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Monday, March 16, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday March 16 2009 - (813)

Monday March 16 2009 edition
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Anti-Government Protesters Now Outnumber, Overwhelm Pakistan Police In Many Major Cities
2009-03-15 17:08:53
Thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of this provincial capital Sunday, throwing rocks at police and cheering exultantly as they called for the restoration of Pakistan's deposed judges and denounced the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

An extraordinary cross-section of Pakistan's political, social and religious sectors joined the day-long protests, while two major opposition leaders - former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and top legal dissident Aitzaz Ahsan - escaped house arrest in the city and led caravans of chanting supporters through the city streets.

Security forces sealed off the federal capital, Islamabad, before dawn, placing huge cargo containers across major roads and cordoning off the government center in an effort to block demonstrators from reaching there for a planned peaceful sit-in Monday. There were reports that the government had also jammed the frequencies for cell phone text messages to prevent opponents from coordinating their actions.

Despite the crackdown, which included an emergency ban on public rallies in three of Pakistan's four provinces, protesters in Lahore seemed to overwhelm police as they packed the city amid boisterous tumult. Thousands converged outside the Lahore High Court complex, and vowed to depart from there in caravans for Islamabad, about 150 miles away Sunday night.

By late afternoon, the deputy city administrator and numerous officials of the provincial government had resigned and provincial police had been withdrawn from the protest areas, signaling the collapse of Zardari's bid to seize control of Punjab from Sharif, whose party has dominated it for years.

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Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Killed Healthy Teen In Just 5 Days
2009-03-15 17:08:08
Ryan Robinson went from a healthy, 17-year-old soccer player at the peak of his form to another victim of a deadly drug-resistant strain of bacteria - all within the span of five days.

It's something his stepfather still cannot fathom.

"It's a surreal experience," Michael Brown said Thursday, two days before Ryan's Saturday funeral. "It's not something you can plan for."

Ryan died Tuesday. His rapid deterioration in health stemmed from MRSA, a strain of staph that is aggressive and typically harder to treat because it is resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

Until the beginning of this decade, MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, was largely confined to hospitals; but, in the last few years, there has been an increase in cases of drug-resistant staph among the general public, including jails, the military and athletic teams.

Athletes are at risk because they "are more likely to be in a crowded condition," said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, an epidemiologist with the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

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OPEC Calls For End Of Overproduction
2009-03-15 06:42:16
OPEC ministers on Saturday called for an end to overproduction by some members as they sought to slice nearly a million barrels per day from world supply and boost prices - but without further shocking the anemic global economy.

Their comments suggested that Sunday's oil ministers' meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries might opt for a call on all members to honor production quotas, instead of deciding to slash output outright.

Most members of the 12-nation organization had been clear in favoring reduced output in the days preceding Sunday's full meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Still they had left open whether they want to lower output quotas - or if they favor a solution less likely to hurt the struggling global economy by simply seeking to end overproduction by some nations above levels allotted to them.

Algerian energy and mines minister Chakib Khelil called for both. "Comply and cut," he told reporters asking what he preferred.

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Bailout King AIG Still Plans To Pay Hundreds Of Millions In Bonuses
2009-03-15 06:41:41

Insurance giant American International Group (AIG) will award hundreds of millions of dollars in employee bonuses and retention pay despite a confrontation Wednesday between the chief executive and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

The company agreed to revise some executive payments after what AIG's leader, Edward M. Liddy, called a "difficult" conversation.

The bonuses and other payments have been exasperating government officials, who have committed $170 billion to keep the company afloat - far more than has been offered to any other financial firm.

The issue came to a head when Geithner called Liddy and told him the payments were unacceptable and had to be renegotiated, said an administration official who was not authorized to comment on the Geithner conversation.

In a letter to Geithner Saturday, Liddy agreed to restructure some of the payments, but Liddy said he had "grave concerns" about the impact on the firm's ability to retain talented staff "if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury."

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Conservative Talk Radio In CaliforniaTakes It On The Chin
2009-03-15 06:41:02
The economy's downturn has depressed advertising revenues across California, thinning the ranks of conservative broadcasters.

Tune in to conservative talk radio in California, and the insults quickly fly. Capturing the angry mood of listeners the other day, a popular host in Los Angeles called Republican lawmakers who voted to raise state taxes "a bunch of weak slobs."

With their trademark ferocity, radio stars who helped engineer Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's rise in the 2003 recall have turned on him over the new tax increases. On stations up and down the state, they are chattering away in hopes of igniting a taxpayers' revolt to kill his budget measures on the May 19 ballot.

For all the anti-tax swagger and the occasional stunts by personalities like KFI's John and Ken, the reality is that conservative talk radio in California is on the wane. The economy's downturn has depressed ad revenue at stations across the state, thinning the ranks of conservative broadcasters.

For that and other reasons, stations have dropped the shows of at least half a dozen radio personalities and scaled back others, in some cases replacing them with cheaper nationally syndicated programs.
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America Cheers As Satirist Jon Stewart Delivers Knockout Blow To T.V. Finance Gurus
2009-03-15 17:08:40
For the past 10 days, the U.S. has has been gripped. Even President Obama tuned in as the country's foremost TV comic, Jon Stewart, unleashed an extraordinary broadside against TV's top financial commentators for their part in the unfolding economic crisis.

First came the imperial marching music and a fiery explosion. "You've watched snippets of them for days, or meant to after your friends sent you the link," a voice boomed with mock gravity. "Tonight, the week-long feud of the century comes to a head."

