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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday January 1 2009 - (813)

Thursday January 1 2009 edition
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Free Internet Press :: 2008 Year In Review
2008-12-31 21:54:42

  Another year has passed, and more things have happened.

 The United States has a new President Elect, who in himself is a historical event, being the first black President of the United States of America.  Congratulations and good luck to you, Mr. Barack Obama.   Mr. Obama was a popular figure in our news stories, showing up in 733 stories (15% of our stories) this year.  Among his achievements in office, before he's even started his office, has been selecting an outstanding cabinet, including a former first lady (Hillary Clinton) as Secretary of State; Nobel peace prize nominee Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce; Nobel prize winner in physics, Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy; and Four star General and former Chief of Staff of the Army Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  Without doubt, he will continue this trend of using the best in their fields as advisors on various topics throughout his presidency.
  Oil prices soared to a record high of USD $147.30/barrel, and fortunately dropped significantly by the end of the year.  This sent drivers into shock, with the failing US economy, changing driving habits, and letting more people work from home offices, and even curtailing vacation plans world wide.

  The United States economy has probably been one of the sorest points of this year.  The housing market collapsed.  Home values crumbled, and as the job market fell apart.  Countless people lost their homes, either by selling them for anything they could, or the banks foreclosing on them.  I was unfortunately one of the later.  In turn, the banks ended up owning or auctioning the homes.  This has lead to a USD $7 billion dollar bailout of the banking industry, which is only going to help the banks, and still leaves many Americans homeless, living with friends or family, or simply struggling to survive.  Part of thi! s bailout has now been earmarked to save the automotive indust! ries, wh o themselves are on the brink of bankrupcy.  What was once a thriving job market has collapsed.  Where people knew they could grow personally and advance in their careers, they've found themselves stagnated in their current positions, or unemployed entirely.  This has hurt businesses who once thrived themselves, because the funds are simply unavailable for them to spend. 

  In the past 8 years, the United States went from the most shining example to the world, to an economic and social mess.

  This review would be incomplete without mentioning the ongoing military actions by the United States.  Combat troops are still in the continuing war in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite events in preceeding years such as the realization that false information was used by President Bush to instigate the war, the allegation Osama bin Laden was taking refuge in those countries, and the execution of dictator Saddam Hussian.  Americas look ! forward to the end of these military actions, and their friends and family returning home.

  With great hope, I look forward to the year 2009, and have high expectations for improving not only the United States, but it's relationships with other countries throughout the world.


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Mortgage Rates Fall To Third Straight Record Low
2008-12-31 17:35:59
Rates on 30-year mortgages fell to a record low for the third straight week and borrowers took advantage of the drop, sending new applications soaring.

With the Federal Reserve on the verge of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the devastated U.S. housing market, mortgage rates have plunged to the lowest level since Freddie Mac started tracking the data in April 1971.

Low rates are a great opportunity for borrowers with solid credit and plenty of equity in their homes; but those in danger of foreclosure are still sidelined, and defaults are expected to keep rising in the coming months.

Freddie Mac reported Wednesday that average rates on 30-year fixed mortgages dropped to 5.1 percent this week, down from the previous record of 5.14 percent set last week. It was the ninth straight weekly drop. The survey was released a day early due to the New Year's holiday.

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In California, Malibu's Vanishing Broad Beach A Sign Of Rising Sea Levels
2008-12-31 17:35:36
Broad Beach has long been a scenic backdrop to Malibu's public access wars. The tranquil rhythm of surf has been routinely shattered by security guards and sheriff's deputies bouncing beach goers who spread towels on the confusing mosaic of public and private sand.

Today, Broad Beach has shrunk into a narrow sliver of its former self. And like other skinny Malibu icons, its slenderness qualified the beach for a different kind of trend-setting role: How California will deal with rising sea levels.

Sandwiched between the advancing sea and coastal armor built to protect multimillion-dollar homes, the strip of sand is being swept away by waves and tides. Soon, oceanographers and coastal engineers contend, the rising ocean will eclipse the clash between the beach-going public and the private property owners: There will be no dry sand left to fight over.

