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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday March 22 2009 - (813)

Sunday March 22 2009 edition
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Deadly Brawl Closes Part Of Sydney Airport
2009-03-22 03:59:08
Sydney police are appeal for witnesses after a man died in a brawl that partially shut down the Qantas terminal at Sydney Airport Sunday afternoon.

Police were called to the departure check-in area at Terminal 3 after a fight involving about 20 men at 1:35 p.m.

A police spokesman said the man was treated at the scene, and taken to the Prince of Wales Hospital, after being hit by what was believed to be a portable bollard.

"A number items, including portable bollards, are being taken for forensic examination and a crime scene has been set up,'' he said,.

"Passengers are advised to allow extra time checking in as delays are anticipated.''

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Obama Administration Seeks Increase In Oversight Of Executive Pay
2009-03-22 03:56:15
The Obama administration will call for increased oversight of executive pay at all banks, Wall Street firms and possibly other companies as part of a sweeping plan to overhaul financial regulation, said government officials.

The outlines of the plan are expected to be unveiled this week in preparation for President Obama's first foreign summit meeting in early April.

Officials said the proposal would seek a broad new role for the Federal Reserve to oversee large companies, including major hedge funds, whose problems could pose risks to the entire financial system.

It will propose that many kinds of derivatives and other exotic financial instruments that contributed to the crisis be traded on exchanges or through clearinghouses so they are more transparent and can be more tightly regulated. And to protect consumers, it will call for federal standards for mortgage lenders beyond what the Federal Reserve adopted last year, as well as more aggressive enforcement of the mortgage rules.

The administration has been considering increased oversight of executive pay for some time, but the issue was heightened in recent days as public fury over bonuses spilled into the regulatory effort.

The officials said that the administration was still debating the details of its plan, including how broadly it should be applied and how far it could go beyond simple reporting requirements. Depending on the outcome of the discussions, the administration could seek to put the changes into effect through regulations rather than through legislation.

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Obama Plans To Send Agents, Equipment To Mexico's Fight Against Drug Cartels
2009-03-22 03:55:47

President Obama is finalizing plans to move federal agents, equipment and other resources to the border with Mexico  to support Mexican President Felipe Calderon's campaign against violent drug cartels, according to U.S. security officials.

In Obama's first major domestic security initiative, administration officials are expected to announce as early as this week a crackdown on the supply of weapons and cash moving from the United States into Mexico that helps sustain that country's narco-traffickers, said officials.

The announcement sets the stage for Mexico City visits by three Cabinet members, beginning Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and followed next week by Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Napolitano, designated by Obama to convene a multi-agency security plan for the border, said the government is preparing plans to send more agents and intensify its investigation and prosecution of cartel-related activity in the United States. In addition, she said, the government may expand efforts to trace the sources of guns that move from the United States into Mexico.

To combat the southbound flow of guns, ammunition and grenades at border checkpoints, the government may deploy new equipment, such as scales to weigh vehicles and automated license-plate readers linked to databases, as well as other surveillance technology, she said.

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Connecticut A.G. Wants To Know Why AIG Documents Show $53 Million More In Bonuses
2009-03-21 14:21:15
The attorney general of Connecticut said Saturday that he is asking American International Group Inc. why documents appear to show the company paid $53 million more in bonuses to its financial products division than previously reported.

Documents turned over late Friday show AIG paid $218 million in bonuses last weekend, higher than the $165 million that was previously disclosed, said the office of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who had issued a subpoena.

Bonuses were "showered like confetti" on AIG employees, said Blumenthal.

AIG had previously disclosed that the company was contractually obligated to pay a total of about $165 million of previously awarded "retention pay" to employees in the financial products unit, based in Connecticut, by March 15. It said another $55 million in retention pay had already been distributed to about 400 AIG Financial Products employees.

That total of $220 million is about $2 million more than the figure disclosed Friday, and Blumenthal said he was seeking clarification from the company on whether the new papers differ from what was previously reported.

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New Lobbying Rules Keep Some Activists Out Of Government
2009-03-21 14:20:42

Nonprofit and public interest groups are scrambling to adapt to President Obama's stringent new ethics guidelines, which are so sweeping that they have blocked the ability of many sympathetic activists to get hired by the new administration.

Many of the groups are rushing to terminate or curtail their lobbying activities as a result of the rules, which bar new officials from making policy on any matter involving their former employer or clients for a period of two years or from working at an agency they lobbied within the past two years. Congressional records show that more than 700 lobbyists or lobbying groups have filed "de-registration" papers with the House and Senate since Obama took office, including scores of charities and other nonprofits.

