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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday February 25 2009 - (813)

Wednesday February 25 2009 edition
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Amid Gloom, Obama Pledges A Recovery
2009-02-24 21:49:48
President Obama appealed to the determination and optimism of the American people on Tuesday evening, telling them that it will take a long time for the teetering economy to right itself, but that better days will come if they join him in building a new economic foundation for a new century.

“Now is the time to act boldly and wisely, to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity,” the president said. “Now is the time to jump-start job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.”

In speaking to a joint session of Congress and to the American people, President Obama was trying for a message at once bracing and heartening, and also trying to gain momentum for ambitious policy objectives like health care and education reform and lower federal deficits, and all this in a time of economic unease.

“While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” Mr. Obama said. “The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation,” the president said. “The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.”

“Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.”

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In Britain, Fight Against Terror 'Spells End Of Privacy'
2009-02-24 20:53:56
Privacy rights of innocent Britons will have to be sacrificed to give the security services access to a sweeping range of personal data, one of the architects of the government's national security strategy has warned.

Sir David Omand, the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, sets out a blueprint for the way the state will mine data - including travel information, phone records and emails - held by public and private bodies and admits: "Finding out other people's secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules."

His paper provides the most candid assessment yet of the scale of Whitehall's ambitions for a state database to track terrorist groups. It argues that while the measures are essential, public trust will be maintained only if such intrusive surveillance is carried out within a strong framework of morality and human rights.

"Modern intelligence access will often involve intrusive methods of surveillance and investigation, accepting that, in some respects this may have to be at the expense of some aspects of privacy rights," he writes in a newly published Institute for Public Policy research paper.

"This is a hard choice, and goes against current calls to curb the so-called surveillance society - but it is greatly preferable to tinkering with the rule of law, or derogating from fundamental human rights. Being able to demonstrate proper legal authorization and appropriate oversight of the use of such intrusive intelligence activity may become a major future issue for the intelligence community, if the public at large is to be convinced of the desirability of such intelligence capability."

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Commentary: Fiddling While Europe Burns
2009-02-24 20:53:30
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Guardian assistant editor and foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall, and appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, February 24, 2009. In his commentary, Mr. Tisdall writes: "As the financial crisis deepens, the E.U.'s indecision and failure to act threatens to shatter the vision of a united Europe." His commentary follows:

If the European Union has an answer to the intensifying financial firestorm in eastern Europe, it is keeping it to itself. But the longer member states fiddle about, the greater the risk of a pan-continental conflagration - and of lasting damage to the E.U.'s core aspiration for wider and deeper union.

A fractious meeting of foreign ministers at E.U. headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, this week seemed to sum up all that is wrong and doesn't work in the E.U. Rather than urgently address massive Hungarian debt defaults, plunging Polish output, splintering Baltic coalitions, or Ukrainian street protests, they wasted time arguing over Slovenia's arcane Adriatic fishing boat dispute with Croatia.

Richer west European states, led by Germany, fear eastern instability could further harm their struggling economies. Austrian bank lending in eastern Europe, for example, is equivalent to about 80% of Austria's entire GDP. Eastern borrowers must repay $400 billion in debt owed to western banks this year - or else everybody gets burned.

Yet worries about spreading contagion did not prevent "old Europe" holding up an E.U. commission plan to spend €5bn on energy and other infrastructure projects, part of a €200 billion stimulus package that southern members like Spain and Greece say unfairly favours the east. The main concern of Gordon Brown's Euroskeptic Britain, meanwhile, seems to be stopping its pocket being picked by recent arrivals.

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UPDATE: Toddler, Six Others Shot On Mardi Gras Parade Route
2009-02-24 20:53:04
A Mardi Gras parade erupted into chaos on Fat Tuesday when a series of gunshots struck seven people, including a toddler. The child was not seriously injured and two suspects were in custody, said police.

The shootings happened near the Garden District about 1:40 p.m. after the last major parade of the celebration, Rex, had ended. A stream of truck floats that follow the parade were passing by when gunfire broke out.

"It sounded like a string of fireworks, so I knew it was more than one shooter," said Toni Labat, 29, a limousine company manager. She was with her two children, a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl.

"Everybody was petrified. They hit the ground, the floats stopped, everybody on the floats ducked," said Labat.

