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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday February 26 2009 - (813)

Thursday February 26 2009 edition
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Obama Budget Anticipates Revenue From Auto Emission Limits
2009-02-26 03:01:15

A mandatory cap on the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, which President Obama embraced on Tuesday as central to his domestic agenda, would be designed to generate badly needed revenue for the government while addressing arguably the world's most pressing environmental issue.

Thursday, the White House will unveil a budget that assumes there will be revenue from an emissions trading system by 2012.

Sources familiar with the document said it would direct $15 billion of that revenue to clean-energy projects, $60 billion to tax credits for lower- and middle-income working families, and additional money to offsetting higher energy costs for families, small businesses and communities.

In testimony to Congress in September, Peter Orszag - then director of the Congressional Budget Office and now Obama's budget director - estimated that revenue from a cap-and-trade bill that died on the Senate floor last year would have reached $112 billion by 2012 and would have kept rising afterward. By 2020, Orszag estimated, a cap-and-trade program might generate $50 billion to $300 billion a year.

But only hours after Obama's speech Tuesday to Congress, the cap-and-trade proposal triggered a heated exchange among senators on a key committee, underscoring that efforts to come up with a system that limits emissions, puts a price on carbon and allows industries to trade pollution allowances will be a difficult sell on Capitol Hill, especially in the current economic crisis.

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Stimulus Aid Set Aside To Help Military Families Avoid Foreclosure
2009-02-26 03:00:55

The orders came while Navy Lt. Adam Diaz was winding down a one-year stint in Baghdad: Report to the Navy Annex in Arlington, Virginia, for a new assignment in April.  Given the military lifestyle, the prospect of a move came as no surprise to Diaz, 31, who has spent his adult life in the Navy.

The shock came when he spoke with his wife, Stephanie Diaz, about the value of the Jacksonville, Florida, home they bought in June 2006, near the height of the housing bubble. "Hey, by the way," she recalls telling him. "The house has been valued for about 50 grand less than when we bought it."

The housing crisis is hitting military families particularly hard, according to real estate agents and service member advocacy groups. Many who bought during the boom and must now relocate because of fresh orders are faced with selling their homes at a big loss. They are finding few buyers, or even renters, particularly in the hardest-hit markets. That is leaving some families facing options including renting at a loss, separation from their loved ones or, in some cases, foreclosure.

The issue has caught the attention of Congress, which included language in the economic stimulus package to compensate service members who sell their home at a loss or have been foreclosed upon because they were forced to move after a base closure, reassignment or a combat wound required them to be relocated near a health facility. The program also covers surviving spouses of those killed in combat.

Under the new provision, the government will cover 95 percent of a loss if a service member is forced to sell. The government can also choose to acquire the title of a home by paying off the balance of a service member's mortgage or paying the owner up to 90 percent of the home's previous value. No dollar ceiling has been set.

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Housing Report Drags Down Stocks
2009-02-26 03:00:27

Stocks fell Wednesday in volatile trading as new details emerged about how the government will test the stability of some of the country's largest banks and poor housing data were released.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 80.05 points, or 1.1 percent, to 7270.89, while the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell 8.24 points, also 1.1 percent, to 764.90. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index lost 16.40 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1425.43.

Prices have swung wildly this week, with stocks plunging Monday on fears that the government could be forced to nationalize banks, then rebounding sharply Tuesday. But, analysts said, investors remain concerned about the state of the economy.

Most of the market's focus Wednesday was on details of the "stress test" the Obama administration will use to measure how much capital many of the largest banks will need to survive. Under the plan, the government could purchase preferred shares of bank stocks that could be converted to common shares, a change meant to give financial markets greater confidence.

That helped address some of the uncertainty that has been plaguing Wall Street, said analysts.

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U.S. Stocks Fall Sharply On Housing Report
2009-02-25 14:59:05

Stocks fell sharply lower Wednesday morning after a new report showed that existing home sales fell to their lowest level in 11 years, providing fresh concern about the continuing downward spiral of the housing market.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down nearly 2 percent, or 145 points, in the early afternoon, and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index also was down 1.9 percent, or 15 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 2 percent, or 30 points.

Existing home sales fell 5.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted 4.49 million units in January, according to the National Association of Realtors. They are down 8.6 percent from January 2008.

