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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday December 17 2008 - (813)

Wednesday December 17 2008 edition
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Dow Leaps 360 Points On Fed's Interest Rate Cut
2008-12-16 19:51:04
A surprised Wall Street bolted higher today after the Federal Reserve's historic decision to further slash interest rates and pledge broad support to revive the troubled economy.

The Dow Jones industrials surged 360 points, or 4.2 percent, and broader indexes jumped more than 5 percent after the central bank said it use "all available tools" to jump-start the economy. The reassurance of further government action and the promise of a Swiss-army-knife approach damped concerns that policymakers by further lowering interest rates were running low on tools to fan the economy.

Reassurance that the Fed plans to move ahead with plans to snap up government and mortgage debt made it easier for investors to place bets that the central bank will do what is necessary to help bring an end to the longest recession in a quarter-century.

"In some senses the whole point of this meeting was to say quit watching interest rates, watch the other things that we can and will do," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 359.61, or 4.20 percent, to 8,924.14 after having been up about 100 in subdued trading ahead of the Fed's announcement.
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How German Agents Helped Pave The Way Into Iraq
2008-12-16 19:50:40
The German government has long denied that its intelligence agents in Baghdad provided meaningful help prior to and during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. U.S. military personnel, though, have told Spiegel a vastly different story.

He would make the perfect witness. The tall, slim retired U.S. general has nothing but good things to say about the Germans. He says they are "reliable" and extremely trustworthy. Most of all, though, he knows things that German parliamentarians would like to know.

Yet General James Marks is not a witness, nor is he ever likely to be one. The German parliamentary committee charged with investigating the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), prefers to question Germans in its effort to find out what role the agency played during the Iraq war. Those asked to testify tend to be government employees and, therefore, dependent on the government. Americans have not thus far been summoned. Indeed, no effort to do so has been made.

Still, a man like Marks would have a lot to say. He could talk about the spring of 2003, when he was sitting in a windowless, air-conditioned briefing room at the U.S. military's Camp Doha in the Kuwaiti desert, reading the reports of two BND agents who held out in Baghdad during the war. And he could talk about how the information provided by the Germans was incorporated into the situation reports he presented in daily video conferences to General Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. invading forces, and sometimes to then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In the spring of 2003, Marks headed up the military intelligence efforts both before and during the American campaign. It was his job to ensure that the 115,000 U.S. troops didn't run into any surprises as they advanced toward Baghdad. All information relevant to the war ended up on his desk. By virtue of this position, Marks, more than almost anyone else, knows how important the reports provided by the two Germans were for the American war effort.

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Discovery Of Roman Battlefield Poses Historical Riddle
2008-12-16 19:49:58
Archaeologists in Germany say they have a found an ancient battlefield strewn with Roman weapons. The find is significant because it indicates that Romans were fighting battles in north Germany at a far later stage than previously assumed.

The wilds of Germany may not have been off-limits to Roman legions, archaeologists announced on Monday. At a press conference in the woods near the town of Kalefeld, about 100 kilometers south of Hanover, researchers announced the discovery of a battlefield strewn with hundreds of Roman artifacts dating from the 3rd century A.D.

Finding evidence of Roman fighting forces so far north is surprising, say the archaeologists. Germany was once considered prime territory for Roman conquest. But in A.D. 9, thousands of Roman legions were slaughtered in a forest near modern-day Bremen.

"We thought that with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the Romans gave up on this region and pulled back behind the limes," or frontier fortifications further south, says Henning Hassmann, the Lower Saxony Conservation Department's lead archaeologist.

Yet evidence found in woods outside the small town of Kalefeld may force historians to take a new look at the Roman presence in Germany. More than 600 artifacts, ranging from axe heads and wagon parts to coins and arrowheads, have been found on a forested hill called the Harzhorn. So far, the artifacts indicate that Roman soldiers fought a battle on top of the hill.
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Merkel Announces New Measures To Boost German Economy
2008-12-16 19:49:20
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged billions of euros in fresh public infrastructure investments to boost her country's flagging economy. The measures, to be announced after Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration, will come on top of the 32 billion euro package launched earlier this year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to pump billions of euros into road building and repairs in a second economic stimulus program on top of the €32 billion ($44 billion) one agreed by the government earlier this month.