Labat said one man dragged himself on the ground screaming for help after being wounded and another man was gasping for air and bleeding from his mouth.

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Solis Confirmed As U.S. Labor Secretary
2009-02-24 20:52:28
The U.S. Senate Tuesday afternoon confirmed Rep. Hilda Solis (D-California) as labor secretary, more than two months after she was nominated for the post by President Obama.

The Senate voted 80 to 17 to confirm Solis, after Senate Republicans Tuesday assured Democrats that they would not filibuster the nomination. Solis had come under fire from Senate Republicans, who thought she was unresponsive to many of their questions during her confirmation hearing, a situation that was compounded by her work as treasurer for American Rights at Work, a pro-labor group.

There were also concerns among some Republicans about her support for a measure that would make it easier for workers to organize unions.

Consideration of Solis' nomination was further delayed when it was revealed that her husband had recently paid about $6,400 to settle tax liens against his California auto repair business.

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Dow Gains 236 Points In Tuesday's Trading
2009-02-24 17:13:42
Wall Street bounced back on Tuesday from its lowest levels in 11 years after the chairman of the Federal Reserve  tamped down investor fears that the government would nationalize major banks.

“We are committed to ensuring the viability of all major financial institutions,” the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, told the Senate Banking Committee. His reassurance on nationalization followed earlier statements from the White House saying that the government supported a privately held banking system.

At 3:45 p.m., the Dow Jones was 230 points higher, nearly erasing all of Monday’s losses. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was 3.8 percent higher and the technology-heavy Nasdaq was up more than 3.6 percent.

Bank shares, which have tumbled since the start of the year, sprang back as investors pushed aside concerns about a government takeover that could wipeout existing shareholders. Shares of Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and Citigroup rose by double digits.

Crude oil rose again, settling at $39.90 a barrel, up $1.46 in New York trading.

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Officials: U.S. To Pull Out Of Iraq In 19 Months
2009-02-24 17:12:07
The United States will withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by August 2010, 19 months after President Barack Obama's inauguration day, according to administration officials who expect Obama to make the announcement this week.

The withdrawal plan would fulfill one of Obama's central campaign pledges, albeit a little more slowly than he promised. He said he would withdraw troops within 16 months, roughly one brigade a month from the time of his inauguration.

The U.S. military would leave behind a residual force, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops, to continue advising and training Iraqi security forces. Also staying beyond the 19 months would be intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

A further withdrawal would take place before December 2011, when the U.S. has already agreed with Iraq that it would remove all American troops.

A senior White House official said Tuesday that Obama is at least a day away from making a final decision. He further said an announcement on Wednesday is unlikely, but Obama could discuss Iraq during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.

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Sen. Durbin Asks Sen. Burris To Consider Resignation, Burris Declines
2009-02-24 17:11:46
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) resign in a meeting between the pair, but Burris told Durbin he would not step down.

"I told him, 'If I were in your shoes, I would consider resigning'," Durbin told reporters outside of his office in the Capitol, following a meeting with Burris that lasted more than 30 minutes. "He said 'I will not resign.'"

Burris brushed by reporters after the meeting and would not comment except to say, "It was a good meeting."

Durbin spoke at a length and abandoned any pretense of support for Burris following the recent disclosures that Burris had spoken with several associates of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) before his appointment to the Senate seat, and even tried to raise money for the now-impeached governor.

Durbin said he would not support Burris if he ran to retain the seat next year, which Burris has not ruled out. Durbin repeatedly said he was "disappointed" that Burris had not disclosed all of his contacts with Blagojevich, which Durbin and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had demanded as a condition of the Senate seating Burris last month.

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Fed Chief Bernanke Vows To Use Every Tool To Stem Financial Crisis
2009-02-24 14:32:49
While the United States economy is likely to worsen significantly over the next year, the Federal Reserve is “committed to using all available tools” to stanch the financial crisis and unfreeze credit markets, the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke,told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday.

He added that the economy was suffering through a “severe contraction” and could get even worse than recent forecasts.

In the first leg of his twice-annual report to both houses of Congress on the state of the economy and the Fed’s actions, Bernanke painted a dire picture of the financial markets going forward, but assured the committee that government agencies were taking all necessary actions to thaw credit markets.

