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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday March 29 2009 - (813)

Sunday March 29 2009 edition
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No Givens As Obama Steps Onto World Stage
2009-03-29 02:33:37

After 69 days in which international issues have taken a back seat to attempts to rescue the economy at home, President Obama takes the world stage this week as a wildly popular figure among the people of Europe, but one who faces a difficult task in selling his plans to the continent's leaders.

The president plans to push for a new approach to the war in Afghanistan, aggressive action to stop the proliferation of weapons and a more united European effort to combat the global recession.

If the U.S. president thought his popularity would cause foreign governments to fall quickly into line behind a new American leadership, experts warn, he could be in for a rude awakening.

The German government has resisted calls to deploy more combat troops to Afghanistan. Russia is pushing back against a NATO missile defense system in Poland. The Czech prime minister last week described the U.S. plans for global economic recovery as the "road to hell."

On Saturday, the White House made clear that it is not trying to dictate spending in European capitals to revive the economy, after facing strong resistance from France, Germany and other nations.

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Berlin Takes On The Tax Havens
2009-03-29 02:33:07

The German government is applying pressure on offshore tax havens. It is also taking action against German banks operating in Switzerland, where they maintain accounts for shadowy Liechtenstein foundations. In a time of economic crisis, Berlin needs all the tax euros it can get.

Martin Maurer remembers that fateful gray November day all too well. Maurer runs the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland from his office above an upmarket men's clothing store only a stone's throw from Zurich's exclusive Bahnhofstrasse. The organization represents the interests of more than 150 financial institutions, 20 of them German.

On that day last November, Maurer received a number of calls from nervous fund managers, who were alarmed by a seven-page letter that Germany's Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) had sent to all German banks with Swiss subsidiaries. The agency, based in Bonn, was asking unpleasant questions about an explosive subject. It wanted to know how many accounts the Swiss subsidiaries were managing for foundations and trusts, and how many of these foundations were headquartered in the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, which is famous as a tax haven.

The letter "was worded unclearly and not coordinated with the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority," says Maurer. His concerns prompted him to meet with a few German members of his association 10 days later. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to interpret the BaFin letter, says Maurer, noting that the Germans "discussed how to respond."

The Bonn bank regulators, for their part, smelled a conspiracy and suspected secret agreements were being made. In mid-February, BaFin contacted several German banks with additional, more specific questions.

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'Holy Mary, Help Us In Our Hour Of Need'
2009-03-29 02:32:31

A mysterious illness is causing calves to bleed to death on German farms. Veterinarians are stumped over what is causing the deaths: vaccines, genetically modified feed or perhaps even the first mother's milk?

What can a cattle farmer do when he sees blood running from his calves like water, when they become lethargic and febrile and, by the next morning, are lying dead on the floor, their coats covered in blood?

"Our calves from last summer looked like they had been beaten," says farmer Robert Meyboom, who is still shocked and perplexed today. "The animals' bodies were covered with drops of blood, and their eyes were bloodshot."

The veterinarian tried everything, he says, including administering vitamins and blood-clotting agents. But nothing worked, and "within two or three days, they were all dead."

Meyboom, a farmer from Wesel in the Lower Rhine region of western Germany, has lost seven animals since the first calf bled to death in his barn in October 2007. The last calf died an agonizing death only a few weeks ago. Farmers refer to the victims as "blood sweaters," alluding to the way blood seems to seep from the pores in some of the calves.

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Despite Red Flags About Judge, A Kickback Scheme Flourished
2009-03-28 16:04:07
Things were different in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County juvenile courtroom, and everyone knew it. Proceedings on average took less than two minutes. Detention center workers were told in advance how many juveniles to expect at the end of each day - even before hearings to determine their innocence or guilt. Lawyers told families not to bother hiring them. They would not be allowed to speak anyway.

“The judge’s whim is all that mattered in that courtroom,” said Marsha Levick, the legal director of the Juvenile Law Center, a child advocacy organization in Philadelphia, which began raising concerns about the court to state authorities in 1999. “The law was basically irrelevant.”

