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Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 30 2009 - (813)

Friday January 30 2009 edition
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Economic Signs Turn From Shinola To ... Well, You Get The Idea
2009-01-30 03:48:46

On the eve of what is expected to be the clearest evidence yet of the nation's deepening recession, bad news rolled in from across the economy and the world. Sales of new homes in December plummeted, corporations announced plans to cut 13,000 more U.S. jobs, unemployment claims jumped, and a troubled icon of U.S. manufacturing, Ford Motor, Thursday announced a massive loss.

Early Friday morning, the Japanese government announced that factory output had fallen 9.6 percent and that joblessness in the world's second-largest economy jumped to 4.4 percent, in the largest increase in 41 years.

The accelerating pattern of grim indicators has led up to a report scheduled for release Friday morning on U.S. economic performance in the final three months of last year. Many economists think the economy shrank by as much as a 6 percent annual rate - that would be the worst quarter for the economy since 1982 - and they see little potential for growth until later this year.

Capturing the sentiment of a nation caught in an economic tailspin, President Obama said Thursday that it was "shameful" that Wall Street firms doled out nearly $20 billion in executive bonuses even as the government was spending billions of dollars to rescue financial firms.

Stocks stumbled Thursday on the dire economic data, with the Dow Jones industrial averagte dropping 2.7 percent, or 226.44 points, to close at 8149.01.

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American Indian Museum Will Put Entire Collection Online
2009-01-30 03:48:23

Even with three locations in its empire, the National Museum of the American Indian can display barely 1 percent of its 800,000 objects. To help close that gap, the museum has decided to set up a digital showcase.

On Monday, the museum plans to launch its "Fourth Museum" to give scholars, students, teachers, cultural historians and those far away from the museum's homes in Washington, D.C., and New York City, N.Y., the opportunity to look into its archives.

The move has been in the works for nearly three years, as staff reexamined each item and its scholarship. The online project, part of the museum's regular Web site, will begin with 5,500 items and photographs. The goal is to have all 800,000 objects on the Web site, but it will take at least four years to achieve that.

"Most Americans will never see the Smithsonian, and Native Americans aren't any different," said Kevin Gover, the museum's director. "This Web site has always been part of our long-term strategic plan. Quite simply, given we know most native people will never visit any of our three museums ... we wanted to provide this experience." Money to travel isn't plentiful in native communities, said Gover, but most reservations and schools have been equipped with the latest Internet and satellite technology.

So now the historian or descendant of the Kalaallitt can study a harpoon head resembling a polar bear, made around 1880 by a member of those Greenland Inuit. It was probably collected during Robert E. Peary's Arctic expedition in 1891-92 and since 1929 has been in the archives that preceded the museum. "We started with objects where we were sure the information was accurate," said Ann McMullen, chief curator of the project.

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Obama Signs Equal-Pay Legislation
2009-01-29 14:43:43
President Obama signed his first bill into law on Thursday, approving equal-pay legislation that he said would “send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody.”

Obama was surrounded by a group of beaming lawmakers, most but not all of them Democrats, in the East Room of the White House as he affixed his signature to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law named for an Alabama woman who at the end of a 19-year career as a supervisor in a tire factory complained that she had been paid less than men.

After a Supreme Court ruling against her, Congress approved the legislation that expands workers’ rights to sue in this kind of case, relaxing the statute of limitations.

“It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness,” said the president.

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U.S. New Home Sales Fall Almost 15 Percent In December
2009-01-29 14:43:23

New home sales in the U.S. plummeted by nearly 15 percent last month as builders struggled to unload a glut of homes on the market, according to new government data. That month-over-month drop caps one of the worst years on record.

Sales fell 44.8 percent compared with the same period a year earlier. The market was weakest in the Northeast and West. Sales in those regions fell by 50 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

"I am surprised they are this bad," said David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. In the South, the region that includes Washington, D.C., sales were down 12 percent; they were off 6 percent in the Midwest.

In all of 2008, only 482,000 new single-family homes were sold, down 37.8 percent from 2007. That is the biggest year-over-year decline in sales on record, according to the Commerce Department.

Prices also tumbled. The median price for homes sold in December was $206,500, falling 9.3 percent from $227,700 a year earlier. Median prices have fallen to 2004 levels. It was the biggest drop since 1970. The median price for all of 2008 was $230,600, down from $247,900 in 2007.

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Illinois Hears Gov. Blagojevich Make His Case
2009-01-29 14:42:29
For a trial that has at times seemed sleepy in the absence of its star defendant, a dramatic turn came Thursday morning as Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich arrived here in Springfield, the capitol of Illinois, and delivered an impassioned closing argument in his impeachment trial before the Illinois State Senate. The capital city was captivated - as were people all across the state - as Blagojevich pleaded his innocence in blunt, unsparing terms.

"You haven’t proved a crime and you can’t because it hasn’t happened," he told the legislators. "How can you throw a governor out of office with incomplete or insufficient evidence?"