“The measures taken by the Federal Reserve, other U.S. government entities and foreign governments since September have helped to restore a degree of stability to some financial markets,” Bernanke said in his testimony. “Nevertheless, despite these favorable developments, significant stresses persist in many markets.”

In particular, he said, most securitization markets “remain shut.”

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French Court Reverses Terror Convictions
2009-02-24 14:32:27
A French appeals court on Tuesday overturned terrorist conspiracy convictions for five former inmates of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp who had been tried and convicted in 2007, after they were returned to France. 

The court ruled that information gathered by French intelligence officials in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay violated French rules for permissible evidence, and that there was no other proof of wrongdoing.

None of the men, who were originally captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, is currently in jail, having been given time off for time already served.

Yet the ruling is likely to be seen as a precedent for similar cases, as well as inject more uncertainty into the sensitive process of repatriating inmates being released from Guantanamo Bay, which President Obama has vowed to shut down. Various European countries have expressed willingness in principle to take some of the inmates, depending on their potential for dangerous behavior and whether the United States also accepts some. Some European countries prefer that the European Union come up with a unified position, so Washington cannot play one country against another while trying to negotiate placements.

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U.S. Home Prices Continue Record Slide
2009-02-24 14:31:37
U.S. single family home prices ended 2008 with record declines, continuing that trend for a second straight year, according to a leading index released Tuesday.

The Standard & Poors/Case-Shiller U.S. national home price index fell 18% in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the same period a year ago, the largest decline in the index's 21-year history.

The sharpest declines from the previous year were in Phoenix, Arizona (down 34%), Las Vegas, Nevada (down 33%), San Francisco, California (down 31%), Miami, Florida (down 29%) and Los Angeles, California, which includes Orange County, (down 26%).

Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami and San Francisco home prices were down more than 40% from their market peaks, which occurred at different times. Los Angeles-area home prices ended 2008 down 37% from their late 2006 peak.

"Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path, with all of the 20 metro areas reporting annual declines," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poors.

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NASA Climate Change Satellite Crashes Minutes After Launch
2009-02-24 14:30:57
A rocket carrying a NASA satellite designed to study global warming crashed near Antarctica, failing to reach orbit after it was launched this morning, according to officials.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite never reached orbit after it took off about 2 a.m. Pacific Standard Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, NASA said in a posting on its website.

"The spacecraft did not reach orbit and likely landed in the ocean near Antarctica," said John Brunschwyler, the program manager. An investigation into the cause of the launch failure will be started.

"Preliminary indications are that the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate," according to the posting on the NASA website. "The fairing is a clamshell structure that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere."

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Health Care Tops Obama's Fiscal Needs List
2009-02-24 02:08:53

President Obama will make reforming the U.S. health-care system his top fiscal priority this year, administration officials said Monday, contending that reining in skyrocketing medical costs is critical to saving the nation from bankruptcy.

At a summit on "fiscal responsibility" convened by the White House, top administration officials said they also are committed to stabilizing the Social Security system and to revising a tax code that generates too little money to cover the cost of government.

The White House offered no timetable for those goals and few explicit ideas for how to achieve them, disappointing some lawmakers and other participants, who had hoped the summit might produce greater momentum to fix the chronic imbalance between government spending and tax collections that is driving the national debt to dangerous levels.

Instead, the 3 1/2 -hour session was designed to demonstrate that the White House could foster a civilized conversation among an ideologically diverse group of lawmakers, academics, economists and interest groups. Obama assured the more than 100 participants that the debate over the nation's long-term financial health "doesn't end when we go home today."

"We've got a lot of hard choices to make," Obama told them. "We need to build off this afternoon's conversation and work together to forge a consensus."

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U.S. Pressured To Add Billions To Bailout
2009-02-24 02:08:23

The government faced mounting pressure on Monday to put billions more in some of the nation’s biggest banks, two of the biggest automakers and the biggest insurance company, despite the billions it has already committed to rescuing them.

The government’s boldest rescue to date, its $150 billion commitment for the insurance giant American International Group, is foundering. A.I.G. indicated on Monday it was now negotiating for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance as losses have mounted.

Separately, the Obama administration confirmed it was in discussions to aid Citigroup, the recipient of $45 billion so far, that could raise the government’s stake in the banking company to as much as 40 percent.

The U.S. Treasury Department named a special adviser to work with General Motors and Chrysler, two of Detroit’s biggest automakers, which are seeking $22 billion on top of the $17 billion already granted to them.

