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Friday, January 23, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 23 2009 - (813)

Friday January 23 2009 edition
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Shares Slide On Wall Street As Grim News Keeps Markets On Edge
2009-01-22 21:18:55

A day after stock markets posted their biggest one-day advance in weeks, they made an about-face on Thursday. The major indexes gave back close to half their gains, finishing sharply lower as investors grappled with a blast of disappointing news from Microsoft and the housing market.

All sectors finished lower, with bank stocks and consumer-oriented companies hobbled by worries about domestic spending and the health of the financial sector.

“As stones are unturned, we find deeper and bigger holes in the financial sector,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners.

In its third consecutive day of triple-digit moves, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 105.30 points, or 1.3 percent, to end at 8,122.80. The wider Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index lost 12.74 points, or 1.5 percent, to finish at 827.50, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index dropped 2.8 percent to 1,465.49.

While investors are eager for Congress to pass an $800 billion economic stimulus package, there is a growing uneasiness that even a huge spending plan might be dwarfed by the persistent economic slump.

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Worm Infect Millions Of Computers Worldwide
2009-01-22 21:18:31

A new digital plague has hit the Internet, infecting millions of personal and business computers in what seems to be the first step of a multistage attack. The world’s leading computer security experts do not yet know who programmed the infection, or what the next stage will be.

In recent weeks a worm, a malicious software program, has swept through corporate, educational and public computer networks around the world. Known as Conficker or Downadup, it is spread by a recently discovered Microsoft  Windows vulnerability, by guessing network passwords and by hand-carried consumer gadgets like USB keys.

Experts say it is the worst infection since the Slammer worm exploded through the Internet in January 2003, and it may have infected as many as nine million personal computers around the world.

Worms like Conficker not only ricochet around the Internet at lightning speed, they harness infected computers into unified systems called botnets, which can then accept programming instructions from their clandestine masters. “If you’re looking for a digital Pearl Harbor, we now have the Japanese ships steaming toward us on the horizon,” said Rick Wesson, chief executive of Support Intelligence, a computer security consulting firm based in San Francisco.

Many computer users may not notice that their machines have been infected, and computer security researchers said they were waiting for the instructions to materialize, to determine what impact the botnet will have on PC users. It might operate in the background, using the infected computer to send spam or infect other computers, or it might steal the PC user’s personal information.

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Bulgaria Looks To Restart Soviet Era Nuclear Reactors
2009-01-22 21:17:56
The natural gas is back in Europe, but Bulgaria says it would like to try to restart a mothballed nuclear power facility to avoid shortages in the future. The European Union considers the reactors unsafe, but Sofia sees the move as fair compensation for economic damage done by the gas shut-off.

Russian natural gas may once again be flowing to Europe. But the fallout from the three-week supply cut-off, a consequence of price wars between Gazprom and Ukraine, continues to make itself felt across the Continent.

Particularly in Bulgaria. Without natural gas to feed its industries, the country has suffered significant economic damage. The Energy and Economy Ministry in Sofia said on Thursday the country had lost 197 million (€101 million) Bulgarian lev as a result of gas outages. And that estimate may be low: Minister Petar Dimitrov warned that final calculations were far from complete and some predictions ranged as high as 500 million lev (€256 million). Dimitrov told reporters Thursday that if losses ultimately top 0.6 percent of the country's gross domestic product, he would seek financial assistance from the European Union.

Bulgaria, though, has also begun looking at ways to avoid such a drastic energy shortage in the future - one which Dimitrov said earlier this week "resembles a terrorist attack." Tops on the list of ideas is that of restarting reactors three and four at the Soviet-era Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. Ramadan Atalay, who chairs the energy committee in Bulgarian parliament, said on Wednesday that a motion to discuss the idea with the E.U. had passed out of committee and would go before the floor on Friday.

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Obama Orders Secret Prisons, Detention Camps Closed
2009-01-22 15:27:03
Saying that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to combat terrorism, President Obama signed executive orders Thursday effectively ending the Central Intelligence Agency's secret interrogation program, directing the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year and setting up a sweeping, high-level review of the best way to hold and question terrorist suspects in the future.

“We intend to win this fight,” said Obama. “We are going to win it on our own terms.”

As he signed three orders, 16 retired generals and admirals who have fought for months for a ban on coercive interrogations stood behind him and applauded. The group, organized to lobby the Obama transition team by the group Human Rights First, did not include any career C.I.A. officers or retirees, participants said.

One of Obama’s orders requires the C.I.A. to use only the 19 interrogation methods outlined in the Army Field Manual, ending President Bush’s policy of permitting the agency to use some secret methods that went beyond those allowed to the military.

“We believe we can abide by a rule that says we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need,” said Obama.

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New Home Construction Hits All-Time Low In U.S.
2009-01-22 15:26:44
New-home construction plunged to an all-time low in December, capping the worst year for builders on records dating back to 1959.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that construction of new homes and apartments fell 15.5 percent to an annual rate of 550,000 units last month. That shattered the previous low set in November.

It was a much weaker showing than the pace of 610,000 that economists were forecasting and ended 2008 on a dismal note.

