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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday December 4 2008 - (813)

Thursday December 4 2008 edition
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Just In Time For The Holidays! U.S. Private Businesses Shed 250,000 Jobs In November
2008-12-03 21:04:22

Business conditions weakened across the United States and in almost every industry in recent weeks, according to a Federal Reserve report released Wednesday; and a pair of other reports indicated that private employers shed jobs at an accelerating rate and the nation's service sector contracted sharply in November.

Together, the reports are strong evidence that the recession is deepening as winter approaches. Stocks were up moderately in early afternoon trading, with the Dow Jones industrial average up less than one percent, or 39 points.

The Fed's "beige book," a compilation of anecdotal reports from businesses across the nation published roughly every six weeks, found that "overall economic activity weakened across all Federal Reserve districts since the last report."

The report amounted to a catalogue of misery across almost all sectors of the economy. Consumer spending weakened almost across the board, especially for vehicles. Tourism activity was "relatively slow." Manufacturing "declined noticeably" since the Fed's last report. Services business "generally contracted in most districts."


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Editorial: At Least Some Accountability
2008-12-03 21:03:53
Intellpuke: This editorial appear in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, December 2, 2008.

American forces in Iraq have relied far too heavily on private security contractors who have operated with no real legal accountability. The trigger-happy tactics of these armies for hire have alienated Iraqis. The fact that they have been out of reach of Iraqi law has been an especially bitter pill to swallow.

For some of those contractors, that get-out-of-jail-free card is now being withdrawn. A new agreement with the Iraqi government that allows American troops to remain in Iraq stipulates that contractors working for the Pentagon who commit crimes will be subject to prosecution in Iraqi courts.

The Pentagon and State Department employ an estimated 10,500 private contractors to protect convoys, diplomats and other officials. They are infamous among Iraqis for their “spray and pray” approach to security: spraying bullets and praying they hit the enemy.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, has shown little interest in prosecuting contractors for crimes committed in Iraq. In a particularly horrifying incident, employees of the security firm Blackwater Worldwide working with the State Department mowed down at least 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad last year. The Justice Department has yet to formally indict anyone involved.


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Obama Names Bill Richardson As Commerce Secretary
2008-12-03 21:03:18

President-elect Barack Obama named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as his choice for secretary of commerce on Wednesday, pointedly denying that the job was a “consolation prize” for the two-time cabinet officer who had been considered a candidate for secretary of state.

“Commerce secretary is a pretty good job,” said Obama, after being asked by a Hispanic reporter about the appointment of Richardson to a post not considered among the cabinet’s more prestigious or influential.

The president-elect said that his nominee would be dealing with the economy, the most significant issue facing the new administration, and added that “his mixture of diplomatic experience, hands-on experience as governor, experience in the cabinet, experience in Congress, means that he is going to be a key strategist on all the issues that we work on.”

“I think the notion that somehow commerce secretary is not going to be central to everything we do is fundamentally mistaken.”


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Ex-U.S. Official Cites Pakistani Training For India Attackers
2008-12-03 21:02:51
A former U.S. Defense Department official said Wednesday that American intelligence agencies had determined that former officers from Pakistan's Army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped train the Mumbai attackers.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that no specific links had been uncovered yet between the terrorists and the Pakistani government.

His disclosure came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held meetings with Indian leaders in New Delhi and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with their Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad, in a two-pronged effort to pressure Pakistan to cooperate fully in the effort to track down those responsible for the bloody attacks in Mumbai last week.

Also on Wednesday, a “fully functional” bomb was found and defused at a major Mumbai train station that had reopened days earlier, the Mumbai authorities announced. The discovery raised terrifying questions about why the authorities had failed to find it all this time.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people marched through Mumbai, both mourning the at least 173 dead and protesting the failures of Indian politicians and security services to protect citizens.


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After Sharp Words On CIA, Obama Faces A Delicate Task
2008-12-03 00:22:33
For two years on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama rallied crowds with strongly worded critiques of the Bush administration’s most controversial counterterrorism programs, from hiding terrorism suspects in secret Central Intelligence Agency jails to questioning them with methods he denounced as torture.

Now, Obama must take charge of the C.I.A., in what is already proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of his transition to the White House.

Last week, John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who was widely seen as Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency, withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Brennan protested that he had been a “strong opponent” within the agency of harsh interrogation tactics, yet Obama evidently decided that nominating Brennan was not worth a battle with some of his most ardent supporters on the left.

Obama’s search for someone else and his future relationship with the agency are complicated by the tension between his apparent desire to make a clean break with Bush administration policies he has condemned and concern about alienating an agency with a central role in the campaign against al-Qaeda.


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U.S., India See Link To Militants In Pakistan
2008-12-03 00:22:01
American and Indian authorities said Tuesday that there was now little doubt that militants inside Pakistan had directed the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Indian officials said they had identified three or four masterminds of the deadly assault, stepping up pressure on Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of one of the worst terrorist attacks in India's history.