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Survey Shows Broad Support For President Obama
2009-02-24 02:05:59
President Obama is benefiting from remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership, providing him with substantial political clout as he confronts the nation’s economic challenges and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority of people surveyed in both parties said Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, but most faulted Republicans for their response to the president, saying the party had objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most said Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, the poll found, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.

Obama will deliver his first address to Congress on Tuesday evening against a backdrop of deep economic anxiety among the public, with worries spanning party, class and regional divides. A majority of Americans, 55 percent, say they are just making ends meet, with more than 6 in 10 concerned that someone in their household might lose his job in the next year.

Americans are under no illusions that the country’s problems will be resolved quickly, but the poll suggested that they will be patient when it comes to the economy, with most saying it would be years before significant improvement.

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New Bank Plan Might Result In Nationalization
2009-02-24 02:04:45

The Obama administration Monday revamped the terms of its emergency aid to troubled financial firms, setting a course that could culminate with the government nationalizing some of the country's largest banks by taking a controlling ownership stake.

Administration officials said the change, which allows banks to repay the government with common stock rather than cash, is intended to give banks more capital to withstand a continued deterioration of the economy, and not to nationalize the banking system.

In seeking to bolster investor confidence in troubled companies such as Citigroup, the government said it is willing to acquire large chunks of their shares. .

The move is a significant gamble. The magnitude of the effort could underscore the severity of the crisis, further alarming investors. The government could also forego billions of dollars in dividend payments.

Some investors welcomed the announcement. Even as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 251 points to its lowest close since 1997, shares of Citigroup climbed 10 percent. Shares of another troubled firm, Bank of America,rose about 3 percent.

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What Did Tony Blair Know About U.S. Rendition?
2009-02-24 02:03:25
Binyam Mohamed has been released from Guantanamo and arrived back in London on Monday. The case of the Ethiopian man's ordeal may still unveil evidence about how much the British government knew about the rendition and torture of terror suspects.

Binyam Mohamed's seven years of incarceration came to end on Monday at 1:11 p.m. The 30-year-old Ethiopian, with a British residency permit, had finally left the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, and after a 10-hour flight he landed at the Royal Air Force military airbase in Northholt near London.

Waiting for him at the airport were his British lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Gareth Pierce, his U.S. military lawyer Yvonne Bradley and his sister Zuhra.

The slender man, wearing white tennis shoes, jeans and a beige sweater, left the aircraft a short time later with faltering steps. Mohamed had spent the last few weeks on hunger strike in protest over his ongoing imprisonment.

The fact that he has now been released makes him the first inmate to leave Guantanamo under the new U.S.  administration. For President Barack Obama the Ethiopian man from Great Britain had been a kind of test case, one that would test the credibility of his assertions that he would put an end to the Bush administration's legal aberrations.

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Text Of President Obama's Address To The Nation
2009-02-24 21:49:33
Intellpuke: Following is the prepared text of President Obama's address to the joint session of Congress Tuesday night, as provided to news organizations by the White House:

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has - a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities â€" as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely â€" to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

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Britain's Straw: Iraq War Motives Must Remain A Secret
2009-02-24 20:53:45

The British government took the unprecedented decision Tuesday to block the release of cabinet minutes about the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that it would undermine democratic decision-making, the very argument used by freedom of information bodies which had ordered their disclosure.

Britain's Justice Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament members the government had decided to use its veto powers under the Freedom of Information Act because publication "risked serious damage to cabinet government".

He argued that the potential damage "far outweighs" any potential public benefit of publication and added that the decision to go to war had already been examined "with a fine-toothed comb" in several inquiries.

Straw denied he was trying to "circumvent" the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and said he had finally come to the decision on Monday afternoon, after the "final cabinet discussion of the matter". There had already been at least four inquiries into the war and the prime minister would consider the case for a further inquiry once the troops were home, he said. "Confidentiality serves to promote thorough decision-making. Disclosure of the cabinet minutes in this case jeopardizes that space for thought and debate at precisely the point where it has its greatest utility."

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Even Small Amounts Of Alcohol Increase A Woman's Risk Of Cancer
2009-02-24 20:53:15

Women who drink a glass of wine a day are more likely to develop a range of cancers than are teetotalers, according to the largest study ever conducted into drinking and cancer. 