Last month, the law caught up with Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr., 58, who ran that juvenile court for 12 years, and Judge Michael T. Conahan, 56, a colleague on the county’s Court of Common Pleas.

In what authorities are calling the biggest legal scandal in state history, the two judges pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraudin a scheme that involved sending thousands of juveniles to two private detention centers in exchange for $2.6 million in kickbacks.

On Thursday, the State Supreme Court ordered that the records be cleaned for hundreds of the 2,500 or so juveniles sentenced by Judge Ciavarella, and in the coming weeks, the two judges will be sentenced, under a plea agreement, to more than seven years in prison.

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Vast Spy System Loots Computers In 103 Countries
2009-03-28 16:03:36
A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, Canadian researchers have concluded.

In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.

The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware.

Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.

The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

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White House Debate Led To Plan To Increase Effort In Afghanistan
2009-03-28 16:03:01
President Obama's plan to widen United States involvement in Afghanistan came after an internal debate in which Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.,warned against getting into a political and military quagmire, while military advisers argued that the Afghanistan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops.

All of the president’s advisers agreed that the primary goal in the region should be narrow - taking aim at al-Qaeda, as opposed to the vast attempt at nation-building the Bush administration had sought in Iraq. The question was how to get there.

The commanders in the field wanted a firmer and long-term commitment of more combat troops beyond the 17,000 that President Obama had already promised to send,and a pledge that billions of dollars would be found to significantly expand the number of Afghan security forces.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pressed for an additional 4,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan - but only to serve as trainers. They tempered the commanders’ request and agreed to put off any decision to order more combat troops to Afghanistan until the end of this year, when the strategy’s progress could be assessed.

During these discussions, Biden was the voice of caution, reminding the group members that they would have to sell their plans to a skeptical Congress.

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U.S., Iraqi Troops Arrest An Ally In Baghdad
2009-03-28 16:02:17
American and Iraqi forces have arrested the leader of a crucial Awakening Council in Baghdad on Saturday afternoon, according to a spokesman for the Iraqi Army, and that particular group declared that it was no longer allied with the Americans.

Gunfights had broken out between the Awakening Council members and American forces on Saturday afternoon, according to spokesmen from the group and from the Iraqi military. The group operates in the Fadhil neighborhood, a Sunni stronghold in central Baghdad.

The Awakening Councils are neighborhood-based groups of Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, who are now paid by the Iraqi government to stay on their side.

“Americans forces have broken the alliance with us by arresting our leader, Hajji Adil al-Mashhadani,” said Abu Mirna, the media coordinator for the Fadhil Awakening Council. “Now there are clashes in the area between the Americans and Awakening fighters, and you can hear shooting. It’s chaos.” He said the arrest was made by a combined force of the American Army, Iraqi Army and National Police.

Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, a spokesman for Iraqi forces in Baghdad, confirmed that Mashhadani and one of his aides were taken into custody after a judge issued a warrant for their arrest, accusing them of terrorism. A spokesman for the American military was not immediately available for comment.

Fadhil was one of the most hotly contested neighborhoods in Iraq’s sectarian warfare and a former insurgent stronghold. Mashhadani has been a strong critic of the failure of Iraqi authorities to incorporate his fighters into Iraqi security agencies, as had been promised. “There’s a fifty-fifty chance that Awakening guys who are not very loyal to Iraq or who need to support their families may decide to join al-Qaeda again,” Mashhadani said in an interview a week ago.

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Commentary: Earth Hour
2009-03-28 12:40:53

  Today millions of people around the world are to take part in "Earth Hour".  The idea of it is that 8pm local time, everyone should shut down everything they can, and operate without electricity. 

  There is the warm fuzzy factor ("I saved some power"), and it does draw attention to the fact that we can survive without electricity, but it doesn't do much if anything at all to reduce pollution.

