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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday January 24 2009 - (813)

Saturday January 24 2009 edition
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California's Jobless Rate Jumps To 9.3 Percent, Worse In L.A.
2009-01-23 23:08:05
California's unemployment rate jumped to 9.3% in December - the highest in 15 years - and with more layoffs expected, economists predicted even higher numbers for the rest of the year. The state Employment Development Department Friday reported that the December jobless rate was up almost a full percentage point from 8.4% in November. It stood at 5.9% a year earlier.

The rate for Los Angeles County, which like the state number is seasonally adjusted, was 9.9% for December, up from a revised 8.9% for November.

"It's an ugly report," said Howard Roth, chief economist for the state Department of Finance. "We're in the grips of a formidable recession," with the highest unemployment since January 1994.

The new data reflected lackluster holiday sales, continued home value declines and a heightened tempo of layoffs at companies across all sectors of the economy.

The widespread layoffs are turning job hunts into a desperate business for people such as Adriean Arreola, 27, of Boyle Heights. "You've got to stay positive, but the economy is falling," he said while looking for postings at a job center in the San Fernando Valley. "So, it can be hard."
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British Government Urged To Come Clean On Role In CIA Secret Prisons
2009-01-23 23:07:42

The British government is coming under pressure to reveal the full extent of its co-operation with the CIA's secret prison network and what it knew about the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, including a British resident.

Parliament members and the courts are seeking disclosure of documents that would shed light on how ministers and officials - including the security and intelligence agencies - responded behind the scenes to US practices they publicly abhorred.

Calls are also being made for the government to accept some Guantanamo detainees, an issue that will be on the agenda of a meeting of divided European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

Portugal and Spain have offered to take in detainees. Though other countries are reluctant to do so there is a growing view across Europe that accepting the 60 or so prisoners out of the 245 the U.S. has agreed can be released would be one way of showing appreciation to Barack Obama for deciding to close the camp on the U.S. base in Cuba and respect the Geneva conventions - something the Europeans have long urged Washington to do.

Obama's moves were described by the Foreign Office Friday as "very welcome". David Miliband, the foreign secretary, has said one man that Britain would accept is Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born U.K.-resident incarcerated in Guantanamo.

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Newsblog: California Is Overdue For Major Earthquake
2009-01-23 23:07:15
Large earthquakes have rumbled along the southern section of the San Andreas fault more frequently than previously believed, suggesting that Southern California could be overdue for a strong temblor on the notorious fault line, according to a new study.

The Carrizo Plain section of the San Andreas has not seen a massive quake since the much-researched Ft. Tejon temblor of 1857, thought to have been about magnitude 7.9, which is considered the most powerful earthquake to hit Southern California in modern times.

Yet new research by University of California - Irvine scientists, to be published next week, found major quakes occurred there roughly every 137 years over the last 700 years. Until now, scientists have believed big quakes have occurred along the fault roughly every 200 years. The findings are significant because seismologists have long believed this portion of the fault is capable of sparking the so-called “Big One” that officials have for decades warned will eventually occur in Southern California.

“That means it’s been long enough since 1857 that we should be concerned about another great earthquake that ruptures through this part of the fault,” said Ken Hudnut, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, who was not involved in the study.

Many scientists thought the Carrizo area produced relatively infrequent earthquakes - but not ones on the massive scale of the Fort Tejon temblor.

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The Lost Children Of Gaza
2009-01-23 23:06:41

Amira Qirm lay on a hospital bed Friday with her right leg in plaster, and held together by a line of steel pins dug deep into her skin. For several days after her operation Amira, 15, was unable to speak, and even now talks only in a low whisper.

In her past are bitter memories: watching her father die in the street outside their home, then hearing another shell land and kill her brother Ala'a, 14, and her sister Ismat, 16, and then the three days that she spent alone, injured and semi-conscious, trying to stay alive in a neighbor's abandoned house before she could be rescued last Sunday.

Ahead of her, she has a long recovery. First there is an imminent flight to France for the best possible medical treatment, many more operations and then months of rehabilitation and psychiatric care.

Only now, after most of the dead have been buried, is the first properly researched reckoning of the toll emerging. What already stands out is the striking cost borne by the chidlren of Gaza, who make up more than half of the 1.5 million people living in this overcrowded strip of land.

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Obama: New $825 Billion Stimulus Plan 'On Target'
2009-01-23 14:49:15

President Obama said Friday that efforts to pass a massive new economic stimulus package by mid-February are "on target," despite Republican lawmakers' objections to some elements of the plan.

Speaking before a meeting at the White House with a bipartisan group of nine congressional leaders, Obama said he recognizes that "there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and the members of Congress about particular details" of the plan. The proposed $825 billion package is designed to create 3 million to 4 million new jobs, he said.

