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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday February 19 2009 - (813)

Thursday February 19 2009 edition
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Obama: $75 Billion Mortgage Program Could Help Millions
2009-02-18 19:40:10
President Obama Wednesday unveiled a $75 billion foreclosure prevention program aimed at arresting the problem that ignited the nation's spiraling economic problems by helping as many as 9 million homeowners receive more affordable mortgage terms.

The program is part of the Obama administration's multi-trillion dollar effort to jolt the nation out of its deepening recession by bolstering the financial system, launching a $787 billion economic stimulus plan and working to tame the raging foreclosure crisis.

Speaking to a crowd packed into chairs and bleachers at a high school gymnasium here, Obama said the mortgage plan would help all homeowners retain their fast-evaporating home values by helping those in danger of losing their homes.

"The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it," said Obama.

The plan includes measures to allow homeowners to refinance into loans with cheaper payments, with the federal government in some cases filling the financial gap, administration officials said in a briefing.

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Fed Reserve Sees Bleak Economic Outlook
2009-02-18 19:39:49
The Federal Reserve cut its economic outlook for 2009 on Wednesday and warned that the United States economy would face an “unusually gradual and prolonged” period of recovery as the country struggles to climb out of a deep global downturn.

In economic projections released by the central bank, the Fed’s Open Market Committee said it expected that the economy would contract by 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent this year, that unemployment would rise to 8.5 to 8.8 percent and that inflation would remain under greater pressure. Bleak economic data reflecting a sharpening slide in housing, trade, industrial production, spending and employment rates “more than offset” any potential impact from an economic stimulus plan, said the Fed, forcing it to cut its economic outlook.

“Financial markets continued to be strained over all, credit remained unusually tight for both households and businesses, and equity prices had fallen further,” the Open Market Committee said in the report, which reflected the minutes of its Jan. 27-28 meeting.

Economists said the Fed came closer than ever to setting an official target for inflation in its economic outlook when it projected that longer term inflation would be 1.7 to 2 percent.

“The Fed has repeatedly told Congress they wouldn’t move ahead on inflation targeting unilaterally,” said Michael Feroli, United States economist at JPMorgan Economics. “The original practice of releasing three-year ahead inflation forecasts was a move toward soft inflation targeting. The new practice is a more definitive step toward hard inflation targeting.”

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A Spy Caught In The Mideast Vise
2009-02-18 19:39:11
For 25 years, Ali al-Jarrah managed to live on both sides of the bitterest divide running through this region. To friends and neighbors, he was an earnest supporter of the Palestinian cause, an affable, white-haired family man who worked as an administrator at a nearby school.

To Israel, he appears to have been a valued spy, sending reports and taking clandestine photographs of Palestinian groups and Hezbollah since 1983.

Now he sits in a Lebanese prison cell, accused by the authorities of betraying his country to an enemy state. Months after his arrest, his friends and former colleagues are still in shock over the extent of his deceptions: the carefully disguised trips abroad, the unexplained cash, the secret second wife.

Lebanese investigators say he has confessed to a career of espionage spectacular in its scope and longevity, a real-life John le Carre novel. Many intelligence agents are said to operate in the civil chaos of Lebanon, but Jarrah’s arrest has shed a rare light onto a world of spying and subversion that usually persists in secret.

Jarrah’s wife maintains that he was tortured, and is innocent; requests to interview him were denied.

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China Locks Down Lithang County After Tibet Protests
2009-02-18 19:38:32
The county of Lithang in Sichuan province was under lockdown this week following clashes between Tibetan monks, laypeople and nomads and Chinese security forces Sunday and Monday, according to residents.

Zhou Xiujun, owner of a grocery store, said that she witnessed a small protest near the county's main vegetable market Sunday that escalated into a much larger one about lunchtime Monday. On the second day, she said saw several hundred Tibetans gathered downtown, shouting "Long Live the Dalai Lama," the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists who lives in exile in India. In just a few minutes, she said, squads of police arrived and melee ensued.

At least one Tibetan protester was swinging a stick, she said, and others were throwing stones. The policemen subdued them using what she called "electronic sticks" and tear gas.

The activist group Free Tibet said these were the largest protests in Tibet since violence last spring, which left at least 18 civilians and one police officer dead.

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More U.S. Troops Headed To Afghanistan
2009-02-18 19:37:53

President Obama has ordered the first combat deployments of his presidency, saying yesterday that he had authorized an additional 17,000 U.S. troops "to stabilize a deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan.

The new deployments, to begin in May, will increase the U.S. force in Afghanistan by nearly 50 percent, bringing it to 55,000 by mid-summer, along with 32,000 non-U.S. NATO troops. In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said that "urgent attention and swift action" were required because "the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda ... threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border."

Taliban attacks and U.S. and NATO casualties last year, including 155 U.S. deaths, reached the highest levels of the seven-year war. War-related civilian Afghan deaths -- most blamed on Taliban insurgents but many on U.S. airstrikes -- increased nearly 40 percent to 2,118 in 2008, according to a U.N. report released yesterday. Extremist groups have expanded their hold on western Pakistan and launched terrorist attacks in major Pakistani cities.

