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Friday, January 16, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 16 2009 - (813)

Friday January 16 2009 edition
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States Sue Bush Administration Over Health Provider Conscience Rule
2009-01-15 19:58:33

Seven states and two advocacy groups Thursday asked a federal court to block a controversial new federal regulation that protects health workers who refuse to provide care that they find objectionable.

In three separate lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, the states and groups sought an immediate court order preventing the regulation from going into effect Jan. 20 and a permanent decision voiding the rule.

"The Bush administration has left a ticking political time bomb that is set to go off," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who filed one of the suits on behalf of his state as well as California, Illinois, Massachusettts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island. "This midnight rule is a nightmare for hospitals and clinics as well as women."

Blumenthal's lawsuit challenges the regulation on several grounds, including charging that it conflicts with other federal laws and many state laws and regulations. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a second suit on behalf of its affiliates, while the American Civil Liberties Union filed a third suit on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Helath Asssociation, which represents many state and county health departments among other providers.

"We filed this lawsuit today on behalf of the millions of women whose health care has been put in jeopardy by the Bush administration's parting shot at women's health," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.

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Natives In Canada Want $3 Billion In Stimulus Funds
2009-01-15 19:57:59

Canadian federal and provincial leaders will be urged to consider a $3-billion stimulus plan targeted at Native reserves when they meet in Ottawa Friday.

Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine said the plan focuses on new housing, a major school construction program and establishing a $1-billion fund that would lend money to local development initiatives.

"In good times we haven't done all that well. Our concern is that in this crisis situation we will become an afterthought," said Fontaine. "Our plan is practical, it's achievable and it makes good economic sense."

Fontaine said that up to $300-billion will be invested in oil and gas, mineral, forestry and hydro projects on aboriginal traditional territory in the next decade, according to Industry Canada estimates. It's crucial that the government establish the infrastructure to take advantage of those resource projects at a time when the economy needs a boost, he said.

"Any investment in our stimulus plan is going to bring some significant returns, particularly in job creation. For example, for every $1-million invested in housing, there will be approximately 24 jobs, direct and indirect, that will be created, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation," he said.

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Hamas Interior Minister Reported Killed In Gaza Attack
2009-01-15 19:57:27

A senior Hamas leader was killed in Gaza Thursday in an Israeli air strike on the Jabaliya refugee camp, said Hamas officials. Saeed Seyyam, the group's interior minister, was killed in the attack on a house during one of the heaviest bombardments of Gaza in Israel's military operation so far.

Palestinian sources told Reuters the house had been rented by his brother, who was also reportedly killed in the attack along with Seyyam's son. The attack flattened the house, leaving a large crater in the ground, said Hamas officials.

Seyyam was appointed after the Palestinian elections in 2006 and was in charge of 13,000 Hamas police and security men. Speaking on al-Jazeera television, Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas official, said there would be revenge for Seyyam's death. "The blood of Saeed Seyyam will be a curse on the Zionist entity," he said.

Seyyam's death comes amid increasing speculation that a ceasefire may soon be agreed, despite Israeli shells setting the local headquarters of the U.N. refugee agency on fire earlier Thursday. The building was hit by what appeared to be phosphorous shells as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Gaza City.

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U.S. Airways Passenger Jet Crashes Into Hudson River In New York
2009-01-15 16:37:59
A US Airways plane that took off Thursday at 3:26 p.m. from La Guardia Airport landed in the Hudson River five minutes later, where it remains mostly submerged. Ferries and other boats converged to help with a rescue effort, as the plane drifted south. According WNBC television news, there was reports of injuries among the 151 people on board.

The plane, US Airways flight 1549, took off from LaGuardia Airport at 3:26 p.m. was bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, and had 146 passengers and 5 crew members. The plane may have hit a flock of birds, according to a F.A.A. report, and then descended. The pilot tried to return to the airport when the plane fell into the Hudson.

Television reports showed several commuter ferries around where the plane, an Airbus A320, was in the water. New York Police Department divers dove into the water to assist with the rescue as plane floated southbound on the river, possibly due to the tidal direction.

Shortly before 4 p.m., a New York Waterways ferry pulled into Pier 79 at 39th Street and 12th Avenue and, led by a man wrapped only in a blanket, about 15 passengers from the airplane were escorted into the ferry terminal. No one was carrying any belongings.

“They look amazingly calm, but I bet their hearts are racing,” said Bob Grindrod, of Syracuse, who was waiting to board a ferry for New Jersey.

