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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday December 27 2008 - (813)

Saturday December 27 2008 edition
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Secret Child Divided Santa Gunman And His Wife
2008-12-26 17:38:06
The gunman dressed in a Santa Claus suit who opened fire at a Christmas Eve party in Covina, California, killing nine holiday revelers, had kept secret from his wife a child that he had fathered years ago, sources close to the family said Friday.

Investigators said Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, had been divorced earlier this year, and they believe the divorce was one of the main factors that drove him to go to the home of his former in-laws on Christmas Eve with the gun and explosives.

One incident that led to that divorce was a long-held detail of his past that Pardo hid from his wife.

About nine years ago, he and a girlfriend had a child. As a 1-year-old, the boy fell into a pool, nearly drowning. As a result, the child was left physically handicapped. Although Pardo did not support his son financially, he claimed the boy as a dependent for seven years on his tax returns.

When Pardo's wife found out about it from a family member, she demanded he stop claiming his son as a dependent. The situation helped lead to the divorce, said sources close to the family.

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The Reckoning - Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble
2008-12-26 17:37:40
"Usually it's the rich country lending to the poor. This time it's the poor country lending to the rich." - Niall Ferguson

In March 2005, a low-key Princeton economist who had become a Federal Reserve governor coined a novel theory to explain the growing tendency of Americans to borrow from foreigners, particularly the Chinese, to finance their heavy spending.

The problem, he said, was not that Americans spend too much, but that foreigners save too much. The Chinese have piled up so much excess savings that they lend money to the United States at low rates, underwriting American consumption.

This colossal credit cycle could not last forever, he said, but in a global economy, the transfer of Chinese money to America was a market phenomenon that would take years, even a decade, to work itself out. For now, he said, “we probably have little choice except to be patient.”

Today, the dependence of the United States on Chinese money looks less benign. And the economist who proposed the theory, Ben S. Bernanke, is dealing with the consequences, having been promoted to chairman of the Fed in 2006, as these cross-border money flows were reaching stratospheric levels.

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Firms Charging Thousands To Modify Mortgages - Non-Profits Offer Service For Free
2008-12-26 17:36:54

A growing industry has emerged to take advantage of the unprecedented wave of foreclosures, charging distressed homeowners for help negotiating better loan terms - a service provided for free or for a nominal fee by many nonprofits.

Such companies charge $500 to $2,500 or more and are drawing the ire of consumer advocates, regulators and lenders, who say many are just the latest version of foreclosure rescue scams and can make it more difficult for homeowners to get help.

"You don't need to go out and hire someone to help you," said Michael Gross, managing director of mortgage servicing for Bank of America. "It is very, at times, frustrating to find a homeowner who has paid a for-profit company $3,000 to $5,000 in an upfront fee, when they could have gotten the same or better assistance free."

Loan modification firms say they are taking up the slack left by unresponsive lenders and overwhelmed nonprofit groups. "Nonprofits are not as efficient as the regular market," said Moose M. Scheib, the head of Michigan-based, a loan modification firm that charges homeowners $1,500 to help renegotiate their mortgages. "I think the difference is probably more attention you get from us."

There do not appear to be federal laws that prohibit charging for this service, several law-enforcement officials and law professors said. Instead the practice is governed by a hodgepodge of state and local laws. Virginia does not appear to restrict its practice, according to the state's consumer services department. Officials with the District's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking said these companies would fall under statutes covering credit counseling services, and therefore must be registered.

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Retail Sales Fall As Analysts See Soft Post-Holiday Rush
2008-12-26 17:36:05
Retailers began their after-Christmas sales in earnest on Friday, but even if business is brisk, it will not make up for the dismal holiday shopping season.

Analysts who visit malls each year said stores were relatively quiet Friday morning compared with previous years. In general, customer traffic has been slower throughout the holiday season, and with retailers offering unprecedented bargains in the weeks before Christmas, post-holiday sales lost some allure.

“These are the same discounts we’ve seen before the holiday,” the chief industry analyst for NPD Group, Marshal Cohen, said. “Nothing new, nothing exciting.”

Cohen visited several Long Island malls Friday morning and said that there was a bit of a rush in the wee hours but that it subsided by 6 a.m. or so. He expected a lunchtime surge but said sales would not measure up to Black Friday, the blockbuster shopping day after Thanksgiving.

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Storm Blankets U.S. West With Snow, Ice Glazes The Midwest
2008-12-26 17:35:28
Yet another snowstorm closed highways in parts of the West on Friday, the latest in a tiring week of bad weather, and a dangerous sheet of ice in parts of the Midwest contributed to a looming flood problem.

Winter storm warnings were in effect Friday for parts of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the western Dakotas, and a blizzard warning covered the mountains of southwest Colorado.

"It's going to be a heck of a storm," said Chris Cuoco, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo. "We're expecting significant snowfall in all the mountains of Colorado. Even the valleys are going to see 4-plus inches of snow."

Up to 20 inches of snow was forecast in parts of the Rockies, along with wind gusts of up to 80 mph.

