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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday November 11 2008 - (813)

Tuesday November 11 2008 edition
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Obama To Take Regional Approach To Afghan War
2008-11-11 02:30:35

The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan - including possible talks with Iran - and looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers.

President-elect Barack Obama also intends to renew the U.S. commitment to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a priority the president-elect believes President Bush has played down after years of failing to apprehend the al-Qaeda  leader. Critical of Bush during the campaign for what he said was the president's extreme focus on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan, Obama also intends to move ahead with a planned deployment of thousands of additional U.S. troops there.

The emerging broad strokes of Obama's approach are likely to be welcomed by a number of senior U.S. military  officials who advocate a more aggressive and creative course for the deteriorating conflict. Taliban attacks and U.S. casualties this year are the highest since the war began in 2001.

Some military leaders remain wary of Obama's pledge to order a steady withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, to be completed within 16 months - an order advisers say Obama is likely to give in his first weeks in office. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called a withdrawal timeline "dangerous." Others are distrustful of a new administration they see as unschooled in the counterinsurgency wars that have consumed the military for the past seven years.

But conversations with several Obama advisers and a number of senior military strategists both before and since last Tuesday's election reveal a shared sense that the Afghan effort under the Bush administration has been hampered by ideological and diplomatic constraints and an unrealistic commitment to the goal of building a modern democracy - rather than a stable nation that rejects al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism and does not threaten U.S. interests. None of those who discussed the subject would speak on the record, citing sensitivities surrounding the presidential transition and the war itself.

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Editorial: It's About The Mortgages
2008-11-11 02:30:12
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Monday, November 10, 2008.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson does not seem like the sort of man who suffers fools gladly. Yet, he apparently is tolerant of, or powerless against, a White House that remains opposed to direct government action to prevent foreclosures - a program that is essential to keep millions of Americans in their homes and head off an even deeper financial catastrophe.

Nearly three weeks ago, Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, told Congress that the agency was working closely with Mr. Paulson’s department to develop a robust anti-foreclosure plan. Since then, the Treasury Department has balked and equivocated while the White House has argued that it is already doing plenty to help homeowners.

After a year of doing far too little to stem a flood of foreclosures, the problem is getting worse. Defaults lead to foreclosures that push down all house prices. Those falling prices - combined with rising unemployment, falling incomes and another expected surge in monthly payments on adjustable rate loans - will surely lead to more defaults and deeper price declines, threatening bank solvency and prolonging the credit crunch.

Clearly, the system won’t stabilize until house prices stabilize, and banks won’t lend freely until losses on defaulting mortgages abate.

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NASA: Phoenix Mars Mission Ended
2008-11-11 02:29:47
NASA on Monday declared an end to the Phoenix mission, some five months after the spacecraft became the first to land in Mars' arctic plains and taste water on another planet. Mission engineers have not heard from the Phoenix lander in over a week. It fell silent shortly after a raging dust storm blocked sunlight from reaching its solar panels.

Although ground controllers will direct two satellites orbiting Mars to listen for Phoenix for several more weeks, the chances that it will respond are slim.

"We are actually ceasing operations, declaring an end of mission operations at this point," said project manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which managed the $475 million mission.

Phoenix's demise was predicted. Unlike its hardy twin rover cousins Spirit and Opportunity, which are approaching their fifth year near the red planet's more hospitable equatorial region, Phoenix's days were numbered from the outset. With sunlight waning and winter encroaching the arctic plains, scientists had said it was a matter of time before Phoenix would freeze to death.

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George Carlin Gets The Last Laugh At Kennedy Center
2008-11-11 02:28:25
Funny thing is, George Carlin couldn't make it to his big night.

The late George Carlin, whose sense of irony was world class, would have appreciated last night's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony at the Kennedy Center, though it's not clear which rich irony he would have liked most.

Surely, he would have gotten a kick about being too dead to pick up the prize himself, as more than one presenter noted. Carlin died in June at 71, a week after learning that he'd won the 11th annual prize.

Perhaps, as a lapsed Catholic (and an extremely amusing atheist), Carlin would have dug the whole Irish wake aspect of the ceremony: Jokes were not just permissible, they were mandatory, in honoring the recently departed.

As a stand-up comic whose career ranged from the Ed Sullivan era to the Facebook age, Carlin might have been amused by the fact that none of the stand-ups who came to honor him (Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Lily Tomlin, Jon Stewart, Joan Rivers and Garry Shandling, among others) actually got to do much stand-up. Some great introductory cracks, sure, but mostly in service of introducing clips of some of Carlin's classic bits.