The ethics guidelines were one of Obama's foremost campaign promises, aimed at "changing the culture of Washington" by limiting the influence of well-connected corporate and industry lobbyists. "We have set up the highest standard ever for lobbyists not working in the administration," Obama said in February.

But the standards he has put in place are so broad that all lobbyists - including those working for charities and public interest groups - are prohibited from working in the administration unless they are granted an exception. Many of the groups and their representatives feel particularly stung because they registered as lobbyists even when it was not required, either as a demonstration of their influence or to err on the side of caution in complying with transparency rules, according to lobbying experts. Some contend that they should not be punished now for being overly vigilant.

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5,000 Evacuated After Hydrofluoric Acid Spill In Pennsylvania
2009-03-21 14:20:06
Authorities have ordered about 5,000 people surrounding a northeastern Pennsylvania town to evacuate after a tractor-trailer carrying a hazardous chemical overturned.

Officials say a tanker truck carrying more than 16 tons of corrosive hydrofluoric acid overturned early today outside Wind Gap, about 60 miles north of Philadelphia.

Northampton County spokesman John Conklin says hazardous materials teams are wearing full protection suits as they work to stop the slowly dripping liquid.

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More U.S. Police Are Using Gunfire Detection System
2009-03-21 14:19:33
It happened moments after a police sergeant blasted a shot into a sand-filled barrel to test the city of East Palo Alto's expanded gunfire tracking system.

Witnesses suddenly heard "Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!"

Those gunshots were real. A flashing red "multiple shots" banner and an address appeared on a nearby laptop, and officers quickly located a 28-year-old man who had been shot by a masked man.

He survived. "He's lucky," said Capt. Carl Estelle.

East Palo Alto is the first U.S. city completely wired with ShotSpotter, a system of strategically placed acoustic sensors linked to a computer designed to help police locate gunfire in high-crime areas, but the technology is spreading. Thirty-six cities across America are currently using ShotSpotter - triple the number two years ago.

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British Government Ministers Briefed Over UFO Sightings
2009-03-22 03:58:59
Britain's Defense Ministry was so alarmed by reports of a UFO sighting 20 years ago, it took the unusual step of briefing government ministers, according to secret files released Sunday.

Other incidents in the files, released by Britain's National Archives, include a woman who claimed she was approached by an alien with a "Scandanavian-type accent.''

The group of seven files, released by Britain's National Archives, were recorded between November 1987 and April 1993 by the Defense Intelligence Staff in the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and include details of around 1,200 different UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings.

The MoD was handed negatives of photographs - showing a large diamond-shaped object hanging in mid-air for around 10 minutes before ascending upwards at high speed - taken on August 4, 1990, by two members of the public.

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As U.S. Prison Closes, Chaos Feared In Iraq
2009-03-22 03:56:02
The release of hundreds of prisoners from Camp Bucca, a U.S.-run prison in southern Iraq, has facilitated the revival of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents in Basra, Baghdad and the borderless expanse here along the Euphrates, according to police chiefs, intelligence officials in the Interior Ministry and residents.

Although none of them predicted a return to the anarchy and sectarian carnage of 2006-2007, when scores of bodies might show up in the street on any day, officials suggested that the groups were preparing for the onset of a U.S. military withdrawal.

Their warnings make for an irony at the beginning of the end of the American presence here. As the United States dismantles Bucca, viewed by many as an appalling miscarriage of justice where prisoners were not charged or permitted to see evidence against them, freed detainees may end up swelling the ranks of a subdued insurgency.

In hardscrabble Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, some former inmates of Bucca speak of revenge. Others talk of their own conversion there: as prisoners, giving their support to militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric whose forces were routed in Baghdad and Basra last year. A sense of uncertainty reigns in the forlorn stretches around Garma, a wind-swept town as parched as it is lawless, as Sunni residents brace for the return of dozens of fighters and such men as Col. Saad Abbas Mahmoud, the police chief here, openly admit to being overwhelmed by their influx.

"These men weren't planting flowers in a garden. They weren't strolling down the street," said Mahmoud, known as Abu Quteiba to his lieutenants, who snap their heels as they enter. "This problem is both big and dangerous. And regrettably, the Iraqi government and the authorities don't know how big the problem has become."

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A Sturdier Russia Beckons Its Children Home
2009-03-22 03:55:28
Vasily Reutov had never set foot in Russia until a few months ago, but the moment he did, he knew he had finally made it home.