"If the latest projections of sea level rise are right, you can kiss goodbye the idea of a white sandy beach," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "You are going to be jumping off the sea wall onto the rocks below."

The rise of sea levels, which have swelled about eight inches in the last century, are projected to accelerate with global warming.

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Gaza City Hospital Engulfed By Suffering
2008-12-31 17:35:04
Rawiya Ayad lay in a bed on the ground floor of Gaza City's Shifa Hospital on Tuesday, connected to a respirator. A bandage covered her head, and dried blood scarred her face. Shrapnel from an Israeli airstrike was embedded in her brain, poisoning her blood. She was in a coma.

The hospital had no antibiotics to prevent her slow death. There was a shortage of electricity, too. So if the generator malfunctioned, Ayad's respirator would shut off and she could be dead within two hours. There were no skilled neurosurgeons. The eight-hour drive to get treatment in Egypt could kill her. Because of the cordon around the Gaza Strip, it was unclear whether she could make it to medical care in Israel.

"I have a feeling there's no way I can help her," said Fawzi Nabulsia, 57, director of the intensive care unit.

Shifa Hospital has once again become the ground zero of both Palestinian suffering and hope. The doctors there are accustomed to the violence in the region, having provided treatment through two intifadas, or uprisings against Israel. But nothing had prepared them for the chaos that began Saturday when Israel launched its air offensive.

"I saw the first intifada and second intifada, but what I saw this time I have never seen in my life," said Nabulsia. "What we suffered in Shifa, entire countries could not bear. All the victims of Gaza, it seemed, came to this hospital."

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In Britain, Private Sector May Track Public's Emails, Internet Use, Phone Calls
2008-12-31 17:34:29

Britain's private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone's calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, Britain's Home Secretary.

A cabinet decision to put the management of the multi-billion pound database of all U.K. communications traffic into private hands would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

Yet, in his strongest criticism yet of the super database, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a "hellhouse" of personal private information.

"Authorizations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything," said Macdonald. "All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen."

The Home Secretary postponed the introduction of legislation to set up the super database in October and instead said she would publish a consultation paper in the new year setting out the proposal and the safeguards needed to protect civil liberties. She has emphasized that communications data, which gives the police the identity and location of the caller, texter or web surfer but not the content, has been used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and almost all security service operations since 2004 including the Soham and July 21 bombing cases.

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'Multiple Witnesses' Lead Prosecutor To Seek More Time To Indict Blagojevich
2008-12-31 17:33:01
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has filed a motion seeking a 90-day extension to return of an indictment against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Federal prosecutors normally have 30 days to file an indictment against a defendant. That deadline would have been Jan. 7, and the extension would give prosecutors until April 7 instead.

Authorities arrested Blagojevich on Dec. 9 on corruption charges that accuse him of trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

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California Weeks Away From Running Out Of Money
2008-12-31 03:48:11
The failure of California state lawmakers and the governor thus far to wipe out any of the state's projected nearly $42-billion deficit leaves California only weeks from running out of the cash needed to pay all of its bills.

On Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang sent a letter to government agencies advising them of whom the state won't pay if coffers run dry.

Californians may not be so troubled by who is on the top of the list to get IOUs: state lawmakers, who haven't been able to come up with a budget solution that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign.

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Russia Lengthens Presidential Terms From 4 Years to 6 Years
2008-12-31 03:47:40
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a constitutional amendment Tuesday extending presidential terms in the country from four years to six, a change that many suspect is intended to benefit his predecessor - and possible successor - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev gave final approval to the measure after a hurried legislative drive that lasted less than two months, ignoring complaints by the opposition that parliament is legally required to wait a year before ratifying any change to the constitution.

The extension of the presidential term is the first substantive amendment to Russia's post-Soviet constitution since it was adopted in 1993. The speed with which the Kremlin pushed the measure through parliament and the nation's provincial legislatures has prompted widespread speculation that Putin is planning to return to the presidency, perhaps as soon as next year.

