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Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday November 21 2008 - (813)

Friday November 21 2008 edition
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Markets Plummet In Last Hour, Hitting New Lows
2008-11-20 18:43:57

Wall Street doubled down on its losses on Thursday, just a day after financial markets closed at their lowest point in nearly six years.

In a day dominated by fear and uncertainty, financial markets plunged in late trading, carving new lows, in a melee of selling that cut across every sector of the market. Energy companies took the heaviest blows as the price of crude oil fell below $50 a barrel, and financial stocks sank sharply on fears that billions in government aid have done little to cure the financial and credit crises.

“The market can only take so many punches,” said Quincy Krosby, chief investment strategist at The Hartford. “This market needs a break. It needs clarity. The question is, when and how much?”

No one had an answer on Thursday afternoon.

The Dow Jones industrial average set another new low for the year on Thursday, shedding 444.99 points or 5.5 percent to close at 7,552.29. The wider Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell an even steeper 6.7 percent, adding to its losses after tumbling 6 percent on Wednesday.

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Downing Of Plane In Peru In 2001 Comes Under New Scrutiny
2008-11-20 18:43:31
An internal inquiry by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that the agency withheld crucial information from federal investigators who spent years trying to determine whether C.I.A. officers committed crimes related to the accidental shooting down of a missionary plane in Peru in 2001.

The August 2008 report by John L. Helgerson, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, could lead the Justice Department to reopen its investigation into the shooting, and to refocus particularly on whether senior C.I.A. officers obstructed justice or lied to Congress by deliberating withholding details about the downing from prosecutors and lawmakers.

The Justice Department closed its investigation into the matter in 2005, declining to prosecute agency officers either for their role in the 2001 incident, which killed an American missionary and her 7-month old daughter, or for participation in other aspects of an anti-drug program in Peru that was launched under President Clinton in 1994.

Helgerson’s report, parts of which were made public on Thursday, said that Justice Department investigators and Congress were never allowed access to internal C.I.A. reviews that portrayed the downing as merely one mistake among many in a C.I.A. counter-narcotics program that the report said had operated for years outside of legal boundaries set by the White House.

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Zooplankton Populations Plummet 70 Percent In 40 Years, Marine Biologists Alarmed
2008-11-20 13:46:46
Numbers of zooplankton, tiny organisms that form the base of the ocean's food chain, have plummeted 70 percent since the 1960s, according to numbers collected by the British Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The data were included without further comment in a graph on page nine of DEFRA's 2008-2009 Marine Program Plan. The nonprofit organization Buglife noticed this graph, however, and began sounding the alarm.

"The implications for marine productivity and fisheries are mindboggling," said Buglife Scottish officer Craig Macadam. "The biomass of the seas is (or was!) enormous. This statistic must represent a very significant reduction in the number and weight of living organisms in the U.K. Yet there has been no coverage as far as I can see in any British media. I think it would be a good idea for people to be more concerned about invertebrate conservation issues."

Macadam noted that the entire marine food chain rests on zooplankton. A disruption in their populations is therefore expected to affect all ocean life, from fish to sea birds to whales.

"Big fish feed on little fish, so when there is a big decline in the bedrock of the marine food chain it spells trouble all down it," he said.
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Iran Said To Have Nuclear Fuel For One Weapon
2008-11-20 13:45:46
Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.

The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency,which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.

Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design - a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.

“They clearly have enough material for a bomb,” said Richard L. Garwin, a top nuclear physicist who helped invent the hydrogen bomb and has advised Washington for decades. “They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well, that’s another matter.”

Iran insists that it wants only to fuel reactors for nuclear power, but many Western nations, led by the United States, suspect that its real goal is to gain the ability to make nuclear weapons.

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Oil Price Falls Below $50 A Barrel As Consumption Remains Weak
2008-11-20 13:45:10

Oil prices dropped below $50 a barrel on Thursday for the first time in 22 months, shedding close to $100 in four months as an ailing global economy pares its consumption.

The drop in prices comes as stock and bond markets fell because of fears about the health of the financial system, and a flurry of new indicators showed how badly the economy was faring.

Just as a booming global economy had steadily driven up commodity prices for six years, the current meltdown means the world needs less oil, and is sharply driving down prices.

It is a stunning - and sudden - reversal that has taken aback many experts. Oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $3.04 to $50.58 a barrel in morning trading. At one point, crude oil was down $3.71, to $49.91 a barrel. Oil futures have lost more than two-thirds of their value after settling at a peak of about $145 a barrel in July.

