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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday November 15 2008 - (813)

Saturday November 15 2008 edition
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Prescription Drugs Kill 300 Percent More Americans Than Illegal Drugs
2008-11-14 21:02:51
A report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission has concluded that prescription drugs have outstripped illegal drugs as a cause of death.

An analysis of 168,900 autopsies conducted in Florida in 2007 found that three times as many people were killed by legal drugs as by cocaine, heroin and all methamphetamines put together. According to state law enforcement officials, this is a sign of a burgeoning prescription drug abuse problem.

"The abuse has reached epidemic proportions," said Lisa McElhaney, a sergeant in the pharmaceutical drug diversion unit of the Broward County Sheriff's Office. "It's just explosive."

In 2007, cocaine was responsible for 843 deaths, heroin for 121, methamphetamines for 25 and marijuana for zero, for a total of 989 deaths. In contrast, 2,328 people were killed by opioid painkillers, including Vicodin and Oxycontin, and 743 were killed by drugs containing benzodiazepine, including the depressants Valium and Xanax.

Alcohol directly caused 466 deaths, but was found in the bodies of 4,179 cadavers in all.

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Lehman Administrators Tell Creditors Task Will Dwarf Enron
2008-11-14 20:19:58

Administrators grappling with the European arm of the failed investment bank Lehman Brothers have told creditors their task is "10 times as big and as complicated" as the unwinding of Enron.

Speaking after the first creditors' meeting, a team from PricewaterhouseCoopers said they had identified more than $1trillion (£670 billion) in assets and liabilities that need to be accounted for.

At the meeting, held behind closed doors in a conference hall at the O2 dome in London, England, the lead administrator, Tony Lomas, told hundreds of representatives and lawyers that he had recovered about $5 billion out of a potential $550 billion of obligations owing to creditors. A further $22.3 billion of client assets had been identified, all of which will be returned to their owners.

He drew a comparison with the U.S. energy-trading group Enron, which collapsed in 2001, noting that some of his colleagues are still working on unresolved elements of that administration.

Lomas said the administration was already behind schedule because of delays in receiving confirmation from third parties believed to be holding assets of Lehman Brothers International (Europe).

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New York Art Sales: 'I Knew It Was Too Good To Last'
2008-11-14 20:19:34
Predictions about the effects of the financial meltdown on the art boom had been dark even before the last two weeks of auctions in New York. The gossip had been darker. Rumors were that New York's Museum of Modern Art bad canceled a jaunt to Art Basel Miami, that one mega-gallerist was supposedly laying off staff. It was being said that each of the big houses who have held auctions in the last two weeks - Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips de Pury - was in trouble.

In the event, the Sotheby's sale on Wednesday, while choppy, went a great deal better than almost anybody expected. True, the total sale was well below the low estimate - but these figures had been agreed before the end of June, which might as well have been on a different planet.

It's also worth observing that the contemporary art market has ballooned 250% in just two years; ever since, in fact, traders and hedgefunders made collecting an aggressive game. Alex Rotter, Sotheby's head of contemporary art, pointed out to me that this year's November sale totaled $125 million, precisely the same figure as the November 2006 auction - a consoling argument, if not entirely convincing. Last year, the auction house sold 91.6% of its stock at the major night sale; this year, the figure had slumped to 68.3%. A boom feels like a boom, a bust like a bust.

The Christie's auction came the following night. It began strongly: a painting by Gerhard Richter had created a bidding war, just like in the old days (the old days that ended six months ago), another broke out over a Joseph Cornell. A Basquiat fetched $14 million. And then Yayoi Kusama was up. Kusama is a Japanese artist, a brilliant obsessive. Her work has been well regarded in the U.S. since the heyday of pop art. Christopher Burge, Christie's chairman, who was conducting the auction, coaxed the bidding up past four million dollars.

"It took a while. But I got there," he told the room, all avuncular charm, as the bidding resumed. "Four million nine hundred thousand … Five million dollars." There was an outbreak of clapping. "Five million one!"

