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Monday, February 16, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday February 16 2009 - (813)

Monday February 16 2009 edition
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Pakistan Imposes Islamic Law In Malakand To Placate Extremists
2009-02-16 03:10:42
Pakistan is to impose Islamic law in a vast region of the northwest called Malakand in an attempt to placate extremists, even as President Asif Zardari warns that they are "trying to take over the state".

Pakistani Taliban militants who are in control of the Swat valley in the region announced a ceasefire Sunday night, reacting to the government's agreement to bring in sharia courts.

Malakand is part of North West Frontier province, a regular part of Pakistan, not the wild tribal area, which runs along the Afghan border.

Critics warned that the new sharia regulations represented a capitulation to the extremists' demands, and that it would be difficult to stop hardliners elsewhere in the country from demanding that their areas also come under Islamic law.

"This is definitely a surrender," said Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a thinktank in Islamabad. "If you keep treating a community as something different from the rest of the country, it will isolate them."

Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, speaking on Pakistani television, said: "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."

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Japan's Economy Plunges At Fastest Pace In 35 Years
2009-02-16 03:10:18
Japan’s economy, the world’s second largest, is deteriorating at its worst pace since the oil crisis of the 1970s, hurt by shrinking exports and anemic spending at home.

The country’s real gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 12.7 percent from October to December after contracting for two previous quarters, the government said Monday. When compared with the third quarter of 2008, Japan’s economy receded 3.3 percent.

The fourth-quarter results were Japan’s worst quarterly drop since its economy contracted at an annual pace of 13.1 percent in the first three months of 1974. Japan’s export-driven economy is particularly vulnerable to the current downturn.

“There’s no question that this is the worst recession in the postwar period,” Japan’s economic minister, Kaoru Yosano, said after the results were released.

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Venezuelans Vote To Remove Term Limits
2009-02-16 03:09:53
Fourteen months after his first attempt failed, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a referendum Sunday to eliminate term limits, paving the way for him to rule far into the 21st century to carry out his socialist transformation of this oil-rich country.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced Sunday night that the government had won handily, garnering more than 6 million votes, or 54.3 percent of the vote. Now in the third year of a six-year term, Chavez, 54, can run for office in 2012 and beyond, if he continues winning elections.

Fireworks went off across Caracas at news of the result, and supporters of the president flowed into the street to celebrate, blowing whistles and waving flags. Flanked by his top deputies and his grandchildren, Chavez addressed a crowd from a balcony at the Miraflores presidential palace.

"I asked you not to fail me, and that I would not fail you," said Chavez. "I knew that you would not fail me. I ratify to you that I will not fail you, the people of Venezuela, the hopes of the people."

He all but promised that he would campaign to be Venezuela's president when his current four-year term ends. What Chavez has been calling the "third cycle of the Bolivarian revolution" had its beginnings when he and other army officers plotted the overthrow of then-President Carlos Andres Perez. In 1992, he led a failed coup against Perez. Chavez was jailed, but the assault - and his words to the country in a brief televised interview - brought him fame, and in 1998 he won the presidency by a landslide in an election that shattered Venezuela's long-ruling traditional parties.

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France And Michigan Battle Over Shipwreck Found In Great Lakes
2009-02-16 03:08:53

A ghostly length of timber protruding from the bottom of one of the Great Lakes has become the subject of a legal battle between France, the state of Michigan, and a private team of American explorers who say it is the remains of a French ship that sank more than 300 years ago.

U.S. divers who found the wreck believe it is the Griffin, a ship laden with furs, cannon, muskets and supplies that sank in 1679 in Lake Michigan, on a mission for famed French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. They are working with French officials to establish its identity and prove it was on a mission for King Louis XIV; but Michigan says the wreck's location means it belongs to the state.

"An early French ship goes down operating with the permission of the French king. There's a good chance there's skeletal remains inside the vessel," said Steve Libert, who found the timber he believes to be the Griffin's bowsprit. "Do you really think the people of Michigan own those skeletons of early French explorers?"

La Salle was one of the first explorers of North America, trading in fur and buffalo hides, and skirmishing with Indians. He built the Griffin in 1679 to supply camps and shipyards along the Great Lakes. In September 1679, he dispatched the 45-tonne vessel from Washington Island with a crew of six or seven men and one boy to Niagara to pick up supplies. It was never seen again. From the few articles that washed ashore, the accounts of Indians, and weather reports from the time, Libert thinks the Griffin sank after it was caught between the waves of two storms.