Some analysts predict oil could fall to $30 to 40 a barrel as the world economy worsens.

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Commentary: Auto Execs Fly Corporate Jets To D.C., Tin Cups In Hand
2008-11-20 13:44:34
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank and appeared in the Post edition for Thursday, November 20, 2008.

There are 24 daily nonstop flights from Detroit to the Washington area. Richard Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Robert Nardelli probably should have taken one of them.

Instead, the chief executives of the Big Three automakers opted to fly their company jets to the capital for their hearings this week before the Senate and House - an ill-timed display of corporate excess for a trio of executives begging for an additional $25 billion from the public trough this week.

"There's a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hands," Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-New York) advised the pampered executives at a hearing yesterday. "It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo. ... I mean, couldn't you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?"

The Big Three said nothing, which prompted Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) to rub it in. "I'm going to ask the three executives here to raise their hand if they flew here commercial," he said. All still at the witness table. "Second," he continued, "I'm going ask you to raise your hand if you're planning to sell your jet ... and fly back commercial." More stillness. "Let the record show no hands went up," Sherman grandstanded.

By now, the men were probably wishing they had driven - and other members of the House Financial Services Committee weren't done riding the CEOs over their jets. "You traveled in a private jet?" Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez (D-New York) contributed. Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-North Carolina) felt the need to say that "I'm not an opponent of private flights by any means, but the fact that you flew in on your own private jet at tens of thousands itself dollars of cost just for you to make your way to Washington is a bit arrogant before you ask the taxpayers for money."

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Alaska's Sen. Stevens Bids Farewell To U.S. Senate
2008-11-20 13:43:38

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) bade an emotional farewell to the Senate Thursday, telling colleagues a day after conceding defeat in his reelection bid that he will return to his home state and try to restore his reputation following his conviction last month on federal corruption charges.

Stevens, 85, the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate, described his part in what he called the "transformation" of Alaska into an economic success story from an "impoverished territory" when he first took office.

Delivering what he said was his last floor speech, Stevens recalled that when he came to the Senate in 1968, "many people doubted whether Alaska had what it took to be a successful state" and wondered if it was still "Seward's folly." He referred to the moniker once attached to the purchase of the territory from Russia in 1867 at the behest of Secretary of State William H. Seward.

In his 40 years in the Senate, Stevens became known as an ardent champion of his home state, obtaining billions of dollars in federal funding for projects there, but he ran afoul of federal financial disclosure laws and was convicted last month on seven felony counts for failing to properly report gifts worth $250,000, including extensive remodeling of his Alaska home by an oil-field services company.

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Soldier With Mental History Suspected In Attacks
2008-11-20 18:43:42
A Fort Carson soldier and war veteran charged in the murder and sexual assault of a woman in Colorado last month faces accusations that he also raped a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulted a third woman, an internal Army document states.

The document, the Commander’s Report on the suspect, Specialist Robert H. Marko, also raises serious questions about the soldier’s mental state during his time at Fort Carson beginning in late 2006 and whether he should have deployed to Iraq in 2007.

It was common knowledge among his commanding officers and his fellow soldiers, the document states, that Specialist Marko, who is being held without bond, believed himself to be an “alien dinosaur-like creature, and that he would transform from his human form into his Black Raptor form on his 21st birthday - 13 Oct 08.”

Specialist Marko, 21, is one of six soldiers from the Fourth Brigade Combat Team based in Fort Carson, Colorado, who have been charged or convicted of murder in the past two years.

He is charged with raping and murdering Judilianna Lawrence, a 19-year-old developmentally disabled woman who had met him online. Specialist Marko admitted to the police that on Oct. 10, he took Ms. Lawrence to the mountains overlooking Colorado Springs, blindfolded and raped her, then slit her throat, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office arrest affidavit. The affidavit also said that three days later - the day he believed he would transform into the Black Raptor - Specialist Marko took the police to where he had left her body.

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U.S. Key Economic Indicators Suggest A Deep Recession
2008-11-20 13:46:57

Businesses cut prices at a record rate last month, builders started fewer new homes than anytime on record, and last week more people filed for new unemployment benefits than in any week since 1992, according to government data, as the outlook for the economy continues to dim.

The Labor Department announced this morning that new applications for jobless benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 542,000 last week. It also revised the figure from the previous week down to 515,000.

That follows announcements Wednesday that new-home starts in October were the lowest since at least 1959, when the government began keeping data. The consumer price index plummeted by the most since that series of monthly data was started in 1947, as the economy slowed so abruptly that companies had to slash prices to sell products.

