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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday March 10 2009 - (813)

Tuesday March 10 2009 edition
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U.N. Accuses Britain Of Condoning Torture
2009-03-09 20:20:02

Britain has been condemned in a highly critical United Nations report for breaching basic human rights and "trying to conceal illegal acts" in the fight against terrorism. Britain has been condemned in a highly critical of United Nations report for breaching basic human right. The report is sharply critical of British co-operation in the transfer of detainees to places where they are likely to be tortured as part of the U.S. rendition program.

The report accuses British intelligence officers of interviewing detainees held incommunicado in Pakistan in "so-called safe houses where they were being tortured".

It adds that Britain, with a number of countries, has sent interrogators to Guantanamo Bay in a further example of what it says "can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning" torture and ill-treatment, adding that the U.S. was able to create its system for moving terror suspects around foreign jails only with the support of its allies.

Some individuals faced "prolonged and secret detention" and practices that breached bans on torture and other forms of ill-treatment, the report says.

The document, drawn up for the U.N. General Assembly by Martin Scheinen, the organization's special rapporteur on the "promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism", is likely to add to pressure on the government, which is already facing demands from human rights groups and frontbench opposition Parliament members for an inquiry into the role of U.K. security and intelligence officials in the CIA's secret transfer of detainees to "dark prisons".

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Cocaine Production Surge Unleashes Wave Of Violence In Latin America
2009-03-09 20:19:35

Cocaine production has surged across Latin America and unleashed a wave of violence, population displacements and corruption, prompting urgent calls to rethink the drug war.

More than 750 tons of cocaine are shipped annually from the Andes in a multi-billion pound (or dollar)  industry which has forced peasants off land, triggered gang wars and perverted state institutions.

A Guardian newspaper investigation based on dozens of interviews with law enforcement officials, coca farmers, refugees and policymakers has yielded a bleak picture of the "war" on the eve of a crucial United Nations drug summit.

Almost 6,000 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year alone, an unprecedented level of mayhem that is showing signs of spilling northwards into the United States. More than 1,000 have been killed already this year in Mexico.

A new trafficking route between South America and west Africa has grown so quickly that the 10th latitude corridor connecting the continents has been dubbed Interstate 10.

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Obama To Executive Officials: Don't Rely On Bush's Signing Statements
2009-03-09 15:31:01
Calling into question the legitimacy of all the signing statements that former President George W. Bush used to challenge new laws, President Obama on Monday ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.,before relying on any of them to bypass a statute.

Obama also signaled that he intends to use signing statements if Congress sends him legislation that has provisions he decides are unconstitutional. He pledged to use a modest approach when doing so, but said there was a role for the practice if used appropriately.

“In exercising my responsibility to determine whether a provision of an enrolled bill is unconstitutional, I will act with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well-founded,” Obama wrote in a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies in the executive branch. The document was obtained by the New York Times.

Obama’s directions marked the latest step in his administration’s effort to deal with a series of legal and policy disputes it inherited from the Bush administration. It came the same day that Obama lifted restrictions Bush had placed on federal financing for research that uses embryonic stem cells.

Bush’s use of signing statements - official legal documents issued by a president the day he signs bills into law, instructing executive officials how to implement the statutes - led to fierce controversy.

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U.S. Supreme Court Refuses To Expand Minority Voting Rights
2009-03-09 15:30:41
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that electoral districts must have a majority of African-Americans or other minorities to be protected by a provision of the Voting Rights Act.

The 5-4 decision, with the court's conservatives in the majority, could make it harder for southern Democrats to draw friendly boundaries after the 2010 Census.

The court declined to expand protections of the landmark civil rights law to take in electoral districts where the minority population is less than 50 percent of the total, but strong enough to effectively determine the outcome of elections.

In 2007, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down a state legislative district in which blacks made up only about 39 percent of the voting age population. The court said the Voting Rights Act applies only to districts with a numerical majority of minority voters.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, announcing the court's judgment, said that requiring minorities to represent more than half the population "draws clear lines for courts and legislatures alike. The same cannot be said of a less exacting standard."

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U.S. Protests 'Harassment' Of Navy Ship By Chinese Vessels
2009-03-09 15:30:11

The Pentagon Monday protested what it called harassment and aggressive shadowing of a U.S. Navy ocean surveillance ship by five Chinese vessels in international waters off the South China Sea on Sunday, warning such behavior could lead to collisions or the loss of life.

During the incident, the Chinese vessels "surrounded" the U.S.N.S. Impeccable and closed within 50 feet, with Chinese crew members "waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area," according to a Pentagon statement.

