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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday February 3 2009 - (813)

Tuesday February 3 2009 edition
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Gemany's Big Banking Bailout
2009-02-02 19:03:44
The German government wants to buy up large segments of the domestic banking sector. In addition to the partial nationalization of many ailing financial institutions, Berlin's plans include a complete takeover - by expropriation if necessary.

Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, likes to come across as generous. A few days ago in Berlin, he said that he is by no means too proud to take advantage of the government bailout program for banks, and that all he wants is to see it benefit those banks that truly need it. "We are a long way from that," he said.

Yet the competition is skeptical, especially when the industry leader is having trouble hiding the fact that it lost about €4 billion ($5.2 billion) in 2008. In addition, both competitors and politicians have noted with interest Ackermann's behind-the-scenes involvement in the development of a "bad bank," that is, a sort of government dumping ground for unmarketable, high-risk securities.

Industry insiders suspect that Deutsche Bank hopes to shift its own toxic waste into this new entity - saving face in the process because, after all, everyone else will be doing the same thing.
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German Security Officials Concerned Of Possible Terror Attack
2009-02-02 19:03:14
Security officials in Germany are concerned that terrorists may be targeting the country ahead of general elections in September. A top crime fighter says recent threat videos show "parallels to the situation in Spain" before the March 2004 terrorists attacks there.

So far in this mega-election year in Germany, it has been easy to forget that there is a general election campaign just around the corner. In addition to numerous state elections, voters will be asked to head to the polls in September in a vote that will determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel will be able to keep her job or not; but neither she nor her opponent from the Social Democrats, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have taken many steps down the campaign trail.

According to German security officials, though, Islamist terrorists may already be developing a plan of attack for 2009, and Germany may be high up on the target list.

"The Islamists apparently want to influence Germany's election year 2009," said August Henning, a senior deputy in the Interior Ministry, in the tabloid Bild am Sonntag. In other comments to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Hanning said that Germany "has moved well up the list of terrorist target countries."

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Federal Reserve: Banks Still Tightening Loan Standards
2009-02-02 16:22:03
Many banks have made it harder for borrowers to obtain all kinds of loans over the last three months despite a $700 billion federal bailout program and a flurry of other bold moves to stem the worst financial crisis to hit the country since the 1930s.

The Federal Reserve in its quarterly survey of bank lending practices released Monday found large numbers of banks reporting tighter credit standards across a broad range of loan products.

Nearly 60 percent of banks responding to the survey said they had tightened lending standards on credit card and other consumer loans, about the same share as in the previous survey released in early November. And about 80 percent of domestic banks said they tightened lending standards on commercial real-estate loans, slightly less than the roughly 85 percent that reported doing so in the previous survey.

All told, though, the proportion of banks that ''reported having tightened their lending policies on all major loan categories over the previous three months stayed very elevated,'' the Fed concluded.

The survey was based on the responses of 51 domestic banks and 23 U.S. offices of foreign banks.

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Bolivia's Untapped Bounty Of Lithium In Demand
2009-02-02 16:21:32
In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world’s lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia - a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.

Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to tap the resource, but a nationalist sentiment about the lithium is building quickly in the government of President Evo Morales, an ardent critic of the United States who has already nationalized Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industries.

For now, the government talks of closely controlling the lithium and keeping foreigners at bay. Adding to the pressure, indigenous groups here in the remote salt desert where the mineral lies are pushing for a share in the eventual bounty.

“We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. “We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants,” he said. “The lithium may be Bolivia’s, but it is also our property.”

The new Constitution Morales managed to pass handily last month bolsters such claims. One of its provisions could give Indians control over the natural resources in their territory, strengthening their ability to win concessions from the authorities and private companies, or even block mining projects.

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Wreck Of HMS Victory Found In English Channel
2009-02-02 16:20:48

Sea explorers probing the depths of the English Channel have discovered what they say is a legendary British warship that sank in a fierce storm in 1744 with the loss of more than 900 men and possibly four tons of gold coins valued at $1 billion.

The team found the wreckage of the HMS Victory last year and confirmed its identity through a close examination of 41 bronze cannons visible on the sandy ocean bottom, Greg Stemm, head of the discovery team, said at a news conference Monday in London.

The team lifted two of the cannons and gave them to the British Ministry of Defense, he said, and is now negotiating with British authorities on the disposition of the artifacts and treasure before it attempts further recoveries.