The sales rate was much worse than the forecast and the lowest level on record, according to Mike Larson, real estate analyst at Weiss Research. It would take more than nine months to sell all of the homes on the market at the current sales rate.

"The list of challenges for housing is long, and familiar, at this point," said Larson. "You can try to minimize foreclosures to stem the flood of supply hitting the market. But if Americans are worried they won't have a job next month, next quarter, or next year, you've got a real problem. ... People just aren't going to buy many houses."

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Pakistan: American Missile Strikes Worsen Al-Qaeda Threat
2009-02-25 14:58:44
American missile strikes have reduced al-Qaeda's global reach but heightened the threat to Pakistan as the group disperses its cells here and fights to maintain its sanctuaries, said Pakistani intelligence officials.

The officials acknowledge that the strikes and raids by the Pakistani military are proving effective, having killed as many as 80 al-Qaeda fighters in the past year, but they express growing alarm that the drone strikes in particular are having an increasingly destabilizing effect on their country.

They also voiced fears that the expected arrival of 17,000 American troops in Afghanistan this spring and summer would add to the stresses by pushing more Taliban fighters into Pakistan.

The assessment was provided during a two-hour briefing by senior analysts and officials of Pakistan’s main spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s policy.

The analysis reflected the increasing public pressure on the Pakistani government to oppose the drone attacks, which are deeply unpopular here for the civilian casualties they have inflicted.

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Iran Tests Its First Nuclear Plant
2009-02-25 14:58:09
The first nuclear power plant built in Iran was tested successfully by Iranian and Russian officials Wednesday, said Iranian officials.

The power plant is projected to be fully operational by the end of this year.

"This, in simple terms, means that Bushehr power plant is completed today and its operation is definite," Gholamreza Aqazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told Iranian state television. "The political concerns about Bushehr plant are now completely addressed today."

The launch of operations at the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor near the southern Iranian port of Bushehr - built with Russian assistance under a $1 billion contract - had long been delayed over financial ambiguities as well as construction and supply glitches.

The plant is a highly symbolic facet of Iran's controversial nuclear program. The United States, Israel and some European nations have charged that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons.

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Sweeping U.S. Arrests Target Mexican Drug Cartels
2009-02-25 14:57:39
U.S. federal agents have rounded up more than 700 suspects in a wide-ranging crackdown on Mexican drug cartels operating inside the United States.

A law enforcement official familiar with the sweep said the arrests culminated in a series of Drug Enforcement Administration raids Tuesday night and Wednesday morning around the country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because authorities were still gathering evidence.

The operation has led to the arrests of 751 individuals and the seizure of $59 million in suspected criminal proceeds, said the official, though it was not immediately clear how many of the arrests came in the overnight raids.

Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce results of the crackdown at an afternoon news conference in Washington, D.C.

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U.S. Is A Vast Arms Bazaar For Mexican Drug Cartels
2009-02-26 03:01:06
The Mexican agents who moved in on a safe house full of drug dealers last May were not prepared for the fire power that greeted them.

When the shooting was over, eight agents were dead. Among the guns the police recovered was an assault rifle traced back across the border to a dingy gun store here in Phoenix, Arizona, called X-Caliber Guns.

Now, the owner, George Iknadosian, will go on trial on charges he sold hundreds of weapons, mostly AK-47 rifles, to smugglers, knowing they would send them to a drug cartel in the western state of Sinaloa. The guns helped fuel the gang warfare in which more than 6,000 Mexicans died last year.

Mexican authorities have long complained that American gun dealers are arming the cartels. This case is the most prominent prosecution of an American gun dealer since the United States promised Mexico two years ago it would clamp down on the smuggling of weapons across the border. It also offers a rare glimpse of how weapons delivered to American gun dealers are being moved into Mexico and wielded in horrific crimes.

“We had a direct pipeline from Iknadosian to the Sinaloa cartel,” said Thomas G. Mangan, a spokesman for the U.S. federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.

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U.S. Interior Secretary Salazar Scraps Oil-Shale Leasing
2009-02-26 03:00:38
In a second reversal of the Bush administration, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday he is scrapping leases for oil-shale development on federal land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Salazar rescinded a lease offer made last month for research, development and demonstration projects that could have led to oil-shale works on 1.9 million acres in the three states, greatly expanding the program.