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Obama Adviser Presents Plan To Alter Global Financial System
2009-01-15 15:31:01
A top economic adviser to the incoming Obama administration unveiled a plan Thursday to radically rethink the global financial system, including a host of measures that would dramatically expand government control over banking and investment in the United States.

The plan - which recommends limiting the size of banks, setting guidelines for executive pay and regulating hedge funds - offers the first hint of the kind of changes to the financial system President-elect Barack Obama might push for in the coming weeks and months. Obama has pledged to present a comprehensive series of changes to prevent a repeat of the current financial crisis before world leaders gather in London for a major economic summit in April.

The report today was issued by the Group of 30, an organization of international economists and policy makers. The recommendations were immediately seen by observers as a building block to an Obama plan because the lead author is Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve during the Carter and Reagan administrations who will serve as a special Obama White House adviser. Part of Volcker's role is to help mastermind what could ultimately be the biggest overhaul of the U.S. financial system in decades.

Volcker said he would press the new administration to consider the measures, "but it's up to the administration to decide what they want to do."

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Weather A Suspect In Pelican Deaths Mystery
2009-01-15 15:30:34
What’s wrong with California’s pelicans?

More than 400 endangered California brown pelicans have been found dead or dying since late December, with disoriented and starving birds turning up on highways, in backyards, and even in the Arizona desert.

Now, though, after an investigation with all manner of sinister theories - from bird flu to poisoning by lingering fire retardant used to fight the region’s wildfires - California fish and game officials say they are closing in on a more usual suspect: Mother Nature.

According to a preliminary report to be released on Thursday, many of the birds now flooding West Coast animal hospitals and rescue centers were caught in a brutal snowstorm and cold snap on the Oregon-Washington border in mid-December, setting off an arduous and often life-threatening commute to warmer climes.

“Pelicans were observed in the middle of that storm and then seen moving south,” said David A. Jessup, senior wildlife veterinarian for the California Department of Fish and Game. About a week later, he said, ill birds started showing up on the California coast and further inland.

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U.N. Building In Gaza Strip Hit By Israeli Strike
2009-01-15 15:30:03
Israeli forces shelled areas deep inside Gaza City on Thursday, hitting the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and injuring at least three people among the hundreds taking shelter in the compound, according to United Nations officials and witnesses.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret for the strike but said that Israeli forces were fired on by Hamas  militants from just outside the United Nations compound and the militants then ran inside to take cover, according to Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev. A United Nations official in Gaza disputed that claim.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack had told him the strike on the United Nations compound was a “grave mistake.” Ban, who was in Israel Thursday to press for a cease-fire, said he expressed “strong protest and outrage” to Israel. Relations between Israel and the United Nations offices in Palestinian territory, long strained, have worsened during the Israeli campaign.

In what appeared to be a breakthrough for the Israeli military, Israeli and Palestinian media reported that Israel had killed a senior Hamas official in the bombing of his home. Two days ago, Israeli officials said, despite heavy air and ground assaults, Israel had yet to cripple the military wing of Hamas or halt its rocket fire into Israel.

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Bursts Of Methane Gas Discovered On Mars
2009-01-15 15:28:30

Something is happening beneath the surface of Mars that causes substantial amounts of methane gas to burst out regularly, a discovery that NASA scientists said Thursday represents the strongest indication so far that life might exist, or once existed, on the planet.

The methane is released into the atmosphere in specific areas and at regular times, they found, in a pattern that would be consistent with the gas being a byproduct of biological activity beneath the planet's parched surface.

Principal investigator Michael Mumma, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said the detection does not mean that life definitely exists on Mars, because the gas can be produced by subsurface geological or chemical processes as well.

Nevertheless, "we believe this definitely increases the prospects for finding life on Mars," said Mumma, whose findings are being published online Thursday by Science Express. "No other discovery has done as much to increase the chances of finding life."

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Israel Shuts World Press Out Of Gaza
2009-01-15 02:57:10
The Israelis have shut the world press out of the Gaza Strip, forcing journalists to rely on Arab media and informants on the ground. This situation is making objective reporting on the war close to impossible.

Danny Seaman stands on a low hill in southern Israel. His legs are set wide, and his whole face is beaming. Whatever he is looking at is clearly filling him with satisfaction.