“I’m surprised we’ve been able to keep it under wraps for nine months,” Stemm said at the news conference, calling the find “a momentous discovery.” He is the head of Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. of Tampa, Florida, a company that specializes in deep sea exploration and recovery.

In a telephone interview, Stemm called the find “hard to beat” in terms of raw history, lost treasure and solved mysteries. The team found the wreck far from its reported resting place, and said the discovery had cleared the name of its commander, Admiral Sir John Balchin, whose navigation had been impugned after the catastrophic loss.

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Australia Heat Wave Claims 37 Lives
2009-02-02 16:19:59

As the Arctic freeze sweeps Britain, a record-breaking heatwave in Australia has claimed the lives of 37 people and sparked bushfires that have destroyed 29 homes.

South Australia and Victoria have been the worst affected, enduring six consecutive days of temperatures reaching 113F (45C).

The extreme conditions in Melbourne caused an electricity substation to explode, shutting down the city's train network, trapping people in lifts and resulting in thousands of people being treated for heat exhaustion.

Authorities said the unrelenting heat has been linked to at least 37 deaths, most of them elderly people. They are warning of more deaths as the stifling summer temperatures continue.

The worst heatwave in a century has been blamed for a series of bushfires raging across the country. In the Latrobe Valley, east of Melbourne, a blaze destroyed 29 homes last weekend.

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Japanese Volcano Mount Asama Erupts
2009-02-02 16:19:38

Mount Asama, one of Japan's most active volcanoes, spewed ash and smoke up to 2,000 meters (over a mile) into the air in an eruption early Monday.

The 2,568-meter volcano sent chunks of rock hurtling as far as 1 kilometer away, Japan's meteorological agency said. No damage or injuries were reported.

The town of Karuizawa was blanketed in a fine layer of powder, while light clouds of ash reached Tokyo, 90 miles away.

Mount Asama's last major eruption came in September 2004, when the ash was thick enough to damage local crops. A much bigger eruption in 1783 killed an estimated 1,500 people.

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Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Longer Winter
2009-02-02 16:19:09
The world's most famous groundhog saw his shadow Monday morning, predicting that this already long winter will last for six more weeks.

Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in black and gold to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl victory the night before.

"There's significant buzz from the Steelers win and quite a few Terrible Towels floating from the crowd," said Mickey Rowley, deputy secretary for tourism in Pennsylvania.

The annual ritual takes place on Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, a borough of about 6,100 residents some 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Phil was as docile as usual, but the same couldn't be said for his grumpy New York City counterpart, Staten Island Chuck, who bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg during his annual forecasting ceremony on Monday.

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Searching For A New World Order
2009-02-02 19:03:31
The closely watched Munich security conference, which starts this week, has become a large-scale summit for world leaders. This year this U.S. is sending a high-ranking delegation, led by Vice President Joe Biden, which may seek informal dialogue with Iran on the event's sidelines.

President Barack Obama's advisers spent days puzzling over the question of who to send to represent America's new administration at the three-day Munich Conference on Security Policy, which begins on Friday of next week. The closely watched and prestigious conference is a place where the Americans could, for example, enjoy an informal chat with the Iranians - the kind of dialogue which Obama recently, and perhaps not entirely coincidentally, said he was willing to have.

A lot is, in fact, possible in Munich. When it goes well, the conference is a no-nonsense event where decision-makers can talk frankly about current international hot spots. This year 73 big-name delegates have been announced, including prime ministers and presidents, foreign and defense ministers, ambassadors and members of parliament. A summit in its own right, which resembles the G-20 more than the G-8, this year's Munich security conference is overshadowing its competitor in Davos, which is focusing on the global economic crisis.

Of course it would be nice if Obama attended, but no U.S. president has yet graced the Munich get-together with his presence. The natural choice would therefore seem to be Robert Gates, who was defense minister under George W. Bush and is keeping his job in the Obama administration. But he won't be attending, because the White House wants a new, more Obama, face in Munich. And so Vice President Joseph Biden is getting the honor of representing the new America.

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Obama Urges Congress To Overcome Stimulus Package Differences
2009-02-02 16:22:31

President Obama Monday urged lawmakers not to let "very modest differences" block rapid passage of a major economic stimulus package, but the Senate's Republican leader said most Republicans support a "dramatically different" proposal with a much lower price tag.

