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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday February 24 2009 - (813)

Tuesday February 24 2009 edition
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Health Care Tops Obama's Fiscal Needs List
2009-02-24 02:08:53

President Obama will make reforming the U.S. health-care system his top fiscal priority this year, administration officials said Monday, contending that reining in skyrocketing medical costs is critical to saving the nation from bankruptcy.

At a summit on "fiscal responsibility" convened by the White House, top administration officials said they also are committed to stabilizing the Social Security system and to revising a tax code that generates too little money to cover the cost of government.

The White House offered no timetable for those goals and few explicit ideas for how to achieve them, disappointing some lawmakers and other participants, who had hoped the summit might produce greater momentum to fix the chronic imbalance between government spending and tax collections that is driving the national debt to dangerous levels.

Instead, the 3 1/2 -hour session was designed to demonstrate that the White House could foster a civilized conversation among an ideologically diverse group of lawmakers, academics, economists and interest groups. Obama assured the more than 100 participants that the debate over the nation's long-term financial health "doesn't end when we go home today."

"We've got a lot of hard choices to make," Obama told them. "We need to build off this afternoon's conversation and work together to forge a consensus."

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U.S. Pressured To Add Billions To Bailout
2009-02-24 02:08:23

The government faced mounting pressure on Monday to put billions more in some of the nation’s biggest banks, two of the biggest automakers and the biggest insurance company, despite the billions it has already committed to rescuing them.

The government’s boldest rescue to date, its $150 billion commitment for the insurance giant American International Group, is foundering. A.I.G. indicated on Monday it was now negotiating for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance as losses have mounted.

Separately, the Obama administration confirmed it was in discussions to aid Citigroup, the recipient of $45 billion so far, that could raise the government’s stake in the banking company to as much as 40 percent.

The U.S. Treasury Department named a special adviser to work with General Motors and Chrysler, two of Detroit’s biggest automakers, which are seeking $22 billion on top of the $17 billion already granted to them.

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Survey Shows Broad Support For President Obama
2009-02-24 02:05:59
President Obama is benefiting from remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership, providing him with substantial political clout as he confronts the nation’s economic challenges and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority of people surveyed in both parties said Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, but most faulted Republicans for their response to the president, saying the party had objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most said Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, the poll found, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.

Obama will deliver his first address to Congress on Tuesday evening against a backdrop of deep economic anxiety among the public, with worries spanning party, class and regional divides. A majority of Americans, 55 percent, say they are just making ends meet, with more than 6 in 10 concerned that someone in their household might lose his job in the next year.

Americans are under no illusions that the country’s problems will be resolved quickly, but the poll suggested that they will be patient when it comes to the economy, with most saying it would be years before significant improvement.

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New Bank Plan Might Result In Nationalization
2009-02-24 02:04:45

The Obama administration Monday revamped the terms of its emergency aid to troubled financial firms, setting a course that could culminate with the government nationalizing some of the country's largest banks by taking a controlling ownership stake.

Administration officials said the change, which allows banks to repay the government with common stock rather than cash, is intended to give banks more capital to withstand a continued deterioration of the economy, and not to nationalize the banking system.

In seeking to bolster investor confidence in troubled companies such as Citigroup, the government said it is willing to acquire large chunks of their shares. .

The move is a significant gamble. The magnitude of the effort could underscore the severity of the crisis, further alarming investors. The government could also forego billions of dollars in dividend payments.

Some investors welcomed the announcement. Even as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 251 points to its lowest close since 1997, shares of Citigroup climbed 10 percent. Shares of another troubled firm, Bank of America,rose about 3 percent.

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What Did Tony Blair Know About U.S. Rendition?
2009-02-24 02:03:25
Binyam Mohamed has been released from Guantanamo and arrived back in London on Monday. The case of the Ethiopian man's ordeal may still unveil evidence about how much the British government knew about the rendition and torture of terror suspects.

Binyam Mohamed's seven years of incarceration came to end on Monday at 1:11 p.m. The 30-year-old Ethiopian, with a British residency permit, had finally left the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, and after a 10-hour flight he landed at the Royal Air Force military airbase in Northholt near London.

Waiting for him at the airport were his British lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Gareth Pierce, his U.S. military lawyer Yvonne Bradley and his sister Zuhra.

The slender man, wearing white tennis shoes, jeans and a beige sweater, left the aircraft a short time later with faltering steps. Mohamed had spent the last few weeks on hunger strike in protest over his ongoing imprisonment.

