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Monday, December 15, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday December 15 2008 - (813)

Monday December 15 2008 edition
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Report: Homelessness, Hunger On Rise In U.S. Cities
2008-12-14 18:32:33
Homelessness and hunger increased in an overwhelming majority of 25 U.S. cities in the past year, driven by the foreclosure crisis and rising unemployment, a survey showed Friday.

Out of 25 cities across the United States surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 83 percent said homelessness in general had increased over the past year while 16 cities, or nearly two-thirds of those polled, cited a rise in the number of families who had been forced out of their homes.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the number of homeless families increased 58 percent in 2008 to 931 families from 591 people in 2007, with the rise blamed on soaring food, health care, transportation and energy prices.

Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, blamed the rise in family homelessness on evictions by landlords whose rental properties were foreclosed.

Meanwhile, the number of people seeking food assistance for the first time was up in all 21 cities with data on the issue, and was "particularly notable among working families stressed by the increase in food prices and the slowdown in the economy," said the report.

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Commentary: Capitalist Fools
2008-12-14 18:32:11
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of a Nobel Prize for Economics and professor at Columbia University in New York City. Prof. Stiglitz's commentary appeared in Vanity Fair magazine's edition for January 2009. His commentary follows:

There will come a moment when the most urgent threats posed by the credit crisis have eased and the larger task before us will be to chart a direction for the economic steps ahead. This will be a dangerous moment. Behind the debates over future policy is a debate over history - a debate over the causes of our current situation. The battle for the past will determine the battle for the present. So it's crucial to get the history straight.

What were the critical decisions that led to the crisis? Mistakes were made at every fork in the road - we had what engineers call a "system failure," when not a single decision but a cascade of decisions produce a tragic result. Let's look at five key moments.

No. 1: Firing The Chairman

In 1987 the Reagan administration decided to remove Paul Volcker as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and appoint Alan Greenspan in his place. Volcker had done what central bankers are supposed to do. On his watch, inflation had been brought down from more than 11 percent to under 4 percent. In the world of central banking, that should have earned him a grade of A+++ and assured his re-appointment. But Volcker also understood that financial markets need to be regulated. Reagan wanted someone who did not believe any such thing, and he found him in a devotee of the objectivist philosopher and free-market zealot Ayn Rand.

Greenspan played a double role. The Fed controls the money spigot, and in the early years of this decade, he turned it on full force. But the Fed is also a regulator. If you appoint an anti-regulator as your enforcer, you know what kind of enforcement you'll get. A flood of liquidity combined with the failed levees of regulation proved disastrous.

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Federal Reserve Could Remake Credit Card Regulations
2008-12-14 14:58:51

The Federal Reserve on Thursday will vote on sweeping reform of the credit card industry that would ban practices such as retroactively increasing interest rates at will and charging late fees when consumers are not given a reasonable amount of time to make payments.

The Fed, which has been considering the proposed changes since May, declined this week to release details of the final draft regulations. But banking officials and consumer advocates said that they do not expect substantial changes before the vote, especially since members of Congress have pressured the Fed not to water down the rules.

However, industry officials and consumer advocates said, the Fed will likely postpone a decision on a proposal to prohibit banks from charging fees for overdraft protection unless they have given customers the chance to opt out. Both the banking industry and consumer advocates considered the overdraft proposal flawed.

If the new credit card regulations are approved largely as proposed, they would represent the most significant overhaul of the industry in decades, banking officials and consumer advocates said. The Fed has not yet indicated a timeline for implementation.

"It covers a lot of issues and is really unprecedented in its scope," said Edward L. Yingling, chief executive of the American Bankers Association. "You add them all up, it's going to mark the beginning of a new market."

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Mexico Kidnapping Death Of Teen Sparks Outrage, Mistrust
2008-12-14 14:58:27
Her mother asked that mourners wear white, so the memorial service Saturday for Silvia Vargas Escalera seemed less grim than the circumstances surrounding one of Mexico's most notorious kidnappings.

The body of the wealthy and vivacious Mexico City teenager was found last weekend buried under a patio in a house south of the city. She had been missing for more than a year. Her remains were identified by dental records and DNA on Thursday.

The abduction and killing of the 18-year-old student, whose fresh young face had been ubiquitous in the news media here for months, have stoked outrage and revulsion in Mexico. The public is frustrated not only by waves of violent and often organized crime, but also by the government's inability to solve cases and put the guilty behind bars.

Many people, too, are afraid of the kidnapping crews, which no longer limit their targets to the super-rich, and travel in armored cars and with bodyguards. Kidnappers now snatch middle-class and even poor victims, demanding as little as $500 in ransom for their return.

