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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday February 15 2009 - (813)

Sunday February 15 2009 edition
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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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Stimulus Plan Puts New Limits On Wall Street Bonuses
2009-02-14 17:02:39
A provision buried deep inside the $787 billion economic stimulus bill would impose restrictions on executive bonuses at financial institutions that are much tougher than those proposed 10 days ago by the Treasury Department.

The provision, inserted by Senate Democrats over the objections of the Obama administration, is aimed at companies that have received financial bailout funds. It would prohibit cash bonuses and almost all other incentive compensation for the five most senior officers and the 20 highest-paid executives at large companies that receive money under the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

The stimulus package was approved by the House on Friday, then by the Senate in the late evening.

The pay restrictions resemble those that the Treasury Department announced this month, but are likely to ensnare more executives at many more companies and also to cut more deeply into the bonuses that often account for the bulk of annual pay.

The restriction with the most bite would bar top executives from receiving bonuses exceeding one-third of their annual pay. Any bonus would have to be in the form of long-term incentives, like restricted stock, which could not be cashed out until the TARP money was repaid in full.

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Obama Scores Early Victory With Stimulus Bill's Passage
2009-02-14 17:02:09
Twenty-four days into his presidency, Barack Obama recorded Friday night a legislative achievement of the sort that few of his predecessors achieved at any point in their tenure.

In size and scope, there is almost nothing in history to rival the economic stimulus legislation that Obama shepherded through Congress in just over three weeks. The result - produced largely without Republican participation - was remarkably similar to the terms Obama's team outlined even before he was inaugurated: a package of tax cuts and spending totaling about $775 billion.

As Obama urged passage of the plan, he and his still-incomplete team demonstrated a single-mindedness that was familiar from the campaign trail. That intensity may have contributed to missteps in other areas, as the president's White House stumbled repeatedly in the vetting of his Cabinet and staff nominees, and high-minded promises of bipartisanship evaporated as Republicans accused the president and his Democratic allies in Congress of the same heavy-handed tactics that Obama, in his campaign, had often demanded be changed.

Yet even before the plan passed the Senate Friday night, the president's top advisers were crowing. "We've been in office, what, 2 1/2 , three weeks? We've passed the most major sweeping comprehensive legislation as relates to economic activity ever in a three-week period of time," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Thursday evening in the West Wing.

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Burris Says He Was Asked For Donation To Blagojevich's Campaign
2009-02-14 17:01:41
In the weeks and months before Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's arrest on charges he tried to sell a United States senate seat, Roland W. Burris, the man Blagojevich would ultimately appoint to the Senate, had conversations about the seat with the governor’s brother, his chief of staff, and one of his top fundraisers, Burris has acknowledged for the first time.

In three conversations with Blagojevich’s brother, Rob Blagojevich, in October and November of 2008, Burris says the brother sought “my assistance in fund-raising” for the governor - assistance Burris says he never provided.

The disclosures came in an affidavit that Burris filed with last week with the Illinois House committee that oversaw Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment. Burris said he provided the new affidavit to “supplement” earlier sworn testimony he gave before state lawmakers seeking to impeach Blagojevich.

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the new disclosure by Burris on Saturday, saying that the senator had provided a copy of the sworn statement to the newspaper on Friday in response to questions about his contacts with the Blagojevich camp about fund-raising.

It marks the first time that Burris has acknowledged any contact with close Blagojevich confidants, including the governor’s brother, during the period when federal authorities say Gov. Blagojevich was trying to figure out how much he could get in return for the seat vacated by Barack Obama.

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U.S.Senate Passes Stimulus Plan
2009-02-14 02:35:53
With the House of Representatives and Senate giving final approval to the massive stimulus bill Friday, and President Obama prepared to sign it early next week, the question now is: Just how soon might Americans begin to feel its benefits, and when will they know whether it's working?

The scale of the legislation is so huge and its provisions so diverse that its effects could potentially be felt in almost every corner of American society - from small businesses and major industries to individuals in their varied roles as workers, taxpayers and consumers.