A daily drink was found to significantly raise the risk of breast, liver and rectal cancer, and is estimated to account for more than 7,000 extra cases of cancer each year in the U.K.

Researchers at the University of Oxford said the findings, which are part of the Million Women Study, make clear that even light, regular drinking can be a serious threat to health.

Naomi Allen, a cancer epidemiologist who led the research, used medical records to identify cases of cancer among a group of 1,280,296 middled-aged women. Of the women who drank, the average intake was one unit per day, the equivalent to a small glass of wine or 8 grams of alcohol. A pint of beer would count as two units. Very few of the women consumed more than three drinks a day.

Over a seven-year period, 68,775 women were diagnosed with cancer.

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Newsblog: Fast-Spreading Phishing Scam Hits GMail Users
2009-02-24 20:52:45

Google just can’t get a break today (Tuesday).

First, Google’s e-mail service froze for several hours, locking out millions of users. Now its chat service appears to be the conduit for a rapidly spreading phishing scam.

Gmail users who are logged into the accompanying chat service Google Chat, as most are, have been getting messages that appear to be from friends, urging them to click on a Web address starting with that takes them to a site called ViddyHo. The site asks for the person’s Gmail log-in information and then hijacks the account, sending out chat messages to all of the user’s contacts and spreading itself further.

The online service Twitter had a steady stream of complaints and warnings about the attack. “To anyone who receives a Viddyho invite from me, please ignore it,” a Twitter user named Zaffi cautioned. “I think I’ve been duped.”

Avivah Litan, a security analyst with the research firm Gartner, said phishing attacks luring Web surfers to click on videos have been steadily increasing over the last six months. Consumers have “wised up” to e-mail messages masquerading as notes from banks and credit card companies, said Ms. Litan. Now, she said, phishers are sending video invites that play on hot topics and news events (in this case, a video starring the comedy troupe The Lonely Island and the singer T-Pain). While the video plays, the site might be downloading so-called malware in the background to infect the victim’s computer.

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Gov. Palin To Pay Alaska Nearly $7,000 For Children's Trips
2009-02-24 20:52:16
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will reimburse the state nearly $7,000 for costs associated with nine trips taken by her children, her attorney said Tuesday. Palin must reimburse the state within 120 days, according to a settlement agreement filed by a special investigator hired by the Alaska Personnel Board to investigate an ethics complaint filed against her.

The exact amount will be determined by the Alaska Department of Administration, said Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein. He estimated the amount would be $6,800.

There is no state law prohibiting the governor's family from traveling with her and the personnel board found no wrongdoing on the part of the governor. But the investigator, Timothy Petumenos, interpreted the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act to require that state only pay if the first family serves an important state interest.

Petumenos said "some of the travel raised by the Complaint does not meet this standard," according to the agreement.

Van Flein said 72 travel authorizations were studied, with nine found to be of questionable state interest.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules For State In American Indian Land Case
2009-02-24 17:12:24
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday limited the federal government's authority to hold land in trust for Indian tribes, a victory for Rhode Island and other states seeking to impose local laws and control over development on Indian lands.

The court's ruling applies to tribes recognized by the federal government after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

The U.S. government argued that the law allows it to take land into trust for tribes regardless of when they were recognized, but Justice Clarence Thomas said in his majority opinion that the law "unambiguously refers to those tribes that were under the federal jurisdiction" when it was enacted.

The ruling comes in a case involving the Rhode Island-based Narragansett Indian Tribe and a 31-acre tract of land that the tribe purchased in rural Charlestown, about 40 miles south of Providence.

At issue was whether the land should be subject to state law, including a prohibition on casino gambling, or whether the parcel should be governed by tribal and federal law.

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BREAKING NEWS: Infant, 4 Others Shot Near Mardi Gras Parade Route
2009-02-24 17:11:56
Police say an infant and four other people have been injured in a shooting along a Mardi Gras parade route.

New Orleans police spokesman Bob Young says the shootings were reported near the Garden District about 1:40 p.m. after the last major parade of the celebration had ended. Truck floats that follow the Rex parade were going by when gunfire broke out.

Two suspects are in custody and three weapons believed used in the shooting have been recovered.