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Why Didn't You Receive Your Newsletter At Yahoo! ?
2008-12-14 00:44:31

  A few of our regular newsletter readers have been asking if there are problems with our newsletters going out?  Myself, I get 6 copies of it at my various email addresses, just so I can see that it is working properly.  The complaints range from they never get their newsletter, to they are delayed by days sometimes.

  I've been reviewing our logs, and have found a trend.  For several hundred of our users, your mail is being delayed by Yahoo! for several days.  When Yahoo!'s mail service refuses an email from our mail servers, it sits in a queue on our side.  Every 15 minutes it will attempt to redeliver.  This is standard behavior on the Internet, because we all know things can break, but you don't want to lose a very important piece of email. 

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Intervie! w: 'Americans Currently Don't Care About The Iranian Bomb'
2008-12-14 00:44:11
The American left is criticizing Barack Obama's cabinet choices by saying his administration will continue many Bush policies. In the following interview with Spiegel Online, prominent intellectual Norman Birnbaum defends Obama's choices. Obama, he says, needs people with experience.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Professor Birnbaum, please remind us: What was Barack Obama's campaign slogan?

Norman Birnbaum: Change. Why?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because looking at his cabinet choices, that change seems a distant memory. Obama is retaining Republican Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, he wants to appoint Jim Jones, a friend of John McCain, as his National Security Adviser and Hillary Clinton is going to be in charge of the State Department.

Birnbaum: Sure, some cynics even argue that we are seeing a continuation of the Bush course, just with a human face in the White House. They refer not just to the cabinet members but also to some of the policy statements made by Obama so far. He seems inclined to continue the hawkish U.S. strategy in Afghanistan or Pakistan, for instance. I, and many people on the left, believe the idea to impose women's rights in Afghanistan by military force is like sending NATO to Alabama to eradicate protestant fundamentalism. On the other hand, Obama has proven with his promise of a large infrastructure program and his focus on environmental issues that he pursues a very progressive agenda. He seems to plan a great deal of intervention and state activity for which the left has been calling for a long time, even under Bill Clinton.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But why does Obama surround himself with so many Washington insiders?

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Commentary: Hype Won't Solve Climate Problem
2008-12-14 00:43:43
Intellpuke: This commentary is written by Louis O. Fresco, a cross-disciplinary professor with a focus on international sustainable development at the University of Amsterdam. She sat on the Delta Commission which advised the Dutch government on how the Netherlands can best prepare for global warming She is also an NRC Hadelsblad columnist. Her commentary follows:

I confess that I am increasingly uncomfortable with what is being called the traveling climate circus: this incessant and expensive series of conferences about the climate. Last year in Bali, next year in Copenhagen, now in the Polish city of Poznan, where over 11,000 people from 190 countries are gathered to make agreements about the follow-up to the Kyoto protocol.

There are no less than 700 pages of proposals which are supposed to lead to a new treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the end of 2009. As the current round of talks is again threatening to end in a fiasco, the organization in Proznan is keeping its options open (they are now talking only about a "political understanding on the most important elements" rather than a binding treaty, which was the original plan).

Almost without exception, such conferences end in disappointment. Few people wonder why the climate negotiations are so difficult compared to other international agreements. It can't just be because of the considerable conflict of interests between countries - these also exist in negotiations about world trade, which are now close to completion.

There are, I believe, two reasons for the dark clouds surrounding the climate summits: There is still no undisputed package of steps that need to be taken and the problem is clearly not considered urgent enough, despite all the testimonies, to bridge the opposing interests and mobilize funding.

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Report Focuses On Iraq Rebuilding Blunders
2008-12-14 00:43:16
An unpublished federal history of the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts the effort as crippled by poor planning, waste and deception, leading to a $100 billion failure.

An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.

The history, the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag -  particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army - the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.

In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces - the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000’.”

Powell’s assertion that the Pentagon inflated the number of competent Iraqi security forces is backed up by Lt. Gen. Recardo S. Sanches,the former commander of ground troops in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator until an Iraqi government took over in June 2004.

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British Government Faces Backlash As Pound Slips Below Euro
2008-12-14 00:42:18

The British government is facing a growing backlash over its rescue package for the economy after the pound slumped to below parity with the euro on British high streets and at airports for the first time since the single European currency was launched a decade ago.

Sterling's decline to a value of less than a euro, after commission charges, is seen by economists and opposition politicians as a pivotal "psychological moment" - and evidence of declining faith in the British economy on global currency markets.

Saturday night, as skiing operators and other holiday companies across the U.K. reported customers shunning expensive trips in favor of cut-price deals, Currency Exchange on London's Oxford Street was selling euros for as little as €1.0532 to the pound. After commission and a handling fee, however, €18 cost The Observer £19.61, an exchange rate of €0.918 to the pound.

