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Monday, February 09, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday February 9 2009 - (813)

Monday February 9 2009 edition
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Treasury Secretary Geithner Wants All Available Tools Used To Thwart Financial Crisis
2009-02-08 15:40:49

The nation's top economic policymakers were putting the finishing touches this weekend on a financial rescue plan that will deploy hundreds of billions of dollars to spur the flow of credit to consumers and businesses.

The Obama administration aims to ease the financial crisis through a series of steps - including a program to insure banks against extreme losses on mortgages, a new round of investments in banks, help for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, and the broadening of a Federal Reserve program to directly prop up lending.

The plan amounts to an overhaul of the financial rescue undertaken by the Bush administration. It was scheduled to be announced Monday, but the administration delayed the unveiling until Tuesday so it could maintain focus on getting the stimulus package approved by Congress, said Treasury Department spokesman Isaac Baker.

The plan reflects Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner's philosophy of how governments should respond to financial crises. He favors aggressive use of all available tools, both to deal directly with the massive losses in the financial sector and to bolster confidence in the future. Too little government response during a severe crisis poses a greater risk than too much response, he said at his confirmation hearing.

"There's a sense that there have been too many false starts and changes of direction," said Martin Neil Baily, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration. "We need a bold and sweeping comprehensive framework that will get us through this, keeping in mind it won't turn the recession around immediately."

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The Great Health Debate: Is Sunshine A Miracle Cure?
2009-02-08 15:40:13
Our bodies make vitamin D when the Sun shines, and new research suggests the positive effects on health are greater than we ever guessed. Yet too much sun causes skin cancer. It's a dilemma provoking a fierce discussion among scientists.

For any expectant mother, a brief stroll in the summer sunshine would seem a pleasant diversion from the rigors of pregnancy, a chance to relax in the warmth and to take in a little fresh air. It is a harmless - but unimportant - activity, it would seem.

Yet there is more to such walks than was previously realized, it emerged last week. In a new study, Bristol University researchers in England revealed they had found out that sunny strolls have striking, long-lasting effects. They discovered that children born to women in late summer or in early autumn are, on average, about 5 millimeters taller, and have thicker bones, than those born in late winter and early spring.

Nor was it hard to see the causal link, said team leader Professor Jon Tobias. The growth of our bones, even in the womb, depends on vitamin D which, in turn, is manufactured in the skin when sunlight falls on it.

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Ecuador's President Orders Expulsion Of U.S. Diplomat
2009-02-08 15:39:46
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa on Saturday ordered the expulsion of a top U.S. diplomat he accused of suspending $340,000 in annual aid because Ecuador would not allow the U.S. to veto appointments to the anti-smuggling police.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the official in question, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attache, left the country in early January when his assignment ended, and that the aid suspension was a U.S. government decision.

Ecuador's leftist president said the official, Armando Astorga, announced the suspension of aid to anti-contraband police in a Jan. 8 letter that also demanded they return all donated equipment - including vehicles, furniture, cameras and phones.

Correa said Astorga also said in the letter addressed to Ecuador's police chief that $160,000 in annual aid to the Human Trafficking Unit "is being reconsidered."

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British Animal Welfare Worker In Hungary Feared Murdered
2009-02-08 15:39:10
A British woman who was a model and actress in the 1960s is feared murdered, possibly because of her work running an animal sanctuary in Hungary. Her family claim that the Hungarian police have failed to carry out a proper investigation and want the British Foreign Office to take action to ensure that the case is investigated properly.

Eva Rhodes was born in Hungary in 1943 and became a refugee in 1956, moving first to Austria and then, in the 1960s, to London. She became a successful model, appeared in a John Lennon and Yoko Ono film, "Rape", and married an English architect, from whom she later parted amicably. After moving to East Anglia, she worked as an antiques dealer but decided to leave Britain, eventually returning to Hungary in the 1990s to Gyor, close to the Austrian border.

In Hungary, she set up an animal sanctuary called Puss in Boots which, by last summer, was providing homes for around 70 dogs and 50 cats, as well as the occasional ferret, duck and donkey. She organized vaccinations and sterilizations for them all and became a well-known and much-quoted figure in the local media on animal welfare issues. While running the sanctuary, she had a number of confrontations locally with people who she did not feel were treating animals properly, and this led to disagreements with local officials. A court case resulting from one of those incidents was due to be heard shortly after her disappearance.

