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    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    USA TODAY - Beetle outbreak is altering carbon balance in forests

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    By Catherine Tsai, Associated Press Writer

    An outbreak of mountain pine beetles in British Columbia is doing more than destroying millions of trees: By 2020, the beetles will have done so much damage that the forest is expected to release more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, according to new research.

    The study, led by Werner Kurz of the Canadian Forest Service, estimates that over 21 years trees killed by the beetle outbreak could release nearly 990 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere roughly equivalent to five years of emissions from Canada's transportation sector.

    The outbreak has affected about 33 million acres, or about 51,562 square miles, of lodgepole pines. Bark beetles also have killed huge swaths of pines in the western USA, including about 2,300 square miles of trees in Colorado.

    INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: How global warming occursRELATED STORY: Greenhouse gases continue increase

    "When trees are killed, they no longer are able to take carbon from the atmosphere. Then when dead trees start to decompose, that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," Kurz said.

    That could exacerbate global warming that contributed to the outbreaks in the first place. Warmer temperatures have allowed beetles to survive farther north and at higher elevations.

    "This is the kind of feedback we're all very worried about in the carbon cycle a warming planet leading to, in this case, an insect outbreak that increases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which can increase warming," said Andy Jacobson, a carbon cycle scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado.

    Boreal forests in Canada generally have been steady "carbon sinks," absorbing more carbon dioxide than they emit. Kurz's team expects the forest it studied to recover, but says that even by 2020 it may not be the carbon sink it previously was.

    "This long-term effect, personally I find it frightening," said Jacobson, who was not involved in the study, which is being published this week in the journal Nature.

    Using computer models, Kurz's team estimated that the maximum annual beetle impact in the study area in south-central British Columbia was 20 megatons of carbon. Forest fires in all of Canada produce an average of 27 megatons per year.

    Kurz's team says the effect of pine beetles and other insects is significant and should be included in models of how much atmospheric carbon the world's forests can store.

    "Many other insects also impact the forest carbon cycle," Kurz said. While outbreaks of other insects such as spruce beetles may be much smaller, their cumulative effect is significant, he said.

    "If events such as this occur in other geographic parts of the world, then they really ought to be accounted for," Kurz said.

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    CNN - Lawmakers back bill to ban genetic discrimination at work

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    Lawmakers back bill to ban genetic discrimination at work

    Lawmakers have agreed to make it illegal for employers and insurance companies to deny applicants jobs and health care coverage because DNA tests show they are genetically disposed to a disease.

    Supporters of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act said Wednesday that the Senate planned to vote on it Thursday. The House also is likely to give quick approval to the bill, sending it to President Bush for his signature.

    A similar bill passed the House by a 420-3 vote a year ago. The White House, at the time, indicated its support for the legislation.

    Sponsors reached an agreement Tuesday with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, who had been blocking Senate action on the bill.

    The compromise tightens language to ensure there is a "firewall" between the part dealing with health plans and the section regarding employment so as to discourage inappropriate claims.

    It also makes clear that, while individuals are protected from discrimination based on genetic predisposition, insurance companies still have the right to base coverage and pricing on the actual presence of a disease.

    Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts; and Reps. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, and Louise Slaughter, D-New York, have been pushing the issue for years, asserting that dramatic advances in genetic research make it crucial that people are protected from discrimination.

    Snowe noted that nearly 32 percent of women offered a genetic test for breast cancer risk by the National Institutes of Health declined because of concerns about health insurance discrimination.

    "Like discrimination based on race and gender, genetic discrimination is based on the unchangeable and -- because the information must be sought out by the offender -- is equally offensive," she said.

    Kennedy said the bill will "unlock the extraordinary potential of this new era of the life sciences."

    The legislation forbids sponsors of health coverage from requesting or using genetic information to adjust premiums or to determine eligibility.

    It would prohibit employers from using genetic information in hiring, firing, assignment or promotion decisions.

    The Senate unanimously passed versions in 2003 and 2005, but the House didn't take up the issue until last year, when Democrats took control of both houses.

    Slaughter said she had introduced the first version of the legislation 13 years ago. "Since no one is born with perfect genes, each one of us is a potential victim of genetic discrimination," she said.

    Sharon Terry, president of the advocacy group the Coalition for Genetic Fairness, said that when she started working on the issue 13 years ago, there were only a few single-gene disorders in play. Now, she said, genetic information is essential to research major diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease or afflictions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

    She said there are many people, such as those with colon cancer in their families, who want to enroll in clinical studies but don't because of fear of discrimination. "They call us with lots of heartbreaking stories, and they are not willing to go public with those stories," she said.

