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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday March 20 2008 - (813)

Thursday March 20 2008 edition
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Stocks Decline Dow Drops 293 Points, Gold And Oil Plunge
2008-03-19 17:14:46

A day after an interest rate cut fueled the best stock session in five years, the Dow Jones industrials slid back nearly 300 points on Wednesday and commodity prices plummeted, signs that a sense of unease has yet to disappear from financial markets.

The Dow lost most of its Tuesday gains as a morning rally gave way to afternoon declines, closing down 293 points at 12,099.66. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, the broadest measure of the American stock market, and the Nasdaq composite index both fell back about 2.5 percent.

Though investors had cheered the Federal Reserve’s move on Tuesday to lower interest rates, many remained unsure whether the central bank’s actions would effectively ease the credit crisis that has gripped the market for months.

“I’m not quite sure people are all that ready to stick with their convictions,” said Bart Melek, a commodity strategist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “We’re not quite sure what other skeletons exist in the financial system, where the problems may be, who is at risk. And until that type of risk is out of there, I think we will see a lot of volatility.”

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Commentary: Verizon Not Up Front On Contract Terms
2008-03-19 17:11:00
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Los Angeles Times consumer columnist David Lazarus and appeared in the L.A. Times edition for Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

For years, credit card issuers have gotten away with withholding contracts from customers until they actually have the plastic in their hands - a practice that denies many people a fair chance to look under the hood for onerous terms and conditions.

Now it looks like Verizon has adopted the same technique.

Torrance resident Sandy Lough thought she was being offered a straightforward deal when a Verizon salesman came to her home recently with an offer to sign up for the company\\\'s state-of-the-art FiOS broadband service at a special introductory price.

Lough, 66, agreed to a bundled package of phone and Internet service, and an installer arrived at her home last week to hook up the system. Some glitches ensued, but that\\\'s not unusual when companies introduce technologies.

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Pakistan Parliament Elects First Female Speaker
2008-03-19 17:06:04
Legislators elected Pakistan\\\'s first female speaker of parliament Wednesday, seating a follower - and lookalike - of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Fehmida Mirza\\\'s elevation reflected the air of liberalism blowing through the country\\\'s politics since voters delivered a resounding defeat to backers of President Pervez Musharraf, the former general who has been a close U.S. ally.

However, many Pakistanis are warily watching the victorious elitist parties, worried over whether politicians whose civilian governments in the 1990s were tainted by corruption and ineptitude will be able to deal with Islamic militants and economic hardships.

In a first sign of trouble, the new leaders are struggling to agree on who should be prime minister. There was less of a problem in picking the speaker.

Mirza, a businesswoman and physician elected to parliament three times, won 249 of the 324 votes cast in the National Assembly, parliament\\\'s lower house. Israr Tareen, a coal-mining magnate and Musharraf supporter, got only 70. Five ballots were invalid.

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Floods Rage Through Parts Of Central U.S.
2008-03-19 03:16:58
Torrential rains chased hundreds of people from their flooded homes and deluged roads in the nation's midsection Tuesday, killing at least two people in Missouri and sweeping a teen down a drainage pipe near Dallas, Texas.

The storm system also grounded hundreds of flights. One control tower at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was briefly evacuated when a funnel cloud was spotted.

The National Weather Service posted flood and flash flood warnings from Texas to Ohio, with tornado watches in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Emergency officials in Mesquite, Texas, searched for a 14-year-old boy apparently swept away by floodwaters as he and a friend played in a creek. The friend was able to swim to safety and said he saw the boy get sucked into a drainage pipe, according to a Fire Department news release.

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Commentary: Can't Grasp The Credit Crisis? Join The Club
2008-03-19 03:16:05
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by David Leonhardt and appeared in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

Raise your hand if you don’t quite understand this whole financial crisis.

It has been going on for seven months now, and many people probably feel as if they should understand it. But they don’t, not really. The part about the housing crash seems simple enough. With banks whispering sweet encouragement, people bought homes they couldn’t afford, and now they are falling behind on their mortgages.

But the overwhelming majority of homeowners are doing just fine. So how is it that a mess concentrated in one part of the mortgage business - subprime loans - has frozen the credit markets, sent stock markets gyrating, caused the collapse of Bear Stearns,left the economy on the brink of the worst recession in a generation and forced the Federal Reserve to take its boldest action since the Depression?

I’m here to urge you not to feel sheepish. This may not be entirely comforting, but your confusion is shared by many people who are in the middle of the crisis.

“We’re exposing parts of the capital markets that most of us had never heard of,” Ethan Harris, a top Lehman Brothers economist, said last week. Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive, has said that he hadn’t heard of “liquidity puts,” an obscure kind of financial contract, until they started causing big problems for Citigroup.

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Editorial: Mr. Obama's Profile In Courage
2008-03-19 03:15:10
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

There are moments - increasingly rare in risk-abhorrent modern campaigns - when politicians are called upon to bare their fundamental beliefs. In the best of these moments, the speaker does not just salve the current political wound, but also illuminates larger, troubling issues that the nation is wrestling with.

Inaugural addresses by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt come to mind, as does John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religion, with its enduring vision of the separation between church and state. Senator Barack Obama, who has not faced such tests of character this year, faced one on Tuesday. It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better.