In brief remarks to reporters before a meeting with Vermont's Republican governor, Jim Douglas, at the White House, Obama said there were "still some differences between Democrats and Republicans" on Capitol Hill, and between the White House's plan and some of the proposals being discussed in Congress.

"But what we can't do is let very modest differences get in the way of the overall package moving forward swiftly," he said, adding that he hopes a bill can be passed "in the next couple of weeks so we can put America back to work and start digging ourselves out of this deep hole that we're in."

His comments came hours before the Senate was scheduled to open debate on a nearly $900 billion plan aimed at pulling the nation out of a recession that is now in its second year. If passed, the plan would push this year's budget deficit toward a record $1.4 trillion.

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American U.N. Official Is Abducted In Pakistan
2009-02-02 16:21:51
A senior United Nations official was abducted and his driver was killed Monday morning in the southwestern city of Quetta, according to United Nations and Pakistani officials.

The United Nations identified the official as John Solecki, an American, who was heading the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.

“We are confirming that an unfortunate incident happened this morning when Mr. John Solecki was abducted,” Amena Kamal, the spokeswoman for the United Nations in Islamabad, said by telephone.

Ron Redmond, the spokesman for the United Nations refugee office in Geneva, Switzerland, also confirmed the abduction but gave no details. The agency has 49 staff members in Quetta, where it has worked since 1980. It provides support to some 400,000 Afghan refugees in 10 villages and camps, agency officials said.

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Daschle Apologizes For Income Tax Errors
2009-02-02 16:21:15

Thomas A. Daschle, fighting to defend his nomination to be secretary of health and human services, released a letter early today apologizing to the top lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee for mistakes on his personal income tax returns that resulted in $146,000 in back payments.

"I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns," he wrote to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them."

Appearing before reporters this morning, President Obama, a close Daschle ally, said he "absolutely" stands by his nominee.

In his letter, Daschle - the former Senate majority leader - provides a seven-month timeline recounting how and when he says he discovered a series of mistakes in the previous three years' returns.

The committee, which must vote on his nomination before it can move to the full Senate, meets in executive session at 5 p.m. today and Daschle will be on hand to answer questions. The letter, released to reporters overnight, offers a preview into what Daschle might tell former colleagues on the committee.

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Macy's Cuts Dividend - And 7,000 Jobs
2009-02-02 16:20:27
The department store chain, Macy's, said Monday that it would cut 7,000 jobs, almost 4 percent of its work force, reduce its contributions to its employees’ retirement funds and trim its dividend amid a severe pullback in consumer spending.

The company, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, also delivered bleak earnings and sales forecasts for the year.

Macy’s said the cuts, which include some unfilled jobs and 1,900 positions being eliminated in a restructuring now under way, will come at corporate offices, stores and other locations. The company employs about 180,000.

Macy’s announced last month - on the heels of the worst holiday shopping season in decades - that it would close 11 stores, affecting 960 employees. The company expects the additional actions announced Monday to lower its annual selling, general and administrative expenses about $400 million starting in 2010.

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Heavy Snow In Europe Closes Airports, Schools, Offices
2009-02-02 16:19:51
Heavy snow disrupted air and rail travel in northern Europe on Monday, halting flights at London's main airport and bringing traffic in the British capital almost to a standstill.

Tens of thousands of commuters were advised not to attempt the journey into work in London, experiencing some of its worst snow in almost 20 years. Buses were taken off the roads and hundreds of schools were closed across the country, leaving children to play and build snowmen in parks and gardens.

"I'd rather be sledging than at school," said 7-year-old Georgie Cunliffe, in a London park.

Forecasters said Britain would be gripped by a second day of freezing weather on Tuesday with more heavy snow spreading across the country overnight.

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Denmark Releases UFO Archives - 200 Unsolved Cases
2009-02-02 16:19:29
The Danish Air Force has released 329 pages of previously classified archives on UFO sightings, including details on more than 200 unsolved cases.

Capt. Thomas Pedersen said the military released the documents after growing weary of journalists asking questions about them, the Copenhagen Post reported Friday.

"We decided to publish the archives because frankly there is nothing really secret in them," said Pedersen. "The Air Force has no interest in keeping unusual sightings a secret. Our job is to maintain national security, not investigate UFOs."

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