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Monday, December 22, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday December 22 2008 - (813)

Monday December 22 2008 edition
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Winter Weather Blasts U.S. From Coast To Coast
2008-12-21 16:25:31
Successive waves of wintry weather gripped much of the country Saturday, frustrating holiday travelers from coast to coast and keeping the lights off for thousands of people who lost power after ice storms just days ago.

Iowa public safety officials urged motorists not to travel as heavy snow began to fall in the morning. The state expected winds up to 35 miles per hour and wind chills of minus 25 just two days after being slammed with sleet, ice and snow.

Washington state braced for hurricane-force winds as a storm blew in from the Pacific. The temperature dipped to minus 18 Saturday in Spokane, which expected up to 6 inches of snow on top of the 25 that fell over the past three days, said Johnny Burg, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

In the Northeast, the aftermath of snow that fell Friday continued to snarl air traffic. And residents who still lacked power after an ice storm last week grew frustrated as officials warned that the storm now battering the Midwest would blow in Sunday, the official first day of winter.

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Obama Expands Economic Stimulus Goals
2008-12-21 16:24:57

President-elect Barack Obama has expanded his goals for a massive federal stimulus package to keep pace with the increasingly grim economic outlook, aiming to create or preserve at least 3 million jobs over the next two years.

The more aggressive target, up from 2.5 million jobs set a month ago, comes after a four-hour meeting last week in which Obama's top economic advisers told him the economy is now expected to lose as many as 3.5 million jobs over the next year. Obama was told that could drive unemployment, currently at 6.7 percent, above 9 percent, a figure not seen since the recession of the early 1980s.

With liberal and conservative economists calling on the government to spend $800 billion to $1.3 trillion to stanch the bleeding, the greater danger to the nation, Obama was told, lies in doing too little rather than too much.

Given that gloomy forecast, Obama last week presented congressional Democrats with a proposal to dedicate $675 billion to $775 billion over the next two years to middle-class tax cuts, aid to strapped state governments and investments in domestic priorities such as infrastructure, health-care technology and education - a package designed to jolt the economy while deterring further layoffs and putting people back to work.

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Cheney Defends His Tenure As V.P., Bush Administration's Actions
2008-12-21 16:24:19

Vice President Cheney offered an unabashed defense of the Bush administration's claims of broad executive powers today, mocking criticism from Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and saying the president "doesn't have to check with anybody" before launching a nuclear attack.

In an interview with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," Cheney fired back at Biden's contention that he was probably "the most dangerous vice president" in U.S. history. He also ridiculed Biden for mistakenly citing Article I of the U.S. Constitution, rather than Article II, in talking about executive branch powers during an October debate.

"If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that's obviously his call," Cheney said of Biden. "President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time."

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Iran Shuts Office Of Nobel Winner's Rights Group
2008-12-21 16:23:54
Iranian authorities shut down the office of a human rights group led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi on Sunday as the group was preparing to honor a political activist who spent 17 years in prison in the Islamic republic.

Iranian authorities banned Ebadi's Center for Protecting Human Rights last year, but it had continued to operate from an office in the north of the capital, Tehran.

Ebadi said police in uniform and plainclothes security officials raided and sealed the building where her group was working without presenting a warrant. No arrests were reported.

The semi-official Mehr news agency reported that judiciary officials ordered the center's closure because it did not have the required legal permits. A judiciary statement said the human rights center had issued statements that created an atmosphere "of media publicity against the establishment in recent years," reported Mehr.

Ebadi said her group would continue its work despite the raid.

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Bracing For The Global Economic Downturn
2008-12-21 16:25:13
As the year draws to a close, and as the world faces recession, a credit crunch and job worries, the economic outlook is the bleakest it has been in postwar history. The next year is expected to be a test of strength for the German economy. Will the country's export strength prove to be its Achilles' heel?