Impeccable sprayed fire hoses at one of the vessels in self-protection, but the Chinese crew members stripped to their underwear and the ship "continued closing to within 25 feet," said the Pentagon.

At that point, the Impeccable used a bridge-to-bridge radio to communicate it was leaving the area, but two of the Chinese vessels stopped directly in the path of the U.S. ship, forcing it to conduct an emergency stop.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing lodged a formal protest over the incident with China's Foreign Ministry during the weekend. Today senior Defense Department officials met with a Chinese defense attache at the Pentagon to reiterate the protest, according to a defense official.

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Merck Buying Schering-Plough For $41.1 Billion
2009-03-09 15:29:46
Merck & Co. is buying Schering-Plough Corp. for $41.1 billion in a deal that gives Merck key new businesses, access to a promising pipeline of new products and the chance to further cut costs, including eliminating about 16,000 jobs.

Merck hopes the cash-and-stock deal helps it better compete in a drug industry facing slumping sales, tough generic competition and intense pricing pressures.

The deal announced Monday would unite the maker of asthma drug Singulair with the maker of allergy medicine Nasonex and form the world's second-largest prescription drug maker. Merck and Schering are already partners in a pair of popular cholesterol fighters, Vytorin and Zetia, although concerns about safety and effectiveness have hurt sales.

Shares of the two companies traded furiously after the announcement, with Schering's shares skyrocketing and Merck's dropping, typical for a company doing a big acquisition. In early afternoon trading, Schering shares jumped $2.63, or 15 perent, to $20.26, and Merck shares fell $2.19, or 9.6 percent, to $20.55.

The deal comes only a few weeks after Lipitor maker Pfizer Inc. agreed to pay $68 billion for drug maker Wyeth.

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U.S. Economic Downturn Dragging World Into Recession
2009-03-09 04:32:14
World Bank report says global economy will shrink for first time since 1940s.

The world is falling into the first global recession since World War II as the crisis that started in the United States engulfs once-booming developing nations, confronting them with massive financial shortfalls that could turn back the clock on poverty reduction by years, the World Bank warned Sunday.

The World Bank also cautioned that the cost of helping poorer nations in crisis would exceed the current financial resources of multilateral lenders. Such aid could prove critical to political stability as concerns mount over unrest in poorer nations, particularly in Eastern Europe, generated by their sharp reversal of fortunes as private investment evaporates and global trade collapses.

In its report, released ahead of a major summit of finance ministers in London this week, the World Bank called on developed nations struggling with their own economic routs to dedicate 0.7 percent of the money they spend on stimulus programs toward a new Vulnerability Fund to help developing countries.

The report predicted that the global economy will shrink this year for the first time since the 1940s, reducing earlier estimates that emerging markets would propel the world to positive growth even as the United States, Europe and Japan tanked. The dire prediction underscored what many are calling a mounting crisis within a crisis, as the downturn that started in the wealthy nations of the West washes over developing countries through a pullback in investment, trade and credit. Despite the United States' position as the epicenter of the crisis, investors are flocking to U.S. Treasury bills and the dollar, squeezing developing nations out of global credit markets.

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Obama Aims to Shield Science From Politics
2009-03-09 04:31:49

When President Obama lifts restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research today, he will also issue a presidential memorandum aimed at insulating scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence, officials said Sunday.

"The president believes that it's particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals," Melody C. Barnes, director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council, told reporters during a telephone briefing Sunday.

Although officials would not go into details, the memorandum will order the Office of Science and Technology Policy to "assure a number of effective standards and practices that will help our society feel that we have the highest-quality individuals carrying out scientific jobs and that information is shared with the public," said Harold Varmus, who co-chairs Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The decision by President George W. Bush to restrict funding for stem cell research has been seen by critics as part of a pattern of allowing political ideology to influence scientific decisions across an array of issues, including climate change and whether to approve the morning-after pill Plan B for over-the-counter sales.

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Left Hopes For Big Win In El Salvador Elections
2009-03-09 04:31:13
After a 12-year civil war and a peace undermined by soaring crime, leftists in El Salvador are on the verge of completing a remarkable journey from armed struggle to the presidential palace.

Their candidate is a veteran TV broadcaster and morning talk show host, Mauricio Funes, whose Facebook page lists his political views as "other." Funes, 49, a former correspondent for CNN en Espanol, was recently recruited by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the revolutionary group-turned-mainstream political party that is favored by polls to win the presidency in a vote scheduled for March 15.