For all of last year, the number of housing units that builders broke ground on totaled just over 904,000, also a record low. That marked a huge 33.3 percent drop from the 1.355 million housing units started in 2007. The previous low was set in 1991.

The report also showed that applications for building permits - considered a reliable sign of future activity - sank to a rate of 549,000 in December, a 10.7 percent drop from the previous month.

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China's Economy Drops Sharply In 4th Quarter
2009-01-22 15:26:05
China's economic growth dropped sharply in the fourth quarter of last year, according to new data released Thursday, raising the specter of more job losses and worrying experts concerned about the impact on the country's stability.

China's gross domestic product from October through December grew by 6.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago, down from 9 percent in the third quarter and 10.6 percent in the first quarter, Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news conference. It was the weakest quarter since Beijing began reporting quarterly economic data in 1992.

For the year, annual growth for the world's third-largest economy slowed to 9 percent, the lowest growth in annual output in eight years and well below the 13 percent increase for 2007. The figures were not unexpected, but they show how the financial crisis is deepening across China, ending a five-year streak of double-digit growth and signaling difficult times ahead while the country waits for the benefits of a $586 billion stimulus plan to kick in.

That fourth-quarter growth fell below 8 percent was significant, according to government officials who believe growth of about that level is necessary to put China's vast labor market to work. It also came as dismal results were announced elsewhere in export-dependent Asia. Japan, the region's biggest economy, announced the sharpest ever falloff in exports, which plummeted 35 percent in December over the previous year. South Korea's economy, meanwhile, shrank 3.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

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Political Blog: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Arrives At Foggy Bottom
2009-01-22 15:25:23

Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived for her first day of work at the State Department Thursday, assuming the mantle of the nation’s chief diplomat and preparing to name a pair of renowned diplomats to serve as special emissaries to the Middle East and South Asia.

The morning after she was easily confirmed by the Senate, Mrs. Clinton was greeted by a crowd of more than a thousand State Department employees, cheering and whooping like a campaign gathering.

“This is going to be a great adventure,” Clinton said to employees in a lively 10-minute address, as people craned to see her from a balcony in the flag-lined lobby of the State Department.

Clinton said she sought a “sense of openness and candor in this building,” and invited people to “think outside the proverbial box,” which drew a yelp from a man in the crowd. She promised “robust diplomacy” and “effective development” to restore America’s standing overseas.

Clinton walked into the building just after 9:15 a.m., to a hail of camera flashes. She was met at the door by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, the top-ranking career diplomat, who introduced her as the nation’s 67th secretary of state.

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Commentary: 'Why Can't Guantanamo's Inmates Stay In America?'
2009-01-22 21:18:45
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Michael Scott Moore and appeared under "The World From Berlin" column in Spiegel magazine's online edition for Thursday, January 22, 2009.

Politicians and journalists across Europe agree with U.S. President Obama that the Guantanamo detention camp facility should close; but the legal details of what to do with the remaining prisoners are difficult. German media commentators debate what to do with the inmates.

Barack Obama's first big move on Tuesday as president - a request to halt military trials at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, with the idea of closing the prison there - has played well around the world. European leaders and newspaper commentators have sung more or less with one voice about a return to American ideals of justice and freedom. Obama is expected on Thursday to file a direct order to close the camp within a year. But the details of shuttering Guantanamo will prove stickier than a few deft legal moves in Washington, D.C., - they will need diplomacy, and a degree of international cooperation that was unknown by the end of the Bush years.

The talk this week in Europe has centered around a group of Guantanamo inmates who have been "cleared for release" by the Pentagon, but have no place to go. Human rights groups as well as U.S. policy hold that Washington should not send prisoners "home" to countries where they stand a reasonable chance of tortureopk - China, Algeria, Libya, Uzbekistan. Never mind that torture was probably committed by U.S. soldiers in Guantanamo: Even Bush said he wanted to close the prison for humanitarian reasons, but said he was hamstrung by legal considerations.
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The High Price Of Clean, Cheap Ethanol
2009-01-22 21:18:15
Brazil hopes to supply drivers worldwide with the fuel of the future - cheap ethanol derived from sugarcane. It is considered an effective antidote to climate change, but hundreds of thousands of Brazilian plantation workers harvest the cane at slave wages.

In the middle of the night, the plantations around Aracoiaba in Brazil's ethanol zone are on fire. The area looks like a war zone during the sugarcane harvest, as the burning fields light up the sky and the wind carries clouds of smoke across the countryside.

The fires chase away snakes, kill tarantulas and burn away the sharp leaves of the cane plants. In the morning, when only embers remain, tens of thousands of workers with machetes head into the fields throughout this region in northeastern Brazil. They harvest the cane, which survives the fire and which is used to distill ethanol, the gasoline of the future.

Hours earlier, Antonio da Silva attempts to get up from his plank bed. He doesn't need an alarm clock, even at two in the morning. The pain wakes him up. He looks at the other two beds in the room, where his children sleep - four young girls and two boys. Once outside, in front of the hut, he says he may not be able to feed them for much longer.

