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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday January 15 2009 - (813)

Thursday January 15 2009 edition
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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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Eli Lilly Said To Be Near $1.4 Billion U.S. Settlement On Drug
2009-01-14 18:11:28
Eli Lilly, the drug company, is expected to agree as soon as Thursday to pay $1.4 billion to settle criminal and civil charges that it illegally marketed its blockbuster antipsychotic drug Zyprexa for unauthorized use in patients particularly vulnerable to its risky side effects.

The amount of the settlement is a record sum for so-called corporate whistle-blower cases, which are federal lawsuits prompted by tips from company employees or former employees. Details of the agreement were provided by people involved in the negotiations.

Among the charges, Lilly has been accused of a scheme stretching for years to persuade doctors to prescribe Zyprexa to two categories of patients - children and the elderly - for whom the drug was not federally approved and in whom its use was especially risky.

In one marketing effort, the company urged geriatricians to use Zyprexa to sedate unruly nursing home patients so as to reduce “nursing time and effort,” according to court documents. Like other antipsychotics, Zyprexa increases the risks of sudden death, heart failure and life-threatening infections like pneumonia in elderly patients with dementia-related  psyshosis.

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Latvia Shaken By Riots Over Economy
2009-01-14 18:10:55
Violent protests over political grievances and mounting economic woes shook the Latvian capital, Riga, late Tuesday, leaving around 25 people injured and leading to 106 arrests.

In the wake of the demonstrations, President Valdis Zatlers threatened Wednesday to call for a referendum that would allow voters to dissolve Parliament, saying trust in the government, including in its ability to deal with growing economic problems, had “collapsed catastrophically.”

For years, Latvia boasted of double-digit economic growth rates, but it has been shaken by the global economic downturn. Its central bank has spent a fifth of its reserves to guard against a steep devaluation of its currency, the lat, and experts expect a 5 percent contraction of the country’s gross domestic product in 2009. Salaries are expected to fall substantially, and unemployment to rise.

The violence followed days of clashes in Greece last month, over a number of issues including economic stagnation and rising poverty as well as widespread corruption and a troubled education system. In Bulgaria on Wednesday, separate riots broke out in the capital, Sofia, after more than 2,000 people - including students, farmers and environmental activists - demonstrated in front of Parliament over economic conditions, Reuters reported. Zatlers has long been aligned with the governing coalition, so his threat to dissolve Parliament came as a surprise - and was testament to nervousness about how economic troubles in the region could intersect with simmering political grievances.

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Human Rights Groups Seek Gaza War Investigation
2009-01-14 18:10:30
Nine Israeli human rights groups called on Wednesday for an investigation into whether Israeli officials had committed war crimes in Gaza since tens of thousands of civilians there have nowhere to flee, the health system has collapsed, many are without electricity and running water, and some are beyond the reach of rescue teams.

“This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask be investigated, of the commission of war crimes,” the groups said in their first news conference on the 19-day-old war.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, who spent Tuesday in Gaza City, agreed that the situation with civilians was dire but said the principal hospital was making do with medical supplies, and doctors, working around the clock, were mostly coping with the flow of injured.

“In general they did not complain about the lack of equipment or material,” he said at separate a news conference in Jerusalem.

As the Gaza death toll passed 1,000, Hamas militants fired off more than a dozen rockets into Israel, including four longer-range ones near the cities of Beersheva and Ashdod, sending a message of menace but causing no injuries. Three rockets were also fired from Lebanon into northern Israel and Israel returned fire to the source.

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Actor Ricardo Montalban Dies At 88
2009-01-14 18:09:49
Ricardo Montalban, the Mexican-born actor who became a star in splashy MGM musicals and later as the wish-fulfilling Mr. Roarke in TV's "Fantasy Island," died Wednesday morning at his home, a city councilman said. He was 88. Montalban's death was announced at a meeting of the city council by president Eric Garcetti, who represents the district where the actor lived. Garcetti did not give a cause of death.

"The Ricardo Montalban Theatre in my Council District - where the next generations of performers participate in plays, musicals, and concerts - stands as a fitting tribute to this consummate performer," Garcetti said later in a written statement.

Montalban had been a star in Mexican movies when MGM brought him to Hollywood in 1946. He was cast in the leading role opposite Esther Williams in "Fiesta." He also starred with the swimming beauty in "On an Island with You" and "Neptune's Daughter."

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Stocks Tumble On Disappointing Retail Sales Report
2009-01-14 16:57:07
Stocks were down for a sixth straight session on Wall Street Wednesday as a dismal report on holiday retail sales and continued concern about the health of the nation's banks had investors reaching for the "sell" button.

At 11 a.m. PST, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 254.47 points, or 3%, to 8,194.09 after recovering some of its earlier losses. At one point, the blue chip index was down more than 300 points, its biggest loss since Dec. 1. All 30 Dow stocks were in the red.

Other major stock gauges were also down sharply, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index off 3.4% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index down 3.2%.

Although trading volume is moderate, investor sentiment is heavily negative. Losers are swamping winners by a margin of more than 16 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, and 485 members of the S&P 500 were trading in negative territory.