    Reuters - Justice Dept looking at Google/Yahoo test

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    Justice Dept looking at Google/Yahoo test

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 11:9PM UTC

    By Diane Bartz

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible antitrust implications of Google's two-week test with Yahoo to combine some of their Web search and advertising business, a source informed about the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

    Google and Yahoo separately told Reuters they had informed the Justice Department about their test before it was launched.

    In the test, which ends this week, Yahoo uses Google's advertising system to show ads to Yahoo users based on their searches.

    The Justice Department is concerned the test may violate antitrust law, the source said, adding that authorities "have initiated an investigation" of it.

    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of the government's concern focused on a telephone call from Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt to Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang to offer help in thwarting Microsoft's bid worth around $44 billion.

    The test was one of a series of efforts by Yahoo to fend off Microsoft's unwelcome bid.

    A second source said the Justice Department was concerned about a longer-term deal between Google and Yahoo, and had an initial inquiry underway into the matter.

    A Justice Department spokeswoman would only say that the department was "aware of the collaboration."

    Neither Google nor Yahoo has said whether the two-week test will be extended.

    "We informed the Justice Department before we launched this test and we have been responsive to their questions about it," said Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich.

    Yahoo spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said: "Yahoo proactively kept the Department of Justice informed of its intentions to conduct this limited test with Google and have provided information to DOJ on the nature of the test."

    Microsoft declined to comment.

    Google shares closed down 1.5 percent to $546.49 in regular trading on Wednesday, while Yahoo, which posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit on Tuesday, finished down 1.6 percent to $28.08, both on Nasdaq.

    Microsoft shares gained 4 percent to $31.45.


    The initial Google and Yahoo test is small, covering only 3 percent of Web searches performed on Yahoo, the companies have said.

    Google is the top search engine with 63 percent of searches, and No. 2 Yahoo has 17 percent, a combined 80 percent of the market, according to ratings company Hitwise.

    Philip Bromiley, who teaches law at the University of California at Irvine, said that kind of clout meant that companies could sharply raise prices.

    "Any industry, when you start to see that kind of figure, you're going to have antitrust arguments," he said.

    Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that Yahoo was still in separate talks with News Corp and Time Warner Inc about other types of deals -- all designed to avoid a Microsoft takeover.

    Microsoft is prepared to walk away from its bid for Yahoo Inc if the two sides can't agree on a price, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said in Italy on Wednesday.

    "We think the best way to move forward quickly is to come together with Yahoo," Ballmer said. "Hopefully that works. But if it doesn't, we go forward."

    Ballmer has set a Saturday deadline for Yahoo's board to accept a deal with Microsoft or face a lower bid that Microsoft would take directly to Yahoo's shareholders. Yahoo's board of directors says Microsoft's cash-and-stock offer is too low.

    Yahoo President Susan Decker told Wall Street analysts in a conference call on Tuesday that it was too early to say whether Yahoo would reach a deal to turn over some part of the company's Web search advertising business to rival-turned-Microsoft-counterweight Google.

    "It's premature to speculate on what options we may ultimately pursue or whether some form of arrangement might result," Decker said.

    (Reporting by Diane Bartz and Eric Auchard; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

    Reuters - IBM to unveil new computer for big data centers: report

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    IBM to unveil new computer for big data centers: report

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 1:26PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp <IBM.N> plans to unveil a new type of computer for big data hubs operated by so-called Web 2.0 companies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

    IBM's iDataPlex line is due for sale next month and is meant for companies that buy vertical racks with dozens of servers based on Intel microprocessors, the report said.

    The line is aimed at fewer than 1,000 customers worldwide, according to the Journal report.

    Early testers of the unit include Yahoo Inc <YHOO.O> and Tencent QQ, a Chinese company. IBM has deployed about 300 units for testing, and the vice president for its enterprise systems group, Jim Gargan, told the Journal he expected large sales.

    An IBM representative was not available immediately for comment.

    (Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman, editing by Will Waterman)

    Reuters - Microsoft links data on phones, PCs in "Live Mesh"

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    Microsoft links data on phones, PCs in "Live Mesh"

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 6:9PM UTC

    By Daisuke Wakabayashi

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp has begun testing technology that brings together a person's pictures, documents and other data scattered across a growing number of machines with the goal of allowing people to access their information from anywhere and at any time.