The emerging consensus came as the Bush administration increased its diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan over the attacks, dispatching the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the region. He will join Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was scheduled to arrive in India on Wednesday.

Both officials are expected to issue stern warnings to the government of Pakistan to crack down on militant groups in Pakistan near its borders with Indian-administered Kashmir and with Afghanistan, top American aides said.

Two senior American officials said Tuesday that the United States had warned India in mid-October of possible terrorist attacks against “touristy areas frequented by Westerners” in Mumbai, but that the information was not specific. Nonetheless, the officials said, the warning echoed other general alerts this year by India’s intelligence agency, raising questions about the adequacy of India’s counterterrorism measures.

Details of the attack planners also became clearer on Tuesday. The only gunman captured by the police told his interrogators that one of the main plotters was a fugitive known to Indian authorities: Yusuf Muzammil, a leader of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to a senior Indian police official and a Western official.


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A New Picture Of The Early Earth
2008-12-03 00:21:05

The first 700 million years of Earth's 4.5-billion-year existence are known as the Hadean period, after Hades, or, to shed the ancient Greek name, Hell.

That name seemed to fit with the common perception that the young Earth was a hot, dry, desolate landscape interspersed with seas of magma and inhospitable for life. Even if some organism had somehow popped into existence, the old story went, surely it would soon have been extinguished in the firestorm of one of the giant meteorites that slammed into the Earth when the young solar system was still crowded with debris.

Scars on the surface of the Moon record a hail of impacts during what is called the Late Heavy Bombardment. The Earth would have received an even more intense bombardment, and the common thinking until recently was that life could not have emerged on Earth until the bombardment eased about 3.85 billion years ago.

Norman H. Sleep, a professor of geophysics at Stanford, recalled that in 1986 he submitted a paper that calculated the probability of life surviving one of the giant, early impacts. It was summarily rejected because a reviewer said that obviously nothing could have lived then.

That is no longer thought to be true.

“We thought we knew something we didn’t,” said T. Mark Harrison, a professor of geochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. In hindsight the evidence was just not there. And new evidence has suggested a new view of the early Earth.


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Georgia Republican Chambliss Wins U.S. Senate Runoff Election
2008-12-03 00:20:20
Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss handed the Republican Party a firewall against Democrats eager to flex their new found political muscle in Washington, winning a bruising runoff battle Tuesday night that had captured the national limelight.

Chambliss' victory thwarted Democrats' hopes of winning a 60 seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It came after a bitter month long runoff against Democrat Jim Martin that drew political luminaries from both parties to the state and flooded the airwaves with fresh attack ads weeks after campaigns elsewhere had ended.

Minnesota - where a recount is under way - now remains the only unresolved Senate contest in the country, but the stakes there are significantly lower now that Georgia has put a 60-seat Democratic supermajority out of reach.

With 70 percent of the precincts reporting, Chambliss captured 60 percent to Martin's 40 percent. Chambliss' win is a rare bright spot for Republicans in a year where they lost the White House as well as seats in the House and the Senate.

"It's been a hard and tough four weeks," Chambliss said at a victory party in Cobb County. "We had a hardcore campaign on both sides and while things look good right now, we're going to continue to follow the returns as they come in."

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92 Nations Sign Cluster-Bomb Ban - U.S., Russia Don't
2008-12-03 21:04:03
An Afghan teenager who lost both legs in a cluster bomb explosion helped persuade his country to change its stance and join nearly 100 nations in signing a treaty Wednesday banning the disputed weapons.

Afghanistan was initially reluctant to join the pact - which the United States and Russia have refused to support - but agreed to after lobbying by victims maimed by cluster munitions, including 17-year-old Soraj Ghulan Habib. The teen, who uses a wheelchair, met with his country's ambassador to Norway, Jawed Ludin, at a two-day signing conference in Oslo.

"I explained to the ambassador my situation, and that the people of Afghanistan wanted a ban," Habib, who said he was crippled by a cluster bomb seven years ago, told the Associated Press.

Speaking through an interpreter, Habib said the ambassador called Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who agreed to change his stance on the treaty.

"Today is a historic day," declared Habib.


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Stocks Make Gains In Last Hour Of Trading, Dow Up 173
2008-12-03 21:03:40

Stocks made solid gains in the last hour of trading Wednesday as investors shrugged off more evidence of a deepening recession.

After taking a significant dive Wednesday morning, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 2.1 percent, or 173 points, while the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gained 2.6 percent, or 22 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq was up 2.9 percent, or 43 points.

The market has been volatile this week as investors digested signs that the economic downturn, now classified as a recession, could be deepening. That point was reinforced today with new economic data showing that jobless rates might be accelerating and the slump in the service sector has become severe.