Investors were spooked in part by the Commerce Department's worse-than-expected report on December retail sales, which were down 2.7% - double the amount analysts were expecting.

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British Actor Patrick McGoohan, TV's 'Secret Agent' And 'Prisoner', Dies at 80
2009-01-14 16:56:44
Patrick McGoohan, an Emmy Award-winning actor who starred as a British spy in the 1960s TV series "Secret Agent" and "The Prisoner" and was known for playing various villainous roles in films and on television, has died. He was 80.

McGoohan died peacefully Tuesday in St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, after a short illness, said Cleve Landsberg, McGoohan's son-in-law. The family did not provide further details.

It was the height of James Bond mania in 1965 when McGoohan showed up on American TV screens in "Secret Agent," a British-produced series in which he played John Drake, a special security agent working as a spy for the British government.

The hour-long series, which ran on CBS until 1966, was an expanded version of "Danger Man", a short-lived, half-hour series on CBS in 1961 in which McGoohan played the same character.

It was McGoohan's next British-produced series, "The Prisoner", on CBS in 1968 and 1969, that became a cult classic.

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Michigan Bank Lends Little Of Its Bailout Funds
2009-01-14 03:36:35
The bad bets made by executives at Independent Bank of Michigan are on display in spots across the state: a defunct bowling alley, a new but never occupied shopping center and the luxurious Whispering Woods Estates, which offers prime lots for never-constructed dream homes.

Now it is the federal government making the big bet here in Troy, Michigan.

The Treasury Department has invested $72 million out of the $700 billion in federal bailout funds to help prop up this community bank, which traces its roots back 144 years in Michigan. It is a small chunk of the giant rescue fund being wagered by Washington to encourage banks like Independent to resume lending and jump-start the frozen economy.

Independent, hard put to find good borrowers in a suffering economy, and fearful of making the kind of mistakes that got it into trouble in the first place, is not doing much lending these days. So far it is using all of the government’s money to shore up its own weak finances by repaying short-term loans from the Federal Reserve. “It is like if you are in an airplane and the oxygen mask comes down,” said Stefanie Kimball, the bank’s chief lending officer. “First thing you do is put your own mask on, stabilize yourself.”

This is not what the Treasury Department had in mind when it started this program, saying it would give the nation’s “healthy banks” enough money to start lending again, so that people could buy homes and businesses could invest and create jobs, thereby invigorating a disintegrating economy.

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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. Official Says Detainee Was Tortured
2009-01-14 18:11:40

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.

Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. ... You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said.

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Despite Economy, Illegal Immigrants Likely To Stay In U.S.
2009-01-14 18:11:14

Although the economy's nosedive has probably contributed to a substantial drop in the number of illegal immigrants coming to the United States, those already here will be less motivated to return home, according to a report released Wednesday.

Among other reasons, it cited illegal immigrants' family and job ties to this country, the difficulty they would face trying to reenter once the U.S. economy improves, the comparatively weaker state of their own countries' economies, and the strengthening U.S. dollar.

The study by the nonpartisan, Washington-based Migration Policy Institute also noted that an analysis of previous recessions suggests that unless the current one is extremely prolonged, the rate of legal immigration to the United States will be largely unaffected.

"The immigration system of the United States makes people wait in line for years to get their visa," said author Demetrios G. Papademetriou. "So by the time it becomes available for a family member or a valued employee people tend to jump at the opportunity. They don't want to return to the back of the line."

The more likely, and worrisome, possible impact of the recession on illegal immigrants, said Papademetriou, is that it will drive them to accept ever-lower wage jobs under ever-worse conditions.

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Report Details Iraq Contract Failures
2009-01-14 18:10:40

A $722 million contract to rebuild Iraq's oil and gas production facilities was marked by multiple changes, cost overruns, failure to meet schedules and lack of oversight, according to a new inspector general's report.

The contract ran from 2004 to 2008 and, like many signed in the early years of the Iraq war, it had a general goal: to rebuild the oil infrastructure in southern Iraq, using U.S. funds ($562 million) and money generated by sale of Iraqi oil ($160 million). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Joint Contracting Command in Iraq managed the contract, which KBR won. When the contract went into effect, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton. KBR officially separated from Halliburton in April 2007 and is now an independent company.

The contract managers assigned about 30 specific task orders for KBR to carry out, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr.,the special inspector general for Iraq, found. His report, released Tuesday, found that the task orders "took longer than planned; were frequently modified, scaled back, and/or terminated; and increased in cost over time." The report also found that the Iraqi government "may not be properly maintaining the rebuilt facilities and equipment that cost hundreds of millions of dollars" and "does not appear to be committed to completing and using some projects."

One contract, to restore a plant to make liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas at Umm Qasr, was funded with $147 million in U.S. and Iraqi money, but it was terminated before rotors for a turbine gas compressor were installed. The report found that the task order had been modified 35 times, and costs increased by $10 million. Bowen said the rotors are stored in a warehouse and have not yet been installed. As a result, the report said, "Gas production at the plant is below goal and a portion of the U.S. investment is being wasted."