Libert began searching for the Griffin 34 years ago. Using accounts of the expedition and knowledge of wave patterns in the lake, Libert found the bowsprit sticking up vertically from the lake-bed in murky water on a 2001 dive. In 2004 his company, Great Lakes Exploration Group, asked a federal court in Michigan to award it salvage rights, which would give it authority to uncover the ship. The state of Michigan contested the action.

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Medvedev Vows New Deal For Russians As Economic Crisis Bites
2009-02-15 15:22:20
Russia's President Demitry Medvedev on Sunday promised Russians, alarmed by a worsening economic crisis, a new deal of more government openness in exchange for their loyalty and support.

"I consider that the authorities are obliged to speak about this (crisis) frankly and directly, to speak about the decisions which the authorities are taking to overcome the crisis and about the difficulties with which we are faced," he said.

"We will indeed overcome ... Everything will be normal," he said, adding that he promised to be frank about the state of the nation in regular television addresses.

"We need to work, everyone needs to carry out his duty in his place. We need to do this honestly," he said.

Medvedev took office in May at the high point of Russia's eight-year economic boom presided over by predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.Putin's rule saw a centralization of power in the Kremlin's hands, which critics say make Russia's political system unstable.

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Omert Confirms Papal Visit To Israel
2009-02-15 15:21:58
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Pope Benedict XVI would visit Israel this May, confirming what will be the third trip to the country by a reigning pontiff since its founding in 1948.

Benedict mentioned the trip for the first time while addressing a group of American Jewish leaders at the Vatican last Thursday. “I too am preparing to visit Israel, a land which is holy for Christians as well as Jews, since the roots of our faith are to be found there,” he said.

Vatican sources have said the trip would most likely take place by the middle of May. The pope is also expected to visit Bethlehem in the West Bank and to travel to Jordan.

Diplomatic talks have been under way between the Vatican and officials in the region for months despite tensions between the Vatican and Israel.

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Scientists: Pace Of Global Warming Likely To Be Much Faster Than Predictions
2009-02-15 00:27:31
The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said Saturday.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously in climate model simulations," Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Field, a member of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said emissions from burning fossil fuels since 2000 have largely outpaced the estimates used in the U.N. panel's 2007 reports. The higher emissions are largely the result of the increased burning of coal in developing countries, he said.

Unexpectedly large amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere as the result of "feedback loops" that are speeding up natural processes. Prominent among these, evidence indicates, is a cycle in which higher temperatures are beginning to melt the arctic permafrost, which could release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, said several scientists on a panel at the meeting.

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Commentary: Coal-Fired Power Stations Are Death Factories. Close Them.
2009-02-15 00:26:58
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He was the first scientist to publicly warn the U.S. Congress of the impacts of global warming and climate change. Dr. Hansen's commentary appeared in The Observer edition for Sunday, February 15, 2009.

A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders. The reason is this - coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.

The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyze decadal changes. How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?

Those who lead us have no excuse - they are elected to guide, to protect the public and its best interests. They have at their disposal the best scientific organizations in the world, such as the Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallize, revealing the urgency. Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we'll hand our children a situation that is out of their control. One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.

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U.S. Congress Considers Ending Ban On Travel To Cuba
2009-02-15 00:25:29

A bipartisan bill that would open the door to unfettered travel to Cuba was introduced in the U.S. Congress last week, in the hopes that recent political changes in Washington, D.C., will spill over to U.S. policy toward the island.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, introduced Feb. 4 and referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, prohibits the U.S. president from regulating or prohibiting travel to or from Cuba by U.S. residents, except in times of war between the two countries or of imminent danger to public health or the safety of U.S. travelers.

It was introduced by a group of representatives led by William Delahunt, D-Massachusetts.

The bill or amendments like it have become a staple in Washington, where the measures flopped in the face of veto threats. Last year, a similar bill had more than 100 sponsors. With more Democrats in Congress and a new president - one who has vowed to lift some of former President George W. Bush's restrictions on Cuban family travel - the climate could be different.