Federal Reserve leaders released projections indicating they expect the economy to worsen significantly in the coming year. The most pessimistic of 17 Fed officials expects joblessness to rise to 8 percent at the end of 2009, which would be the highest in a quarter-century.

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ATF Introduces Online Firearms Form To Ease Transactions, Prevent Errors
2008-11-20 13:46:36

Every year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives finds thousands of licensed gun dealers in violation of federal law, often for very minor problems.

The agency, which conducts about 11,000 inspections a year, says it has come up with a way to eliminate many of those violations before they happen.

Instead of filling out the required ATF paperwork by hand, gun buyers and dealers will now be able to complete what officials say is a fail-safe electronic version of the document, known as Form 4473.

Speaking at a gun shop in Upper Marlboro where he announced the change, acting ATF Director Michael J. Sullivan  said the new option would cut down on illegible answers and incomplete answers - the most common causes of violations.

Such simple human errors account for about 60 percent of the violations cited annually by the ATF, and finding a way to reduce them has been a priority for the agency and the industry, said Sullivan.

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U.S. Federal Judge Orders Release Of 5 Terror Suspects From Guantanamo
2008-11-20 13:45:27
A federal judge has ordered the release of five Algerian terror suspects who have been held without charges almost seven years at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said Thursday that the five men could not be held indefinitely as enemy combatants.

The judge said the military can continue to detain a sixth Algerian - Belkacem Bensayah - who was captured with the other five.

One of the men to be released is Lakhdar Boumediene, whose landmark Supreme Court case last summer gave the Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment.

The government had accused all six of the men of planning to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda.

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Stocks Fall As U.S. Jobless Claims Jump
2008-11-20 13:44:56
Fresh worries about widening unemployment added to investors' list of concerns about the economy Thursday. The major indexes each fell more than 1.5 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which lost 135 points.

Wall Street found fresh room for worry after new claims for unemployment benefits climbed to a 16-year high. The Labor Department reported that new applications for jobless benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 542,000 last week from a downwardly revised figure of 515,000 in the previous week. That is well above economists' expectations of 505,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Fears about the job market, the housing market, the overall economy and a stock market down 48.5 percent from its October 2007 peak have led consumers to sharply curtail how much they take out of their wallets. That's a troubling prospect for Wall Street as consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Worries about the prospects for employment helped drive Wall Street's decline Wednesday. The Fed projected that the nation's average unemployment rate would rise to 6.3 percent to 6.5 percent this year and 7.1 percent to 7.6 percent next year. The level in October was 6.5 percent, and last year the rate averaged 4.6 percent.

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Greek Shipping Hit By Global Financial Crisis
2008-11-20 13:44:17
In the sparkling blue waters off Greece's bustling port of Piraeus, dozens of hulking carrier ships loom out of the haze of a retreating thunderstorm. After spending several boom years racing across the world's oceans, they swing idly on their anchors, waiting for cargo.

The global financial crisis has hit the global shipping industry hard, knocking down shipping volumes - and sending charter rates for moving dry bulk cargo such as iron ore, coal, steel, grain and other commodities by about 90 percent.

And Greeks, who control nearly 20 percent of the world's merchant fleet and whose shipping tycoons such as Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos gained near mythical status in the 1960s and 1970s, are feeling the pinch.

''The shipping industry is at the forefront of the free economy, and we're the first ones to feel the recession as well as the boom,'' said shipping broker Francois Savaricas of ACE Chartering. ''In this case, what we're going through is not so much a shipping crisis as a whole financial crisis.''

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Waxman Replaces Dingell - Longtime Head Of House Energy Committee Is Ousted
2008-11-20 13:43:21
Representative Henry A. Waxman, of California, ousted Representative John D. Dingell, of Michigan, from his post as chairman of the influential Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday, giving President-elect Barack Obama  an advantage in his plans to promote efforts to combat global warming.

By a secret vote of 137 to 122, House Democrats ended Dingell’s nearly 28-year reign as his party’s top member on the committee. In doing so, Waxman’s backers upended the seniority system to install a leader more in tune with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a variety of issues.

Although Pelosi did not formally endorse Waxman, members of the Democratic caucus understood that she could have stopped him if she had wished. The incoming Obama administration had also signaled its direction when it named Philip Schiliro, a longtime and loyal aide to Waxman, as the new White House director of Congressional relations.

Besides seating a committed environmentalist as head of the energy committee, the vote also removes one of the auto industry’s best friends from a key leadership post - further evidence of how much power the American car-makers, whose executives have been pleading for federal money, have lost in Congress.

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