The fact that he has now been released makes him the first inmate to leave Guantanamo under the new U.S.  administration. For President Barack Obama the Ethiopian man from Great Britain had been a kind of test case, one that would test the credibility of his assertions that he would put an end to the Bush administration's legal aberrations.

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U.S. Federal Regulators Move To Boost Banking System
2009-02-23 15:05:40

The federal government will ease the terms of its investments in more than 350 financial institutions to increase the benefit of the taxpayer dollars they have already received, regulators announced Monday  morning.

The change also applies to new investments, and regulators said they will begin Wednesday to test the health of the nation's largest banks to determine how much more government money those banks might need to weather the crisis.

"The government will ensure that banks have the capital and liquidity they need to provide the credit necessary to restore economic growth," said a joint statement issued by the Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Thrift Supervision and Federal Reserve.

The change in the investment terms was sought by Citigroup and other banks that are trying to convince investors they can survive their financial problems.

The government has invested almost $300 billion in banks so far. In exchange for its investments, the government required the banks to issue preferred shares that pay interest and are designed to encourage repayment after a few years.

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MIT Group Increases Global Warming Projections
2009-02-23 15:05:12

New research from MIT scientists shows that in the absence of stringent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, 21st century climate change may be far more significant than some previous climate assessments had indicated.

The new findings, released this month by MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, showed significantly increased odds that by the end of the century warming would be on the high end of the scale for a so-called "no policy scenario" as compared with similar studies completed just six years ago. The main culprits: the cycling of heat and carbon dioxide in the climate system are now better understood and projections of future greenhouse gas emissions have increased.

The results also showed that even if nations were to act quickly to reduce emissions, it is more likely that warming would be greater than previous studies had shown. However, the increase in projected temperatures under the "policy scenario" was not as large as for the no policy scenario.

The modeling experiments are not meant to provide precise forecasts of future temperature changes, but rather to serve as what one related MIT study calls "thought experiments" to help policymakers and the public understand how decisions regarding emissions reductions may affect the magnitude of climate change. They show how human activities are loading the dice in favor of a warming climate, and cast doubt on the feasibility of limiting temperature increases to the lower range of what the influential U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in its most recent assessment report in 2007.

To update their findings that were first unveiled in 2002, the MIT researchers used an in-house computer model known as the MIT Integrated Global System Model that incorporated new insight into how the climate system functions.

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Obama Tells Governors Critics Are Playing Politics With Stimulus Plan
2009-02-23 15:04:38

President Obama, meeting with the nation's governors Monday to discuss his $787 billion economic stimulus program, disputed criticism that it contains "a lot of waste" and suggested that some critics were playing politics with the plan.

In a speech to the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House, Obama also announced that $15 billion in federal assistance under the stimulus package would begin flowing to states Wednesday to help them cover their costs under Medicaid programs. He said the money would help 20 million vulnerable Americans nationwide keep their health care coverage.

Obama Monday named Vice President Biden to oversee the administration's efforts to implement the package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and he announced the appointment of Earl Devaney, a former Secret Service agent who served for nearly a decade as inspector general of the Interior Department, as chairman of a new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board.

"The American people are watching," said Obama. "They need this plan to work, and they expect to see this money spent in its intended purpose."

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Taliban Pledge Cease-Fire In 2nd Pakistan Region
2009-02-23 15:03:51
A Taliban commander announced a unilateral cease-fire Monday in a northwestern Pakistan region where the military says it has killed around 1,500 militants in an ongoing offensive.

The military was not available for comment on the Taliban's move in Bajur region, which lies next to Afghanistan.

The announcement follows the introduction of an already week-old cease-fire between the government and militants in the Swat Valley, another northwestern region, in support of a peace process there.

The United States and other Western governments have criticized the Swat truce and negotiations, saying they could create a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban in the region.

Unlike in Swat, the Taliban in Bajur had been losing ground in recent months, say most analysts.

Their commander, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, announced the cease-fire, in an FM radio broadcast.

"We have decided to observe a cease-fire," he said. "I direct all of my fighters to stop armed actions against the government," he said. "We will take strict action against anyone who violates the order."

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Global Warming Lays Waste To Spain's Glaciers
2009-02-24 02:08:38

The Pyrenees mountains have lost almost 90% of their glacier ice over the past century, according to scientists who warn that global warning means they will disappear completely within a few decades.

While glaciers covered 3,300 hectares of land on the mountain range that divides Spain and France at the turn of the last century, only 390 hectares remain, according to Spain's environment ministry.