Last Friday, the world came to a standstill in Stuttgart's Sindelfingen district. On normal days, about 1,500 trucks and 52 rail cars arrive at the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen, carrying steel and glass, tires and dashboards, headlights and seats. More than 36,000 employees pass through the factory gates every day to develop new models and assemble the current ones - the Mercedes C, E and S classes. On normal days, at least 1,500 cars roll off the assembly lines at the plant. But what is normal nowadays, with new reports on the recession coming in each day?

Now the Mercedes plant is closed - until Jan. 11. Production facilities worth billions have been shut down. Everything, from the paint shop to the welding and production robots to the assembly line itself, has stopped moving.

Daimler, like Ford (at its German plants), Opel, BMW and VW, has stopped production temporarily. The German auto industry, which is responsible for one in seven jobs, is putting itself into something resembling an artificial coma. Some companies are using working time accounts to keep their employees at home, while others have introduced a shortened workweek. No one knows what will happen next year.

When plants are shut down in Germany's automotive production centers - Stuttgart, Munich and Wolfsburg - it also affects the employees of the carmakers' suppliers: engineers working for transmission manufacturers, technicians with the steel companies, and creative talent at ad agencies. Silence has descended on places that were once hubs of busy activity, from hammering to filing, drafting to designing.

And a ghostly silence it is, this national standstill. Order volume has plummeted across the board in German industry, and the markets are shrinking at a breathtaking pace. Planned investments are being canceled or postponed. The economy has entered a recession of previously unimaginable proportions.

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A Dangerous Treasure In Africa's Lake Kivu
2008-12-21 16:24:43
There is a wealth of methane trapped in a lake in the heart of Africa. Engineers hope to transform the gas from the depths of the lake into electricity, but if it escapes in an uncontrolled manner, the methane would cause a catastrophe.

Patrick Muhizi sits under an umbrella at the Bikini Tam-Tam Bar, keeping a watchful eye on the perfectly smooth surface of Lake Kivu. The sun is shining, but Muhizi blows his whistle whenever the children wander too far out into the lake. With good reason: The 19-year-old Rwandan is the manager of a beach club on the world's most dangerous lake. Kivu, in central Africa, has already swallowed three people this year, when bubbles apparently sucked the bathers down into the depths. Sometimes dead fish float to the surface.

Lake Kivu, at the foot of the Virunga Volcano Chain, lies in a groove in the earth's crust known as the East African Rift. The Congolese jungle grows rampant along its western shore and Rwanda's coffee plantations stretch along the eastern side. Activity in the tectonic faults throughout the Rift causes periodic earthquakes.

This combination of factors is what attracts curious geophysicists, volcanologists, chemists and biologists to the region, where many congregate at Muhizi's bar, lured by a unique treasure in the 485-meter (1,590-foot) deep lake.

At depths below 75 meters (246 feet), massive amounts of gas are dissolved into the water in layers, as in a bottle of carbonated water - an estimated 65 cubic kilometers of methane and 256 cubic kilometers of carbon dioxide. What makes the lake so dangerous is the so-called champagne effect. When an earthquake, a powerful storm or lava flows from the surrounding volcanoes churn up the upper layers, water from the depths can reach the upper level. Then gas escapes in much the same way as when a bottle of champagne is shaken and then opened.

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Passenger Jet Goes Off Denver Runway, 38 People Taken To Hospitals
2008-12-21 16:24:06
A Continental Airlines jet taking off from Denver, Colorado, veered off the runway into a ravine Saturday night, forcing passengers to evacuate on emergency slides as the plane burned, said officials. Two people were critically injured and 36 others were taken to hospitals.

Denver Fire Department Division Chief Patrick Hynes said a fire associated with the accident burned the entire right side of the plane. Melted plastic from the overhead compartments dripped onto the seats down below, he said. It was unknown when or how the fire started.

Firefighters arriving on the scene described it as "surreal." "Much like a movie, some people coming out of the smoke and up the hill," said Hynes.

Ground crews put out the fire quickly, said airport spokesman Jeff Green. The 112 people on board made it out on through slides on the Boeing 737.

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