"It's too early to tell how this will do because Congress is dealing with the economic package, but I think the conditions are good for it," said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute think tank who supports changes to Cuba policy. "The veto threat is gone and Obama has signaled that he is interested in revamping policy. I am not making any predictions, but is it a bill that gets introduced every year and has no chance? No."

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One Scientist's Vision Of Global Warming: The Tropics On Fire
2009-02-16 03:10:30

Tropical forests may dry out and become vulnerable to devastating wildfires as global warming accelerates over the coming decades, a senior scientist has warned.

Soaring greenhouse gas emissions, driven by a surge in coal use in countries such as China and India, are threatening temperature rises that will turn damp and humid forests into parched tinderboxes, said Dr Chris Field, co-chair of the U.N.'s Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Higher temperatures could see wildfires raging through the tropics and a large scale melting of the Arctic tundra,  releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere that will accelerate warming even further, he said.

Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institute, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, Illinois, over the weekend that the IPCC's last report on climate change in 2007 had substantially underestimated the severity of global warming over the rest of the century.

The report concluded that the Earth's temperature is likely to rise between 1.1C and 6.4C by 2100, depending on future global carbon emissions."We now have data showing that from 2000 to 2007, greenhouse gas emissions increased far more rapidly than we expected, primarily because developing countries, like China and India, saw a huge upsurge in electric power generation, almost all of it based on coal," Field said. The next report, which Field will oversee, is due in 2014 and will now include future scenarios where global warming is far more serious than previous reports have suggested, he said.

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Vladivostok Tariff Protests Rattle Kremlin
2009-02-16 03:10:05
Vladimir Kirillov and Vitaly Sukhinin and their co-conspirators once had little interest in politics. They were rat-a-tat-tat salesmen here in Russia’s Far East city of Vladivostok who did a thriving trade in secondhand vehicles imported from Japan. Then the government reacted to the financial crisis by imposing steep tariffs on their industry.

Thus was born a growing protest movement that might easily be dismissed as the Revolt of the Used Car Dealers, except for the fact that it seems to have unnerved the Kremlin like few other outbursts of public discontent in recent years.

The car dealers’ demonstrations in Vladivostok in the past two months have drawn thousands of people, more than events sponsored anywhere in Russia by liberal opponents of Vladimir V. Putin. The government grew so alarmed in late December that it took the extraordinary step of sending special riot police officers to Vladivostok from Moscow, nine hours away by plane, to break up one rally.

Some participants were beaten and briefly arrested, and others said that they had recently received menacing phone calls from the security services ordering them to stop criticizing the government.

Senior officials have portrayed the organizers as nefarious profiteers controlled by foreign agents who want this region to secede from Russia. Behind the scenes, though, it appears that the Kremlin is concerned that resentment over the tariffs will continue to spread from the car dealers to the general population - and turn into a bigger backlash over the government’s handling of the financial crisis.

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Fate Of Guantanamo Detainees Must Be Determined
2009-02-16 03:09:27

In their summary of evidence against Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, a Somali detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military investigators allege that he spent several years at Osama bin Laden's compound in Sudan. But other military documents place him in Pakistan during the same period.

One hearing at Guantanamo cited his employment for a money-transfer company with links to terrorism financing. Another file drops any mention of such links.

Barre is one of approximately 245 detainees at the military prison in Cuba whose fate the Obama administration must decide in coming months. Teams of government lawyers are sorting through complex, and often flawed, case histories as they work toward President Obama's commitment to close the facility within a year.

Much of the government's evidence remains classified, but documents in Barre's case, and a handful of others, underscore the daunting legal, diplomatic, security and political challenges.

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Case May Alter Judge Elections Across U.S.
2009-02-15 15:22:31
Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of the nation’s fourth-biggest coal mining company, is not shy about putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to West Virginia politics.

In 2004, he spent $3 million on tough advertisements attacking a justice of the State Supreme Court who was seeking re-election. Some of the advertisements said the justice had agreed to free a sex offender.

“I thought we would beat him more easily than we did,” Blankenship said, reflecting on how hard it was to persuade voters.

Brent D. Benjamin won that election and went on to join the 3-to-2 majority that threw out a $50 million jury verdict against Blankenship’s company, Massey Energy.

