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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday February 17 2009 - (813)

Tuesday February 17 2009 edition
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Contaminated Imports: German Authorities Find 'Large Amounts' Of Radioactive Steel In Factories
2009-02-16 23:42:37

German authorities in recent months have found a disturbingly large amount of radioactive steel in factories across the country. Much of the contaminated metal is thought to have originated in India.

There was little to distinguish the delivery that stood ready for loading in the Port of Hamburg on Aug. 19, 2008. A container filled with bars of stainless steel from India was to be shipped on to Russia. Just another shipment. There didn't seem to be anything out of place.

When the customs officers carried out a routine check on the container they were in for quite a surprise. Their radiometers indicated unusually high levels of radiation. They measured a level of 71 microsieverts per hour, a level that in 24 hours would exceed the amount permitted for an entire year.

The officials reacted swiftly. They ordered that the container be put back on the ship immediately and be sent back to India.

This was, however, no isolated case. For months, similar cases have been found across Germany, all involving bits of metal contaminated with radioactive cobalt; and most of them come from the same source: three steelworks in India, in particular a company called Vipras Casting, based in Mumbai. Germany's environmental authorities are alarmed.

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E.U. Lacks Ideas And Direction In Economic Crisis
2009-02-16 23:42:15

As the economy in the European Union sinks deeper into recession, the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, has proven itself to be devoid of ideas and solutions. Member states are going it alone - and often getting in each other's way.

At least the introductory remarks were friendly. The heads of Europe's largest telecommunications companies and their key suppliers recently convened for a morning meeting on the 14th floor of the bulky Berlaymont building in Brussels, which houses the offices of E.U. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Two women delivered the opening remarks, European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes and Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media. Reding said that she wants to reduce mobile telephone fees by up to 70 percent. The guests were horrified, complaining that Reding's plans would cost them billions of euros.

"No one paid attention to our argument," said one of the attendees. "They don't even recognize the problems. The financial and economic crises are not truly acknowledged here."

Telecommunications is one of the few industries still turning a decent profit - and still interested in making investments. In return, the companies want "planning certainty." This includes, for example, their being exempted from new regulations coming from Brussels for several years.

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Stable Weather Aids Australian Fire Crews
2009-02-16 16:14:19

Stable weather conditions overnight, and for the next two days, should help firefighters to build control lines around bushfires still raging out of control in the Australian state of Victoria.

Containment lines surrounded 85 per cent of the Kinglake Murrindindi Complex and the Bunyip and Beechworth fires were also close to being contained, said a Department of Sustainability and Environment spokeswoman.

Bulldozers have been used to cut new control lines to protect bush surrounding Melbourne's water catchments, with water diverted from the Upper Yarra Reservoir.

Work was undertaken near the water catchment areas near Healesville and the Wilsons Promontory fire was still running, but not threatening communities.

The fight to quell the flames continues as police search the wreckage for more victims of Australia's worst bushfire disaster, which has claimed at least 189 lives.

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Scientists Find Same Species Living Poles Apart
2009-02-16 16:13:55

Penguins and polar bears may stay at opposite poles, but scientists surveying marine life in the Arctic and Antarctic have found many other species - 235 so far - that live at both ends of the Earth.

The pole straddlers include crustaceans with sword-like antennae and swimming snails that look like tiny angels. There are also shrimp, worms and snails that spin a net of mucus to catch algae.

Over hundreds of centuries, populations of these small, cold-water creatures slowly drift back and forth between the poles via deep currents that act like conveyor belts, said Russell Hopcroft, a Canadian researcher involved in compiling the first marine-life census of the planet.

It involves 2,000 researchers from 82 countries in an unprecedented effort to document and track the life forms that inhabit the oceans. The census began in 2000, and will be released in October, 2010. On Sunday, the scientists announced what they have discovered during sometimes perilous voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic as part of International Polar Year, 2007-2008.

It is well known that some larger species, like grey whales and Arctic terns, travel back and forth between the Arctic and Antarctic.

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French, British Nuclear Submarines Collided Earlier This Month
2009-02-16 14:04:35
Two nuclear submarines, one French and the other British, collided in mid-Atlantic earlier this month, reports in the British and French news media said on Monday, quoting sources in the two defense ministries.