    Microsoft's "Live Mesh" program, which uses the Internet as a data hub, synchronizes files across computers, phones and other devices so a digital picture frame at home could show a picture minutes after it was taken by a cell phone.

    Initially the program will be limited to 10,000 U.S. testers and computers running its Windows operating system, but Microsoft said it plans to extend Live Mesh over the next few months to mobile phones, computers from Apple Inc and other devices connected to the Internet.

    The project is the brainchild of Ray Ozzie, who replaced Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as chief software architect, and underscores the company's carefully balanced online strategy, which aims to capitalize on the reach of the Internet without cannibalizing its cash cow software business.

    Microsoft, the dominant force in software that runs on a computer's local hard drive, has seen rivals like Google Inc and encroach on its turf with competitive offerings delivered over the Internet.

    "As our industry has evolved because of this Web-catalyzed services transformation, so too has Microsoft," Ozzie wrote in a memo being sent to the company's employees on Wednesday.

    Live Mesh embraces the industry trend toward "cloud computing" in which information is centrally stored on Web sites rather than on local devices, giving users easy access from any computer.

    Industry analysts said the product may signal a watershed moment within Microsoft to embrace a technology that the company viewed as a threat in the past.

    "We may be seeing signs of a Microsoft that is newly focused," said Jonathan Yarmis, a vice president and analyst at AMR Research. "This is exciting because it has as much to do with who is doing it as what Microsoft is doing."

    The software will also let friends and colleagues collaborate and share documents more easily. For example, if a shared document is changed on a work computer, those changes will be instantly updated and available on any device or computer that the user has registered with Live Mesh.

    Microsoft plans to release Live Mesh in a widely-available test, or "beta" version before the end of 2008.

    (Editing by Louise Heavens)

    The darknet

    Reuters - Web criminals fuel big rise in "trojans"

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    Web criminals fuel big rise in "trojans"

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 6:49PM UTC

    By Peter Griffiths

    LONDON (Reuters) - Cyber-criminals are behind a dramatic rise in stealthy programs called "trojans" that infect computers to sell rogue software, send unwanted email or steal personal data, a study has found.

    In a report released in London, Microsoft said the number of trojans removed from computers around the world in the second half of 2007 rose by 300 percent from the first half.

    The figure has risen so sharply because more computers are fitted with software that detects malicious programs and because criminals had come to see trojans as their "tool of choice", the report said.

    "The numbers have simply exploded, it's huge," said Vinny Gullotto, general manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center. "There is a lot of criminal intent there."

    Trojans can log keystrokes to gather passwords, send spam from private computers or harvest email addresses or personal information for criminal purposes.

    The most common family of trojans last year was "Win32/Zlob", a piece of malicious software, or malware, that people unwittingly download from the Internet.

    Its designers trick people into saving it by telling them they need a new piece of software to watch video online.

    Once installed, it bombards people with pop-up messages and bogus flashing warnings that their computer is infected.

    The messages say: "Your computer is infected! Windows has detected spyware infection. Click here to protect your computer."

    The trojan then sends adverts offering to sell rogue anti-spyware on sites that could expose customers to credit card fraud. Microsoft said the problem is global and linked to organized criminal gangs.

    "The majority (of trojans) come from the (United) States, China, Russia and South America," Gullotto said on the fringes of the Infosecurity Europe trade conference on Tuesday.

    Microsoft said the number of computers around the world that were made safe after being infected with trojans rose from one million in the second half of 2006 to 19 million in the second half of 2007.

    The report is online:

    (Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato)

    Apple buys chipmaker

    Apple buys chipmaker

    Reuters - Apple buying microchip designer P.A. Semi

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    Apple buying microchip designer P.A. Semi

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 6:51PM UTC

    By Scott Hillis

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc <AAPL.O> is buying P.A. Semi, a designer of low-power microchips, in a move that could bolster its ability to customize key parts for its iPhone, iPod and Macintosh product lines.

    The deal, first reported on the Forbes magazine Web site, was confirmed on Wednesday by Apple spokesman Steve Dowling, who declined to comment on financial terms or give details.

    "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally don't comment on their purpose or plans," Dowling said.

    Forbes said the transaction was valued at $278 million in cash. Officials at Santa Clara, California-based P.A. Semi were not immediately available to comment.