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FDIC Details Plan To Alter Mortgages
2008-11-14 16:46:41

Officials at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) Thursday detailed a plan to prevent 1.5 million foreclosures in the next year by offering financial incentives to companies that agree to sharply reduce monthly payments on mortgage loans.

The proposal, which has the support of leading congressional Democrats, would considerably expand the scope and force of the government's efforts to stem foreclosures. Agency officials estimated the cost to the government at $24.4 billion.

FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair continues to face opposition within the Bush administration. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., said Wednesday that he opposed funding the plan from the government's $700 billion financial rescue fund, which has been used primarily to rescue banks and encourage lending. FDIC officials say they are still in talks with the Treasury, but proponents increasingly view the Bush administration as a roadblock with an expiration date.

"We think it's essential that we actually strike at the underlying cause of the problems in the financial markets," said Michael Krimminger, special adviser for policy at the FDIC. "We think it's time to make a decisive difference in the housing markets on foreclosures."

The FDIC proposal, which is scheduled to be announced today, goes farther toward helping borrowers than existing modification efforts. At the same time, the initiative is designed to be less expensive for mortgage companies because the government would pick up part of the tab.

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Homeland Security To Limit Planned Crackdown On Illegal Immigrants
2008-11-14 16:46:12

The Department of Homeland Security has significantly narrowed the scope of a planned crackdown on federal contractor's employment of illegal immigrants.

The agency announced Thursday that it would go forward with a new policy requiring federal contractors to check the work documents of existing workers and subsequent hires using an electronic government system. The new policy will apply to contracts and solicitations issued after Jan. 15, but it will apply to far fewer contractors than would have been affected under the original proposal.

The Bush administration has made the work eligibility system, called E-Verify, a main pillar of its fight against illegal immigration, proposing to make its use mandatory for nearly 200,000 government contractors, covering about 4 million U.S. workers. Participation in E-Verify is now generally voluntary, although 13 state legislatures have enacted similar legislation for state contractors.

However, a revised final rule to be published Friday in the Federal Register would limit its application to contracts worth $100,000 or more, instead of $3,000, and require employers to check the eligibility only of workers on those contracts, instead of all their workers. The changes would apply to solicitations or awards made after Jan. 15, and exempt workers who have already received security clearances, contracts for commercial, off-the-shelf items, and contracts lasting less than 120 days.

Randel K. Johnson, vice president and spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the administration "had been responsive to a substantial amount of business concerns," particularly by limiting the rule to large contractors, to new contracts and to workers on those contracts.

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More Than 100 Homes Burn In Montecito, California
2008-11-14 16:45:44
Firefighters from all over the state of California are battling a fast-moving fire that has destroyed more than 100 homes and charred at least 2,500 acres in Santa Barbara County, forcing the evacuation of thousands from luxury neighborhoods in the coastal foothills.

Geri Ventura, a spokeswoman for the Montecito Fire District, said local firefighters have ordered 10 C-130 air tankers and nine water-dropping helicopters to assist ground crews fighting the fire.

"We're lucky. We're getting everything we want because there aren't any other fires right now," said Ventura. "So far we're getting what we asked for."

The fire, which started Thursday night in a historic structure called the Tea House above Mountain Drive in Montecito, has continued to burn west through a hilltop community known as the Riviera. The community is known for its wealthy view homes, nestled among oak trees and other heavy vegetation, including highly flammable eucalyptus trees.

Ventura said the fire did not burn every home in its path but hopscotched between different structures as wind-blown embers lodged underneath eves and ignited vulnerable homes.

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U.S. Consumers Cut Back Spending In October
2008-11-14 16:45:12

The latest snapshot of American spending revealed that consumers remained in distress as retail sales plunged by 2.8 percent in October compared with the previous month, according to government data released this morning.

The gloomy results marked the fourth straight month of decline as shoppers grapple with rising unemployment and a volatile stock market. Compared with October 2007, retail sales dropped a steep 4.1 percent, dragged down by a 23 percent fall-off in auto sales.

"Consumers were already fighting to keep their heads above water in the third quarter, and in October they were thrown several heavy cement blocks," said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. economist for consulting firm IHS Global Insight.