His ancestors, members of an ascetic offshoot of Russian Orthodoxy known as Old Believers, fled this region in the 1920s after the Communist Party violently suppressed religion. They settled in cloistered villages in South America that they turned into Little Russias, as if by preserving the ways of the past, they would somehow, someday, be able to return.

Now, with Russia itself beckoning and sturdier than before, that time has come.

The government is trying to head off the country’s severe population decline by luring back Russians who live abroad as well as their descendants. Reutov and several dozen other members of his religious community from Uruguay have become among the most striking examples of this policy.

Moscow has spent $300 million in the past two years to get the repatriation program started, and officials estimated that more than 25 million people were eligible, many of them ethnic Russians who found themselves living in former Soviet republics after the Soviet collapse in 1991.

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Khamenei's Response To U.S. A Sign Of Theocracy's Mindset
2009-03-21 14:20:57
The Iranian leader's rebuff on Saturday to President Barack Obama's offer for dialogue was swift and sweeping: Words from Washington ring hollow without deep policy changes.

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's response was more than just a dismissive slap at the outreach. It was a broad lesson in the mind-set of Iran's all-powerful theocracy and how it will dictate the pace and tone of any new steps by Obama to chip away at their nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze.

"It's the first stage of the bargaining in classic Iranian style: Be tough and play up your toughness," said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of regional politics at United Arab Emirates University. "The Iranian leaders are not about concessions at this stage. It's still all about ideology from the Iranian side."

For Khamenei and his inner circle, that means appearing to stay true to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the political narrative of rejecting the United States. Any quick gestures by the ruling clerics to mend ties with Washington could be perceived by hard-liners as a betrayal of the revolution.

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North Korea Confirms It Holding Two Reporters
2009-03-21 14:20:20
North Korea confirmed Saturday that it had detained two American journalists on charges of “illegally intruding” into the North through its border with China.

The journalists, Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, and Euna Lee, a Korean-American, both working for Current TV, were on a reporting trip along the border when they were detained by North Korean border guards, according to human rights activists and a South Korean news report. Their colleague, Mitch Koss, and their Chinese guide were reported to have been detained by Chinese border guards.

“A competent organ is now investigating the case,” the North’s official news agency, KCNA, said.

The terse dispatch, which gave no details, was the first confirmation by North Korea of the arrests. On Friday, Washington said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was trying to free the two journalists, who had traveled to the border area to report on North Korean refugees in China, according to Chun Ki-won, a Christian clergyman in Seoul who helped arrange their trip.

Their arrest complicates Washington’s already thorny relations with the North, including an increase in tensions over North Korea’s plan to launch a satellite between April 4 and April 8. American officials say they believe that the rocket launching is a cover for testing ballistic missile technology.

Also Saturday, the North told international aviation authorities that it would close two international air routes through its airspace from April 4 to April 8 for the satellite launching, according to the Japanese and South Korean governments.

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Pot Advocates Exhale After Attorney General Signals Policy Shift
2009-03-21 14:19:47
Medical marijuana users and dispensary owners in California have held their breath for years - fearful they would be targeted for prosecution by the federal government.

They finally exhaled this past week when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said federal agents will now target marijuana distributors only when they violate both federal and state laws, a departure from the policy of the Bush administration.

It's not seen by man as a move by the Obama administration toward the legalization of marijuana.

However, it could end much of the confusion among state and federal authorities dealing with the mishmash of laws in which cultivating, using and selling pot for medical purposes is allowed by states but outlawed by the federal government.

"This signals, in my mind, a true kind of federalism," said Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California. "The federal government is allowing states to take chances, to take experiments and see what happens."

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Hungary's Prime Minister To Resign
2009-03-21 14:19:17
Hungary's prime minister stunned the country Saturday by announcing his resignation because he had become an "obstacle" to the reforms needed to pull the country out of its worse financial crisis since the end of communism nearly 20 years ago.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, of the ruling Socialists, made the unexpected announcement at his party's congress saying that he was keeping a pledge he made in January last year to change the leadership if the embattled party's popularity failed to recover.

He accepted his reputation was badly damaged when state radio in 2006 broadcast a speech he made at a party meeting in which he admitted lying about the state of the economy to win elections a few months earlier. The broadcast sparked weeks of protests and riots that left hundreds injured.

"I'm being told that I myself am the obstacle to the cooperation and stable government majority needed to implement changes," Gyurcsany told party members. "If this is so, I will eliminate this obstacle."

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