The last sightings of Rhodes were on 10 September, when she was seen with a young man in a local supermarket. The man bought a phone and the pair were seen later by an English man who lived nearby who knew Rhodes. After that, the trail went cold. Her house was found to be ransacked and many items stolen, including her laptop, paintings, and even electric plugs and piping. Her sister, Judith Majlath, who lives in Vienna and traveled to Hungary when she received no reply from Rhodes, believes that her disappearance, which she is certain is a murder, was either the result of her activity on behalf of her animals or a robbery.

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Obama's National Security Council Will Get New Powers
2009-02-08 03:51:14

President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

The result will be a "dramatically different" NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. "The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful," he said.

Jones, a retired Marine general, made it clear that he will run the process and be the primary conduit of national security advice to Obama, eliminating the "back channels" that at times in the Bush administration allowed Cabinet secretaries and the vice president's office to unilaterally influence and make policy out of view of the others.

"We're not always going to agree on everything," said Jones, and "so it's my job to make sure that minority opinion is represented" to the president. "But if at the end of the day he turns to me and says, 'Well, what do you think, Jones?,' I'm going to tell him what I think."

The new structure, to be outlined in a presidential directive and a detailed implementation document by Jones, will expand the NSC's reach far beyond the range of traditional foreign policy issues and turn it into a much more elastic body, with Cabinet and departmental seats at the table - historically occupied only by the secretaries of defense and state - determined on an issue-by-issue basis. Jones said the directive will probably be completed this week.

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In Florida, Despair And Foreclosures
2009-02-08 03:50:45
Desperation has moved into this once-middle-class exurb of Fort Myers, Florida, where hammers used to pound.

Its straight-ahead stare was hidden amid the chatter of 221 families waiting for free bread at Faith Lutheran Church on a recent Friday morning; and it appeared a block away a few days earlier, as laid-off construction workers in flannel shirts scavenged through trash bags at a home foreclosure, grabbing wires, CDs, anything that could be sold.

“I knew it was coming,” said Gloria Chilson, 56, the former owner of the house, as she watched strangers pick through her belongings. “You take what you can; you try not to care.”

Welcome to the American dream in high reverse. Lehigh Acres is one of countless sprawling exurbs that the housing boom drastically reshaped, and now the bust is testing whether the experience of shared struggle will pull people together or tear them apart.

The changes in these mostly unincorporated areas outside cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada,  and Sacramento, California, have been swift and vivid. Their best economic times have been immediately followed by their worst, as they have generally been the last to crest and the first to crash.

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U.S. Military Lawyer Warns Of Deaths At Guantanamo Detention Facility
2009-02-08 15:40:26

Lieutenant-Colonel Yvonne Bradley, an American military lawyer, will step through the grand entrance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London Monday and demand the release of her client - a British resident who claims he was repeatedly tortured at the behest of U.S. intelligence officials - from Guantanamo Bay. Bradley will also request the disclosure of 42 secret documents that allegedly chronicle not only how Binyam Mohamed was tortured, but may also corroborate claims that Britain was complicit in his treatment.

First, Bradley, a U.S. military attorney for 20 years, will reveal that Mohamed, 31, is dying in his Guantanamo cell and that conditions inside the Cuban prison camp have deteriorated badly since Barack Obama took office. Fifty of its 260 detainees are on hunger strike and, say witnesses, are being strapped to chairs and force-fed, with those who resist being beaten. At least 20 are described as being so unhealthy they are on a "critical list", according to Bradley.

Mohamed, who is suffering dramatic weight loss after a month-long hunger strike, has told Bradley, 45, that he is "very scared" of being attacked by guards, after witnessing a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth. It is the first account Bradley has personally received of a detainee being physically assaulted in Guantanamo.

Bradley recently met Mohamed in Camp Delta's sparse visiting room and was shaken by his account of the state of affairs inside the notorious prison.

She said: "At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on.

"Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. Swat teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening.

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Jews In South America Increasingly Uneasy As Government, Media Foster Anti-Semitism
2009-02-08 15:39:59
Jewish leaders said it had never before happened in Venezuela: a break-in with anti-Jewish intent at one of the city's most prominent synagogues. A dozen armed men overpowered guards, spray-painted office walls with anti-Semitic insults, desecrated historic Torah scrolls and made off with computers containing personal information on congregants.