Like a time-release capsule, the $787-billion plan will move into the nation's economic bloodstream in stages. A majority of Americans should see more money in their pockets quickly, as a result of tax cuts designed to reduce withholding and fatten take-home pay. Investments in science, basic research and the so-called green economy may not yield sizable benefits for years, even decades.

The Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would deliver its largest benefits to the nation's total gross domestic product by the end of this year, with the effect dropping some in 2010 and disappearing altogether by 2013.

The budget office said the bill would have its greatest effect in terms of increasing employment next year, when about 3.6 million jobs could be created. But the report added that the package could have a positive effect on employment for the next five years, perhaps leading to the creation of as many as 11.6 million jobs during that span.

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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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Rise In Jobless Rate Poses Threat To Stability World Wide
2009-02-14 17:02:28
From lawyers in Paris to factory workers in China and bodyguards in Colombia, the ranks of the jobless are swelling rapidly across the globe.

Worldwide job losses from the recession that started in the United States in December 2007 could hit a staggering 50 million by the end of 2009, according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency. The slowdown has already claimed 3.6 million American jobs.

High unemployment rates, especially among young workers, have led to protests in countries as varied as Latvia, Chile, Greece, Bulgaria and Iceland and contributed to strikes in Britain and France.

Last month, the government of Iceland, whose economy is expected to contract 10 percent this year, collapsed and the prime minister moved up national elections after weeks of protests by Icelanders angered by soaring unemployment and rising prices.

Just last week, the new United States director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, told Congress that instability caused by the global economic crisis had become the biggest security threat facing the United States, outpacing terrorism.

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G7 Finance Ministers Reject Protectionism At Rome Meeting
2009-02-14 17:01:57
The Group of Seven finance ministers pledged Saturday to avoid resorting to protectionism as they try to stimulate their own economies in the face of the world's worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The meeting marked the international debut of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who assured his  counterparts that President Barack Obama's $787 billion plan to resuscitate the economy, approved Friday, would not violate in any way the United States' commitment to free trade.

Geithner, who was among friends and colleagues he had worked with from his days at the Federal Bank, appealed to the "common imperative" to sustain open trade.

"These are global challenges and it is imperative that we work together to address them," Geithner told reporters afterward. "Effective global response will require sustained action by governments working with the international financial institutions."

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U.S. Air Strike Kills 30 In Pakistan
2009-02-14 17:01:02
Two missiles fired from American drone aircraft killed more than 30 people, including al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan on Saturday, according to a Pakistani intelligence official and residents of the area.

The missiles struck three compounds, including one where the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, and foreign and local fighters loyal to him sometimes gather, said the official and residents.

Mehsud, one of the most feared leaders in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, was not among those killed, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Mehsud, a Pakistani, has fought the government openly in the past, and government and intelligence officials say forces loyal to him continue to attack Pakistani troops in the Swat Valley and the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas. The previous government, led by Pervez Musharraf, accused Mehsud in the killing of Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister.

If Mehsud was the target of the attack in South Waziristan, it would be the first time that American missiles were aimed at him, said the intelligence official.

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Schwarzenegger Delays Layoff Notices For 20,000 State Employees
2009-02-14 02:35:43
Bullish on the prospects of winning approval this weekend of a budget to close California's deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delayed plans Friday to dispatch layoff notices to up to 20,000 state workers.

Yet, as the clock ticked toward a planned vote Friday by the Legislature, the odds appeared mixed for endorsement of a spending blueprint said by battle-worn officials to contain something that everyone can hate.

The governor had threatened to send layoff notices if the Legislature didn't agree on a budget by Friday, starting a process that could lead to the termination of 10,000 state workers in the coming months; but he eventually reversed course, saying the curtain soon might fall on the state's long budgetary drama.

"We believe we are close to an agreement, so we will not be sending layoff notices for the time being," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger. But the notices still could go out next week if the budget fails to pass, he said.

Even before the final draft of the budget was off the presses, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were being flooded with phone calls and e-mails from constituents and special interests with a bone to pick.

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