Both submarines were damaged extensively but have returned to their home ports since the collision on the night of February 3, said the reports.

The French vessel, Le Triomphant, was said to have suffered severe damage to its sonar dome, housing equipment crucial to navigation and tracking of other ships. The British craft, H.M.S. Vanguard, was towed back to its home port at Faslane in Scotland with “very visible dents and scrapes,” the BBC reported.

The two submarines are at the core of their countries’ nuclear forces, each carrying a battery of intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with multiple warheads. None of the media reports suggested there had been any risk of the collision accidentally triggering the missiles, which can be launched only after complex procedures designed to make the missiles fail-safe in the event of accidents.

What little is known about the collision suggests that the two vessels were fortunate to have avoided a more serious outcome, including sinking. Although defense officials in London and Paris gave no indication of where the collision occurred, the fact that it took Le Triomphant three days to limp back to its home port after the collision, a detail disclosed by French officials, suggested the two craft had been far out at sea.

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U.S. Chief Justice Roberts Sets Off Debate On Judicial Experience
2009-02-16 14:04:15

For the first time in its history, every member of the United States Supreme Court is a former federal appeals court judge. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in a lively and surprising talk a couple of weeks ago, said that development may be a good thing.

Over the life of the Supreme Court, its members were quite likely to be former governors, legislators, cabinet members, law professors and practicing lawyers. That mix of backgrounds and expertise might strike some as valuable, but the chief justice suggested that it tended to inject policy and politics into an area properly reserved for the law.

As late as 1972, when Chief Justice Roberts’ predecessor, William H. Rehnquist, joined the court as an associate justice, former federal judges were in the minority.

As a consequence, Chief Justice Roberts said, “the practice of constitutional law - how constitutional law was made - was more fluid and wide ranging than it is today, more in the realm of political science.”

Since then, Chief Justice Roberts continued, “the method of analysis and argument shifted to the more solid grounds of legal arguments. What are the texts of the statutes involved? What precedents control?”

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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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Britain's Torture Policy On Detainees Devised By Government, MI5 Lawyers
2009-02-16 23:42:27
A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in the Britain's government, according to evidence heard in court.

A number of British terrorism suspects who have been detained without trial in Pakistan say they were tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by MI5. In some cases their accusations are supported by medical evidence.

The existence of an official interrogation policy emerged during cross-examination in the high court in London of an MI5 officer who had questioned one of the detainees, Binyam Mohamed, the British resident currently held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The officer, who can be identified only as Witness B, admitted that although Mohamed had been in Pakistani custody for five weeks, and he knew the country to have a poor human rights record, he did not ask whether he had been tortured or mistreated, did not inquire why he had lost weight, and did not consider whether his detention without trial was illegal.

Mohamed is expected to return to Britain soon after ending a five-week hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, where he was being force-fed. After he was seen by British officials and a doctor over the weekend, the Foreign Office said he was medically fit to travel.

Cross-examined in the high court last year, Witness B acknowledged that Mohamed was in "an extremely vulnerable position" when he questioned him in Karachi in 2002. The MI5 officer admitted telling him that "he would get more lenient treatment if he cooperated", and said that he knew he was to be transferred to U.S. custody.

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U.S. Judges Admit To Jailing Children For Money
2009-02-16 17:25:09
Two judge have pleaded guilty to accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers long sentences.

Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, entered plea agreements in federal court in Scranton admitting that they took payoffs from PA Childcare and a sister company, Western PA Childcare, between 2003 and 2006.

"Your statement that I have disgraced my judgeship is true," Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. "My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame."

Conahan, who along with Ciavarella faces up to seven years in prison, did not make any comment on the case.

When someone is sent to a detention center, the company running the facility receives money from the county government to defray the cost of incarceration. So as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government, said prosecutors.

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Canada's Manufacturing Sales In December Plummeted
2009-02-16 16:14:08
Sales by Canadian manufacturers took their steepest tumble in at least 17 years during December, falling for a fifth straight month amid wretched times in the energy and automotive sectors - and there may be worse to come.