Merkel was criticized heavily over that first economic package after closer scrutiny revealed that most of the measures had already passed and that the new initiatives were worth only €5 billion a year.

Now, the chancellor is beefing up those initial efforts, and a new program of measures is to be presented shortly after Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S. president on Jan. 20, Merkel said on Tuesday.

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Panel Cites 'Tipping Point' On Nuclear Proliferation
2008-12-16 16:17:57

The development of nuclear arsenals by both Iran and North Korea could lead to "a cascade of proliferation," making it more probable that terrorists could get their hands on an atomic weapon, a congressionally chartered commission warned Monday.

"It appears that we are at a 'tipping point' in proliferation," the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States said in an interim report to lawmakers that was released Monday.

The bipartisan panel, led by former defense secretaries William J. Perry and James R. Schlesinger, added that actions by Tehran and Pyongyang could lead other countries to follow, "and as each nuclear power is added, the probability of a terror group getting a nuclear bomb increases."

Congress established the commission this year to "examine and make recommendations" on strategic policy and force structure, as well as to consider other ways to counter the nuclear threat. The final report and recommendations were due this month, but after a slow start to its work, the panel pushed that date back to April.

In the interim report, the commission called for a global nonproliferation strategy as the best way to keep nuclear materials out of terrorists' hands. Such a U.S. effort "would require intense cooperation with other nations, especially other nuclear powers" and with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the panel added. It called for strong U.S. financial, technical and political support to the IAEA, a target of criticism from the Bush administration.

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New Technique Allows Scientists To Measure Dark Energy
2008-12-16 16:17:05

New research shows that the mysterious force known as dark energy is still as mysterious and as dark as ever, but scientists are at least becoming more certain that they're not simply imagining it. In the process, they've discovered new evidence that Albert Einstein's theory of gravity works even at the grandest, most cosmic scale.

In a report published today in The Astrophysical Journal, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics say they have succeeded in producing a new technique for measuring dark energy using NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory that orbits the Earth. The results match the dark energy findings from observations of supernovas made by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Chandra observed changes over time in the densities of galactic clusters, which are collections of galaxies, and found a pattern consistent with the supernova research. This is a much-needed confirmation that the earlier work was correct, the astronomers said, comparing it to football referees examining a controversial play with multiple camera angles.

Astrophysicist David Spergel of Princeton said the results also provide a cosmic-scale confirmation of Einstein's general theory of relativity. "It's never been proved right on the scale of the observable universe," said Spergel.

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Goldman Sachs Reports $2.1 Billion Quarterly Loss
2008-12-16 16:16:32
Goldman Sachs' long run of profitable quarters came to an end Tuesday as the bank announced a fourth-quarter loss of $2.12 billion, driven by big markdowns on its large portfolio of proprietary investments in everything from Japanese golf courses to Chinese banks.

It was the first losing quarter since Goldman went public in 1999 and demonstrates that even some of Wall Street’s most skilled operators have not been able to overcome historically tough markets and sagging economies across the globe.

Goldman sidestepped earlier losses by staying out of the high-risk subprime mortgage market and taking an early bet against the United States housing industry. But it has been unable to avoid taking big markdowns after nearly 30 percent declines across global equity markets in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended in November.

Goldman’s quarterly loss, which amounted to $4.97 a share, kicks off a run of what are expected to be poor banking results. Morgan Stanley will report its earnings on Wednesday, and is expected to announce a loss of around $400 million.

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Obama Picks Chicago's Schools Chief As Education Secretary
2008-12-16 16:15:41

President-elect Barack Obama nominated Chicago schools executive Arne Duncan as his education secretary this morning and is expected to tap Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) later this week to serve as secretary of the interior, all but finalizing his selections for major Cabinet posts.

Appearing with Duncan at Dodge Renaissance Academy, a Chicago elementary school that the two visited together in 2005, Obama said improving the nation's schools was a critical part of remaining competitive in the global economy of the 21st century.

"If we want to out-compete the world tomorrow, then we're going to have to out-educate the world today," Obama said. "Yet, when our high school dropout rate is one of the highest in the industrialized world, when a third of all fourth graders can't do basic math, when more and more Americans are getting priced out of attending college - we are falling far short of that goal ... We cannot continue on like this. It is morally unacceptable for our children - and economically untenable for America."