Tourists at Birmingham, Liverpool and Luton airports were also getting less than €1 to the pound after sterling tumbled in value every day last week.

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Fed Reserve Won't Reveal Recipients Of $2 Trillion In Bank Loans
2008-12-14 18:32:24
The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Bloomberg filed suit Nov. 7 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act requesting details about the terms of 11 Fed lending programs, most created during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The Fed responded Dec. 8, saying it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about trade secrets and commercial information. The institution confirmed that a records search found 231 pages of documents pertaining to some of the requests.

“If they told us what they held, we would know the potential losses that the government may take and that’s what they don’t want us to know,” said Carlos Mendez, a senior managing director at New York-based ICP Capital LLC, which oversees $22 billion in assets.

The Fed stepped into a rescue role that was the original purpose of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The central bank loans don’t have the oversight safeguards that Congress imposed upon the TARP.

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Bush Makes Surprise Visit To Iraq, Defends War
2008-12-14 14:59:01
Arriving in Baghdad Sunday for a farewell visit, President Bush staunchly defended a war that has taken far more time, money and lives than anticipated, saying the conflict "has not been easy" but was necessary for U.S. security, Iraqi stability and "world peace."

Bush landed in Iraq under a veil of secrecy for his fourth and presumably final stop as president in a war zone that will be central to defining his turbulent presidency.

Air Force One landed in Baghdad at around 4 p.m. local time after a 10-1/2 hour overnight flight from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. Bush is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders about a recently completed security agreement, which calls for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011.

After meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at Salam Palace, Bush hailed the security agreement as "a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqi people realize the blessings of a free society."

"The work hasn't been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope, and world peace," said Bush,  adding: "I am just so grateful that I had a chance to come back to Iraq before my presidency ended."

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Iraqi Families Vent Anger Of Blackwater Killings
2008-12-14 14:58:37
They came for their mothers and daughters, their brothers and fathers, the young and old who died that day. Some hobbled in on crutches. Others were helped in by relatives. One man wore dark sunglasses to hide his ruined eye. One woman cried openly, gently wiping away the tears sliding down her cheeks.

Athra Khalil, 32, told a lie to her six toddlers before bringing them to this sprawling police base on Saturday. She didn't mind. She lies to them every day.

"Now, they ask me, 'Where's my father?' I always tell them he's at work," said Khalil, staring at her daughter in the hot-pink sweater.

"Today, I told them we are going to have a nice lunch to celebrate the end of Eid," she added, referring to the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.

Her husband and the others were all shot by employees of the U.S.-based security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, an incident that reshaped the lives of these families - and the direction of their nation. Now the relatives had arrived here to challenge a group of Americans with one question: Can they trust the United States to bring those contractors to justice?

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Winter Storm Leaves Power Outages In U.S. Northeast
2008-12-14 14:58:11
Joined by people seeking shelter from the bitter cold, parishioners at the Jaffrey Bible Church on Sunday thanked God for a warm place to sleep and for the utility crews struggling to repair power lines snapped by New England's devastating ice storm.

''Your fellow Jaffrey residents have stepped up and made this a more bearable situation,'' Walt Pryor, recreation department director for the town of 5,700, told the congregation Sunday morning.

Church administrator Rick Needham noted the ''terrible devastation in our lives and homes,'' recognizing two families whose homes were damaged by falling trees. About 150 people attended Sunday's service in Jaffrey, about 15 miles from the Massachusetts state line.

The church had been turned into a shelter, with cots and mattresses set up in offices and hallways, and televisions and 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles for children in the basement. Donated food was plentiful, including lobster casserole, pot roast, and barbecued chicken.

The ice storm knocked out electrical service for 1.4 million homes and businesses late last week. Roughly 649,000 customers were still without power Sunday morning in upstate New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Utilities in hardest-hit New Hampshire said power might not be totally restored to the region until Thursday or Friday.

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Sovereign Wealth Funds Taste Bitter Losses
2008-12-14 00:44:22
So far this year, the funds have seen declines of an estimated 18 percent to 25 percent of their assets, which could lead to closer scrutiny in the future.

Not long ago the Western world was obsessed with sovereign wealth funds, those fast-growing pools of nationally owned assets fueled by oil money and trade surpluses. The fear was that they and their sometimes controversial owners would gobble up vast troves of trophy assets in the U.S. and elsewhere. But, after a brutal fall in the markets, that threat suddenly looks a lot less real. While the funds are cagey about saying what they actually own - and what they have lost - it's certain that they, like many other investors, have suffered big hits to their portfolios. They also have clearly lost firepower - and possibly some of their appetite for acquisitions.