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Afghanistan Bomb Kills 4 U.S. Soldiers, 1 Afghan Civilian
2009-02-24 17:11:35
A roadside bomb killed four U.S. troops patrolling in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday in the deadliest single attack on international forces this year. An Afghan civilian working with the Americans also died.

The troops were patrolling with Afghan forces when their vehicle struck a bomb Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. military said in a statement. The military did not release the attack's location pending the notification of relatives.

The previous deadliest attack against U.S. forces this year was an explosion in Zabul province in January that killed three troops.

Twenty-nine Americans troops have died in Afghanistan this year, far surpassing the eight U.S. forces killed in the first two months of 2008.

The U.S. is increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. A record 38,000 U.S. forces now operate in the country, many in Taliban strongholds in the dangerous south.

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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Conviction In Gun Case
2009-02-24 14:32:38
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of a West Virginia man for violating a federal law barring people convicted in domestic violence cases from possessing firearms.

In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, wrongly threw out the conviction of Randy Edward Hayes. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented.

The federal government, gun control groups and women's rights advocates worried that a ruling for Hayes would have weakened the federal law enacted in 1996 that applied the 40-year-old ban on gun possession by a felon to people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Hayes' favor because the West Virginia state law on battery under which he was convicted did not contain specific wording about a domestic relationship between the offender and the victim.

Nine other appeals courts rejected that interpretation.

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Editorial: What Part Of 'Stimulus' Don't They Get?
2009-02-24 14:32:07
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Monday, February 23, 2009.

Imagine yourself jobless and struggling to feed your family while the governor of your state threatens to reject tens of millions of dollars in federal aid earmarked for the unemployed. That is precisely what is happening in poverty-ridden states like Louisiana and Mississippi where Republican governors are threatening to turn away federal aid rather than expand access to unemployment insurance programs in ways that many other states did a long time ago.

What makes these bad decisions worse is that they are little more than political posturing by rising Republican stars, like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. This behavior reinforces the disturbing conclusion that the Republican Party seems more interested in ideological warfare than in working on policies that get the country back on track.

Fortunately, as President Obama prepares for his first address to Congress on Tuesday evening, voters of both parties have noticed. About three-quarters of those polled in a recent New York Times/CBS News survey - including more than 60 percent of Republicans - said Mr. Obama has been trying to work with Republicans. And 63 percent said Republicans in Congress opposed the stimulus package primarily for political reasons, not because they thought it would be bad for the economy. It should be sobering news for Republicans that about 8 in 10 said the party should be working in a bipartisan way.

The Republican Party’s attacks on the unemployment insurance portion of the stimulus package are a perfect example. States that accept the stimulus money aimed at the unemployed are required to abide by new federal rules that extend unemployment protections to low-income workers and others who were often shorted or shut out of compensation. This law did not just materialize out of nowhere. It codified positive changes that have already taken place in at least half the states.

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As Eastern Europe Falters, Risks To Financial Stability Rise
2009-02-24 14:31:17
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries of Eastern Europe have emerged as critical allies of the United States in the region, embracing American-style capitalism and borrowing heavily from Western European banks to finance their rise.

Now the bill is coming due.

The development boom that turned Poland, Hungary and other former Soviet satellites into some of Europe’s hottest markets is on the verge of going bust, raising worrisome new risks for the global financial system that may ricochet back to the United States.

Last week, Wall Street plunged after Moody's Investors Service warned that Western banks that had recently beat a path to Eastern Europe’s doorstep now faced “hard landings,” spooking investors with new fears that the exposure could spread beyond Europe’s shores.

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Los Angeles Sheriff Considers Closing Jail Due To Budget Cuts
2009-02-24 14:30:40
Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff Lee Baca said Tuesday he is considering closing at least one jail and possibly a second to cope with a $72-million budget gap.

Baca said his plans are still preliminary because he’s not sure exactly how much the Sheriff’s Department budget is will be cut.

He said the facility most likely to close would be the aging Men’s Central Jail, which over the years has been hit by unrest and several murders by inmates. Jailers have long said the facility is outdated and extremely difficult to patrol.

Such a move would probably require the department to release some inmates earlier than they do now, because the capacity of the county jail system would drop. Baca said he is trying to avoid any cuts in sheriff street patrols, leaving jails the only place to trim.