Duncan, 44, has been chief executive of the Chicago public schools since 2001, steering the nation's third-largest school district, which has more than 400,000 students. Duncan was raised in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, not far from Obama's home, and is a longtime friend and basketball partner of the president-elect. He graduated from Harvard University, where he was co-captain of the basketball team, and he played professional basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991. He returned to Chicago to direct the Ariel Education Initiative, which creates educational opportunities for youths on the South Side, and joined the city's public school system in 1998 as deputy chief of staff.

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Banking Mayhem: Madoff Scandal Hits Europe Hard
2008-12-16 19:50:54
Billion-dollar writedowns seem to be on the horizon as some of Europe's largest banks reveal their entanglement in Madoff's mess.

Europe's banking sector is ending 2008 just as it started the year - with the announcement of potential billion-dollar writedowns. Yet instead of exposure to subprime or securitized assets, this new round of prospective losses relates to European banks' links to the alleged $50 billion (€36.5 billion) fraud of hedge fund manager Bernard Madoff.

Details about Madoff's activities are slowly emerging, but some of Europe's largest financial companies revealed their exposure on Dec. 15 to address investors' mounting concerns. That includes Spain's Banco Santander ... the largest bank by market capitalization in the 15-member euro zone - which said it had €2.3 billion ($3.1 billion) of exposure through a Geneva, Switzerland, hedge fund. Iberian rival Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria also announced €300 million ($405 million) in potential losses, while France's BNP Paribas confirmed its exposure could top €350 million ($473 million).

Media reports on Dec. 15 said Britain's HSBC - the largest bank overall in Europe - may have to write down $1 billion in losses, although a spokesperson declined to comment. Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 60 percent owned by British taxpayers, similarly announced £400 million ($607 million) in potential losses, and France's Natixis reported exposure of €450 ($611 million).

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Human Rights Group Condemns Computer Manufacturers
2008-12-16 19:50:12
Thousands of PCs and laptops are sold every Christmas, but most consumers don't know that many computer parts are produced under inhumane working conditions in the Far East. A new study has exposed shocking neglect at suppliers for some of the biggest computer manufacturers.

When it comes to inhumane working conditions in Asia, critics tend to focus on the textile industry. But the technology sector is also noticeably earning a reputation for paying little money for long and hard labor at its work sites in the Far East.

The Hong Kong-based human rights organization Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) interviewed workers between June and September at two computer parts suppliers in the southern Chinese province of Guandong. According to Sacom and the Berlin development organization Weed, the results are alarming. "Working hours total up to 370 hours per month," Sacom researcher Jenny Chan said on Monday in Berlin. Even accounting for 30 work days a month, that would still be over 12 hours a day, according to the report, "The Dark Side of Cyberspace," which Sacom and Weed published on Monday.

The factories studied are far from back-alley rat shops - they are suppliers for multinational corporations. One of the two factories investigated, Excelsior Electronics in Dongguan, produces circuit boards, graphics cards, and other parts for computers sold by, among others, Europe's Fujitsu Siemens.

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Police: Adam Walsh's Murder Case From 1981 Is Solved
2008-12-16 19:49:36
A serial killer who died more than a decade ago is the person who decapitated the 6-year-old son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh in 1981, police in Florida said Tuesday.

The announcement brought to a close a case that has vexed the Walsh family for more than two decades, launched the television show about the nation's most notorious criminals and inspired changes in how authorities search for missing children.

"Who could take a 6-year-old and murder and decapitate him? Who?" an emotional John Walsh said at Tuesday's news conference. "We needed to know. We needed to know. And today we know. The not knowing has been a torture, but that journey's over."

Walsh's wife, Reve, at one point placed a small photo of their son on the podium.

The suspect, Ottis Toole, had twice confessed to killing the child, but later recanted. He claimed responsibility for hundreds of murders, but police determined most of the confessions were lies. Toole's niece told the boy's father, John Walsh, her uncle confessed on his deathbed in prison that he killed Adam.

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Consumer Prices Drop At Record Rate For Second Straight Month
2008-12-16 16:18:11

Consumer prices fell at a record rate in November and housing starts plummeted to a level not seen in nearly half a century, stark signs of the weakness that has spread through the U.S. economy.

With the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates Tuesday and possibly taking other steps to try to rekindle economic growth, two new reports from the federal government this morning showed just how far the situation has decayed.