Blagojevich asked the senators to put themselves in his shoes, and cast himself as a hard-working pragmatist who did whatever it took to help the people of his state - even when that sometimes meant skirting legislators and their rules. He flatly denied any criminal wrongdoing, excoriating the process that led him to the low point of essentially begging to keep his job; and he picked apart the articles of impeachment against him one by one, straining at times to present his point of view in sympathetic terms.

"I’m appealing to your sense of fairness," he said, adding later, "I did a lot of things that were mostly right."

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Markets Fall On Home Sales, Goods Orders, Jobless Claims
2009-01-29 14:41:57

Stocks tumbled in early trading Thursday as investors faced more poor economic news.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.3 percent, or 109 points, and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell 1.7 percent, or 15 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq was down about 1.8 percent, or 28 points. The sell-off has already wiped away most of yesterday's gains.

New homes sales fell 14.7 percent in December, compared with the previous month, and about 45 percent compared with the same period last year, according to government data. That was worse than analysts expected.

Orders for big-ticket durable goods fell 2.6 percent in December, the fifth monthly decline in a row, according to Commerce Department data. Excluding defense purchases, orders fell even faster, 4.9 percent. The "industrial recession is deep and broad and there's no prospect of any easing of the downward pressure anytime soon," Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, said in a research note.

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Kentucky Hit By Vicious Winter Storm, 525,000 Without Power
2009-01-29 14:40:52

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has asked the Obama administration for a federal emergency disaster declaration to deal with widespread power outages and cleanup after a powerful winter storm hammered Kentucky this week.

The state, along with 68 counties and 36 cities, was operating under states of emergency as ice continued to drag down power lines and branches clogged roadways.

A state emergency official said Thursday that three deaths in Kentucky are associated with a vicious winter storm.

An estimated 525,000 Kentuckians were without power Wednesday night, the second-largest outage in the state's history. More than 36,500 in Lexington were without electricity by Wednesday evening.

Many cities were struggling to find generators to keep water and sewage plants operating, and thousands of people sought warmth in 91 shelters statewide.

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What Financial Crisis? Wall Street Paid $18.4 Billion In Annual Bonuses
2009-01-29 00:44:48

By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street - except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

Some bankers took home millions last year even as their employers lost billions.

The comptroller’s estimate, a closely watched guidepost of the annual December-January bonus season, is based largely on personal income tax collections. It excludes stock option awards that could push the figures even higher.

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U.S. Army To Report Record Number Of Suicides
2009-01-29 00:44:24
The U.S. Army will report Thursday the highest level of suicides among its soldiers since it began tracking the rate 28 years ago.

Statistics obtained by CNN show the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and another 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

The confirmed rate of suicides for the Army was 20.2 per 100,000. Army officials were reviewing the suspected suicides Wednesday. If any of them are confirmed, the rate would rise.

Last month, Army officials said the nation's suicide rate was 19.5 people per 100,000, a 2005 figure considered the most recent.

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U.S. Senate Passes Children's Health Insurance Bill
2009-01-30 03:48:34

The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday to provide health insurance to 11 million low-income children, a bill that would for the first time spend federal money to cover children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is aimed at families earning too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance, currently covers close to 7 million youngsters at a cost of $25 billion.

Lawmakers voted 66 to 32, largely along party lines, to renew the joint state-federal program and spend an additional $32.8 billion to expand coverage to 4 million more children. The expansion would be paid for by raising the cigarette tax from 39 cents a pack to $1.

The House approved similar legislation on Jan. 14, and President Obama is expected to sign a final version as early as next week.

During the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to provide coverage to every American child. Experts estimate that once the program is fully implemented about 5 million youngsters will remain uninsured.

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Illinois Senate Votes Unanimously To Impeach, Remove Blagojevich
2009-01-29 18:05:27
The Illinois Senate voted overwhelmingly, 59 - 0, Thursday to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) from office for abuse of power, ending a weeks-long impeachment ordeal that ranged between drama and farce.

One by one, Republicans and Democrats stood to call for the governor's ouster, rejecting his last-minute pleas and criticizing him as a liar and a hypocrite.

With the vote, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D), a former running mate who hasn't spoken with the increasingly isolated Blagojevich in 17 months, became Illinois' 41st governor.

Blagojevich, who addressed the senators in the state capitol in Springfield Thursday morning and told them he had done nothing wrong, was already home in Chicago went the votes were tallied.

When he arrived home, he changed into running clothes and went for a jog.

Earlier in the day, the Illinois State House prosecutor told the senators that "the pattern of abuse of power is unmistakable" and Blagojevich should be removed from office.

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Rights Manifesto Gains Ground In China Despite Efforts To Quash It
2009-01-29 14:43:35
When Tang Xiaozhao first saw a copy of the pro-democracy petition in her e-mail inbox, she silently acknowledged she agreed with everything in it but didn't want to get involved.