The dismal data comes on the heels of yesterday's jobs report by the U.S. Labor Department that showed mass layoffs rose to 1,330 during the third quarter, the highest level for that time period since 2001. Unemployment edged up to 6.5 percent last month.

Those job losses, coupled with tightening credit and falling home values, have forced shoppers to drastically reduce their spending. The auto industry has been particularly hard-hit. Earlier this month, Ford reported a $129 million third-quarter loss while GM bled $2.5 billion amid talks of possible bankruptcy. Even Toyota warned that its annual profits would reach a 13-year low.

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Bush Picks Federal Prosecutor To Oversee Bailout
2008-11-14 16:44:39
President George W. Bush on Friday picked a federal prosecutor in New York to be a Treasury-based special inspector general to oversee the massive $700 billion financial rescue plan.

If confirmed by Senate, Neil Barofsky, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, will be responsible for conducting audits and investigations of how the government spends the bailout money. He will also will report on the value of any assets acquired by the government and why they were purchased.

Currently, the job is being handled by the Treasury Department's inspector general _ Eric Thorson _ who has expressed concerns about the difficulty of properly overseeing the complex program in addition to his regular responsibilities.

Prior to his job as assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the Southern District's mortgage fraud group, Barofsky was a lead prosecutor in the district's securities fraud unit. Previously, he worked the district's international narcotics trafficking unit. Barofsky earned two bachelor's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from the New York University School of Law.

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Bill To Extend Russian President's Term Advances
2008-11-14 16:44:03
As a bill extending Russia's presidency from a four- to six-year term barreled through the Russian legislature on Friday, it fell to the old-timers from the Communist Party to put up a fight.

“Why do we have to do this today?” said Viktor I. Ilyukhin, a Communist legislator, during discussions today in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament. “Why are we in such a hurry? A strict authoritarian regime has already been established in this country. There is already an unprecedented concentration of power in one person’s hands.”

Political opposition leaders have been harshly critical of the proposed change, which is almost assured of becoming law, but opposition parties have little presence in the Duma, and on Friday, the Communists were virtually the only dissenters.

In the end, the bill sailed through its first reading in the Duma, passing by a vote of 388 to 58. Fifty-seven of those votes were from Communists, who opposed the change unanimously. The measure must pass two more readings in the lower house, and also be approved by a majority in the upper house and Russia’s regional parliaments.

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2 Journalists Shot In Pakistan
2008-11-14 16:43:30
A Japanese journalist and an Afghan colleague were shot and wounded in an attempted kidnapping in the northern city of Peshawar on Friday after conducting interviews with Taliban fighters in the nearby tribal region, said the police and local journalists.

The attack comes amid an upsurge of militant violence in Peshawar, including the assassination of an American aid worker on Wednesday, and the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat on Thursday.

The bureau chief of the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, Modoki Yotsukura, and Sami Yousafzai, a correspondent for Newsweek, were in a car in the Hayatabad section of Peshawar, when a gunman opened fire on them, according to accounts by the police and local journalists.

They were returning from Khyber, an area of the tribal region that abuts Peshawar, and where Taliban militants have a strong presence, when the shooting occurred, according to the accounts.

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Editorial: Put An End To Election Mess
2008-11-14 21:02:38
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the Boston Globe edition for Friday, November 14, 2008.

Barack Obama's superior get-out-the-vote operation spared the country from another squeaker presidential election, with the claims of voter fraud and intimidation that have become so familiar in the previous two cycles. But that doesn't mean the problems in the nation's electoral system have disappeared. They're just not as visible at high tide.

After the 2000 election made the United States look like something out of a Marx Brothers movie, former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter co-chaired a National Election Commission. Their report concluded that the country has one of the most burdensome voter registration systems - and one of the lowest participation rates - in the developed world. Even with the Obama wave, voter turnout this year was only about 61 percent of registered voters.