Service sector activity fell to the lowest level in November since the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, created the survey more than a decade ago. The non-manufacturing index fell to 37.3 percent in November, down from 44.4 percent in October. That was also worse than analysts expected.

Every industry showed declines, from warehousing to real estate, except health care and social assistance, according to the report.


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U.S. Treasury May Lower Mortgage Rates
2008-12-03 21:03:02

The Treasury Department is considering plans being pushed by trade groups to intervene directly into the mortgage market to dramatically force down rates and stimulate the moribund housing market, according to industry sources familiar with the matter.

One proposal calls for Treasury to buy the securities that finance home loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the financing giants that back most mortgages in the United States, according to two industry sources who have spoken to Treasury officials.

Architects of the idea hope the move would drive rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage as low as 4.5 percent, but that figure remained a "soft target," said an industry source.

Treasury has been vetting the potential impact of such a program with various groups that represent housing-related industries, such as the National Association of Realtors, the sources said, who spoke on condition of anonymity because none of the plans have been finalized.

Treasury officials, however, tried to downplay the idea as exploratory and Tuesday expressed worries that ordinary Americans would put off home purchases to hold out for a better rate, according to people who have been in contact with the officials. Treasury spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin declined comment.


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Magnitude 6.1 Earthquake Hits Northern Japan
2008-12-03 21:02:24
A 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Japan on Thursday, the Meteorological Agency said. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

The quake hit Thursday morning (Wednesday evening EST in the U.S.) off the coast of Miyagi, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Tokyo, the agency said. It struck at a depth of about six miles (10 kilometers).

The agency said there was no danger of a tsunami from the earthquake.

Masakazu Murakami, an official in charge of disaster management in Miyagi, said the quake caused no damage to utilities such as water, electricity, gas and telephone lines.


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Wall Street Partially Recovers From Sell-Off, Dow Up 270
2008-12-03 00:22:20

Wall Street mounted a modest recovery on Tuesday, gaining back nearly half of the enormous collapse that opened the week, as investors picked up bargain-price stocks and pushed Treasury yields to record lows.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 270 points after crisscrossing the chart in the afternoon, swinging across a nearly 300-point range and even dipping into negative territory for a brief moment in the early afternoon.

By the end of the session, the blue-chip index was at 8,419.09, up 3.3 percent and reclaiming more than a third of its 680-point swoon on Monday.

While the gains provided some sense of comfort, the size of the trading range underscored the immense volatility and uncertainty that remained ingrained in the market. Investors are still not certain of anything, whether it is how long the recession will last or which company could be the next to teeter on collapse. Double-digit percentage point swings have become the norm for shares of some high-profile businesses, shifts that once took weeks to occur.

Citigroup and Bank of America both gained close to 12 percent, a day after each stock fell more than 20 percent. Financial shares were the day’s top performers, although General Electric led the Dow industrials with a 13.6 percent gain.


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G.M. Accepts Need For Drastic Cuts To Get U.S. Aid
2008-12-03 00:21:30
General Motors, increasingly desperate for a federal bailout to stave off financial collapse, told Congress on Tuesday that it was willing to drastically shrink every aspect of its operations to ensure its long-term survival.

On the same day that the industry reported its worst sales month in 26 years, the three Detroit automakers delivered new business plans to lawmakers in the hope of winning support for $34 billion in federal loans.

While the timing was coincidental, the dismal November sales report underscored the perilous financial condition of  G.M., the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler.

Their combined loan request was substantially higher than the $25 billion that the three companies had initially hoped to get from Congress two weeks ago.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said Tuesday that she had spoken with President Bush by phone on Monday about the need to help the auto industry and that she believed some sort of rescue would be provided, either legislatively or by the Bush administration.


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Obama Promises Governors He'll Be Listening
2008-12-03 00:20:45
The nation's governors came to tell tales of financial woe, but President-elect Barack Obama was already sold on them playing a role in the national economic recovery plan.

After convening almost a complete set of state chief executives Tuesday, Obama pledged "action, and action now" to address the budget shortfalls expected in no less than 41 states in the coming year.

"As president, I will not simply ask our nation's governors to help implement our economic recovery plan," Obama told an assembly of 48 governors gathered in historic Congress Hall. "I will ask you to help design that plan. Because, if we're listening to our governors, we'll not only be doing what's right for our states, we'll be doing what's right for our country."

The pledge is easier said than done. Twenty states have together cut $7.6 billion from their fiscal 2009 budgets, the National Governors Association reports. Thirty states say they are expecting additional shortfalls totaling more than $30 billion.

After tenuous relationships with the Bush administration, several governors - most of them Democrats - said they were hopeful the incoming president would take their counsel as he crafts his economic recovery plan.

They, in turn, promised to help Obama promote his proposal to the American people.
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1 Comments:

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