And as a comedian who made an art out of blue language ("The king of raw," Maher called him) Carlin surely would have gotten some mileage out of the fact that only three of his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" were actually spoken from the Kennedy Center stage. (Denis Leary alone accounted for three F-bombs.)

Carlin himself rematerialized in a clip to do the bit, though - again, ironically - the commentary on language and the absurdity of banning words was itself bleeped repeatedly by the Kennedy Center censor.

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Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al-Qaeda
2008-11-10 15:39:21
The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against al-Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.

These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the al-Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.

In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency.Officials watched the entire mission - captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft - in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.

Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the C.I.A., according to senior American officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of C.I.A.-directed operations.

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Fannie Mae Posts $29 Billion 3rd-Quarter Loss, May Dip Into Bailout Funds
2008-11-10 15:38:54
Fannie Mae on Monday posted a $29 billion loss in the third quarter as it took a massive tax-related charge, and said it may have to tap the government's $100 billion lifeline as early as next year.

The mortgage finance company, seized by federal regulators more than two months ago, posted a loss of $13 per share for the July-September quarter, mainly due to a $21.4 billion non-cash charge to reduce the value of tax assets. That compares to a loss of $1.4 billion, or $1.56 a share, in the year-ago period. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected a loss of $1.60 per share.

Fannie Mae's net worth - the value of its assets minus the value of its liabilities - fell to $9.4 billion at the end of September from $44.1 billion at the end of last year. If that number turns negative, Fannie Mae said it would be required to obtain funding from the Treasury Department.

The ultimate bill for taxpayers may depend on whether the government, under President-elect Barack Obama, uses Fannie Mae and its sibling company Freddie Mac as a way to alleviate the foreclosure crisis by aggressively modifying or refinancing loans.

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Circuit City Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
2008-11-10 15:38:32
Circuit City Stores Inc. filed for bankruptcy amid rising competition from Best Buy, Wal-Mart and online electronics retailers.

The petition for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Va., listed $3.4 billion in assets and $2.32 billion in liabilities. The company said it is entering court protection owing Hewlett-Packard Co. $119 million and Samsung Electronics Co. $116 million.

The Richmond company, founded in 1949 when Samuel Wurtzel opened the city's first retail television store, has lost more than $5 billion in stock-market value in two years. Circuit City plans to stay in business while it comes up with a plan to restructure.

Concerns among vendors that Circuit City wouldn't be able to pay for the merchandise it sells "escalated considerably" in the past week, the company said in the filing.

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A Town Drowns In Debt As Home Values Plunge
2008-11-11 02:30:24
This town, Mountain House, California, 59 feet above sea level, is the most underwater community in America.

Because of plunging home values, almost 90 percent of homeowners here owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, according to figures released Monday. That is the highest percentage in the country. The average homeowner in Mountain House is “underwater,” as it is known, by $122,000.

A visit to the area over the last couple of days shows how the nationwide housing crisis is contributing to a broad slowdown of the American economy, as families who feel burdened by high mortgages are pulling back on their spending.

Jerry Martinez, a general contractor, and his wife, Marcie, an accounts clerk, are among the struggling owners in Mountain House. Burdened with credit card debt and a house losing value by the day, they are learning the necessity of self-denial for themselves and their three children.

No more family bowling night. No more dinners at Chili’s or Applebee's. No more going to the movies.

“We make decent money, but it takes a tremendous amount to pay the mortgage,” said Martinez, 33.

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Afghanistan, Iraq U.S. Veterans Gain A Powerful Voice On Capitol Hill - Their Own
2008-11-11 02:29:59

Some lobbyists come to Capitol Hill armed with PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets. Todd Bowers brought the rifle scope that saved his life.

He was on patrol outside Fallujah, Iraq, when his unit came under fire. Bowers, 29, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, fired back. A sniper's bullet hit his scope, inches from his face.

So when members of Congress wanted to know why they should pass legislation that would reimburse service members for buying their own combat equipment, Bowers, 29, a staffer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, pulled out the $600 piece of equipment his father had bought him before his second tour in Iraq. His scope, with the bullet still lodged in it, brought the war home.

The legislation passed.

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Britain's Prime Minister Hails Obama's Victory As 'Dawn Of Hope'
2008-11-11 02:28:42
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Monday used his first foreign policy speech since Barack Obama's election to hail his victory as America's "dawn of hope" and a rejection of the unilateralism of George Bush.

The prime minister called for a progressive multilateralism in which "cooperation, not confrontation, flourishes as an answer to age-old challenges".

He said the world needed to be guided by one clear truth: "That we need solutions that can no longer be defined in terms of us and them, but can only be achieved together, as us with them."