President Hugo Chavez condemned the Jan. 30 attack, which has shaken the country's political establishment. But Jewish leaders, supported by Israeli and U.S. officials, have said the populist government's often incendiary rhetoric toward the Jewish state, coupled with rising anti-Semitic diatribes in pro-government media, has helped foster a climate of intolerance that might have prompted assailants to target the Tiferet Israel synagogue.

Anger at Israel's recent military strikes in the Gaza Strip against the Islamist group Hamas have sparked demonstrations here and in two countries closely allied with Venezuela: Bolivia and Argentina.

Jews in these countries are concerned about the growing anti-Semitic tone of the protesters, who frequently equate Israel with Nazi Germany, a theme increasingly evident on placards that juxtapose the Star of David with the swastika and in some public pronouncements.

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24 People Killed In Plane Crash In Amazon River, 4 Survive
2009-02-08 15:39:25
Four people at the rear of a plane that crashed in a muddy Amazon river managed to open an emergency door and swim to safety as the aircraft sank, dragging at least 24 others to their death.

Most victims were members of a single family that chartered the plane to travel to a birthday party, authorities said Sunday. Seven children died.

"It was all very fast. The plane sank very fast," 21-year-old survivor Brenda Moraes told GloboNews TV. "We only had a chance because we were sitting in the last rows and could open the emergency door."

Divers recovered two dozen bodies from the twin turboprop plane that plunged into the Manacapuru river in a heavy rainstorm Saturday afternoon, said firefighter Maj. Jair Ruas Braga.

Authorities said they would investigate whether the plane, with a capacity of 21, had too many passengers.

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Former Iranian President Khatami To Run In June Vote
2009-02-08 15:38:55
Iran's former reformist president declared Sunday that he will run for president again in the country's upcoming elections, posing a serious challenge to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

There had been speculation for months that Mohammed Khatami would seek the presidency in the June 12 vote. The 65-year-old popular reformist is a powerful counterpoint to Ahmadinejad, whose mixture of Western defiance and fiery nationalism sharply contrasts Khatami's tempered tones and appeals for global dialogue.

"I seriously announce my candidacy in the next (presidential) election," he announced Sunday during a meeting with his supporters.

Khatami said it was impossible for someone like himself who was interested in the fate of Iran to remain silent. He said he decided to run because he was "attached to the country's greatness and the people's right to have control over their own fate."

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Time Is Of Essence On Financial Crisis, Economists Agree
2009-02-08 03:50:59

With Congress moving closer to adopting a $820 billion stimulus package and the Obama administration poised to unveil a new bank bailout plan, economists say that the federal government is taking its biggest role in the economy in a generation.

States that once aspired to blaze trails independent from Washington, D.C., are turning to it for money, banks and businesses that once decried regulation now are seeking federal capital, grants or tax cuts and individuals are looking for tax relief.

"This is a seismic shift in the role of government in our society," said Allen Sinai, chief global economist for Decision Economics. "Those who believe the government can be an effective, positive instrument for good will have another chance to try it," said Sinai, a political independent.

While economists remain divided on the role of government generally, an overwhelming number from both parties are saying that a government stimulus package - even a flawed one - is urgently needed to help prevent a steeper slide in the economy.

Many economists say the precise size and shape of the package developing in Congress matter less than the timing, and that any delay is damaging.

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Death Toll Reaches 65, Expected To Rise, In Australia's Worst Bushfires In Decades
2009-02-08 03:50:33
Towering flames razed entire towns in southeastern Australia and burned fleeing residents in their cars as the death toll from the country's worst fire disaster in a quarter-century reached 65 on Sunday.

At least 640 homes were destroyed in Saturday's inferno when searing temperatures and wind blasts produced a firestorm that swept across a swath of the country's Victoria state, where all the deaths occurred.

"Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria in the last 24 hours," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters as he toured the fire zone on Sunday. "It's an appalling tragedy for the nation."

Thousands of exhausted volunteer firefighters were still battling about 30 uncontrolled fires Sunday in Victoria, officials said, though conditions had eased considerably.

Government officials said the army would be deployed to help out, and Rudd announced immediate emergency aid of 10 million Australian dollars ($7 million).

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