The most southerly glaciers in Europe are losing the battle against warming and look set to be among the first to disappear from the continent over the coming decades. Their loss will have a severe impact on summer water supplies in the foothills and southern plains south of the Pyrenees.

"This century could see (perhaps within a few decades) the total, or almost total, disappearance of the last reserves of ice in the Spanish Pyrenees and, as a result, a major change in the current nature of upper reaches of the mountains," said the authors of the report on Spain's glaciers.

Scientists have ruled out the idea that the progressive deterioration of glaciers around the globe are part of normal, long-term fluctuations in their size. Europe's glaciers are thought to have lost a quarter of their mass in the last eight years.

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The Steep Decline Of The British Economy
2009-02-24 02:06:22

As the global economic crisis takes hold, hardly any other country has seen its fortunes wane as brutally as the United Kingdom. Once a model economy, the country has been overcome by a deep sense of uncertainty.

It is a gloomy February in Great Britain, yet another month in which the economy is shrinking and the pound is faltering, and yet another month of record growth in unemployment.

It is a month that has seen Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, refer to the current recession as the "worst in 100 years," and which has witnessed the heads of the country's largest banks appear on television to apologize to the nation for the harm they have caused.

Meanwhile, Britons are asking themselves how things could have come to this.

Ash Akhtiar, who works for an employment agency in a Birmingham suburb, says that he wants to see someone pay for all of this. David L., a banker who, fearing for his job does not wish to see his name in print, is considering buying a gun to protect his family.

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Swiss Try To Block U.S. Moves To End Banking Secrecy
2009-02-24 02:05:44

Pressure is growing in Switzerland to pass new laws to protect the confidentiality of its banks, as a U.S. court ruling against UBS threatens to blow open centuries of secrecy.

Right-wing political parties in the country have started the task of amassing 100,000 signatures to hold a referendum to legally enshrine banking secrecy in its constitution, but the move will trigger a fight for Switzerland's soul, with intellectuals, left-leaning lawyers and campaigners joining forces to demand the end to a centuries-old tradition to avoid becoming isolated at a time when international attempts to stamp out tax haven abuse are gaining momentum.

The debate comes in the wake of a potentially ruinous court case between UBS, one of the largest wealth managers in the world, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Last week, the DOJ demanded the identities and details of 52,000 accounts held by rich Americans whom it believes may have illegally evaded taxes.

The case dates back to when a senior UBS banker revealed in a U.S. court statement eight months ago that he had smuggled diamonds in toothpaste tubes, destroyed offshore bank records on behalf of clients and helped one Florida property tycoon evade millions of dollars of taxes .

The action by the DOJ has caused shockwaves in Switzerland, which also faced criticism from the U.K.'s chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, in a strongly worded attack last weekend.

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U.S. May Set Greenhouse Gas Standard For Vehicles
2009-02-24 02:04:19

The Obama administration is considering establishing national rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions for automobiles, according to White House officials, a move backed by both auto manufacturers and some environmentalists.

For weeks, administration officials have been meeting with car companies as well as green groups and representatives from California - which is awaiting word on whether it will receive a federal waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles - to try to broker a deal on the issue. On Sunday, Carol M. Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate, said she and others backed the idea of a single standard for cars and trucks.

"The hope across the administration is that we can have a unified national policy when it comes to cleaner vehicles," Browner said at the Western Governors' Association meeting in Washington.

Monday, a White House official, who asked not to be identified because the policy has yet to be finalized, said Browner's comments did not mean the administration was seeking to usurp Congress' role in regulating carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to global warming.

"The administration recognizes that these are hard times for the auto industry, and we are exploring a process to develop a national policy for autos within the context of larger restructuring negotiations," said the official. "The administration is engaged with Congress to pass cap-and-trade legislation, which the president believes is far superior to a regulatory approach using the existing Clean Air Act. If [the Environmental Protection Agency] finds that greenhouse gases endanger health or welfare, the next steps would be taken thoughtfully and with input from all stakeholders."

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Dow Drops 250 Points As Tech, Industrial Shares Trip Up Markets
2009-02-23 16:24:10

Investors called it another day of water-torture declines on Wall Street: drop, drop, drop.

A broad sell-off sent Wall Street staggering lower in the last hour of trading on Monday as worries about the banking system continued to worry investors. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 250.89 points at the close while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a broader gauge of the market fell below its Nov. 20 closing and closed at its lowest level since April 1997.

Losses piled up in technology companies like Apple, Goodle and I.B.M. and industrial companies like DuPont,  Caterpillar and the steelmaker Alcoa; but, in a reversal, battered shares of Citigroup and Bank of America were trading higher late in the day, and the financial sector was holding up better than the broader markets.

