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Monday, February 23, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday February 23 2009 - (813)

Monday February 23 2009 edition
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Liquid Water Verified On Mars?
2009-02-23 03:29:02
Strange globs seen on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars lander could be the first proof that modern Mars hosts liquid water, a new paper reports. Images from the robotic craft show what appear to be liquid droplets growing, merging, and dripping on the lander's leg over the course of a Martian month

Phoenix landed near Mars's north pole last May, and several "self portraits" taken to assess the craft's health show material spattered on the legs.

This substance is probably saline mud that splashed up as the craft landed, study leader and Phoenix co-investigator Nilton Renno of the University of Michigan told National Geographic News.

Salt in the mud then absorbed water vapor from the atmosphere, forming the watery drops, Renno said.

The water can stay liquid even in the frigid Martian arctic because it contains a high amount of perchlorates, a salt "with properties like the antifreeze used to melt snow here in Michigan," said Renno, who will present the work next month at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Finding liquid water under these conditions carries possible implications for Mars's habitability, the scientists say.
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Bubbles Of Warming Beneath The Ice
2009-02-22 15:16:32
As the permafrost thaws in the Arctic, huge pockets of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - could be released into the atmosphere. Experts are only beginning to understand how disastrous that could be.

Four miles south of the Arctic Circle, the morning sky is streaked with apricot. Frozen rivers split the tundra of the Seward Peninsula, coiling into vast lakes. And on a silent, wind-whipped pond, a lone figure, sweating and panting, shovels snow off the ice.

The young woman with curly reddish hair stops, scribbles data, snaps a photo, grabs a heavy metal pick and stabs at white orbs in the thick black ice.

"Every time I see bubbles, I have the same feeling," says Katey Walter, a University of Alaska researcher. "They are amazing and beautiful."

Beautiful, yes. But ominous. When her pick breaks through the surface, the orbs burst with a low gurgle, spewing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that could accelerate the pace of climate change across the globe.

International experts are alarmed. "Methane release due to thawing permafrost in the Arctic is a global warming wild card," warned a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) last year. Large amounts entering the atmosphere, it concluded, could lead to "abrupt changes in the climate that would likely be irreversible."

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Beijing's Olympic Building Boom Goes Bust
2009-02-22 15:16:03
"Empty," says Jack Rodman, an expert in distressed real estate, as he points from the window of his 40th-floor office toward a silver-skinned prism rising out of the Beijing skyline.

"Beautiful building, but not a single tenant.

"Completely empty.


So goes the refrain as his finger skips from building to building, each flashier than the next, and few of them more than barely occupied.

Beijing went through a building boom before the 2008 Summer Olympics that filled a staid communist capital with angular architectural feats that grace the covers of glossy design magazines.

Now, six months after the Games ended, the city continues to dazzle by night, with neon and floodlights dancing across the skyline. By day, though, it is obvious that many are "see-through" buildings, to use the term coined during the Texas real estate bust of the 1980s.

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Australia's National Day Of Mourning: The Worst Of Nature But The Best Of Humanity
2009-02-22 06:11:33
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the audience at the National Day of Mourning Ceremony that Black Saturday saw the worst of nature but the best of humanity.

He said Australia's reaction to the bushfires was different to what may have been expected in other places.

"In some countries tragedy exposes the faultlines in a nation. The strong abandoning the weak. One region indifferent to the sufferings of another. One culture uncaring as to the needs of another.

"But ours is a different nation. Our nation has been as one. Australia, a nation of compassion," said Rudd.

Bells  sounded in Melbourne to mark the beginning of  the service to remember those who died in Victoria's devastating bushfires.

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Obama's First Budget Seeks To Reduce U.S. Budget Deficit
2009-02-22 15:16:45

President Obama is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious first budget that seeks to cut the federal deficit in half over the next four years, primarily by raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy and by slashing spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said administration officials.

In addition to tackling a deficit swollen by the $787 billion stimulus package and other efforts to ease the nation's economic crisis, the budget blueprint will press aggressively for progress on the domestic agenda Obama outlined during the presidential campaign. This would include key changes to environmental policies and a major expansion of health coverage that he hopes to enact later this year.

A summary of Obama's budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October will be delivered to Congress on Thursday, with the complete, multi-hundred-page document to follow in April. Obama plans to unveil his goals for scaling back record deficits and rebuilding the nation's costly and inefficient health care system Monday, when he addresses lawmakers and budget experts at a White House summit on restoring "fiscal responsibility" to Washington.

Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said he is determined to "get exploding deficits under control" and said his budget request is "sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don't, and restoring fiscal discipline."

Reducing the deficit, he said, is critical: "We can't generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control."

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In Los Angeles County, One Person In Five Receives Public Assistance
2009-02-22 15:16:18
One in five Los Angeles County residents - nearly 2.2 million people - are receiving public assistance payments or benefits, a level county officials say will rise significantly over the coming months as the fallout from the recession continues.

The percentage of people on county aid already equals the figure at the height of the 2001-03 recession and far exceeds the one in seven who needed help during the economic downturn in the early 1990s and the one in nine assisted in the collapse of the early 1980s.

The rise in welfare recipients in the county is the first sustained uptick since welfare reform under the Clinton administration imposed strict time limits on benefits in 1996.

County officials warn that tens of thousands of additional frustrated job seekers - unemployment in the county currently stands at 9.5% - are expected to seek aid to weather the persistent recession once their other benefits run out.

The total includes those receiving food stamps and general relief as well as other county-administered aid programs, such as in-home health care. The cost - shouldered by the county, state and federal governments - was $334 million a month by the end of last year, according to the latest report by the county's Department of Public Social Services.
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73 Miners Dead In China Coal Mine Blast
2009-02-22 06:11:43
A gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in northern China on Sunday, killing at least 73 miners and trapping dozens in the still-burning shaft, said state media.

The pre-dawn blast occurred while 436 workers were in the Tunlan Coal Mine in Gujiao city near Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, said the official Xinhua News Agency.

At least 73 miners died and 113 were hospitalized, including 21 in critical condition, said Xinhua. It did not say how many workers remained trapped in the shaft but earlier reports said at least 65 were still underground.

State television CCTV showed rescuers in orange suits and red helmets with headlamps entering an elevator to be lowered into the mine shaft, while others emerged from the mine carrying workers on stretchers toward waiting ambulances.

Nearly 100 rescuers were onsite but their work was hampered by flames still burning in the shaft, said CCTV.

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Mobster Makes Offer On French Connection Case
2009-02-22 06:11:19

In prison, far from the Brooklyn haunts where his name was scrawled in blood, Anthony Casso stews. He stews over old vendettas. He stews over betrayals of the flesh - heart problems and prostate cancer.

Casso, the once fearsome underboss of the Lucchese family who is now serving multiple life sentences amounting to 455 years for murder, stews over his secrets: unsolved crimes that, he says in an outpouring of letters, he is eager to help close if only he could show the authorities where the bodies are buried (especially if it entails a trip outside the gates).

“I would go out there in a heartbeat,” Casso said on Friday in a telephone call to a former detective seeking the mobster’s help in clearing his own name.

As much as he hopes for a taste of freedom, or a reduction of his sentence, prosecutors question what his information may be worth and what perils may lie in reopening contact with an antagonist some compare to the fictional monster Hannibal Lecter.

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