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Global Warming Lays Waste To Spain's Glaciers
2009-02-24 02:08:38

The Pyrenees mountains have lost almost 90% of their glacier ice over the past century, according to scientists who warn that global warning means they will disappear completely within a few decades.

While glaciers covered 3,300 hectares of land on the mountain range that divides Spain and France at the turn of the last century, only 390 hectares remain, according to Spain's environment ministry.

The most southerly glaciers in Europe are losing the battle against warming and look set to be among the first to disappear from the continent over the coming decades. Their loss will have a severe impact on summer water supplies in the foothills and southern plains south of the Pyrenees.

"This century could see (perhaps within a few decades) the total, or almost total, disappearance of the last reserves of ice in the Spanish Pyrenees and, as a result, a major change in the current nature of upper reaches of the mountains," said the authors of the report on Spain's glaciers.

Scientists have ruled out the idea that the progressive deterioration of glaciers around the globe are part of normal, long-term fluctuations in their size. Europe's glaciers are thought to have lost a quarter of their mass in the last eight years.

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The Steep Decline Of The British Economy
2009-02-24 02:06:22

As the global economic crisis takes hold, hardly any other country has seen its fortunes wane as brutally as the United Kingdom. Once a model economy, the country has been overcome by a deep sense of uncertainty.

It is a gloomy February in Great Britain, yet another month in which the economy is shrinking and the pound is faltering, and yet another month of record growth in unemployment.

It is a month that has seen Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, refer to the current recession as the "worst in 100 years," and which has witnessed the heads of the country's largest banks appear on television to apologize to the nation for the harm they have caused.

Meanwhile, Britons are asking themselves how things could have come to this.

Ash Akhtiar, who works for an employment agency in a Birmingham suburb, says that he wants to see someone pay for all of this. David L., a banker who, fearing for his job does not wish to see his name in print, is considering buying a gun to protect his family.

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Swiss Try To Block U.S. Moves To End Banking Secrecy
2009-02-24 02:05:44

Pressure is growing in Switzerland to pass new laws to protect the confidentiality of its banks, as a U.S. court ruling against UBS threatens to blow open centuries of secrecy.

Right-wing political parties in the country have started the task of amassing 100,000 signatures to hold a referendum to legally enshrine banking secrecy in its constitution, but the move will trigger a fight for Switzerland's soul, with intellectuals, left-leaning lawyers and campaigners joining forces to demand the end to a centuries-old tradition to avoid becoming isolated at a time when international attempts to stamp out tax haven abuse are gaining momentum.

The debate comes in the wake of a potentially ruinous court case between UBS, one of the largest wealth managers in the world, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Last week, the DOJ demanded the identities and details of 52,000 accounts held by rich Americans whom it believes may have illegally evaded taxes.

The case dates back to when a senior UBS banker revealed in a U.S. court statement eight months ago that he had smuggled diamonds in toothpaste tubes, destroyed offshore bank records on behalf of clients and helped one Florida property tycoon evade millions of dollars of taxes .

The action by the DOJ has caused shockwaves in Switzerland, which also faced criticism from the U.K.'s chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, in a strongly worded attack last weekend.

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U.S. May Set Greenhouse Gas Standard For Vehicles
2009-02-24 02:04:19

The Obama administration is considering establishing national rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions for automobiles, according to White House officials, a move backed by both auto manufacturers and some environmentalists.

For weeks, administration officials have been meeting with car companies as well as green groups and representatives from California - which is awaiting word on whether it will receive a federal waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles - to try to broker a deal on the issue. On Sunday, Carol M. Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate, said she and others backed the idea of a single standard for cars and trucks.

"The hope across the administration is that we can have a unified national policy when it comes to cleaner vehicles," Browner said at the Western Governors' Association meeting in Washington.

Monday, a White House official, who asked not to be identified because the policy has yet to be finalized, said Browner's comments did not mean the administration was seeking to usurp Congress' role in regulating carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to global warming.

"The administration recognizes that these are hard times for the auto industry, and we are exploring a process to develop a national policy for autos within the context of larger restructuring negotiations," said the official. "The administration is engaged with Congress to pass cap-and-trade legislation, which the president believes is far superior to a regulatory approach using the existing Clean Air Act. If [the Environmental Protection Agency] finds that greenhouse gases endanger health or welfare, the next steps would be taken thoughtfully and with input from all stakeholders."

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