"But what I think unifies this group is recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly," Obama said. He thanked the House and Senate for "moving forward very diligently" on passing what he called a "recovery and renewal plan," adding, "I know that it is a heavy lift."

Obama noted that he has instituted a new daily economic intelligence briefing at the White House. "Frankly, the news has not been good," he said, with each day bringing a greater focus on job losses and "instabilities in the financial system."

However, he said, "it appears we are on target" to get the package through Congress by the Presidents' Day weekend. Presidents' Day falls on Feb. 16.

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U.S. Marines Commander: 'Time Is Right' To Leave Iraq
2009-01-23 14:48:48
The top U.S. Marines commander said Friday that his forces already had begun pulling equipment out of Iraq and that nearly all of his troops could be out in as little as six months.

"The time is right for the Marines to leave Iraq," Gen. James Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said at a breakfast with reporters. Any "sustainment force" in Iraq, he added, will be almost exclusively from the Army.

The Marine withdrawal from Iraq is one of many efforts to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama has pledged to send more U.S. troops. At the Pentagon, which until now has focused principally on Iraq, officials are reassessing their tactics and reconfiguring their equipment to shift toward Afghanistan.

Conway said that he didn't want to maintain a large Marine presence in Iraq when the military was expected to send as many as 20,000 more Marines to Afghanistan this spring. Nearly all of them will be stationed in southern Afghanistan, where most of that nation's opium poppy crop is produced, much of it sold to pay for Taliban operations.

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U.S. Approves First Stem Cell Study For Spinal Injury
2009-01-23 14:48:30

U.S. federal regulators have approved the first experiment testing human embryonic stem cells on people, officials announced Friday.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., to test stem cells derived from human embryos on eight to 10 patients with severe spinal cord injuries. The study is aimed primarily at determining the safety of the cells in human subjects, but researchers also will examine the patients for any signs the therapy restored sensation or movement

"This is obviously an extraordinarily exciting event," Geron chief executive Thomas B. Okarma said in a statement. "It marks the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics ... one that reaches beyond pills to a new level of healing: the restoration of organ and tissue function achieved by the injection of health replacement cells."

Although researchers have already begun testing embryonic cells derived from adults and fetuses in people, the study will mark the first government-approved use of those derived from embryos, which have been highly controversial because the process involves the destruction of the embryos.

President Obama is expected to lift a ban on federal funding for such research imposed by his predecessor. While the timing of the FDA approval led some to speculate that the two moves were related, Geron's work had not been restricted by the ban. The cells being used by the company were derived from leftover embryos at fertility clinics before the ban was implemented in 2001.

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Alaska Gov. Palin Calls For Hiring Freeze, Big Projects
2009-01-23 14:47:31
Gov. Sarah Palin announced in her State of the State Speech on Thursday night that she wants to freeze all state hiring except for public safety but also pursue ambitious projects like a road to Nome.

Palin, speaking in the state House chambers, said that next month she will introduce a bill for "facilitating" an in-state natural gas pipeline. She said the goal is to have such a project completed in five years, carrying 460 million cubic feet of gas a day.

Palin acknowledged that the state is facing a potential budget deficit of more than a billion dollars as a result of the drop in oil prices. She didn't propose specific cuts to government programs but said she wants to freeze state hiring as well as restrict "non-essential purchases." She didn't elaborate on what those are.

It's Palin's first State of the State since her run for vice president, and she talked some about her time on the campaign trail. The governor said she learned about fighting against long odds, protecting family and putting "Country First," referring to John McCain's campaign motto, "even when voters put you second."

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Lights Go Out Across Britain As Recession Hits Home
2009-01-23 23:07:55

Britain's days as the fastest growing economy in Europe were officially declared over yesterday as the deepest recession in a generation saw consumers turning off the lights and Poles returning home.

While official figures showed the economy contracting at its fastest since 1980, National Grid said demand for electricity had fallen over Christmas at homes and factories across the land, and Poland confirmed that thousands of its citizens were coming home from Britain and Ireland.

National Grid said it was cutting its forecast for electricity consumption this year because of the recession. The thousands of people being laid off each week and the hundreds of firms cutting production are reducing demand.

Industry has suffered most in this recession and made the biggest contribution to the slump in national output, which fell by a worse-than-expected 1.5% in the fourth quarter of last year compared to the third - or around 6% on an annualized basis.

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Scientists: Antarctica Is Not Cooling
2009-01-23 23:07:24
Scientists have long believed that Antarctica has been bucking the global warming trend, but that is not the case, new research shows.

East Antarctica, as a variety of studies have shown, has been cooling recently, but the remainder of the continent is warming at a rate that offsets the cooling, according to satellite and ground data.