Though the FMLN standard-bearers traditionally campaign dressed in fiery red, Funes favors a white Panama shirt, hip bluejeans and designer glasses. And while some of his FMLN stalwarts still favor rhetoric that evokes Cuba's Castro brothers, Funes considers himself to be El Salvador's Barack Obama - an agent of change in a country beset by the highest murder rate in Latin America and an economy in free fall.

The comparison is overt: Funes and the FMLN use images of Obama in their ads (despite objections by the U.S. State Department), saying both candidates were smeared by their opponents as allies of extremists. The FMLN television spots complete the link by employing the Obama slogan in English and Spanish, vowing "Yes, we can!"

"During the entire history of El Salvador, the left has never had such opportunity to win as it does now," said Jose  Raymundo Calderon Moran, a historian and dean of the University of El Salvador. "The people see a possibility for change, because one way or the other, they are demanding something different, no matter who wins."

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Commentary: East Asia's Economic Revenge
2009-03-09 20:19:50
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and appeared in the Guardian edition for Monday, March 9, 2009. In his commentary, Mr. Baker writes: "Following the 1997 financial crisis, Asia got screwed by the U.S.-led International Monetary Fund. With the housing bubble, Asia returned the favor." Mr. Baker's commentary follows:

In a matter of a few short weeks during the summer of 1997, the thriving countries of east Asia saw their economies overwhelmed by a financial tsunami. First Thailand and Indonesia, and then South Korea and Malaysia, saw investors panic and watched capital flee. Their currencies plummeted in value and their biggest companies wrestled with bankruptcy.

After being held up as models of successful development, these countries were suddenly denounced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)and prominent economists everywhere for their lack of transparency, poor accounting standards and crony capitalism. The IMF came into the region with a rescue plan that imposed harsh conditions. It demanded that these countries impose austerity plans and allow foreign investors to buy up their businesses at depressed stock prices.

The other part of the story was that the IMF insisted that these countries repay their debts. The only way they could do so was to export like crazy. This route was opened to the Asian countries by the plunge in the value of their currencies, most significantly against the dollar. The result was that goods from the region became very cheap to American consumers, yielding a flood of imports to the United States.

There was a second route that the IMF could have followed for debt repayment. In recognition of the severity and extraordinary nature of the crisis, the IMF could have allowed for substantial write-downs of debt by the countries of the region. But it chose not to follow this route.

Of course the IMF was not an independent actor. The organization takes its lead from the United States. At the time, the folks calling the shots were the trio that Time magazine dubbed the "Committee to save the World" (CSW): Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. 

The IMF "rescue" for east Asia had important ramifications for the rest of the developing world. The message that developing countries took away from the IMF's east Asia rescue was that they never wanted to be in a situation in which they were forced to turn to the IMF for help. The one way that they could prevent being forced to turn to the IMF was to accumulate massive amounts of foreign reserves as a defense. The only way to accumulate foreign reserves is to run a balance of trade surplus.

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Technology, Telecom Shares Send Markets Lower
2009-03-09 16:20:59

Losses in technology and telecommunications companies pulled Wall Street lower on Monday, as markets reopened after a week of grinding losses on path to post new bear-market lows.

In a shift, the financial sector was the only corner of the market in positive territory in late trading, as shares of companies like Google and I.B.M., Verizon and AT&T all declined.

In the last half-hour, the Dow Jones industrial was down about 90 points while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 1.1 percent. The technology-heavy Nasdaq index was down about 1.9 percent.

“Death by a thousand cuts,” said Joseph Saluzzi, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading. “It’s just a protracted sell-off. It seems like it’s a buyer’s strike.”

Meanwhile, the price of oil rose to its highest point since early January as traders speculated that the OPEC cartel was considering cutting output as it prepared to meet this weekend.

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U.S. Government Cyber Security Chief Resigns Amid Turf War
2009-03-09 15:30:51

The federal government's director for cyber security has resigned after less than a year on the job, citing a lack of support and funding, and an over-reliance on the National Security Agency for combating threats to the nation's computer systems.

Former Silicon Valley entrepreneur Rod A. Beckstrom said in his resignation letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a copy of which was published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, that it was a "bad strategy" to give the NSA such a dominant role.

Beckstrom was appointed last March to head the National Cyber Security Center, a new inter-agency group charged with coordinating the federal government's efforts to protect its computer networks from organized cyber attacks.  Recently, said Beckstrom, efforts have been underway to fold his group into a facility at the NSA.

Reached by phone Sunday evening, Beckstrom confirmed that his last day would be March 13. He declined to veer far from the points he laid out in his letter, but said the purpose of his group was to coordinate - not be subsumed by - cyber efforts of various federal agencies.