Mr. Obama had to address race and religion, the two most toxic subjects in politics. He was as powerful and frank as Mitt Romney was weak and calculating earlier this year in his attempt to persuade the religious right that his Mormonism is Christian enough for them.

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Bush Rejects Iraq Troop Withdrawal
2008-03-19 17:14:18
President Bush declared Wednesday that the United States is on the cusp of victory in the five-year-old war in Iraq, arguing that the recent troop buildup has reduced violence there and \"opened the door to a major strategic victory in the war on terror.\"

Bush said the addition of 30,000 combat troops over the past year has helped \"turn the situation in Iraq around\" and made the \"high cost in lives and treasure\" worthwhile.

In some of his boldest and most optimistic remarks about Iraq over the past two years, Bush said progress in the war has led to \"the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology and his terror network.\" He also said he would reject any further troop withdrawals if they threatened security improvements.

\"The challenge in the period ahead is to consolidate the gains we have made and seal the extremists\' defeat,\" Bush said. \"We have learned through hard experience what happens when we pull our forces back too fast: The terrorists and extremists step in, fill the vacuum, establish safe havens and use them to spread chaos and carnage.\"

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Lethal Chinese Heparin May Be Counterfeit
2008-03-19 17:06:20
The harmful contaminant found in tainted heparin that was produced in China for U.S. patients is a modified form of a cheap and widely used dietary supplement sold to relieve joint pain, Food and Drug Administration officials said Wednesday.

They said they still didn\\\'t know whether the ingredient was intentionally added to create counterfeit heparin or whether it was added by mistake, but they said it could not have been part of the prescribed manufacturing process.

They said the contaminant, over-sulfated chondroitin sulfate, is a chemically modified form of the joint pain supplement that cannot be detected by normal quality control testing.

\\\"This is a biological compound that is not found in nature,\\\" said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA\\\'s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. \\\"At this point, it\\\'s still to be determined if it was introduced intentionally or by accident.\\\"

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Federal Reserve's Rate Cut Could Increase Inflation
2008-03-19 03:17:16
The Federal Reserve Board's rate cut Tuesday increased the chances that months of Fed moves could start to trickle down to homeowners in time to ease the pain when adjustable-rate mortgages reset this year, and people who borrow money to pay tuition, buy cars or cover unpaid credit card bills might eventually see some benefit.

Yet the Fed's action could also revive inflation, many economists fear. By reducing the interest rate financial institutions charge each other for short-term loans, the Fed makes money more readily and  cheaply available. If it miscalculates, it can pump too much money into the economy, fueling excessive demand for goods, housing and capital spending - and driving up prices.

That would undermine Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's long-cherished notion of setting a low, narrow and predictable target range for inflation. Through higher consumer prices, all Americans would effectively help pay for the rescue of the financial industry. The decline in housing prices might be tempered, but inflation would eat away at real housing values.

"The good news is that this will take pressure off of housing prices," said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University."The bad news is that it will be very painful to squeeze the inflation out of the system when this mess is all over."

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Officials: Perennial Arctic Ice Cover Diminishing
2008-03-19 03:16:23

The amount of long-lasting sea ice in the Arctic - thick enough to survive for as much as a decade - declined sharply in the past year, even though the region had a cold winter and the thinner one-year ice cover grew substantially, federal officials said Tuesday.

Using new data from NASA's ICESat satellite, researchers over the past year detected the steepest yearly decline in "perennial" ice on record. As a result of melting and the southward movement of the thicker ice, the percentage of the Arctic Ocean with this stable ice cover has decreased from more than 50 percent in the mid-1980s to less than 30 percent as of last month.

"Because we had a cold winter, the public might think things have gotten better," said Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "In fact, the loss of the perennial ice makes clear that they're not getting better at all."

The surprising drop in perennial ice makes the fast-changing region more unstable, because the thinner seasonal ice melts readily in summer.

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Bush Administration Estimates Of Iraq War Costs Were Not Even Close
2008-03-19 03:15:42
At the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order and install a new government.

Five years in, the Pentagon tags the cost of the Iraq war at roughly $600 billion and counting. Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and critic of the war, pegs the long-term cost at more than $4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts say that $1 trillion to $2 trillion is more realistic, depending on troop levels and on how long the American occupation continues.

Among economists and policymakers, the question of how to tally the cost of the war is a matter of hot dispute - and the costs continue to climb.

Congressional Democrats fiercely criticize the White House over war expenditures. But it is virtually certain that the Democrats will provide tens of billions more in a military spending bill next month. Some Democrats are even arguing against attaching strings, like a deadline for withdrawal, saying the tactic will fail as it has in the past.

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Science Fiction Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies At 90
2008-03-19 03:14:28
Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90.

Rohan de Silva, an aide, confirmed the death and said Mr. Clarke had been experiencing breathing problems, The Associated Press reported. He had suffered from post-polio syndrome for the last two decades.

The author of almost 100 books, Mr. Clarke was an ardent promoter of the idea that humanity’s destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. It was a vision served most vividly by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the classic 1968 science-fiction film he created with the director Stanley Kubrick and the novel of the same title that he wrote as part of the project.

His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight.

Other early advocates of a space program argued that it would pay for itself by jump-starting new technology. Mr. Clarke set his sights higher. Borrowing a phrase from William James, he suggested that exploring the solar system could serve as the “moral equivalent of war,” giving an outlet to energies that might otherwise lead to nuclear holocaust.

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