While a crowd of journalists scurries around the hill, television cameras stand at the ready and the logos of major television channels glint from the satellite dishes mounted atop broadcast vans. The area is swarming with photographers who sit and wait like paparazzi camped outside a celebrity villa - except that the situation here isn't quite so glamorous. With little to see, the general mood is one of annoyance. And that's exactly how Seaman likes it. After all, he doesn't like these foreign observers very much.

Seaman is the director of Israel's Government Press Office. The Israeli government has barred all media coverage from the Gaza Strip, which has forced correspondents from around the world to take up position here, one kilometer (0.62 miles) back from the border. In the distance, they can make out the silhouette of Gaza City. They can see the smoke that rises after each air strike, too.

At the moment, this hill provides the best view of the war available - and it's the Israeli view. The journalists are close enough to film the impact of Israeli bombs but too far away to see the Palestinian casualties.

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U.S. Senate Releases $350 Billion In Bailout Funds
2009-01-15 19:58:13

The Senate voted narrowly Thursday to permit President-elect Barack Obama to spend another $350 billion to stabilize the fragile U.S. financial system.

On a vote of 52 to 42, the Senate defeated a resolution that would have blocked the second half of the money from a $700 billion financial rescue program from flowing to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The vote was a victory for Obama, who made personal appeals to deeply skeptical lawmakers in recent days to try to rally support. Obama's economic team says the money is urgently needed, along with a massive spending package, to restore health to financial markets and the slumping economy.

The Senate's defeat of the resolution to disapprove the funds means the money will be available to Obama about a week after he takes office Tuesday.

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Irish Government Nationalizes Anglo Irish Bank
2009-01-15 19:57:43
Ireland Thursday night nationalized the troubled Anglo Irish Bank with a promise to safeguard its €100 billion deposit base.

The Guardian newspaper reports the Irish government took the unprecedented measure because of fears that the bank's collapse would have had a major negative impact on the republic's wider economy. Had the bank gone out of business a number of sectors of the economy would have been under threat particularly health insurance, sources said in Dublin.

At a hastily convened press conference this evening in Government Buildings, Dublin, Irish finance minister Brian Lenihan confirmed the bank would taken into public ownership.

In a statement released in advance of Lenihan's announcement, the Republic's department of finance said: "Anglo Irish Bank is a major financial institution whose viability is of systemic importance to Ireland. Anglo has a balance sheet of some €100 billion with a substantial deposit base which the state is determined to safeguard. The government has made clear that it will ensure its continued viability. Anglo Irish Bank will continue to trade normally as a going concern, with appropriate government support as necessary. All Anglo employees remain employed by the company."

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Russia Issues Tsunami Warning After 7.3 Magnitude Earthquake
2009-01-15 19:57:07
Russia issued a tsunami warning in the Far Eastern coastal city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on Friday after a large earthquake off the Kuril Islands, RIA news agency reported.

The news agency did not immediately give details. The emergencies ministry could not be reached for comment.

A Reuters witness in the city said the force of the earthquake threw him out of bed.

“It woke me up by throwing me out of bed,” said the witness. “It was rather strong. Lamps were swinging.”

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Stock Markets Rebound After Falling In Early Trading
2009-01-15 16:37:51

All sides of the recession were on view Thursday in the latest economic reports, keeping pressures on markets around the world.

A sharp fall in machinery orders in Japan provided the latest grim indication that the country’s economic contraction is set to be deep and prolonged as exports to other recession-struck regions plunged - notably those to the United States and Europe. The market in Tokyo fell 4.9 percent.

In Europe, the central bank lowered its key rate by half a percentage point, to 2 percent, as recent economic data showed that inflation was easing but the recession was deepening. Major markets in Europe were all down in afternoon trading.

In the United States, the producer price index fell 1.9 percent, its fifth consecutive monthly decline, as energy costs continue to drop. The core rate, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.2 percent last month.

In addition, new jobless claims rose more than expected last week to 524,000 from 470,000 a week earlier. Analysts were expecting 500,000 new claims.

Shares on Wall Street, which spent much of the day sharply lower, rebounded slightly in mid-afternoon trading. The Dow Jones industrial average down, which had been down almost 200 points, finished 12.35 points higher shortly. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index ended up 1.12 points. The Nasdaq was 1.4 percent or 22.20 points higher.

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New Wave Of Bank Losses Complicates U.S. Rescue
2009-01-15 15:30:51

A new wave of bank losses is overwhelming the federal government's emergency response, as financial firms struggle with the souring U.S. economy, the rapid deterioration of global markets and the unexpectedly high costs of "shotgun" mergers arranged by federal officials last year.