After serving two terms as president, Putin stepped aside this year because he was constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term. He engineered the election of his protege, Medvedev, who then appointed him prime minister. With Russia facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, though, analysts say Putin may have concluded he would be better shielded from rising public discontent if Medvedev resigned and allowed him to return to the presidency for a new six-year term.

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Stock Markets Suffer Worst Year On Record
2008-12-31 17:36:29

A record $14 trillion (£9.7 trillion) has been wiped off world share values in 2008 as many stock markets around the world suffered their worst 12 months on record.

Turmoil in the financial system and the worst global recession since the 1970s have sent shares reeling. Global stocks, as measured by the MSCI index, have fallen by a record 44% over the year.

In London, the FTSE 100 index lost 31.3% in 2008, its worst annual decline since it was created in 1984, and following a 3.8% gain in 2007. It edged up 0.94% to 4434.17 on the last trading day of the year, a gain of 41.49 points. Banks, at the centre of the financial storm, were among the biggest losers ranging from HBOS, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB to Barclays. Mining companies Kazakhmys, Xstrata and Rio Tinto also fared badly as the economy worsened.

Drugmakers AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline were among the best-performing stocks on the FTSE. British Energy was another big gainer, up more than 40% in a year in which the government secured the sale of its stake in the nuclear power firm to French energy giant EDF.

David Buik at BGC Partners talked of an "annus horribilis (Intellpuke: That's Latin for a "horrible year") by any standards".

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Interview: 'Guantanamo Was A Very Big Mistake'
2008-12-31 17:35:47
In a Spiegel interview, al-Qaeda expert and Obama adviser Bruce Riedel discusses the fate of the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, how dangerous they really are, and what Europe can do to help.

SPIEGEL: During his campaign, President-elect Obama announced several times that he will close the U.S. detention center for terror suspects in Guantanamo. Which of the inmates still there will be the most difficult cases?

Bruce Riedel: The Yemenis. They are the largest group among the remaining detainees. According to the U.S.  military, which is holding them, there are now 248 prisoners: 27 of them are al-Qaeda leadership cadre; 99 are lower level al-Qaeda operatives. A big chunk of those are Yemenis. They cannot go back to Yemen because Yemen can't be trusted to keep dangerous prisoners from rejoining the global jihad. What is left in Guantanamo is the hard core; the easy cases are long gone. Another difficult problem are the Chinese. They cannot go home because China cannot be trusted when it comes to human rights and abuse.

SPIEGEL: A political discussion has started in Europe about accepting ex-Guantanamo prisoners. Germany and Portugal have already indicatedthat they might be willing to do so. How important would such support be to the United States?

Riedel: Even if European nations, such as Portugal or Germany, would only take a small number - maybe half a dozen - it would still be an important support. The United States needs all the help it can get to clean up the mess left by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: Are you thinking of any particular group that Europe could accept?

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Israel Rejects Proposed Truce, Gaza Air Strikes Continue
2008-12-31 17:35:19
Israeli leaders Wednesday rejected a proposal to pause attacks on the Gaza Strip for 48 hours, declaring that there were no guarantees Hamas fighters would in return stop firing rockets into Israel. 

Discussions were continuing in hopes of developing a more durable cease-fire. But after looking at the existing proposal, "we saw that it did not contain the necessary elements to make the truce permanent," said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "It lacks a plan to enforce the cease-fire, to make sure Hamas won't shoot rockets into Israel anymore, and stop the smuggling of weapons."

"It does not contain any guarantees," he added. "There is nothing in the proposal that if we declare a unilateral cease-fire it will mean anything to Hamas and that it will ensure a durable cease-fire afterwards."

He said meetings among Israeli leaders would continue Wednesday. "There is a lot of work that still needs to be done," he said.

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Viacom, TimeWarner Cable Face Midnight Deadline Or Shows Won't Air
2008-12-31 17:34:44
Time Warner Cable subscribers could lose "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Dora the Explorer" and Jon Stewart at midnight tonight if the cable company fails to agree on a new contract with one of its biggest suppliers.