One simple change would solve several problems that have bedeviled recent national elections: universal voter registration. Under this plan, promoted by the watchdog Brennan Center for Justice and others, the government would be responsible for automatically registering citizens when they turn 18. This would eliminate sometimes sketchy private groups, such as ACORN, from the business of registering voters. It would substantially reduce registration challenges - and lawsuits - that can disenfranchise voters. And, by capturing the 28 percent of Americans who are not now registered to vote, it would add almost 50 million voters to the rolls.

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Sarkozy Backs Russia In Condemning U.S. Missile Defense Shield In Europe
2008-11-14 20:19:47

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France joined Russia in condemning the Pentagon's plans to install missile defense bases in central Europe Friday and backed President Dmitri Medvedev's previously ignored calls for a new pan-European security pact.

Both presidents concluded a Russia-European Union summit, in Nice in the south of France, with an agreement to convene a major international conference next summer at which the Americans, Russians and the 27 countries of the E.U. should come up with a blueprint for new post-cold war "security architecture" in Europe.

The call for such a pact has been Medvedev's central foreign policy message since he succeeded Vladimir Putin as president earlier this year. Medvedev has called for the new deal in several keynote speeches but has been snubbed by western leaders until Sarkozy delivered a characteristic surprise Friday, appearing to hijack the subject.

Sarkozy said: "We could meet in mid-2009 to lay the foundations of what could possibly be a future pan-European security system."

The Russians see such a deal as a way of halting NATO enlargement and stopping the controversial U.S. missile defense projects in Poland and the Czech Republic. While western European leaders are lukewarm about the Pentagon project and president-elect Barack Obama has yet to reveal his policies, Sarkozy went further Friday, branding the project a setback for European security.

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Dow Jones Drops 377 Points After See-Saw Day In Stock Market
2008-11-14 16:46:55

A day after markets closed more than 5 percent higher in an afternoon buying frenzy, Wall Street tried to repeat the feat on Friday. It did not work.

After creeping into positive territory in late trading, markets did a U-turn and slid back to where they’d spent the majority of the day - deep in the red.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down about 337.94 points or 3.8 percent to 8,497.31. The broader Standard & Poor's500-stock index was 4.1 percent or 38 points lower while the technology heavy Nasdaq was down 5 percent.

For investors who wondered whether the market had found its bottom and was beginning a sustained return to recovery, Friday’s grim economic numbers suggested that the problems would continue.

“It has been a weakening environment, and we haven’t found the bottom yet,” said Mark Miller of William Blair and Company.

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Federal Prosecutors Draft Indictment Against Blackwater Guards
2008-11-14 16:46:25
Federal prosecutors have drafted an indictment against six Blackwater Worldwide security guards in last year's deadly Baghdad shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians, the Associated Press has learned. The draft is being reviewed by senior Justice Department officials but no charging decisions have been made. A decision is not expected until at least later this month, said people close to the case.

Also still undecided is whether the Justice Department would charge the guards with manslaughter or assault, according to the people, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

It's possible that prosecutors ultimately will seek charges against as few as three of the guards, whose identities are still secret. Depending on the charges, an indictment would carry maximum sentences of five to 20 years.

An indictment would send the message that the Justice Department believes U.S. contractors do not operate with legal impunity in war zones. It's an untested legal theory, since the law is murky on whether contractors could be charged in U.S. courts, or anywhere, for crimes committed overseas.

The indictment against the Blackwater guards would be filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., even though the shootings occurred 6,200 miles away.

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Deal Paves Way For Removal Of Dams On Oregon's Klamath River
2008-11-14 16:45:55
An agreement signed Thursday lays the groundwork for removing four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River to help one of the West Coast's most beleaguered salmon runs and end a longstanding environmental dispute.

Removal of the PacifiCorp dams is expected to begin by 2020. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in a conference call that President George W. Bush had told officials "to find a collaborative solution" that doesn't pit one interest group against another.

The Bush administration had strongly backed farmers in 2001 after the Endangered Species Act forced the shut-off of irrigation water to thousands of acres of farms to leave enough for threatened salmon.

When the administration restored irrigation in 2002 over the objections of tribes and conservation groups, low water conditions in the Klamath River led to the deaths of 70,000 adult salmon returning to spawn.