The consumer price index fell 1.7 percent in November, the second consecutive record-setting monthly drop. Led by the steep decline in energy prices, the report could raise concerns about a general deflation - a widespread and steady drop in prices that can undermine businesses and dissuade consumers from making any but the most necessary purchases in hopes of even lower prices in the future.

Excluding food and energy prices, which are particularly volatile, so-called core inflation was flat, at 0 percent.

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Federal Reserve Slashes Interest Rate To New Low
2008-12-16 16:17:28

The Federal Reserve slashed a key short-term interest rate to effectively zero Tuesday, and signaled that it will "employ all available tools" to try to arrest the nation's economic freefall.

In a bold show of force, that is without historical precedent, the Fed said it will cut its target for the federal funds rate, at which banks lend to each other, to a range of 0 percent to 0.25 percent. The target was previously 1 percent. The move cuts the rate to the lowest it has been in the 54 years that records go back, and stunned market watchers who expected a more modest cut.

In its unanimous decision, the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's policymaking arm, said it "anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low level of the federal funds rate for some time." That essentially committed the central bank to not raising rates for the foreseeable future.

It also said it will keep looking for new ways to use its powers to further boost the economy, despite having already cut short term interest rates as low as they can go.

"The Federal Reserve will continue to consider ways of using its balance sheet to further support credit markets and economic activity," said the statement.

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5 Sticks Of Dynamite Found In Paris Department Store
2008-12-16 16:16:49
Police found five sticks of dynamite in a landmark Paris department store Tuesday, after an unknown group warned that bombs were hidden there and threatened more attacks unless France withdraws its military forces from Afghanistan.

The interior minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said the dynamite was old and there was no detonator to set it off, suggesting the threat to Christmas-season shoppers had been minimal. But the scare nevertheless dramatized the risks inherent in President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision last April to increase the number of French troops in Afghanistan to about 3,000 and expand their role to include combat operations.

"In the present situation, I call on everybody to be very careful and very moderate," Sarkozy told reporters in Strasbourg, where he was addressing the European Parliament. "Vigilance in the face of terrorism is the only possible line, because unfortunately anything can happen, and firmness, because we do not compromise with terrorists, we combat them."

Belgian police cited the presence of French and other European troops alongside those of the United States in Afghanistan as a possible motive for six North African immigrants arrested Thursday in Brussels and charged with belonging to a terrorist organization. Belgian authorities said three of the six had been to Afghanistan and one returned recently with the intention to carry out a suicide attack in concert with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

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Man Who Threw Shoes At Bush Appears In Court
2008-12-16 16:16:06
An Iraqi journalist who has admitted hurling his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush appeared before a judge on Tuesday and confirmed his action, said a judicial spokesman.

TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi, who also called Bush a "dog" at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday and became an instant sensation in the Arab world, faced charges of "aggression against a president," said Abdul Satar Birqadr, spokesman for Iraq's High Judicial Council.

Throwing shoes at someone is considered the ultimate insult in the Arab world and dogs are viewed as dirty and disgusting.

"Al-Zaidi was brought today before the investigating judge in the presence of a defense lawyer and a prosecutor," said  Birqadr. "He admits the action he carried out."

The court decided to keep Zaidi in custody, and after the judge completes his investigation of the case may send him for trial under a clause in the Iraqi penal code that punishes anyone who attempts to murder Iraqi or foreign presidents.

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Minnesota Board To Review Disputed Ballots In U.S. Senate Race
2008-12-16 16:15:15
With the winner of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race still a mystery, a five-member board now steps in to see if a winner can be decided between rivals Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

The state canvassing board - made up of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices and two Ramsey County judges - was to begin inspecting as many as 1,500 ballots one by one on Tuesday.

Coleman, the Republican incumbent, leads Democrat Franken by 188 votes from more than 2.9 million ballots cast on Nov. 4. A final winner is pending the canvassing board's decisions on the disputed ballots.

By Monday, both campaigns had pledged to abandon many of the challenges lodged during the recount. The Coleman campaign said it would keep less than 1,000 of its challenges, while the Franken campaign said it would retain less than 500 - though in a legal brief, his lawyers asserted the right to restore another 339 "incident-based" challenges tied to disputes or errors that arose at specific recount sites.

Attorneys for both sides said they believed the canvass board would be able to plow through many of the remaining challenges with little objection from the campaigns.

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