It was a comically absurd drumroll for what, on the surface, was merely a squabble between TV presenters. In one corner, Jim Cramer, the closest thing to a celebrity in American financial journalism. In the opposite corner, Jon Stewart, the satirist and host of the fake news program The Daily Show on Comedy Central but, unlike many a big fight, this one more than surpassed the hype. Nothing less than financial reporting itself was put on trial - and found severely wanting.

Cramer, who dispenses raucous advice to investors on the Mad Money show on the business channel CNBC, was eviscerated by a serious and genuinely angry Stewart. Meek and contrite, Cramer was pummeled like a rope-a-dope over his profession's failure to be an effective watchdog of Wall Street. There was no cornerman to throw in the towel.

The interview was one of those classic television moments that crystallized the public mood in the credit crisis. Stewart articulated the anger and bewilderment of millions of Americans who now feel ripped off and afraid. He framed the question everyone wanted asked: how were the financial masters of the universe allowed to pursue their ruinous behavior unchallenged for so long?

It caught the attention of the White House, prompted a frenzy among bloggers and soul-searching in the media, which failed to spot the biggest story of a lifetime or warn the public until it was too late. Indeed, CNBC and other supposedly objective journalists stood accused of complicity with big business, belonging to a cosy coterie that egged on company chief executives and fanned the flames of excess.

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'Merchant Of Death' Denies Arming Al-Qaeda
2009-03-15 17:07:44

Viktor Bout, the Russian accused of being the world's biggest arms dealer, has angrily denied allegations that he supplied weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in his first interview for six years with the western media. Bout is currently languishing in a maximum security prison in Bangkok, Thailand, after being arrested in March last year in a sting operation by American agents. The United States has requested his extradition and final court hearings are expected to take place next week.

Bout said that the allegations against him were "lies and bullshit". He said: "I never supplied arms as such at all and I never especially never had any deal with al-Qaeda." Asked if it was possible that planes owned by him carried weapons without his knowledge, he said: "I could not exclude that." During four separate interviews with Channel 4 News, he later admitted that his planes did ship arms into Afghanistan in 1996 for the government during the civil war it fought against the Taliban.

Bout, who has been nicknamed "the Merchant of Death" and "the embargo buster", became a notorious figure during the 1990s, when he was accused of illegally smuggling arms to numerous African regimes and conflicts.

The United Nations has accused him of arming the alleged war criminal Charles Taylor in Liberia, as well as rebels in Sierra Leone and the Congo. He was arrested in a five-star hotel last March while allegedly discussing the sale of shoulder-launched missiles with U.S. agents masquerading as Colombian rebels from FARC. The request to Thai authorities to arrest Bout says the U.S. feared he was traveling on a British passport, number K163077. U.K. officials have declined to comment.

His latest denials were treated with skepticism by those responsible for investigating his activities during the 1990s. Former foreign minister Peter Hain, who originally tagged him "the Merchant of Death", said: "He was fueling the war in Sierra Leone, where terrorists with guns were cutting off the limbs of civilians and shooting the people of the country, and they would not have been able to do that if were it not for his arms coming in." Johan Peleman, who investigated him for the U.N., said: "I would not - like some - call him the McDonald's of the arms business. I think he's more a very talented and cunning businessman."

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In South Afghanistan, U.S. Troops Face New Tests
2009-03-15 06:41:59
Lt. Col. Daniel Hurlbut rolled into the dusty Taliban stronghold of Maywand in September with a battalion of U.S. Army infantrymen and a detailed, year-long plan to combat the Taliban.

The first quarter was to be devoted to reconnaissance. The next three months would involve military operations to root out insurgents. By now, his unit should have been focusing on reconstruction and building up the local government.

Yet the battalion's efforts to pry information about the Taliban from the local population - by conducting foot patrols, doling out money for mosques to buy new prayer rugs and offering agricultural assistance to subsistence farmers - have been met with indifference, if not downright hostility.

"Nobody wants to tell us anything," said Hurlbut, sighing.

His initial plan, he has since concluded, was wildly optimistic.

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Zloty Plunges As Currency-Exchange Gamble Is Costing Polish Consumers
2009-03-15 06:41:22
Like many of its formerly communist neighbors in Eastern Europe, Poland has turned into a country of capitalist gamblers.

In recent years, as their economy boomed, millions of Poles became foreign-currency speculators, buying property, cars and consumer goods with loans denominated in low-interest Swiss francs. As the Polish currency, the zloty, soared in value, most borrowers found it cheaper to pay off their debts in Swiss money, even though few had ever been to Switzerland or knew what a franc looked like.

Since August, however, the zloty has unexpectedly collapsed, losing nearly half its value against the Swiss franc. About two-thirds of all Polish mortgage holders now face skyrocketing payments. If the zloty continues to tumble, analysts fear the problem could lead to a wave of defaults in the region, dealing a major setback to Europe's already weakened banking system.

"Just like the subprime mortgages were a wonderful idea in the United States as long as house prices kept rising, so it was with the Swiss-franc loans here," said Witold M. Orlowski, a former adviser to the Polish president and now chief economist for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Warsaw. "It was seen as a win-win game. There were warnings, but basically people ignored them."

Currency gambling has backfired in several other countries in Eastern and Central Europe. In Hungary, Romania and Ukraine, a majority of mortgages and other consumer loans were taken out in Swiss francs, euros, even Japanese yen - all of which offered substantially lower interest rates than the Eastern European currencies.

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