With worries growing about the stability and solvency of the country’s big banks, the Treasury Department tried reassure jittery investors with a message supporting the banking system and laying out details of the coming “stress tests” of major banks. The message did not calm anyone.

After a brief rise in early trading, stock markets fell into the red and sank lower throughout the afternoon. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 3.4 percent while the broader S.&P. 500 fell 3.47 percent or 26.72 points to 743.33. The technology heavy Nasdaq was down 3.7 percent or 53.51 points as shares of technology companies turned lower.

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After Guantanamo, A 'Ticking Time Bomb' Goes Off
2009-02-23 15:05:28
When Abdallah Al-Ajmi returned to Kuwait after nearly four years at Guantanamo, his family tried to get him to move on; but he didn't want to let go.

After arriving here in Kuwait City from Guantanamo Bay in November 2005, Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi was transported by Kuwaiti security agents to a military hospital, where he was allowed to meet with his family. He was soon moved to the city's central jail and placed in a high-security wing.

Every few days, he was taken to a small interrogation room, this time by officials of his own government who wanted to know what he had been doing in Afghanistan. Ajmi insisted that he never traveled to Afghanistan, that he never fought with the Taliban - that he had simply gone to Pakistanto study the Koran and that he was apprehended when he traveled toward the Afghan border to help refugees. He kept trying to steer the sessions toward a discussion of his nearly four years at Guantanamo and what had happened to him there.

After four months, a judge ordered him freed on $1,720 bail. He was later tried in a criminal court and acquitted of all charges.

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China Fears Social Tremors As Jobs Leave Coast
2009-02-23 15:05:00
Tan Tianying might not look like a troublemaker, but she and millions of other workers like her have government leaders fretting about the country’s stability.

A shy, delicately built seamstress who makes aprons and coveralls in Guangzhou, Ms. Tan, 24, is part of an army of migrants, 130 million strong, who have flocked to cities for jobs, but whose prospects for continued employment are increasingly dim.

As the global economic crisis deepens and the demand for Chinese exports slackens, manufacturing jobs in the Pearl River Delta and all along the once-booming coast are disappearing at a stunning pace. Over the last few months, more than 20 million migrant workers have been cast into the ranks of the unemployed, depriving impoverished towns like Tanjia of the much-needed income the workers sent home.

Since December, hundreds of employees at Ms. Tan’s uniform factory have been let go and wages have been cut by a third as orders from the United States dry up. Last year, 2,400 factories in and around Guangzhou closed.

“I hope I still have a job,” Ms. Tan said this month, a few hours before leaving Tanjia on a train for the 10-hour ride that in recent years has carried away most of the town’s working-age residents. “I don’t want to go back to being a poor farmer.”

In a nation obsessed with social harmony, the well-being of China’s mobile work force has become the top priority for a government that has long seen its fortunes tied to those of the country’s 800 million rural dwellers. Mao’s revolution, after all, was fueled by embittered peasants, and it has not gone unnoticed in Beijing that decades of heady growth has fed a widening gap between urban residents and those who live in the rural interior.

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Editorial: Justice For American Indians
2009-02-23 15:04:23
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Sunday, February 22, 2009.

The federal government has a long history of cheating American Indians, and not all of this dirty dealing is in the distant past. On Monday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a suit by the Navajo, who lost millions of dollars’ worth of coal royalties because the government helped a coal company underpay for their coal. A lower court ruled for the Navajo Nation. The Supreme Court should affirm that well-reasoned decision.

The Navajo’s huge reservation spreads across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The United States holds the lands in trust and manages their large coal deposits. Peabody Coal had a lease to mine on that land. The terms provided that in 1984, the interior secretary could make a reasonable adjustment in the royalty rates paid to the tribe.

That year the department increased the royalty rate to 20 percent of gross proceeds. After Peabody protested, the Reagan administration’s interior secretary met with a Peabody lobbyist, without informing the Navajo. The secretary then signed a memo blocking the increase and called for the Navajo to negotiate with Peabody. The tribe, already under severe economic pressure, ended up agreeing to a rate of just 12.5 percent. The Navajo eventually sued, arguing that the government violated its duty to look out for their interests, and that it cost them as much as $600 million in royalties.

They lost in the Supreme Court on one set of legal theories, but are now relying on other laws. The Washington-based United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled for the Navajo. In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel concluded that several federal laws impose the sort of fiduciary duty the Indians assert.

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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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