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Friday, January 09, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 9 2009 - (813)

Friday January 9 2009 edition
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Obama Warns Against Inaction On Stimulus Package
2009-01-08 17:21:54
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, pledging to "set a new course" for an ailing American economy, delivered a pointed public appeal for his nearly $1-trillion recovery plan Thursday, the start of a campaign asking Americans to accept massive new spending as a "reinvestment" in the nation.

With it, Obama said, the nation should be able to generate 3 million new jobs over the next few years. Without it, the nation's unemployment rate could climb into double digits, he warned.

Appearing at George Mason University in suburban Virginia for his premier economic address in the run-up to inauguration Jan. 20, Obama said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan was not simply a "public works program."

The plan is an attempt to invest in areas of the economy that promise new growth, he said, and a turnaround from a recession that "could linger for years" if the nation does not act swiftly.

Obama portrayed his planned stimulus as not a series of new government programs but as a sweeping and renewed "foundation" for the economy that would make the nation generally and its children and future generations more competitive in the global economy. The changes would reach across the economy, touching health care, education, energy and infrastructure, such as bridges and Internet broadband links.
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Flu Is Resistant To Antiviral Drug
2009-01-08 17:21:33
Virtually all the flu in the United States this season is resistant to the leading antiviral drug Tamiflu, and scientists and health officials are trying to figure out why.

The problem is not yet a public health crisis because this has been a below-average flu season so far and the chief strain circulating is still susceptible to other drugs - but infectious disease specialists are worried nonetheless.

Last winter, about 11 percent of the throat swabs from patients with the most common type of flu that were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionfor genetic typing showed a Tamiflu-resistant strain. This season, 99 percent do.

“It’s quite shocking,” said Dr. Kent A. Sepkowitz, director of infection control at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “We’ve never lost an antimicrobial this fast. It blew me away.”

The single mutation that creates Tamiflu resistance appears to be spontaneous, and not a reaction to overuse of the drug. It may have occurred in Asia, and it was widespread in Europe last year.

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Israel, Lebanon Play Down Rocket Attacks
2009-01-08 17:21:03
Three rockets fired from Lebanon exploded in northern Israel Thursday, but both governments played down their significance as Egyptian, U.S. and European negotiators searched for a way to end the 13-day-old conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Israel continued its ground and air offensive against the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers but ordered a three-hour suspension in the fighting for a second straight day to allow Gaza's 1.5 million people a chance to get supplies and medical help.

Shortly before Thursday's pause took effect, however, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said one of its aid trucks came under Israeli fire, killing the driver.

The agency, which supplies food to most of Gaza's population, said it was suspending its operations in the territory because of the risk posed by Israeli forces.

Israel and Hamas scaled back their fighting Wednesday and were weighing several international cease-fire proposals, even as Israeli leaders considered a deeper assault into the Palestinian group's urban strongholds.
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Macy's Will Shutter 11 Stores In 9 States, 960 Employees Will Be Affected
2009-01-08 17:20:29
Department-store operator Macy's Inc. said Thursday that it would will close 11 under-performing stores in nine states - affecting 960 employees - and lowered its forecast for the fourth quarter after one of the weakest holiday seasons in years.

In Los Angeles, California, the Macy's in the Ernst & Young Plaza is slated to close. Macy's said 136 people are employed at the store.

Stores that will close also include locations in West Palm Beach, Florida, Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, among others. Cincinnati, Ohio-based Macy's Inc. says the closures will cost about $65 million, most of which will be booked in the 2008 fourth quarter.

Clearance sales at the stores begin next week.

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Illinois Legislative Panel Calls For Impeachment Of Blagojevich
2009-01-08 17:19:51
Members of an investigative committee of the Illinois House of Representatives this morning released a proposed report that recommends the impeachment of the state’s embattled governor, Rod R. Blagojevich. 

“The totality of the evidence warrants the impeachment of the Governor for cause,” the report said, characterizing the governor’s actions as “abuse of power.” “The Committee, therefore, recommends that the House consider an Article of Impeachment against the Governor.”

Among the evidence cited in the report is the criminal complaint and affidavit that are part of the federal corruption case against Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat who was arrested on Dec. 9 and accused of, among other things, trying to sell the former United States Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.

The report said lawmakers also considered evidence that the governor “expanded a health care plan without legal authority,” “linked campaign contributions to official actions” and committed a “number of abuses” in his handling of a flu vaccine program.