"This is a coordination body and it resides alongside or above the other centers, but certainly not below them," said  Beckstrom. "In my view, it is very important that there be independence for the NCSC, and that it be able to carry out its role."

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U.S. Supreme Court Refuses To Hear New York Case Against Gun Dealers
2009-03-09 15:30:29
The U.S. Supreme Court has turned away pleas by New York City and gun violence victims to hold the firearms industry responsible for selling guns that could end up in illegal markets.

The justices' decision Monday ends lawsuits first filed in 2000. Federal appeals courts in New York and Washington threw out the complaints after Congress passed a law in 2005 giving the gun industry broad immunity against such lawsuits.

The city's lawsuit asked for no monetary damages. It had sought a court order for gun makers to more closely monitor those dealers who frequently sell guns later used to commit crimes.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal law provides the gun industry with broad immunity from lawsuits brought by crime victims and violence-plagued cities. The Supreme Court refused to reconsider that decision.

The lawsuit was first brought in June 2000 while Rudy Giuliani was New York mayor. It was delayed due to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and because of similar litigation in the state courts.

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Authorities Charge Man In Illinois Church Shooting
2009-03-09 15:29:59
A man was charged with murder Monday for allegedly shooting a southern Illinois pastor through the heart during Sunday services.

Terry J. Sedlacek, 27, of Troy, was charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and aggravated battery, said Stephanee Smith, spokeswoman for Madison County Prosecutors William Mudge.

The gunman strode into First Baptist Church shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday, exchanged words with the Rev. Fred Winters., then fired a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol until it jammed. Winters, 45, later died of a single shot to the heart, the coroner said Monday.

Authorities did not comment on a possible motive or on the gunman's mental state. "We're still not sure what the reasoning was," Illinois State Police Lt. Scott Compton said Monday.

Sedlacek once suffered bouts of erratic behavior his family said was due to Lyme disease. One expert said it would be unlikely that the tick-borne illness would make someone so violent.

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McClatchy Co. To Slash 1,600 Jobs, Cut Executives Pay
2009-03-09 15:29:32
McClatchy Co will slash 1,600 jobs, or about 15 percent of its workforce, and dock the pay of its top executives, in one of the more dramatic cuts by a U.S. newspaper publisher as it struggles with plunging advertising sales.

The news drove McClatchy shares down as much as 35 percent in Monday morning trading to 44 cents a share, after having lost 95 percent of their value over the last 12 months.

Investors trading insurance on the company's debt raised the cost of that insurance, indicating they think it's at high risk of default.

"There's this general feeling that the ice on which they've been skating has been getting thinner and thinner," said Benchmark Co analyst Ed Atorino.

The publisher of 30 daily newspapers, including The Miami Herald, Sacramento Bee and Anchorage Daily News, has about 10,800 full-time-equivalent positions. It has been reducing costs to meet heavy debt payments from its purchase of newspaper chain Knight Ridder Inc in 2006.

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Study: 15 Percent Of Americans Have No Religion
2009-03-09 04:32:01

The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels, according to a major study of U.S. religion being released Monday.

The survey of more than 54,000 people conducted between February and November of last year showed that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christians has dropped to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990. Those who do call themselves Christian are more frequently describing themselves as "nondenominational" "evangelical" or "born again," according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

The survey is conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and funded by the Lilly Endowment and the Posen Foundation. Conducted in 1990, 2001 and last year, it is one of the nation's largest major surveys of religion.

The increase in people labeling themselves in more generic Christian terms corresponds strongly with the decline in people identifying themselves as Protestant, the survey found. People calling themselves mainline Protestants, including Methodists and Lutherans, have dropped to 13 percent of the population, down from 19 percent in 1990. The number of people who describe themselves as generically "Protestant" went from approximately 17 million in 1990 to 5 million.

Meanwhile, the number of people who use nondenominational terms has gone from 194,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million.

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Obama's Bid To Moderate Taliban 'Will Fail'
2009-03-09 04:31:32
President Barack Obama's call for "moderate" Taliban members to be brought in from the cold met with skepticism Sunday from leading Afghan opposition figures, who warned that co-opting fighters would fail as long as Hamid Karzai's government appeared weak and corrupt.

Repeating a successful strategy in Iraq, Obama floated the idea of appealing to Taliban adherents who are alienated by the extremism of al-Qaeda fighters and might be prepared to switch sides.

"Part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of al-Qaeda in Iraq," Obama said in an interview published Sunday. "There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region."

Opposition figures warned that insurgents groups rarely ceded ground when they thought they were winning.

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