Statistics Canada said Monday that December's 8.0 per cent decline to $44.2-billion, accelerating from November's revised 6.2 per cent pullback, was the largest sag in manufacturing sales since the agency began compiling the data in the current form in January 1992.

For all of 2008, the value of sales adjusted for inflation declined 0.5 per cent to the weakest level since 2005.

“The bad news just keeps on coming for Canada's economy, with another record decline being beaten,” commented Desjardins Group economist Benoit Durocher.

Statistics Canada also reported large shifts of international investment during December, as Canadians pulled back billions from abroad while foreigners removed an “unprecedented” amount of Canadian bonds from their holdings.

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OZ Minerals Agrees To $2.6 Billion China Takeover Bid
2009-02-16 16:13:25
OZ Minerals shares will Tuesday trade for the first time since late November after the beleaguered mining company  agreed to a highly conditional $2.6 billion takeover bid from China Minmetals.

The deal, unveiled less than a week after Rio Tinto struck a $US19.5 billion ($30 billion) investment agreement with Chinalco, will present Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) with another prominent test case on Chinese investment in the local resources sector.

Minmetals, a State-owned base metals miner, has offered 82.5 cents a share for OZ; its last trading price was 55c.

The price paid by Minmetals will increase if OZ sells its Golden Grove base metals mine in Western Australia and its Martabe gold project in Indonesia for more than a combined price of $425 million, which an Evans and Partners analyst, Cathy Moises, deemed "rock bottom".

"In the current economic climate, the board considers this a good offer," said OZ's chief executive, Andrew Michelmore.

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Hillary Clinton Lauds U.S.-Japan Relationship During Asia Trip
2009-02-16 14:04:27
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here in Tokyo on the first stop of her Asian tour Monday night, declaring that she wanted "to create networks of partners in order to deal with the problems that no nation, even ours, can deal with alone," such as climate change and the global economic crisis.

Clinton, at an elaborate arrival ceremony, lauded the U.S.-Japanese partnership, calling it "a cornerstone of our efforts around the world." She addressed a group of dignitaries that included two female Japanese astronauts who participated in U.S. space shuttle program and Japanese Special Olympics athletes who recently completed a competition in Idaho.

Clinton yet again emphasized that she is making her first trip to Asia as chief U.S. diplomat to signify the importance of U.S. transpacific relationships. She is the first secretary of State in nearly 50 years to start his or her tenure with a trip to Asia, in contrast to the usual European and Middle Eastern tours.

For Japan, even greater importance is attached to the symbolism of Tokyo meriting the first stop on her trip. Her arrival breaks a dispiriting run of bad news for the Japanese government. The export-dependent economy is sinking fast and the prime minister's popularity is sinking faster.

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CIA Helped India, Pakistan Share Secrets Over Mumbai Bombing
2009-02-16 14:04:05

In the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the CIA orchestrated back-channel intelligence exchanges between India and Pakistan, allowing the two former enemies to quietly share highly sensitive evidence while the Americans served as neutral arbiters, according to U.S. and foreign government sources familiar with the arrangement.

The exchanges, which began days after the deadly assault in late November, gradually helped the two sides overcome mutual suspicions and paved the way for Islamabad's announcement last week acknowledging that some of the planning for the attack had occurred on Pakistani soil, said the sources.

The intelligence went well beyond the public revelations about the 10 Mumbai terrorists, and included sophisticated communications intercepts and an array of physical evidence detailing how the gunmen and their supporters planned and executed their three-day killing spree in the Indian port city. Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies separately shared their findings with the CIA, which relayed the details while also vetting the intelligence and filling in blanks with gleanings from its networks, the sources said. The U.S. role was described in interviews with Pakistani officials and confirmed by U.S. sources with detailed knowledge of the arrangement. The arrangement is ongoing, and it is unknown whether it will continue after the Mumbai case is settled.

Officials from both countries said the unparalleled cooperation was a factor in Pakistan's decision to bring criminal charges against nine Pakistanis accused of involvement in the attack, a move that appeared to signal a thawing of tensions on the Indian subcontinent after weeks of rhetorical warfare.

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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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