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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday February 7 2009 - (813)

Saturday February 7 2009 edition
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Senators Near Accord On Stimulus Bill
2009-02-06 19:57:48
Spurred by a dismal unemployment report for January, senators were close to reaching an accord on Friday evening on an economic stimulus program of some $800 billion sought by President Obama to pull the country out of the worst recession in years.

Democrats appeared to have succeeded, after a long day of private negotiations and intense public debate, to have won the support of enough Republicans to move the package toward a final vote. Assuming there is a final vote, passage would be assured.

Exact outlines of the accord were not immediately available, but the senators reportedly agreed to cut some spending and strip out some business tax cuts to gain enough Republican support.

Once the Senate votes on the package, differences between the Senate legislation and a considerably different version passed recently by the House would have to be reconciled. President Obama has said he hopes all that can be accomplished in time for him to sign the measure within 10 days.

Three centrist Republicans, Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, were said to be among the senators being wooed by Democrats, whose efforts were bolstered by Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, who is a former Congressman from Illinois.

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Another Thumping For U.S. Economy
2009-02-06 13:46:49

Retail sales fell in January for the fourth straight month, factory orders in December dropped for the fifth month in a row, and jobless claims last week hit a quarter-century high as the recession shows no signs of abating.

The data, released Thursday, underscored the reluctance of individuals and businesses alike to spend in the face of a gloomy economy. Depressed demand here and abroad pushed U.S. factory orders down 3.9 percent, to $362.4 billion, in December. That trend is forcing companies to slash jobs, sending new claims for unemployment benefits up to 626,000 last week. And anxious consumers, whose spending fuels the nation's economy, have cut out all but the essentials as sales dropped 1.6 percent last month. Luxury stores and clothing chains suffered the most, while discounters were a bright spot.

"It all ties into why business is so bad out there," said Howard Tubin, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. "Until people get comfortable that they are not going to get laid off or they have found a new job, then business is going to remain pretty tough in general."

Thursday's news did not bring much promise of comfort. Not only did new claims for unemployment benefits increase more than expected last week, but the number of people continuing to collect benefits rose to nearly 4.8 million, the highest number since record keeping began about 40 years ago. The January unemployment rate is scheduled to be released Friday.

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U.S. Unemployment Rate Hits 7.6 Percent In January, Worst Job Loss Since 1974
2009-02-06 13:46:25

The U.S. economy lost another 598,000 jobs in January, a larger-than-expected decline that highlighted a weak global economy and the pressure building on companies to cut costs and payrolls.

It was the largest one-month job loss since December 1974, and pushed the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent, from 7.2 percent in December.

That is the highest unemployment rate since the fall of 1992 - and it would have been higher except for a slight decline in the number of people looking for work, itself a possible sign of economic weakness as people become discouraged from job-hunting.

At present, 11.6 million people are out of work, a headline number likely to figure into ongoing debate in the Senate  Friday over the Obama administration's proposed economic stimulus package.

President Obama has warned of possible double-digit unemployment if the government does not act quickly, and called Friday's news "very troubling."

In announcing the creation of the new Economic Recovery Advisory Board Friday morning, Obama said, "I am sure that at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate are reading these same numbers this morning. I hope they share my sense of urgency and draw the same, unmistakable conclusion: The situation could not be more serious. These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction and delay and politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work. It is time for Congress to act."

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Pakistan Court Lifts House Arrest For Nuclear Scientist Khan
2009-02-06 13:45:41
A Pakistani court ruled Friday that the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who was accused of selling nuclear technology abroad, was no longer under house arrest and was free to move around the country.

The court that lifted the travel restrictions on Dr. Khan, 73, is a new court of limited legal jurisdiction established under the former president, Pervez Musharraf, and it appeared that the move Friday was as much a political decision by the civilian government as a legal one.

Dr. Khan, considered in the West as a rogue scientist and a pariah who sold technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran, is regarded as a national hero in Pakistan for his role in transforming the country into a nuclear power.

Speaking to reporters after the court’s decision, Dr. Khan said: “All this happened because of the keen interest taken by the president, the prime minister and especially Rehman Malik, who has looked into the case, reviewed it, discussed it with the government, discussed it with the concerned authorities.” Malik is the senior official in the Pakistani Interior Ministry.