The question of whether Justice Benjamin should have disqualified himself is now before the United States Supreme Court. 

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Plane That Crashed Near Buffalo Was On Autopilot
2009-02-15 15:22:10
The commuter plane that crashed near Buffalo was on autopilot when it went down in icy weather, indicating that the pilot may have violated federal safety recommendations and the airline's own policy for flying in such conditions, a federal official said Sunday.

Steve Chealander, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said the company that operated the flight recommends pilots fly manually in icy conditions. Pilots are required to do so in severe ice.

"You may be able in a manual mode to sense something sooner than the autopilot can sense it," Chealander told the Associated Press in an interview, explaining why the NTSB also recommends that pilots disengage the autopilot in icy conditions.

The preliminary investigation indicates the autopilot was still on when the plane crashed, he said. That has not been confirmed by information from the plane's flight data recorder.

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Judge In Stevens Trial Rescinds Contempt Charges Against Prosecutor
2009-02-15 15:21:27
A federal judge dropped contempt charges Saturday against a Justice Department lawyer after concluding he was not responsible for the government’s failure to deliver documents to former Senator Ted Stevens' legal team.

The judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, issued the order releasing Kevin Driscoll, the newest member of the Justice Department’s prosecution team in the case.

The move came a day after Judge Sullivan held Driscoll and three of his colleagues in contempt for ignoring his Jan. 30 deadline for turning over documents.

Still being held in contempt are William Welch, chief of the public integrity section; his principal deputy, Brenda Morris; and Patty Merkamp Stemler, chief of the department’s appellate section.

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Britain's Foreign Office Linked To Torture Cover-Up
2009-02-15 00:27:10
Britain's Foreign Office (FCO) solicited the letter from the U.S. State Department that forced British judges to block the disclosure of CIA files documenting the torture of a British resident held in Guantanamo Bay, the Observer reported Sunday.

The letter said that the release of papers relating to Binyam Mohamed would damage future intelligence sharing between the two countries.

A former senior State Department official said that it was the Foreign Office that initiated the "cover-up" by asking the State Department to send the letter so that it could be introduced into the court proceedings.

The revelation sparked fresh claims that the British government is trying to suppress torture evidence relating to Mohamed, who is expected to be released this week after four years and flown to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.

The former senior State Department official said: "Far from being a threat, it was solicited [by the Foreign Office]." The Foreign Office asked for it in writing. They said: 'Give us something in writing so that we can put it on the record.' If you give us a letter explaining you are opposed to this, then we can provide that to the court."

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Investigation On Graft In Iraq Focuses On U.S. Officers
2009-02-15 00:26:35

U.S. Federal authorities examining the early, chaotic days of the $125 billion American-led effort to rebuild Iraq have significantly broadened their inquiry to include senior American military officers who oversaw the program, according to interviews with senior government officials and court documents.

Court records show that, last month, investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of Col. Anthony B. Bell, who is now retired from the Army but who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when the small operation grew into a frenzied attempt to remake the country’s broken infrastructure. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Lt. Col. Ronald W. Hirtle, of the Air Force, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004, according to two federal officials involved in the inquiry.

It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, and both said they had nothing to hide from investigators. Yet officials say that several criminal cases over the past few years point to widespread corruption in the operation the men helped to run. As part of the inquiry, the authorities are taking a fresh look at information given to them by Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004.

Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Mr. Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in “dead drops” around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, said two senior federal officials.

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Judge In Stevens Trial Holds Justice Dept. Prosecutors In Contempt
2009-02-15 00:25:04

An angry federal judge held Justice Department lawyers in contempt Friday for failing to deliver documents to former senator Ted Stevens' legal team, as he had ordered.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan called it "outrageous" that government lawyers would ignore his deadline for turning over documents.

Last month, Sullivan told the Justice Department to turn over all its internal communications regarding a whistleblower complaint against the FBI agent leading the investigation into the former Alaska senator. The agent, Chad Joy, complained about some Justice Department tactics during the trial, including not turning over evidence, and an "inappropriate relationship" between another agent working the case and the prosecution's star witness.

Stevens was convicted in October of lying on Senate disclosure documents about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from an Alaska businessman. In November, the Republican lost his bid for reelection to the Senate seat he had held since 1968.

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