Months ago, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, requested more than 30,000 additional troops this year, and an initial 6,000 arrived last month under orders signed by the Bush administration. But a senior White House official said that no other deployment decisions will be made until the Obama administration completes a strategic review of the Afghan war in late March.

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Swift, Steep Economic Downturn Crosses Globe
2009-02-18 19:40:00
Markets around the world plunged Tuesday as evidence mounted that the global economic crisis is worsening.

Japan is suffering its worst downturn in 35 years. The British economy is facing its sharpest decline in almost 30 years. Germany is slumping at its worst pace in nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, the job market in the United States, at the epicenter of the global downturn, is the worst in decades. And emerging economies are contracting at a pace few had predicted just months ago. Even China, whose economy still is growing at a 6.8 percent annual pace, is grappling with vast numbers of the unemployed, raising fears of unrest.

[Markets in Asia and Europe continued to fall on Wednesday. U.S. futures were trading higher, in advance of President Obama's announcement of a housing recovery plan.]

The sharpness of the global slowdown has alarmed economists, who see no obvious engine for recovery.

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U.S. Home Construction Drops Far More Than Expected
2009-02-18 19:39:37
Construction of new homes and applications for future projects both plunged to record lows in January as all parts of the country showed big declines in building activity.

The Obama administration, seeking to combat the most serious housing downturn in generations, on Wednesday unveiled an effort to deal with mortgage foreclosures to go along with housing support included in the $787 billion economic stimulus program; but analysts said they still do not expect a turnaround in housing until late this year at the earliest.

The administration's new foreclosure relief plan will spend $75 billion in an effort to prevent up to 9 million Americans from losing their homes. The plan also will double the size of the lifeline the government is providing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to $200 billion each as a way of reassuring financial markets of the viability of both mortgage finance giants.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments dropped 16.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 466,000 units. That's well below the 530,000 units economists expected, and was the slowest pace on records dating back a half-century.

Applications for building permits, considered a good barometer of future activity, also dropped to a record low, falling 4.8 percent to a rate of 521,000 units, slightly below economists' expectations.

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USB Reaches $780 Million Settlement Over Offshore Services
2009-02-18 19:39:01

In the latest blow to the secrecy surrounding Swiss banking, UBS agreed on Wednesday to pay $780 million to settle federal claims that it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes and to disclose the names of up to 19,000 clients.

Under the agreement, the bank will not have to pay additional fines and penalties that could have brought its deal to more than $1 billion. People briefed on the issue said the banking crisis and the recession were factors in prosecutors’ decision not to levy the additional fines and penalties.

The action, unprecedented for a financial institution, is a blow for UBS - the world’s largest private bank - and to Swiss banking secrecy with laws that date from the 1930s but with traditions stemming from the Middle Ages.

Under the agreement, UBS admitted to conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

In a shift from deferred prosecution agreements with other corporations in the past, the Justice Department will not require an outside corporate monitor on UBS. Instead, the bank must submit regular reports to United States authorities on its offshore undeclared banking business for Americans - the practice that has been under investigation.

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Appeals Court Reverses Ruling Ordering 17 Detainees To U.S.
2009-02-18 19:38:11
A U.S. appeals court reversed a ruling Wednesday that would have transferred 17 Guantanamo Bay detainees, none of whom are labeled enemy combatants, to the United States. The ruling casts further uncertainty on the fate of the Turkic-speaking Muslims from western China.

Because there is no evidence they plotted or fought against the United States, the government has no authority to hold them at Guantanamo Bay, but deciding what to do with the men has been a diplomatic problem for years.

The military says the men have ties to a militant group that demands separation from China. The United States will not release the Uighurs to their home for fear they will be tortured. Earlier this month, Beijing warned other countries not to accept the men, creating a potential diplomatic roadblock to President Barack Obama's plan to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled in October that, since they are not enemy combatants, the Uighurs must be released to the United States. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned that ruling.

Only the executive branch, not the courts, can make decisions about immigration, said the appeals court. That fact doesn't change, the court said, simply because the United States has held the men for years without charge.

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Is The Earth Cooling?
2009-02-18 00:28:16
Editor:  I wanted to preface this article with my commentary, rather than our traditional comments at the end.  You should follow the links at the end of the quoted article, to read the full article and see the included graphics.  This is from Dr. Jeff Master's blog on Weather Underground.  A lot of stuff I read and realize, "oh this is just some guy blabbering about something he knows nothing about."  Dr. Masters actually has some significant credentials.  He may know a thing or two about the weather.

For the last few years, when it's been cold, I've read about how there is no global warming; how we're heading for a new Ice Age; how all the tree huggers are wrong.  When someone tells me in person about it, I try to explain that global warming isn't just warming.  It's a disruption of the natural cycles of the weather on the earth.  ! ; Summers get hotter.  Winters get colder.  Deserts get flooded.  Tropical areas dry out.  It's not a given for what areas will get what effects (yet), but it's not worth it for us to find out. 

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