  Years ago, I lived in a city with four coal and one nuclear power plant.  Part of their public awareness campaign was to bring people into the plants, explain how they work, and help educate the customers.  Power plants aren't an inherit evil.  The problem is the customers that they service.  If there wasn't a demand, they wouldn't need to operate huge facilities.  As technology grows, they grow too.  Can the aging 10MW hydroelectric plant service the needs of the community, or do they need the 100MW nuclear ! plant?

   Regardless of which side of this fight you sit on, there is always someone campaigning against another side.  Hydroelectric is much cleaner than other resources, but people campaign against the fact that requires dams, and those dams stop the natural flow of water, frequently with man made lakes now created behind them.  Wind powered farms are clean, but people call them an eyesore (any better than a 500' smoke spewing chimey, or cooling towers?), and they endanger birds.  Solar farms require large areas with sufficient sunlight. 
  There is always a side against something.  I am aware of a desalination plant set up to service one of America's large metro areas.  They were fought the entire time by "environmentalists" who believed every living thing downstream from it would die.  In reality, the salinity was changed by a trivial amount, but because of their efforts the size of the plant was d! ecreased, lots of money was spent in court and for additional ! experts to "prove" that it was safe.  Today that area is in a drought.  Lawn sprinkling is soon to be forbidden, along with any unnecessary water use (car washing, pressure cleaning, etc).   If they had been allowed to build the original plant, and even additional plants, the quality of life would not have changed, and seaside towns would be able to provide clean drinking water to other urban areas. 

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London Braces For Massive Protests Of G-20 Meeting
2009-03-29 02:33:24

London is bracing itself for the G-20 meeting next week, as thousands of demonstrators prepare to descend upon the British capital. While most protesters will be peaceful, those working in the financial industry are being advised not to wear suits to work or even to stay at home to avoid potential violence.

Mirina Pepper has just been panhandled by a homeless man near London's Liverpool Street Station. She reaches into her handbag and grabs a bundle of £20 notes. "Here, you can give them out," she says. The homeless man looks perplexed at the notes, not knowing whether he should take this as a good or bad thing.

It's funny money with the words "G-20 Meltdown" printed on it. They're flyers for a "Party in the City." Pepper gets the homeless man to agree to come the event next Wednesday and to bring along as many of his buddies as he can. Another homeless man just a few meters away experiences the same fate.

Pepper, 41, is responsible for organizing "G-20 Meltdown," a coalition of groups that plan to protest against the London financial summit next week that has even earned the respect of Scotland Yard. "They have some very clever people and their intention on April 1 is to stop the City," Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Metropolitan Police said last week. "They are innovative and we have to be innovative, too."

The policeman's concerns put a smile on Pepper's face. She's delighted by the idea of a cat and mouse chase through this city of more than 7.5 million people. "It's all a question of numbers," she says. Five-thousand police officers will be deployed, many in combat gear. It's the largest police operation the city has seen in 10 years. But there are doubts about whether that will be enough. Police will have to provide security for 22 world leaders, including the United States president, and 40 motorcades will have to be directed through the streets of London. In addition, dozens of embassies and hotels will have to be guarded, the conference center has to be sealed off from the public and the banks in the city's financial district will also have to be guarded from potentially violent anarchist protesters.

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Thwarted By Land, They're Smuggling By Sea
2009-03-29 02:32:50
Nallely and Heriberto Salgado boarded the Mexican fishing skiff bobbing off the Baja California coast last week and watched warily in the moonlight as 19 other people squeezed onto the vessel designed to carry no more than a dozen.

A smuggler piloting the 25-foot boat promised a short ride before landing on a beach in San Diego, California.

Twelve hours later, the Salgados were still being lashed with sea spray. The thick fog had burned off, leaving a panorama of brilliant blue, with no land in sight.

"We saw only ocean all around us," said Nallely Salgado. "And we were running out of gas."

With tougher enforcement and new barriers rising on land along the U.S.-Mexico border, many immigrants like the ones crowded aboard the Tiburon are taking to the sea.

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Obama: U.S. 'Must Respond' To Flood Potential In Midwest
2009-03-28 16:04:18
President Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address today to reach out to the people of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by the rising of the Red River.

"Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond - and respond urgently," said the president.

Obama on Tuesday declared a major disaster in North Dakota, where the river was expected to crest Sunday at 42 feet. He has also declared a disaster in Minnesota, on the other side of the Red.

For the president, the surging Red River presents an early test of a promise that he made during his campaign for the White House: to make sure the federal government treats disasters with the seriousness they deserve.

President George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a major theme during the 2008 campaign. Both Obama and Sen. John McCain both traveled several times to New Orleans, and both vowed to make sure the government never again fails on that scale.

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Editorial: The Remembered War
2009-03-28 16:03:51
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times online edition for Saturday, March 28, 2009.

With his new comprehensive plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama has asserted leadership over the war that matters most to America’s security - the one against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

We do not underestimate the difficulty of succeeding against these deadly adversaries. But it was greatly encouraging simply to see the president actually focusing on this war and placing it in the broader regional framework that has been missing from American policy. That is a good first step toward fixing the dangerous situation that former President George W. Bush created when he abandoned the necessary war in Afghanistan for the ill-conceived war of choice in Iraq.

Mr. Obama has come back to first principles. Instead of Mr. Bush’s vague talk of representative democracy in Afghanistan, he defined a more specific mission. “We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or dictate its future,” Mr. Obama said, but “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The United States removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001 as it sought to stamp out the al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks. More than seven years later, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are stronger than ever. Militants have crossed the border into Pakistan, where they plot attacks against the United States, its allies and Pakistan.

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Spanish Court Weighs Criminal Investigation 6 Bush-Era Officials For Torture
2009-03-28 16:03:14
A high-level Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, on whether they violated international law by providing a legalistic framework to justify the use of torture of American prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said an official close to the case.

The case was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzon, the crusading investigative judge who indicted the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and could lead to arrest warrants.

While the move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in its so-called war on terror, some American experts said that even if warrants are issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was likely that they would not lead to arrests if the officials do not leave the United States.

The complaint under review also names John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying the president had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, and Douglas J. Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy.

The move was not entirely unexpected as several human rights groups have been asking judges in different countries to indict Bush administration officials. One group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked a German prosecutor for such an indictment, but the prosecutor declined.

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Royal Bank Of Scotland Caught In Protectionist Storm
2009-03-28 16:02:42
Once as rooted in the Scottish soil as this city's famous castle, the Royal Bank of Scotland ventured far during the era of globalization - pumping billions of dollars worth of credit overseas as it expanded into markets as diverse as Kazakhstan, China and Rhode Island.

Just as RBS came to symbolize the free flow of credit across borders, the worldwide financial crisis has turned it into a leading example of the reverse: protectionism in the 21st century.

The government took majority control of the venerable bank four months ago after it suffered the worst corporate loss in British history. Authorities promptly issued a fresh directive: RBS, which had been in private hands since 1727, would have to sharply boost lending to British companies and home buyers stung by the global credit crunch - effectively curtailing lending to its equally hard-hit customers overseas. As RBS prepares to comply with the government order to pump billions of dollars more into British credit markets, it is retrenching in at least 15 countries, moving to sell off branches from Vietnam to Romania.

In the United States, where RBS operates the nation's 10th largest bank, the company recently sold off 65 subsidiary branches in Indiana and scaled back auto loan operations in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Arizona.

World leaders gathering for a major economic summit in London next week are vowing not to repeat the trade wars of the 1930s by imposing the kind of protectionist tariffs on butter, steel and other goods that deepened the Great Depression. While their promises center largely on avoiding classic forms of trade barriers - such as higher taxes on imported cars - the rise of financial protectionism poses a far greater threat to global recovery.

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Shuttle Returns To Terra Firma Safely
2009-03-28 15:39:16
Space shuttle Discovery touched down safely at 3:14 P.M. (Eastern Daylight Time) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing its 13-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The landing time was pushed back from 1:39 P.M. due to uncertain weather at the landing site earlier in the day.
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