He knows a hernia finished him, and it was the hernia that forces him to push his intestines into place when he straightens up after bending over. He feels two types of pain: a dull throbbing pain in his groin that has been there for a long time, and the sharp pain he experiences whenever he cuts sugarcane with his facão, or machete.

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Environment Blamed In Western U.S. Tree Deaths
2009-01-22 21:17:29

Rising temperatures and the resulting drought are causing trees in the West to die at more than twice the pace they did a few decades ago, a new study has found.

The combination of temperature and drought has also reduced the ability of the forests to absorb carbon dioxide, which traps heat and thus contributes to global warming, said the authors of the study, and has made forests sparser and more susceptible to fires and pests.

The scientists, who analyzed tree census data collected in 1955 and in later years, found that the mortality of trees increased in 87 percent of the 76 forest plots studied. In some plots, the die-off rate doubled in as little as 17 years; in others, it doubled after 29 years, the study found.

“Summers are getting longer,” said Nathan L. Stephenson, of the United States Geological Survey, a leader of the study with Phillip van Mantgem, also of the geological survey. “Trees are under more drought stress.”

The study will appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

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U.S. Financial Regulatory System Seriously Outdated Says GAO
2009-01-22 15:26:52

The U.S. financial regulatory system is seriously outdated and needs urgent reform to avoid a further worsening of the economic crisis, a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes.

The report to Congress renewed concerns about the Treasury Department's handling of emergency economic stabilization measures, including its ability to achieve compliance with limitations imposed by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) on executive compenstation and dividend payments.

The report on so-called "high-risk areas" in the federal government, released at noon today on Capitol Hill, comes months after the economy tumbled into the worst financial crisis in 75 years. The reforms are needed to reduce the likelihood that the nation would "experience another financial crisis similar to the current one," the report states.

The GAO document also questioned the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the safety of drugs and medical devices. "The agency is facing significant challenges that compromise its ability to protect Americans from unsafe and ineffective products," said the report.

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Wall Street Tumbles On Microsoft Report, Bank Woes
2009-01-22 15:26:30
Disappointing results at Microsoft Corp. and increasing concerns about the nation's banks sent Wall Street sharply lower Thursday, extending a new streak of stock volatility into a third day. The Dow Jones industrials fell more than 200 points.

Microsoft surprised investors by reporting its fiscal second-quarter earnings early - and the news was not good. The software giant posted an 11 percent drop in profits and said it will slash 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months. (Intellpuke: You can read a separate article on Microsoft's woes elsewhere on today's Free Internet Press mainpage.)

The company said deteriorating global economic conditions and lower revenue from PC software forced it to cut back. The company also said it is unable to provide any profit and revenue forecasts for the rest of the year because of the market volatility.

Uneasiness about the stability of the financial sector continued to plague investors Thursday, and bank stocks took another beating. Quarterly financial reports showing steep profit declines and big loan losses have investors worried that the financial crisis is far from over, and that the government's efforts to prop up banks might not be enough to prevent a major failure.

There are risks to shareholders, as well as taxpayers, if the government steps in to save a bank. Bank investors could see the value of their holdings tumble if the government were to take a big stake in a company. That's because banks have been issuing shares to the government in exchange for much-needed cash. With so many more overall shares in the marketplace, each one is worth less.
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Newsblog: Microsoft Posts Quarterly Drop, Plans To Cut 5,000 Jobs
2009-01-22 15:25:46

The world's largest software maker plans to let go 5,000 of its nearly 90,000 employees, including 1,400 today, "in light of the further deterioration of global economic conditions."

Microsoft's quarterly revenue and profit also fell short of its previous forecasts and Wall Street's expectations. For its fiscal second quarter, the Redmond, Wash., company posted revenue growth of only 2%, to $16.63 billion, and an 11% drop in net income, to $4.17 billion. It blamed weak demand for personal computers that run its Windows operating system and Office software.

Its shares are trading down more than 8% this morning. Microsoft had been scheduled to announce its quarterly results after the stock markets closed but got a jump on it amid heavy speculation about job cuts.

Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said: "While we are not immune to the effects of the economy, I am confident in the strength of our product portfolio and soundness of our approach. We will continue to manage expenses and invest in long-term opportunities to deliver value to customers and shareholders, and we will emerge an even stronger industry leader than we are today."

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Double-Takes By New York's Governor In Choosing A Senator
2009-01-22 15:25:01

New York Gov. David A Paterson declared on a local radio station last Friday that he had been ready to pull the trigger on his choice to fill the Senate seat held by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I would probably have done it this weekend,” he said then, adding that he decided to hold off making the announcement until after President Obama’s inauguration, when it would not be such a distraction.

Fast forward a few hours later that day to a press conference in Paterson’s office in Midtown Manhattan. “I’m having new thinking about who I’m intending to appoint and having a few follow-up conversations with some of those people,” he said.

It was the kind of double-take moment that has been a hallmark of Paterson’s process in considering the appointment under endless scrutiny and speculation. That process was upended on Wednesday night when Caroline Kennedy withdrew from consideration. The decision capped an evening of back-and-forth dialogue with the governor’s office that left it unclear for several hours whether she was still interested in the position.

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