"I am withdrawing that Jan. 14 solicitation because in my view it was a midnight decision, and it was flawed," Salazar told reporters on a teleconference call from Washington, D.C.

He said he also is scrapping an initial 5 percent royalty rate on oil-shale production that "sells taxpayers short." Conventional oil and gas production on public land produces royalties of up to 18.8 percent.

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FDA: India's Largest Drug Firm Faked Tests On Generic Drugs Sold In U.S.
2009-02-26 02:59:43

India's largest drug maker has falsified laboratory tests for generic drugs that had been approved for sale in the United States, say officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA cited the fraudulent laboratory tests Wednesday as it took the unusual step of stopping its review of all pending applications from Ranbaxy Laboratories. Federal investigators said the problems centered on the company's plant in Paonta Sahib, which has produced 25 drugs that have been approved by the FDA. Most of those medications are not thought to be on U.S. pharmacy shelves; since September, Ranbaxy has been prevented from exporting more than two dozen drugs to the United States.

The FDA is not seeking a recall, because regulators do not believe the drugs pose a health risk.

"There is no concern about the safety or efficacy of Ranbaxy's drugs on the U.S. market," said Deborah Autor, director of compliance at the FDA. The affected drugs include medications for high cholesterol and an antihistamine, but the FDA would not provide a specific list.

Patients using the drugs should not stop, said Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

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At Least 9 Dead As Turkish Airliner Crashes Near Amsterdam
2009-02-25 14:58:56
A Turkish Airlines jet carrying 135 people crashed into a field on its approach to Amsterdam’s international airport on Wednesday, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens, said airport authorities and Turkish officials.

Most of the passengers were Turkish, but there were four Americans, one Briton, and 33 Dutch on the plane as well, according to NTV television. One of the Americans aboard the plane, a Boeing 737-800, was a Boeing official, NTV reported.

Television images showed the plane lying fractured into three parts after it slammed into the ground. The aircraft did not catch fire.

Witnesses said the plane’s engines broke off and landed about 100 yards from the fuselage in a plowed field.

Michel Bezuijen, the acting mayor of nearby Haarlemmermeer, told a news conference that there was no immediate word on the cause of the accident. The crash took place in calm weather with a light drizzle.

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Japan's Exports Plunge As Financial Crisis Hits Asia
2009-02-25 14:58:30
Japan's exports fell by 46 percent in January, and Hong Kong’s economy contracted 2.5 percent in the last three months of 2008, further signs that the economic downturn in Asia is set to drag on through this year, data released Wednesday showed.

Much of Asia’s growth in recent years was based on an export boom, allowing the recession in the United States and Europe to spread through a region that had been insulated from the American financial troubles that ignited the current downturn.

The Japanese economy was one of the first in Asia to tip into recession last year as weakness stemming from poor domestic demand was compounded by evaporating demand from overseas. During the last three months of 2008, Japan’s economy shrank 12.7 percent from the year-earlier period, and the trade data for January, which was released Wednesday, underpinned economists’ views that the start of 2009 was looking even worse.

Exports plunged 46 percent from a year earlier and imports dropped 32 percent, echoing similarly sharp declines reported recently by China and Taiwan.

Overseas demand is unlikely to pick up soon; Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said late on Tuesday that full recovery could be at least a year away.

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Washington Post Co. Earnings Drop 77 Percent
2009-02-25 14:57:54

The Washington Post Co. earnings fell 77 percent in the fourth quarter of last year compared with the same period in 2007, as a large impairment charge drove down net income.

The Post Co. reported fourth-quarter net income of $18.8 million ($2.01 per share) on revenue of $1.16 billion, compared with net income of $82.9 million ($8.71) on revenue of $1.13 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007.

The company's newspaper division, which includes the flagship Washington Post, reported a $14.4 million operating loss for the fourth quarter and a $192.7 million operating loss for all of 2008, nearly half of which came from the cost of early-retirement packages taken by some 231 Post employees. The charge dragged the Post Co. into the red in the second quarter of 2008, for the first time in its 37-year history as a publicly traded company.

The company's magazine division - largely Newsweek - reported a $10.9 million operating profit for the fourth quarter but a $16.1 million operating loss for 2008.

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