Tang, a pigtailed, 30-something cosmetology major, had never considered herself the activist type. Like many other Chinese citizens, she kept a blog where she wrote about current events and her life, but she wasn't political.

A few days later, however, Tang surprised herself. She logged on to her computer and signed the document by sending her full name, location and occupation to a special e-mail address.

"I was afraid, but I had already signed it hundreds of times in my heart," Tang said in an interview.

Hers is the 3,943rd signature on the list that has swelled to more than 8,100 from across China. Although their numbers are still small, those signing the document, and the broad spectrum from which they come, have made the human rights manifesto, known as Charter 08, a significant marker in the demands for democracy in China, one of the few sustained campaigns since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Those who sign the charter risk arrest and punishment.

When the document first appeared online in mid-December, its impact was limited. Many of the original signers were lawyers, writers and other intellectuals who had long been known for their pro-democracy stance. The Chinese government moved quickly to censor the charter - putting those suspected of having written it under surveillance, interrogating those who had signed, and deleting any mention of it from the Internet behind its great firewall.

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Iraq To Deny New License To Blackwater Security
2009-01-29 14:43:05
The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy's primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Iraq's Interior Ministry conveyed its decision to U.S. officials in Baghdad on Friday, in one of the boldest moves the government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement with the United States that sharply curbed American power in Iraq.

Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

The officials said Blackwater must leave the country as soon as a joint Iraqi-U.S. committee finishes drawing up guidelines for private contractors under the security agreement. It is unclear how long that will take. Blackwater employees and other U.S. contractors had been immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

"When the work of this committee ends," said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, private security companies "will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don't have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately."

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Ford Posts $5.9 Billion 4th Quarter Loss, $14.6 Billion Annual Loss
2009-01-29 14:42:10

Ford lost $14.6 billion in 2008 amid a crash in global auto sales but maintained that it does not yet need to tap billions in federal loans, like other U.S. automakers.

The results include a nearly $6 billion loss in the last three months of the year as Ford ran through some $5.5 billion of its available cash - a closely watched metric among the Big Three Detroit automakers who appealed for federal help last year on the grounds that they were running out of funds to keep operating.

This morning Ford gave notice to its banks to fully draw $10.1 billion from an existing line of credit. The company stressed that it is tapping the credit line to simply have it available, not fund operations.

"We took this action because of our concerns about the growing instability of the capital markets," said Ford chief executive Alan Mulally.

Mulally insisted that Ford still does not need the same sort of government bridge loans that General Motors and Chrysler lobbied hard for last year.

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ACLU Tests Obama With Requests For Secret Bush-Era Memos
2009-01-29 14:41:23
Dozens of secret documents justifying the Bush administration's spying and interrogation programs could see the light of day because of a new presidential directive.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked the Obama administration on Wednesday to release Justice Department memos that provided the legal underpinning for harsh interrogations, eavesdropping and secret prisons.

For years, the Bush administration refused to release them, citing national security, attorney-client privilege and the need to protect the government's deliberative process.

The ACLU's request, however, comes after President Barack Obama last week rescinded a 2001 Justice Department memo that gave agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests. Obama also urged agencies to be more transparent when deciding what documents to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The ACLU now sees a new opening.

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Alaska Volcano Mt. Redoubt Expected To Erupt Soon
2009-01-29 14:40:36
In the shadows of Mount Redoubt, Alaskans are calmly waiting for the volcano to erupt - an event that could occur at any time.

"The level of seismic activity" has "increased markedly" in recent days at the 10,197-foot peak located about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, the state's most populous city, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

"We don't have a crystal ball," said Peter Cervelli, a research geophysicist with the observatory, which is aggressively monitoring the volcano. "We expect based on the past behavior of this volcano that this activity is going to culminate in an eruption."

The activity has consisted "of a combination of discrete, relatively small earthquakes and periods of more continuous volcanic tremor," said Cervelli.

Scientists raised the alert status Sunday to a "watch" level, the second-highest, based on seismic activity detected January 23.

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CIA Station Chief In Algeria Accused In 2 Sex Assaults
2009-01-29 00:44:36

The CIA's top officer in Algeria has been returned to Washington, D.C., amid allegations that he drugged and raped two women at his Algiers residence, an accusation that presents the Obama administration's new intelligence team with an unexpected legal and diplomatic crisis even before it officially takes office.

The 41-year-old Algiers station chief was ordered home by the State Department after a months-long investigation of alleged sexual assaults in September 2007 and February of last year, U.S. officials confirmed yesterday. The two women involved in the incidents told U.S. diplomats that they became unconscious after receiving what they believed were knockout drugs served to them in drinks.

The alleged assaults, if confirmed, are viewed as particularly serious because they could potentially damage diplomatic relations with Algeria, a U.S. ally, and undermine U.S. efforts to improve its image in the Muslim world, said former diplomats and foreign policy experts.

The CIA and State Department declined to comment on the alleged assaults, which were first described in an Internet report yesterday by ABC News. State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that the officer involved had been recalled to Washington.

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