"We were motivated to find a solution because we've seen how bad it can be," said Kempthorne. "Nobody wanted to say, 'It's beyond our abilities to solve this.'"

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Financial Crisis Spreads To Tech Sector As Sun Announces 6,000 Job Cuts
2008-11-14 16:45:26

Joining a rapidly growing list of technology companies reeling from the financial turmoil, Sun Microsystems, which sells server computers, has started a broad restructuring that could see up to 6,000 employees lose their jobs.

Before the stock market opened Friday, Sun disclosed that it would lay off 5,000 to 6,000 workers, or 15 percent to 18 percent of its work force. The company, already dealing with layoffs announced in May, expects to save $700 million to $800 million a year as a result of the moves, while also taking up to $600 million in charges in the next 12 months.

“The focus here is to eliminate some of the inefficiencies that have made it hard to do business with Sun,” said  Jonathan I. Schwartz, chief executive at Sun, adding that a “new economic reality” had taken hold in the market. Sun shares were up about 4.6 percent in afternoon trading.

In the last two weeks, several of the technology industry’s biggest names have issued dire forecasts.

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Freddie Mac Seeks Federal Aid After $25 Billion Loss
2008-11-14 16:44:56

The U.S. government is expected to inject $14 billion into Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance company under federal control, after it reported Friday that it lost $25 billion from July through September.

The losses were due to substantial charges the company took on the falling value of mortgage securities and growing number of people who fell behind or defaulted on their mortgages. The company more than doubled the amount of money it reserves to cover future losses. In addition, it wrote down the value of tax credits it was unlikely to use.

The numbers are astounding. The company's losses, when combined with those since the housing downturn started, eviscerate nearly all the company's earnings over the past decade; and the need for government money is only beginning.

When the government took over McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac and Washignton, D.C.-based Fannie Mae in September, it agreed to pump up to a $100 billion into both of the companies to prevent them from going broke, meaning that their liabilities exceed assets.

Freddie Mac's huge loss punched a $14 billion hole in the company's balance sheet, prompting the taxpayer investment. But that leaves Freddie Mac merely solvent, without any financial cushion.

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Obama Met With Hillary Clinton To Discuss Possible Role In Administration
2008-11-14 16:44:21
President-elect Barack Obama met late Thursday in Chicago with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss what role she might play in his administration, advisers to both Democrats said on Friday.

Neither side disclosed details of the conversation, and it was unclear how seriously Obama was considering bringing Sen. Clinton, his onetime rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, into his cabinet.

Speculation in recent days has focused on the possibility that Obama would ask Sen. Clinton, a second term senator from New York, to be his secretary of state. Others mentioned for that post include Senator John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts and the party’s presidential nominee in 2004, and former Senate Majority Leader tom Daschle.

Appearing at a public transit conference in Albany on Friday, Sen. Clinton said she would not address reports about whether she would be offered a position in the Obama administration.

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Responding To Rocket Attacks, Israel Blocks U.N. Food Aid To Gaza
2008-11-14 16:43:46
The United Nations has shut down a food distribution program that feeds 750,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after U.N. officials said their warehouses were empty and could not be restocked because of an Israeli blockade.

On the tenth day of an Israeli closure of Gaza's borders, the area's main power plant also ran out of fuel, and U.N. and other aid officials warned of mounting problems.

"Tomorrow when 20,000 people show up to get their rations, they will be told they have to wait until we can resupply," John Ging, the senior U.N. official in Gaza, said in a telephone interview. "It is unprecedented that the U.N. is unable to get its supplies in to a population under such obvious distress."

Israeli officials said the closure is a response to ongoing Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into Israel.

That continued Friday. The military wing of Hamas issued a statement that it had shot five longer-range Soviet-made Grad missiles at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israeli rescue workers said five rockets landed in Ashkelon but there were no casualties or damage. The Grad has a range of 15 miles. In the past Israel has seen rocket fire on Ashkelon, with its population of 100,000, as an escalation.

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