    Apple, based nearby in Cupertino, already employs many semiconductor experts who work closely with partners to customize chips to make its products stand apart, said Tim Bajarin, head of Creative Strategies, a consultancy.

    "Let's be clear. This has nothing to do with Apple wanting to get into semiconductors. This is purely the need to bulk up their system design teams to enhance their ability to work with third-party vendors," Bajarin said.

    Key Apple partners include Intel Corp <INTC.O>, which supplies the processors for Mac computers, and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd <005930.KS>, which makes the iPhone processor.

    But having a larger pool of chip expertise could come in handy if Apple contemplates moving into new product areas.

    "You can't count out the fact that if you have this level of capability, you could expand into potentially other types of products," Bajarin said. "It gives them a lot more flexibility to be innovative in the future."

    P.A. Semi, which launched its first products in late 2005, has a family of chips based on the Power architecture from IBM <IBM.N> but that use far less electricity than other designs.

    P.A. Semi said its chips could be used in everything from printers to video game systems to supercomputers. It is a "fabless" chip company, meaning it uses contract manufacturers and does not own its own production facilities.

    Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, said P.A. Semi's existing chips were targeted at high-performance computers and would not be suitable for mobile devices.

    "Maybe Apple just needed the people, but out of a couple hundred people at P.A. Semi, maybe 100 would have skills Apple could deploy in other areas. That's $2.7 million per person, which is a very high headhunter fee."

    Apple shares rose 1.8 percent to $163 in afternoon trading on Nasdaq, ahead of the company's quarterly earnings announcement after the market close.

    (Additional reporting Yinka Adegoke in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Braden Reddall)

    Reuters - Google introduces brand-image ads for phones

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    Google introduces brand-image ads for phones

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 10:50PM UTC

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc said on Wednesday it has introduced brand-image ads for mobile phones, in a bid to extend beyond the computer-based Web market into the emerging market for advertising on phones.

    In a statement on the Silicon Valley company's Web site, the company said it had designed mobile images to look like standard graphical display ads for desktop computer Web pages, but made them smaller to fit on mobile phone screens.

    The company said all mobile image ads are targeted according to the keywords users type into phones to search for information. The ads are priced on a cost-per-click basis, and must link to Web pages optimized to work on mobile phones.

    Only one image ad is displayed on each mobile page, a move to that appears designed to limit clutter on small screens.

    "For advertisers, mobile image ads serve as a branding tool and have shown to have good click-through rates," Alexandra Kenin, a product marketing manager, for Google Mobile Ads said in a blog post on the company's site.

    Mobile image ads are available in 13 national markets: Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, the UK, and the United States, Google said.

    (Reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Carol Bishopric)

    Reuters - Clinton says she can win White House for Democrats

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    Clinton says she can win White House for Democrats

    Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008 10:4PM UTC

    By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama entered the final phase of an increasingly nasty U.S. presidential fight on Wednesday, with Clinton saying her decisive Pennsylvania win proved she was the best candidate to lead the Democrats back to the White House.

    Clinton's victory boosted her depleted bank account and gave new hope to her struggling campaign, but the New York senator still faced a nearly impossible task trying to overcome Obama's lead in pledged delegates who will help pick the Democratic presidential nominee at the party's convention in August.

    Clinton said Obama's failure to knock her out of the race, despite outspending her in Pennsylvania more than 2-to-1, cast doubt on his ability to capture the big states Democrats need in November's election race against Republican John McCain.

    "I've won the states we have to win -- Ohio, now Pennsylvania," Clinton told CNN. "If you look at the broad base of support that I have accumulated, it really is the foundation on which we build our victory come the fall."

    Both Democratic candidates looked to the next round of contests on May 6 in North Carolina, where Obama is favored, and Indiana, which is considered a toss-up. The two states have a combined 187 delegates at stake.

    Obama said he would battle through the final nine contests ending on June 3 and then make his case to the party's undecided superdelegates who are likely to decide the Democratic presidential nominee.

    "Once we have I think a pretty strong case to make that we've won more delegates, we've won more states, we've won more votes, then it will be apparent that we'll be in the strongest position to win in November," the Illinois senator told reporters in New Albany, Indiana.

    With more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Clinton led Obama in Pennsylvania 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent, the state's elections division said.

    The win paid immediate financial dividends for Clinton, who by midday had raised $5 million since the polls closed on Tuesday and was aiming for another $5 million more by the end of the day, aides said. Clinton's campaign had more than $10 million in debts at the end of March.