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Citigroup Reaches Deal With Lawmakers On Home Mortgages
2009-01-08 17:21:44
U.S. Senate leaders won the support of Citigroup, one of the nation's largest banks, for legislation allowing bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled mortgages.

It was a surprising turnaround from a financial industry leader. The industry has protested Senate Democrats' proposal to allow judges to changes the terms of mortgages for a borrower's primary residence, saying it would make loans more expensive.

The deal reflects the changed political and economic realities of the nation's deepening recession and puts pressure on other lenders to come aboard. President-elect Barack Obama has said he supports the provision and banks that have accepted federal aid have faced more pressure to do more to help homeowners. Also, the foreclosure crisis has worsened in the last year and industry and government efforts to keep people in their homes have had little impact.

Citigroup has received about $40 billion in government assistance last year.

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) and Charles Schumer (D-New York) called this a breakthrough on the bankruptcy issue and said they will push to add the provision to the economic stimulus package now moving through Congress.

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U.N., Red Cross Add To Outcry On Gaza
2009-01-08 17:21:16
International pressure intensified sharply on Israel Thursday, the 13th day of its Gaza assault, after the United Nations  suspended food aid deliveries, the International Committee of the Red Cross accused the Israelis of knowingly blocking assistance to the injured, and a top Vatican official defended comments in which he compared Gaza to a concentration camp.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council appeared to be nearing consensus on a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire, while in Washington, a State Department spokesman called on Israel to expand access to emergency aid into the Gaza Strip, referring to the humanitarian situation in the besieged Palestinian territory as “dire.”

Earlier Thursday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has been providing food assistance to 20,000 Gazans per day during the conflict, suspended the aid after reporting that one of its contract drivers was killed in an Israeli attack on a delivery convoy at a border crossing.

“We are waiting for improved security guarantees for our staff from the Israeli side,” said Andrew Whitley, the agency’s representative in New York. United Nations personnel, he said, have been ordered not to move within Gaza, effectively halting aid operations.

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Obama Team Asks Congress To Delay Switch To Digital TV
2009-01-08 17:20:42

President-elect Barack Obama's transition team Thursday asked key members of Congress to consider delaying the nation's switch to digital television scheduled for Feb. 17, saying there is "insufficient support" for the problems consumers will experience during the shut-off of analog signals.

In a letter sent to Capitol Hill this afternoon, and obtained by the Washington Post, the transition team said congressional action is needed. The action would be the "first step" toward helping consumers get ready for the transition to digital television. It also called funds provided to support the conversion "woefully inadequate."

The request for a delay comes 41 days before the government-mandated switch to all-digital broadcasts, which requires the nation's full-powered television stations to permanently shut off the traditional analog signals they have used for more than half a century. Analog television sets that rely on "rabbit ear" or rooftop antennas to receive broadcasts will not work unless they are upgraded with a converter box. Consumers who have digital TV sets, or who subscribe to cable or satellite service, will not lose programming.

Preparations for the switch to digital television have been rocky, causing lawmakers and consumer advocates to seriously worry that television watchers, particularly low-income, rural and elderly Americans who rely most heavily on over-the-air signals, will lose access to their main source of news and entertainment. This week, federal officials said the program to distribute $40 coupons to consumers to help defray the cost of converter boxes has run out of money, so consumers who need the coupons may not receive them in time for the transition.

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Data Shows Holiday Retail Sales Were Dismal In U.S.
2009-01-08 17:20:18

After weeks of hoping for a Christmas miracle, the nation’s retail chains confirmed Thursday that they suffered one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in decades. Most stores reported sales declines and many lowered their earnings guidance, including Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

Sales in November and December are closely watched because they account for 25 to 40 percent of many retailers’ annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation, an industry group. And typically, those sales are robust.

Yet this past Christmas was anything but typical.

Retail sales fell 2.2 percent for the holiday shopping season, the biggest decline since at least 1970, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. December sales dropped 1.7 percent on top of even-weaker November sales, when chains posted a 2.7 percent decline, the council said. Those numbers were propped up by some huge categories, like food and beverages, on which consumers are less likely to cut back even in a recession.

Michael P. Niemira, the council’s chief economist and director of research, said retailers cut prices to drive shoppers through their doors, “but even that strategy was not enough as the elevated worry about job insecurity and increased job layoff announcements continued to restrain consumers’ willingness and ability to spend.”

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