The lifting of restrictions served to pacify the powerful conservative lobby in Pakistan who wanted greater freedoms for Dr. Khan, according to Talat Masood, a retired army general.

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Olga Raggio, A Scholar And Art Curator, Dies At 82
2009-02-06 19:57:37

Olga Raggio, an internationally known scholar and curator who in almost 60 years with the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized some of its best-known exhibitions, scoured the world for treasure and coaxed rarely seen artworks from places as far flung as the Vatican and as close at hand as a New Jersey abbey, died on Jan. 24 in the Bronx. She was 82 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was cancer, the museum said. Dr. Raggio, who retired on Dec. 31, 2008, as a distinguished research curator, leaves no immediate survivors.

One of the first women to lead a curatorial department at the Met, Dr. Raggio was the chairwoman of its department of European sculpture and decorative arts from 1971 to 2001. She was responsible for tens of thousands of objects, including sculpture, ceramics, tapestries, furniture, jewelry, metalwork, glass, clocks, mathematical instruments and architectural pieces - almost every kind of art made in Europe from 1400 to 1900 that was not painting or drawing.

Dr. Raggio was concerned with the stuff of everyday life - everyday life, that is, if one happened to be an Italian duke, a Spanish grandee or a Frenchman whose first name was Louis and whose last name was a Roman numeral.

A specialist in the Renaissance and Baroque sculpture of France and Italy, Dr. Raggio was mentioned as a possible successor to Thomas Hoving, the Met’s director, when he stepped down in 1977, according to news accounts of the period. (The job went instead to Philippe de Montebello, who held it until last year.) She also taught for many years at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University.

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Suspect Peanuts Sent To Schools For Free-Lunch Program
2009-02-06 13:46:41

Peanut Corporation of America sold 32 truckloads of roasted peanuts and peanut butter to the federal government for a free-lunch program for poor children even as the company's internal tests showed that its products were contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture abruptly suspended its contract with the company, which is at the center of an outbreak of salmonella illness that has killed eight people, sickened 575 and triggered one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

The fact that a federal agency that shares responsibility for keeping food safe was among the thousands of customers that may have received tainted food from the Blakely, Georgia, plant is the latest revelation in a scandal that has exposed an array of failures in the government's systems for keeping deadly pathogens out of the food supply.

Schools in California, Minnesota and Idaho received the suspected peanut products between January and November 2007, said Susan Acker, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department. Federal officials notified the affected schools last week and told them to destroy any uneaten food, but officials said most of it has already been consumed, said Acker. She said the agency is not aware of any illnesses linked to the peanut products it bought.

"This company had no conscience in its production practices, sales and distribution," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said Thursday. "That they would knowingly ship products tainted with salmonella to our nation's children almost defies belief."

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Kyrgyzstan Says Decision To Close U.S. Air Base Is Final
2009-02-06 13:46:00
Kyrgyzstan said on Friday its decision to shut a U.S. air base was final, dealing a blow to Washington's efforts to retain what has been an important staging post for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan.

The United States said it was still "engaged" with Kyrgyzstan about keeping the Manas base in the poor, former Soviet republic and traditional Russian ally. One senior Kyrgyz official said no talks were currently taking place.

Kyrgyzstan's stance has set a tough challenge for new U.S. President Barack Obama, who plans to send more troops to Afghanistan to try to boost NATO efforts to defeat Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents.

The standoff over the tiny but strategically placed nation marks a new twist in an escalating power struggle in Central Asia reminiscent of the 19th-century "Great Game" between tsarist Russia and the British Empire.

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Obama Reverses Bush Effort In Mercury Pollution Case
2009-02-06 13:45:27
President Barack Obama is reversing a previous Bush administration effort on pollution, pulling back legal arguments in a lawsuit over mercury.

The case was soon to come before the Supreme Court. The Obama administration submitted papers Friday to the court asking for the appeal to be dismissed.

An appeals court last year rejected a Bush administration plan for regulating mercury emissions. It said the plan should not have included allowing utilities to purchase emission credits instead of actually reducing emissions.

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