Speaking at the Lord Mayor's banquet, in the set-piece prime ministerial foreign policy speech of the year, Brown argued that the transatlantic special relationship was "a partnership for a purpose and the engine of effective multilaterism". He put forward an ambitious agenda for Obama to pursue: arms reduction; peace in Afghanistan and Iraq; an urgent world trade deal; a climate change agreement by next year; a peace settlement in the Middle East; and a worldwide reflationary strategy to minimize the threat of recession.

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As Power Transfer Begins, Obamas Visit White House
2008-11-10 15:39:31
President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were welcomed at the White House shortly before 2 p.m. Eastern time by the current occupant, President George W. Bush,a man with whom he expressed a sea of differences during the just-ended election campaign.

Broadcast images showed Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama strolling along the colonnade toward the outer entrance to the Oval Office. Mr. Obama walked just at Mr. Bush’s shoulder and appeared to be speaking animatedly, gesturing with both hands. Each of the men waved several times to reporters and others off camera.

Mr. Bush and the first lady, Laura Bush, are expected to take the Obamas on a tour of the White House, and then Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama are expected to split off for about 90 minutes of formal talks concerning the transfer of power from Mr. Bush’s conservative Republican administration to a presumably much more liberal Democratic leadership.

Mr. Obama will be seeing the Oval Office in person for the first time, just 10 weeks before he will make history by returning as its first black occupant, a spokesman for Mr. Obama said earlier in the day.

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Bailout For A.I.G. Restructured After $24.5 Billion 3rd-Quarter Loss
2008-11-10 15:39:03
In a move sure to increase pressure on the Bush administration to extend financial help to automakers and other ailing industries, federal officials this morning announced an overhaul of the government's bailout of insurance giant American International Group. The new plan increases the cost to about $150 billion and amounts to a tacit admission that the earlier effort fell short.

In a pre-dawn announcement before AIG announced a $24.5-billion third-quarter loss, the Treasury Department said it would spend $40 billion to buy an equity share in AIG "as part of a comprehensive plan to restructure federal assistance to the systematically important company." The money comes from the $700 Billion Troubled Asset Relief Program approved by Congress to try to rescue the financial system.

The earlier federal bailout - an $85 billion emergency line of credit in September supplemented by $37.8 billion more early last month - failed to stabilize AIG so it could sell some of its numerous assets throughout the financial system and stave off bankruptcy.

The Treasury Department worked in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Board to retool the AIG bailout "to keep the company strong and facilitate its ability to complete its restructuring process successfully," according to the Fed. In a complex series of moves, the Treasury will buy $40 billion in newly issued preferred AIG stock, allowing the Federal Reserve to reduce the original $85 billion line of credit to $60 billion.

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DHL Express Lays Off 9,500 Employees, Cedes U.S. Delivery Market To UPS, FedEx
2008-11-10 15:38:41
DHL Express, Deutsche Post AG's overnight-delivery unit, said Monday it will abandon efforts to compete with United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. in the United States, laying off an additional 9,500 workers and closing three-fourths of its outlets.

Deutsche Post's spending on U.S. express operations, including the unit's losses, reorganization costs and the price of acquiring the former Airborne Inc.'s ground unit in 2003, will total $9.6 billion by the end of next year, Chief Executive Officer Frank Appel told reporters at the company's Bonn headquarters Monday.

DHL's retreat may enable UPS and FedEx to expand their U.S. market share, estimated at a combined 80 percent of package deliveries, according to Sewickley, Pa.-based SJ Consulting Group. Deutsche Post, Europe's biggest postal service, said it's poised to report a net loss for 2008, the first full-year deficit since its stock began trading in 2000, because of the U.S. withdrawal.

"FedEx and UPS have literally spent decades developing a quite formidable position in the U.S. with extremely reliable networks," said Dan Ortwerth, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis. "DHL underestimated this challenge from the start" and was "a languishing competitor in the U.S. that was flailing even in boom times," said Ortwerth, who recommends buying shares of both FedEx and UPS.

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Gift Card Holders May Be Out Of Luck On Retail Bankruptcies
2008-11-10 15:38:20
On Wall Street, lawmakers are talking about how "toxic debt" threatens banks and lending. Out on Main Street, shoppers better start thinking about "toxic" gift cards from companies that could go bankrupt. They won't be worth the plastic they are printed on.

There's a new realization that holding a gift card from a troubled retailer is like having a bank account without FDIC insurance.

It's not an idle worry.

Shoppers spent an estimated $26.3 billion on gift cards at retailers last Christmas season, compared with $24.8 billion in 2006 and $18.5 billion in 2005, according to the National Retail Federation.

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