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Judge Orders Search Of Bush Administration Appointees' E-Mails
2009-01-14 18:10:18

With Bush administration White House aides on their way out the door in coming days, a federal judge this morning ordered the president's executive office to undertake a comprehensive search for millions of senior appointees' e-mails that have been inaccessible and possibly missing since 2005.

The order reflects a continuing effort by outside groups to ensure that the White House transfers historically significant materials to the National Archives on or before next Tuesday, as required by federal law. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., demanded that officials search computer workstations, preserve thumb drives and examine e-mail archives created or retained by White House employees from 2003 to 2005, the period in which a records gap exists.

The Justice Department had argued the order was unnecessary because efforts are underway to retrieve any missing e-mails from tapes that periodically copied everything on White House computer servers as a precaution against an electronic disaster. But the two plaintiffs, a historical research group called the National Security Archive and a nonprofit organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, have complained that the White House has not disclosed the status of those efforts.

The dispute was provoked by the disclosure three years ago that the White House, in switching to a new internal e-mail system shortly after Bush's election, abandoned an automatic archiving system meant to preserve all messages containing official business. Under the new system, any of the 3,000 or so regular White House employees could access e-mail storage files, enabling them to delete messages after they had been created.

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Japan's Governing Party Is Plunging In Polls
2009-01-14 18:09:36
Is this the beginning of the end for Japan's long-governing Liberal Democratic Party?

A lawmaker championing government reform quit the party on Tuesday, saying that the administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso was not committed to change and had lost the people’s trust.

The high-profile resignation comes as Aso’s approval ratings have fallen and his party’s chances of losing a coming election have risen sharply. Analysts say it may embolden other lawmakers, who have signaled similar intentions, to act.

“Unfortunately, Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party has practiced politics completely disconnected from the people,” said the lawmaker who resigned, Yoshimi Watanabe, who had served as minister of administrative reform in two previous administrations, and had become one of the most recognizable faces pressing for change in the government bureaucracy.

Opinion polls published this week by major Japanese newspapers showed Aso’s approval ratings slipping below 20 percent, a danger sign in a country where governments with ratings below 30 percent have fallen.

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U.S. Supreme Court: Flaws In Warrants Don't Taint Evidence
2009-01-14 16:56:57
The U.S. Supreme Court limited the use of the so-called "exclusionary rule" Wednesday and said that evidence seized by the police need not be thrown out if officers later learn their search warrant was faulty because of a computer mistake.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said the exclusionary rule was intended to deter the police from conducting illegal searches of homes and cars. It was not intended to give criminals a free pass if officers search the wrong house or car because of a computer error at police headquarters, he said.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court upheld the drug and gun charges against an Alabama man who was stopped on a highway by an officer who had been told there was an outstanding arrest warrant for his arrest. It turns out that was a mistake.

The officer, Mark Anderson, had called and been told by a clerk in a neighboring county that Bennie Dean Herring had failed to appear on a felony charge, but minutes after Officer Anderson stopped Herring and found methamphetamine and a pistol in his car, the clerk called back to say the arrest warrant had been withdrawn. This fact had not entered into the department's computer.

At issue for the court was whether the exclusionary rule required the evidence to be thrown out.

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Analysis: U.S. Banks In Need Of Even More Bailout Money
2009-01-14 03:36:46
Even before word came on Tuesday that Citigroup might split into pieces to shore up its finances, an unpleasant message was moving through Congress and President-elect Barack Obama's transition team: the banks need more taxpayer money.

In all likelihood, a lot more money.

Obama seems to know it; a week before his swearing-in, he is lobbying Congress to release the other half of the financial industry bailout fund. Democratic leaders in Congress seem to know it, too; they are urging their rank and file to act quickly to release the rescue money. Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, certainly knows it.

On Tuesday, Bernanke publicly made the case that one of the most unpopular and most scorned programs in Washington, D.C. - the $700 billion bailoutprogram - needs to pour hundreds of billions more into the very banks and financial institutions that already received federal money and caused much of the credit crisis in the first place.

The most glaring example that the banking system needs even more help is Citigroup. Though it already has received $45 billion from the Treasury, it is in such dire straits that it is breaking itself into parts.

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Authorities Say Missing Pilot Is In Custody
2009-01-14 03:36:21
With his world crumbling around him, investment adviser Marcus Schrenker opted for a bailout. However, his plan to escape personal turmoil was short-lived.

In a feat reminiscent of a James Bond movie, the 38-year-old businessman and amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his death in a plane crash, secretly parachuting to the ground and speeding away on a motorcycle he had stashed away in the pine barrens of central Alabama.

The captivating three-day saga came to an end when authorities finally caught up to Schrenker at a North Florida campground where he had apparently tried to take his own life, said Alabama-based U.S. Marshals spokesman Michael Richards.

Schrenker was taken into custody around 10 p.m. EST after officers from the U.S. Marshal's office in Tallahassee, Florida, found him inside a tent at a campground in nearby Quincy, said Richards.

''He had cut one of his wrists, but he is still alive,'' said Richards.

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