The problems are intensifying the pressure on the incoming Obama administration to allocate more of the $700 billion rescue program to financial firms even as Democratic leaders have urged more help for distressed homeowners, small businesses and municipalities. Senior Federal Reserve officials said this week that the bulk of the money should go to banks.

Some Fed officials suggested that even more than $700 billion may be required, and financial analysts at Goldman Sachs and elsewhere say banks will have to raise hundreds of billions of dollars from public or private sources.

This year is expected to be worse for banks than last year, senior government officials and analysts say. The money from the first half of the rescue program helped banks replace most of the money they lost during the first nine months of 2008; but the firms are beginning to report fourth-quarter losses that are larger than analysts expected, and the economic environment continues to worsen quickly.

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Federal Court Backs Some Types Of Warrantless Surveillance
2009-01-15 15:30:22

A U.S. federal appeals court issued a rare public opinion Thursday backing the government's authority to intercept international phone conversations and e-mails without a judicial warrant if the principal purpose is to collect foreign intelligence, including communications involving Americans.

The ruling came in response to the claims of an unnamed telecommunications company that the government in 2007 improperly demanded information on its clients in violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The company has been complying with the demand while the case was pending.

In its opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review ruled that national security interests outweighed privacy rights of those who might be targeted, affirming what amounts to an exception to the Constitution's Fourth Amendment for cases that involve what the panel called government interests "of the highest order of magnitude."

The opinion, written by the court's chief judge, Bruce M. Selya, said the government had enacted appropriate protections and restrictions on gathering such intelligence. "Our decision recognizes that where the government has instituted several layers of serviceable safeguards to protect individuals against unwarranted harms and to minimize incidental intrusions, its efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts," Selya wrote in the 29-page opinion.

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Roland Burris Sworn In As U.S. Senator From Illinois
2009-01-15 15:29:23
Roland Burris took his place as Barack Obama's successor in the Senate on Thursday, ending a standoff that embarrassed the president-elect and fellow Democrats who initially resisted the appointment by impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"I do," Burris said with a grin as Vice President Dick Cheney administered the oath of office to the former Illinois attorney general who takes Obama's place as the Senate's only black member.

More than a week after his colleagues were sworn in, Burris was seated without objection or a roll call vote, even though Majority Leader Harry Reid had said senators would have their voices heard on whether to accept his appointment.

Reid smiled broadly and applauded as Burris received a standing ovation from his new colleagues and accepted handshakes and congratulations from Republicans and Democrats alike. Later, the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, was throwing a reception in his new colleague's honor.

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Swindlers Find Growing Market In U.S. Foreclosures
2009-01-15 02:57:24

As home values across the country continue to plummet, the authorities say a new breed of swindler is preying on the tens of thousands of homeowners desperate to avoid foreclosure.

Until recently, defrauders tried to bilk homeowners out of the equity in their homes. Now, with that equity often dried up, they are presenting themselves as “foreclosure rescue companies” that charge upfront fees to modify loans but often do nothing to stave off foreclosure.

The Federal Trade Commission brought lawsuits last year against five companies representing 20,000 customers, and state and local prosecutors have brought dozens more. In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum recently sued a company that he said had more than 600 victims.

“There’s no way for the consumer to sort out the legitimate companies,” said McCollum, who added that he had limited resources to fight what he called “a sheer volume question.”

The companies under suspicion typically charge an upfront fee of up to $3,000 to help borrowers get lower rates on their mortgages from their lenders. But borrowers often cannot afford the fees, the service can be bogus and, in the worst cases, the homeowners lose their chance to renegotiate with their bank or to file for bankruptcy protection because of the time wasted.

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Venezuela's Chavez Reopens Oil Bids To West As Prices Plummet
2009-01-15 02:56:55
Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, buffeted by falling oil prices that threaten to damage his efforts to establish a Socialist-inspired state, is quietly courting Western oil companies once again.

Until recently, Chavez had pushed foreign oil companies here into a corner by nationalizing their oil fields, raiding their offices with tax authorities and imposing a series of royalties increases.

Faced with the plunge in prices and a decline in domestic production, senior officials have begun soliciting bids from some of the largest Western oil companies in recent weeks - including Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell and Total of France - promising them access to some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves, according to energy executives and industry consultants here.

Their willingness to even consider investing in Venezuela reflects the scarcity of projects open to foreign companies in other top oil nations, particularly in the Middle East.

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