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Markets Little Changed In Light Trading Day
2008-12-26 17:34:41

Wall Street rose slightly in light trading on Friday as Americans looking for post-Christmas discounts returned to the malls, and a new report confirmed retailers’ fears about a dismal holiday season.

Retail sales from Dec. 1 through Christmas Eve were 8 percent lower than last December while November’s sales were 5.5 percent less, according to data released by SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors. Sales of clothing, electronics, luxury goods, appliances and furniture declined by double digits, as worried consumers pared their holiday spending amid the deepening economic malaise.

A 40 percent drop in gasoline prices contributed to the overall slump in the holiday sales figures. Excluding gas prices, spending fell 2 to 4 percent, SpendingPulse reported.

Wall Street, which has absorbed months of grim news and reduced profit outlooks from retailers, took the latest news in stride on Friday.

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TVA Coal Ash Spill In Tennessee Is Much Larger Than Estimated
2008-12-26 17:37:51

A coal ash spill that blanketed residential neighborhoods and contaminated nearby rivers in Roane County, Tennessee, earlier this week is more than three times larger than initially estimated, the Tennessee Valley Authority said on Thursday.

Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium that can cause cancer and neurological problems.

Authority officials initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond breached, but on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep. The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the Authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

Authority officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, telling reporters that the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time. The aerial survey was done on Tuesday, but the results were not released until Thursday. Calls to an Authority spokesman on Friday morning were not immediately returned.

Residents were stunned by the new numbers. “That’s scary to know that they can be off by that much,” said Angela Spurgeon, whose yard is swamped with ash. “I don’t think it was intentional, but it upsets me to know that a number was given of what the pond could hold, and the number now is more than double of what the pond actually held.”

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U.S. States Cut Medicaid Coverage
2008-12-26 17:37:19

States from Rhode Island to California are being forced to curtail Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, as they struggle to cope with the deteriorating economy.

With revenue falling at the same time that more people are losing their jobs and private health coverage, states already have pared their programs and many are looking at deeper cuts for the coming year. Already, 19 states - including Maryland and Virginia - and the District of Columbia have lowered payments to hospitals and nursing homes, eliminated coverage for some treatments, and forced some recipients out of the insurance program completely.

Many are halting payments for health-care services not required by the federal government, such as physical therapy, eyeglasses, hearing aids and hospice care. A few states are requiring poor patients to chip in more toward their care.

"It's not a pretty list at all," said Michael Hales, Medicaid director in Utah.

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New Data Reinforces Japan's Fear Of Recession
2008-12-26 17:36:33
Industrial output data from Japan on Friday intensified worries that the world’s second-largest economy was headed for a deeper and more protracted recession than previously thought as consumer and corporate demand around the world evaporates.

At the same time, fresh data indicated that Japan faces a period of deflation next year, while falling employment and consumer spending added to the bleak picture and highlighted how difficult it will be for Japan to extricate itself from the recession.

“It’s a big mess,” said Ryutaro Kono, chief economist for Japan at BNP Paribas, referring to the industrial output. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Industry output in November plunged 8.1 percent from a month earlier, the biggest decline on record. The fall surprised even the most pessimistic of forecasters, despite a flurry of announcements in recent weeks showing manufacturers like Honda and Sony racing to scale back production as domestic and overseas demand plummets.

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As Tensions Rise, Pakistan Moves Forces From Afghan Border Toward Indian Border
2008-12-26 17:35:47
Pakistan is moving some troops away from its western border with Afghanistan, where the United States has pressed it to combat Taliban militants, and stopping many soldiers from going on leave amid rising tensions with India, senior Pakistani officials said Friday.

A senior military official said in an interview that the decision to sharply restrict leave for soldiers was taken “in view of the prevailing environment,” namely the deteriorating relations with India since the Mumbai terrorist attacks last month. He added that the Pakistani air force was “vigilant” and “alert” for the same reason. A second Pakistani security official would not say where the forces were being sent, but confirmed the troop movements and the restrictions on leave, saying “there’s an obvious reason for that.”

The redeployment came as Indian authorities warned their citizens not to travel to Pakistan given the heightened tensions between the two nations, news agencies reported, particularly since Indian citizens had been arrested there in connection with a bombing in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The senior military official said that the Pakistani troops were being drawn from northwestern Pakistan, where the military is fighting Taliban militants on several fronts. He said that “essential troops in limited numbers are being pulled out of areas where no operations are being conducted,” or where winter weather had already limited their ability to maneuver.

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Singer, Actress Ertha Kitt Dies At 81
2008-12-26 17:35:02
Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died. She was 81.

Kitt, whose saucy rendition of "Santa Baby" became a holiday pop music classic, died in Connecticut on Christmas Day. Family spokesman Andrew Freedman said Kitt was recently treated at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for colon cancer.

A self-proclaimed "sex kitten," famous for her catlike purr, Kitt was one of America's most versatile performers, winning two Emmys and nabbing a third nomination. She also was nominated for several Tonys and two Grammys.

Her career spanned six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television. She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South and made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House.

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DIY Genetic Engineering
2008-12-26 12:22:46
The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering â€" a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said.

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