One fund that does disclose its performance, Norway's $300 billion Government Pension Fund-Global, reported a negative 7.7 percent return against an international currency basket in the third quarter through September. That was the worst performance in the 18-year history of the fund, which invests Norway's oil revenues. And it doesn't include the likely further drubbings in October and November.

Stephen Jen, an economist at Morgan Stanley in London, estimates that the world's sovereign wealth funds have seen declines in their holdings of 18 percent to 25 percent for this year. He thinks the total losses are somewhere between $500 billion and $700 billion, bringing the funds' total value down to between $2.3 trillion and $2.5 trillion. Jen thinks these losses will make waves. "You don't lose 25 percent of your assets without consequences," he says.

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Editorial: Hollow Reserves
2008-12-14 00:43:55
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Saturday, December 13, 2008.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put enormous strains on all of the men and women of the United States military. The last seven years have been especially hard on those serving in the National Guard and other reserve forces, who too often have had to shortchange their families, finances and careers to accommodate lengthy, repeated and unexpected tours of active duty overseas. Many are tired and demoralized.

American communities that depend on the National Guard to provide the first line of domestic defense are also being shortchanged. The years of prolonged overseas deployments have stretched Guard units dangerously thin and left the Guard with barely 60 percent of the equipment it needs to carry out its basic missions. That raises serious doubts about the Guard’s readiness to respond to either a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

These problems arose because the Bush administration badly underestimated the number of ground troops needed to simultaneously wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has had to rely far too heavily on the National Guard and the Reserves to make up the differences.

More than 450,000 men and women serve in the Army and Air National Guard, and somewhat less than 400,000 in the Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Reserves. Roughly half a million of these part-time soldiers have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan - many for more than one tour. At one point in 2005, nearly half the United States front-line fighting forces in Iraq, and more than half in Afghanistan, came from the Guard and the Reserves.

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Gen. Odierno: U.S. Troops To Stay Longer In Iraq
2008-12-14 00:43:31
The top American commander in Iraq said Saturday that some soldiers would remain in a support role in cities beyond summer 2009, when a new security agreement calls for the removal of American combat troops from urban areas.

The commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said American troops would remain at numerous security outposts in order to help support and train Iraqi forces. “We believe that’s part of our transition teams,” he told reporters in Balad while accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived on an unannounced trip Saturday.

General Odierno declined to say how many American troops might remain in Iraqi cities past the summer and said the number still remained to be negotiated with the Iraqi government under the terms of the so-called status of forces agreement. “But what I would say is we’ll maintain our very close partnership with the Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq even after the summer.”

Later on Saturday, a spokesman for General Odierno, Lt. Col. James Hutton, reiterated that the soldiers staying in cities would not be combat forces but rather “enablers,” who would provide services like medical care, air traffic control and helicopter support that the Iraqis cannot perform themselves. He said that all their actions would be closely coordinated with the Iraqi government and that all tenets of the security agreement would be followed.

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Obama Aide Had Contact With Governor's Office On Senate Seat
2008-12-14 00:42:31
President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, communicated with the office of Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich about potential candidates for Obama’s Senate seat and provided a list of names, according to two Obama associates briefed on the matter.

The Obama associates said the interactions concerned several people who might fill the seat. Such contacts are common among party officials when a political vacancy is to be filled. It was not clear whether the communication was via direct telephone calls.

The Chicago Tribune reported that communications between Emanuel and the governor, both Democrats, had been captured on court-approved wiretaps, but Obama associates gave conflicting accounts of the interactions.

Obama aides have said privately that Emanuel did not engage in any deal-making with Blagojevich, whom federal prosecutors charged last week with conspiring to turn a profit from the appointment.

The federal inquiry is looking into the exact nature of Emanuel’s contacts with the governor’s office. Emanuel has not been accused of wrongdoing by federal prosecutors.

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Oklahoma's Sam Bradford Wins The Heisman Trophy
2008-12-14 00:41:40
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford arrived in Norman three years ago with modest hype and low expectations. The Sooners' staff acknowledged that they had recruited him for depth behind Rhett Bomar, who had been the country’s top quarterback recruit.

Bradford’s rise from relative obscurity to national pre-eminence was sealed Saturday night when he won the Heisman Trophy, which is given annually to the country’s most outstanding college football player.

Bradford, a redshirt sophomore, seemed giddy and overwhelmed as he hugged his parents and his coach, Bob Stoops, and shook hands with a row of former Heisman winners.

“I was definitely surprised,” said Bradford. “I think it was everything I imagined. It’s going to take a few weeks for it to sink in.”

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