Nominee
2009-02-12 18:40:27
President Obama's choice for commerce secretary, Senator Judd Gregg, withdrew his nomination on Thursday, saying there were “irresolvable conflicts” between him and the administration.

“It has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me,” Gregg said in a statement. “Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”

The withdrawal comes one week after Gregg was selected to be the third Republican member of the Obama cabinet. And he is the second nominee for commerce secretary to withdraw.

Although Gregg, a Republican of New Hampshire, had not resigned his Senate seat, he has been away from the Senate floor this week - presumably preparing for his confirmation hearings - and he did not vote on the administration’s $789 billion economic stimulus plan agreed on by the House and Senate.

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67 Computers Missing From Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab
2009-02-12 15:27:34
The Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico is missing 67 computers, including 13 that were lost or stolen in the past year. Officials say no classified information has been lost.

The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight on Wednesday released a memo dated Feb. 3 from the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration outlining the loss of the computers.

Kevin Roark, a spokesman for Los Alamos, on Wednesday confirmed the computers were missing and said the lab was initiating a month-long inventory to account for every computer. He said the computers were a cyber security issue because they may contain personal information like names and addresses, but they did not contain any classified information.

Thirteen of the missing computers were lost or stolen in the past 12 months, including three computers that were taken from a scientist's home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Jan. 16, and a BlackBerry belonging to another employee was lost "in a sensitive foreign country," according to the memo and an e-mail from a senior lab manager.

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U.S. Federal Court Says Vaccine Not To Blame For Autism
2009-02-12 15:27:14
In a blow to the movement arguing that vaccines trigger autism, three Federal judges ruled Thursday against all three families in three test cases, all of whom had sought compensation from the Federal vaccine-injury fund.

Both sides in the debate have been awaiting decisions in these cases since hearings began in early 2007; more than 5,000 similar claims have been filed with the fund.

These three decisions, each looking into a different theory as to how vaccines might have injured the children, are expected to guide the outcomes of all those claims.

The judges ruled that the families seeking compensation had not shown that their children’s autism was brought on by the presence of thimerosal, a mercury vaccine preservative, by the weakened measles virus used in the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, or by a combination of the two.

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Congress Reaches Stimulus Accord, $790 Billion Bill Expected To Pass
2009-02-12 03:47:44

Congressional leaders agreed Wednesday on the details of a nearly $790 billion stimulus package, an unprecedented attempt by the federal government to jolt the economy, create millions of jobs and ease the financial woes facing individuals, businesses and states.

The House is expected to vote on the plan today or tomorrow, and with Senate action quickly following, the legislation is set to arrive on President Obama's desk no later than Monday - the target Democratic leaders set last month for enacting it into law.

The final product is similar to the ideas Obama outlined when he took office on Jan. 20, but it claims many co-authors, including House liberals who saw a rare opportunity to secure new social spending, as well as the three moderate Republican senators who demanded $100 billion in cuts as the price of their support.

Three months ago, the stimulus plan was envisioned as a $300 billion rescue package that the incoming Obama team had hoped would be enacted well before Inauguration Day, which would have cleared the way for the new White House to start from scratch on an ambitious domestic agenda. Instead, it became a politically charged first test for the Obama administration and the newly expanded Democratic Congress, as well as a rallying point for congressional Republicans.

The bill is made up of four broad categories: tax breaks for individuals and businesses; investments in health care and alternative energy; funding for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects; and aid to state and local governments, including expanded benefits for individuals who are unemployed and lack health insurance.

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NASA Alert As Russia, U.S. Satellites Crash In Space At 25,000 MPH
2009-02-12 03:46:58
NASA scientists are closely monitoring the skies after two satellites crashed into each other over Siberia, in what experts have said is the first collision of its kind.

The accident, which took place more than 400 miles above the Earth's surface on Tuesday, has left a large cloud of debris drifting in space. NASA officials are keeping watch to see if the wreckage could endanger other spacecraft, although they said it was unlikely that the International Space Station could be damaged.

"It will be weeks at least before the true magnitude of these clouds are known," NASA said in an alert message. "The risk to the space station is considered to be very small and within acceptable limits."

The agency said that it was more concerned about the threat to an array of monitoring satellites, which it said were of "highest interest for immediate consideration".

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Les Kodlick, of the U.S. Strategic Command, said: "We believe it's the first time that two satellites have collided in orbit." The command's joint space operations center was tracking 500 to 600 new bits of debris, some as small as 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) across, in addition to the 18,000 or so other man-made objects it has catalogued, he said.

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Lloyds, Barclays Face British Parliament On Tax Evasion Allegations
2009-02-12 03:46:32
Members of Britain's Parliament Wednesday confronted banking chiefs from Lloyds and Barclays with Guardian newspaper disclosures that they are alleged to practice massive tax avoidance schemes.

At the Treasury Select Committee hearing, Lloyds chief executive Eric Daniels was challenged by the Liberal Democrat Parliament Member Colin Breed, who demanded of him: "Now that you are in receipt of taxpayers' money, will you stop implementing tax avoidance schemes?"

Daniels did not reply directly. He said: "I would tell you that we do not do anything other than adhere to the spirit and letter of the law."

Breed asked: "So you don't undertake tax avoidance schemes?"

Daniels replied: "The law is very clear about the amount of tax that we have to pay and we adhere to that strictly."

The Barclays chief, John Varley, said: "I don't recognize this statement that we have undertaken tax avoidance schemes. What we are required to do as a publicly owned company is to manage our tax affairs efficiently."

Pressure may grow on the British government Thursday to say whether it intends to order a stop to tax avoidance by taxpayer-backed banks. The chancellor is due to be asked by Parliament members what he knows of a further string of huge loans by Lloyds Bank totaling £4 billion ($7.4 billion), which have been identified by the Guardian.

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Key Witnesses To Be Interviewed In Bush U.S. Attorney Firings
2009-02-12 03:45:55

A federal prosecutor investigating the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration has issued a subpoena to former senator Pete V. Domenici (R-New Mexico) and is preparing to interview key witnesses, lawyers following the case say.

Nora R. Dannehy, a public corruption prosecutor who helped convict Connecticut's Republican governor four years ago, was named last year to go to Capitol Hill and the Bush White House, where government officials declined to provide voluntary testimony to the Justice Department inspector general probing the firings.

At the time, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine urged prosecutors to use their subpoena power to compel documents and testimony about the dismissal of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias, whose pace on criminal investigations involving Democrats in the state drew complaints from Domenici and then-Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-New Mexico).

The Dannehy investigation appears to be intensifying with the disclosure that she will interview former White House political affairs deputy J. Scott Jennings as early as today, lawyers involved in the case said. Jennings worked alongside Karl Rove, a top aide to President George W. Bush.

Jennings will "cooperate to the best of his ability" and is not a target in the case, lawyer Mark R. Paoletta said Wednesday.

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