    "I would welcome a contribution because we are being outspent," Clinton told supporters in Indianapolis. "It's a tremendous challenge to get your message out when you're being outspent in that way."


    An MSNBC count showed Clinton sliced Obama's national delegate lead by nine in Pennsylvania. Obama now has 1,726 delegates to Clinton's 1,593, short of the 2,024 needed to clinch the nomination.

    Neither candidate can win without help from superdelegates -- nearly 800 party insiders who are free to support either Obama or Clinton. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he expected those superdelegates to move toward the winner and end the nomination fight sometime after June 3.

    "You're going to see the superdelegates make a decision shortly after that," he said.

    Clinton hopes a strong run through the last contests brings her closer in delegates won and votes cast and convinces those superdelegates she is the Democrat who can beat McCain.

    Both candidates picked up new superdelegate support on Wednesday, with U.S. Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee backing Clinton and Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry supporting Obama.

    Democrats have become increasingly worried about the negative tone of the race, and exit polls showed Pennsylvania voters shared the concern.

    About two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters thought Clinton unfairly attacked Obama, while about half thought Obama had unfairly attacked Clinton, the polls showed.

    But Clinton won 58 percent of those who decided in the last week, when Obama was on the defensive in a debate over a series of campaign controversies and Clinton questioned his toughness in an ad featuring images of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

    "I know that people like to talk tough and use a lot of rhetoric about fighting and obliterating and all that stuff," Obama said. "I've always believed that if you're tough you don't have to talk about it."

    The North Carolina Republican Party launched an ad in the state criticizing Obama and his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has come under fire for inflammatory views including saying the U.S. government spread the AIDS virus to blacks.

    McCain asked the state party to withdraw the ad, which also criticized Democratic North Carolina candidates for governor Beverly Perdue and Richard Moore for their endorsements of Obama and called him "too extreme for North Carolina."

    Obama and Clinton both campaigned in Indiana on Wednesday before heading back to Washington for a Senate vote.

    (Additional reporting by Donna Smith, Andy Sullivan, Caren Bohan and David Morgan; Editing by David Wiessler)

    (To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http:/

    CNN - Criminals target energy, financial markets, Mukasey says

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    Criminals target energy, financial markets, Mukasey says

    Attorney General Michael Mukasey warned Wednesday that organized criminal networks have penetrated portions of the international energy market and tried to control energy resources.

    In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, he said similar efforts have targeted the international financial system by injecting billions of illicit funds to try to corrupt financial service providers.

    Mukasey then vowed to beef up U.S. efforts to fight international organized crime, which he called a growing threat to U.S. security and stability.

    The attorney general and top law enforcement officials from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Justice Department Criminal Division said a classified threat assessment prompted the creation of a strategy to combat the threat.

    It calls for several U.S. agencies and their overseas counterparts to better prioritize their targets, to improve information sharing and to boost cooperation in law enforcement investigations and operations.

    "The activities of transnational and national organized criminal enterprises are increasing in scope and magnitude as these groups continue to strengthen their networking with each other to expand their operations," said FBI Deputy Director John Pistole.

    Officials declined to discuss specific cases because the information remains classified, and disclosure could jeopardize ongoing investigations.

    However, the International Organized Crime Threat Assessment identified eight general strategic threats from international organized criminals:

    ? The penetration of the energy market and other strategic sectors of the U.S. and world economy. As U.S. energy needs continue to grow, so, too, could the power of those who control energy resources.

    ? Providing logistical and other support to terrorists, foreign intelligence services and foreign governments, all with interests harmful to those of U.S. national security.

    ? The trafficking in people and contraband goods, bringing people and products through U.S. borders to the detriment of border security, the U.S. economy, and the health and lives of those exploited.

    ? The exploitation of the U.S. and international financial system to move illegal profits and funds, including sending billions in illicit funds through the U.S. financial system each year. To continue this practice, they seek to corrupt financial service providers globally.

    ? The use of cyberspace to target U.S. victims and infrastructure, jeopardizing the security of personal information, the stability of business and government infrastructures and the security and solvency of financial investment markets.

    ? The manipulation of securities exchanges and engaging in sophisticated fraud schemes that rob U.S. investors, consumers and government agencies of billions of dollars.

    ? The successful corruption of public officials around the world, including countries of vital strategic importance to the United States, and continuing efforts to find ways to influence -- legally or illegally -- U.S. officials.

    ? The use of violence and the threat of violence as a basis of power.

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