Viacom Inc. has threatened to pull its programming in a high-stakes showdown over pricing. Nearly 2 million homes in the Los Angeles area that are customers of Time Warner Cable Inc. could lose such Viacom channels as Nickelodeon, MTV, VH-1, Comedy Central, Spike, TV Land and BET.

Viacom blamed the cable company for the stalemate.

"We've been attempting to negotiate in good faith but they seem to have taken it to the brink. Unfortunately, we are now at an impasse," said Philippe Dauman, chief executive of Viacom. The company's two-year contract with Time Warner, the nation's second-largest cable company, which provides service to 12.3 million homes, expires at midnight.

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Attack By Islamist Radicals Brings Pakistani Military Focus Home
2008-12-31 17:33:40
With Pakistan and its army distracted by revived hostilities with neighboring India, a brazen suicide bomb attack Sunday by Islamist radicals in a northwestern village served as a jolting reminder that Pakistan still faces a real war at home, from an enemy that increasingly threatens to destabilize the Muslim nation of more than 170 million.

Even as Pakistani troops launched an operation Monday to re-secure the main supply route for U.S. military forces in next-door Afghanistan and army officials here called for an easing of tensions with India, other Pakistani troops were being redeployed toward India from the northwestern frontier, where Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are widening a campaign of intimidation, religious repression and killing.

On the edge of the scenic Swat Valley on Sunday, suicide bombers killed as many as 40 people in the village of Buner, whose leaders had taken a rare public stand against Taliban predations. Islamist fighters are now reported to control most of the valley, and their leaders have threatened to start bombing all girls' schools there Jan. 15. In the northwestern provincial capital of Peshawar, officials have been assassinated and U.S. military vehicle depots blown to bits.

Yet public opinion and military priorities in Pakistan appear to be focused more on the potential threat from India, a Hindu-majority, nuclear-armed state that has fought three wars with its rival, Pakistan, also a nuclear power. Mutual suspicion and hatred have resurfaced since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month, which left more than 170 people dead and have been linked to Islamist groups based in Pakistan.

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Lobbyist Sues N.Y. Times Over Alleged Affair With McCain
2008-12-31 17:32:24

A Washington, D.C., lobbyist filed a $27 million defamation lawsuit against the New York Times Tuesday, accusing the newspaper of falsely intimating that she had a romantic relationship with Sen. John McCain and used it to benefit her clients.

The lawsuit by Vicki L. Iseman, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia, focuses on a 3,000-word article the paper published Feb. 21 as the senator from Arizona was leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The suit blasts the paper for publishing what it called "gossip and innuendo."

The Times reported that some of McCain's top advisers had become convinced during his first campaign for the White House, in 2000, of a romantic relationship between the two and that they worried that Iseman's clients often had business before the Senate committee McCain led. The article broadly examined McCain's crusade for stricter ethics rules and whether "his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.''

Abbe Ruttenberg Serphos, a Times spokeswoman, said the paper "fully" stands behind its report. "We continue to believe it to be true and accurate, and that we will prevail. ... It was an important piece that raised questions about a presidential contender and the perception that he had been engaged in conflicts of interest," she said.

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New Rules Add Police To Soldiers' Jobs In Iraq
2008-12-31 03:47:59
In late November, around the time the security agreement between the American and Iraqi governments was ratified, an order came down to Company C at its Sadr City outpost.

In accordance with the agreement’s new rules on searches and detentions, troops from Company C of the First Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, were to begin operating under a policy called “warrant-based targeting.”

Up to that time, First Lt. Jamen K. Miller’s platoon had been the most prolific in the company when it came to arrests, seizing more than half of those captured in the past seven months. But he soon found himself explaining to an Iraqi officer that, yes, a certain man his platoon had declined to arrest was a bad guy, but that nothing could be done yet without a warrant.

“The gears of the system,” Lieutenant Miller said of those first few days, “looked like they were coming to a halt.”

In many ways, Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite quarter in northeastern Baghdad, is on the front line of the recent security agreement. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, American forces have relied heavily on mass arrests without charges of people suspected of being insurgents.

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