Global-warming skeptics have pointed to the presumed cooling of the continent as evidence that researchers' computer projections of climate change are in error, but the new findings reported Thursday appear to refute their criticisms.

"We now see warming as taking place on all seven of the Earth's continents in accord with what models predict as a response to greenhouse gases," coauthor Eric J. Steig of the University of Washington said at a news conference about the report published in the journal Nature.

Steig and his colleagues found that during the last 50 years temperatures for the entire continent rose an average of 0.2 degree Fahrenheit per decade, about the same as the rest of the world.
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Gaza In Ruins - 'Who Has Won Here?'
2009-01-23 23:06:51
In the Gaza Strip people are returning home - or to the rubble that was once their home. Many are blaming Hamas for the destruction because the militants hid among civilians and attracted Israeli fire. Yet no one dares to speak out openly.

What is left over when a person is hit by a tank shell. Blood, tissue, bone splinters, splatters on the wall.

And anger.

Mohammed Sadala's rage is aimed at the man, whose remains he found in his bedroom: a Hamas fighter. He and a comrade broke into the home which had long stood empty after the Sadala family fled. The Hamas men shot at the approaching Israelis from the balcony. The soldiers fired back, killing the militants and destroying the house of the 10-strong family in the process.

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Obama Reverses Abortion-Funds Policy
2009-01-23 23:06:26
President Barack Obama Friday quietly ended the Bush administration's ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option.

Liberal groups welcomed the decision, while abortion rights foes criticized the president.

Known as the "Mexico City policy," the ban has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents since Ronald Reagan established it in 1984. Democrat Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but Republican George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.

A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Obama signed an executive order on the ban, without coverage by the media, late this afternoon. That was in contrast to the midday signings with fanfare of executive orders on other subjects earlier in the week.

Obama's action came one day after the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

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U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand Chosen For Hillary Clinton's Senate Seat
2009-01-23 14:49:01
New York Gov. David A. Paterson Friday named a relatively little-known upstate congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand, to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, bringing to a close a confusing, sometimes messy selection process that many in the state said had spun out of the governor's control.

"This senator has great shoes to fill," said Paterson, introducing Gillibrand at a news conference and pointing out that her predecessors include Robert F. Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as well as Clinton. He called Gillibrand, a second-term member of Congress from Hudson, "the best candidate to become the next United States senator from New York ... She is dynamic, she is articulate, she is perceptive, she is courageous, she is outspoken."

In picking Gillibrand, Paterson bypassed a number of better-known contenders. Much attention and speculation had focused on Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain president and a personal friend of President Obama, who sought the appointment initially but withdrew from consideration just after midnight Thursday citing personal reasons.

Kennedy's push for the appointment was greeted with a crush of media attention, and she struggled at times to adjust to the rigors of public life. The drama that surrounded her eclipsed other potential picks - including state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a political star in his own right.

Gillibrand, a lawyer and 1988 graduate of Dartmouth College, attracted some statewide notice in 2006 when she beat a Republican incumbent in a normally Republican district that surrounds Albany. She also gave birth six months ago to her second son, Henry, becoming one of only a handful of women in Congress to give birth while in office.

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Fannie Mae Laying Off Hundreds Of Employees
2009-01-23 14:48:40
Fannie Mae, the Washington, D.C.-based mortgage giant taken over by the federal government last year, is laying off several hundred employees locally as it reorients itself to focusing on preventing home foreclosures.

Starting today, the layoffs will be concentrated among employees working in technology, administration, communications and the company's single-family unit, which works to buy and bundle mortgages from lenders.

Fannie plans to hire a similar number of people in the Dallas, Texas, area, where the company bases its anti-foreclosure unit.

In recent months, Fannie, once a high-flying finance firm, largely has transformed itself into an organization focused on preventing foreclosures. It has announced a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through the end of the month and a new program to modify thousands of delinquent home loans.

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Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader Laurent Nkunda
2009-01-23 14:47:52
Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, whose recent advance across eastern Congo threatened to plunge the region into another all-out war, was arrested late Thursday evening in a joint Rwandan-Congolese military operation, according to U.N. and Rwandan officials.

The arrest represents a stunning reversal of fortune for the brash Nkunda, whose Tutsi-dominated rebel movement was largely a Rwandan creation. It comes just a day after thousands of Rwandan troops poured into eastern Congo to join the Congolese army in a mission to hunt down the Rwandan Hutu militia known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, whose members fled into the region after 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Together, the two events mark a major turning point in a complex conflict that has simmered and raged across eastern Congo for more than a decade, leaving by some estimates up to 5 million people dead from starvation, disease and other effects of being driven from their homes.

"It's hugely significant," said Alan Doss, the United Nations envoy to the region. "I hope it will result in now putting to an end this chapter - dealing with the FDLR problem and ending a rebellion and putting the country back on the road to peace."

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