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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday March 7 2009 - (813)

Saturday March 7 2009 edition
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China's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Threaten To Double
2009-03-06 21:44:52

Can a climate catastrophe still be averted? Scientists voice pessimism in a new study, which concludes that no matter what the Western industrialized nations do, China's greenhouse emissions will be hard to stop.

It sounds like wishful thinking: The United States, under new President Barack Obama, forges an alliance with China to combat emissions. The world's two largest sources of carbon dioxide finally face the problem. The treaty crowns the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, when a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol - which, as everyone knows, the United States never ratified - will be adopted. Third World countries and emerging economies never had to do it, but in Copenhagen rising economic powers like China make a binding commitment to curb their emissions.

It probably is wishful thinking. It has almost nothing to do with reality.

"Many Western industrialized nations want China to commit to reducing its CO2 emissions," says Dabo Guan, of the Electricity Policy Research Group at the University of Cambridge in England. "But the country will not even be capable of doing so."

Guan, a native of China, together with colleagues from Norway and the U.S., have published several studies on the issue, most recently in the academic journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL). The scientists base their conclusions primarily on the latest data compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and China's National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The outcome of their analyzes is unsettling. Even with substantial increases in efficiency and the broad introduction of climate-friendly energy technologies, China's CO2 emissions, they claim, will almost double in the next two decades compared with 2002 levels.

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U.S. Unemployment Rate Jumps Above 8 Percent To 25-Year High
2009-03-06 16:39:33
The nation's unemployment rate climbed above 8 percent last month and the economy shed 651,000 jobs, new data show, further evidence of the deepening recession that has devastated the stock market and home prices and triggered the largest government recovery effort since the Great Depression.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the jobless rate rose from 7.6 percent in January to 8.1 percent in February, the highest rate in more than 25 years. An estimated 12.5 million Americans were unemployed in February, the data show, an increase of 851,000 since January. More than 4.4 million people have lost their jobs since the recession began in December 2007, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said.

The government revised sharply upward the number of jobs the economy lost in December and January, showing a staggering 1.99 million jobs disappearing in the past three months.

More jobs were lost in each of those months than in any single month since October 1949, when the country was just pulling out of a painful recession (economists say direct comparisons to that era are difficult, however, because of changes in the labor force).

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Obama Highlights Funds For Law Enforcement
2009-03-06 16:39:15

In January, more than two dozen new police recruits in Columbus, Ohio, were sent notices that they would be laid off, even before they were sworn in as officers. The city had spent $1.4 million to train them, but like cities everywhere, Columbus was running out of money.

A few weeks later, the mayor rescinded the layoffs and told the recruits they would be joining the police force after all.

The turnabout came after President Obama signed his $787 billion economic stimulus plan into law on Feb. 17. At his signing ceremony, he mentioned Columbus’ would-be officers.

“While this package is mostly composed of critical investments,” Obama said at the time, “it also includes aid to state and local governments to prevent layoffs of firefighters or police recruits - recruits like the ones in Columbus, Ohio, who were told that instead of being sworn-in as officers, they would be let go.”

Friday morning, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder visited Columbus to watch the recruits be sworn in as officers. The visit, which is the new president’s second to Ohio since he won the state in November, will help him highlight the $2 billion in Justice Assistance Grants that the stimulus package funnels to the states and cities for law-enforcement programs to fight crime and help local economies.

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U.S. Supreme Court Vacates Decision That Allowed Indefinite Detention Of Terror Suspects
2009-03-06 16:38:39

The U.S. Supreme Court Friday vacated a lower court's decision that said the president has the right to indefinitely detain a legal resident of the country without charging him with a crime.

The court did not rule on the merits of the decision, but it vacated the ruling as moot after the Obama administration indicted suspected al-Qaeda agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri and said it would move him from a Navy brig to the federal court system.

The Supreme Court had been scheduled to hear Marri's case - he has been imprisoned for nearly six years - next month.

Last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, agreed with the Bush administration that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress gave the president the power to indefinitely hold terrorism suspects under military guard, even if they were in the country legally.

Last week, the Justice Department decided to move Marri to federal courts.

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Head-On Collision Kills Zimbabwe Prime Minister's Wife, Injures Him
2009-03-06 16:38:16
The prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, was hurt and his wife, Susan, fatally injured on Friday in a car crash about 45 miles south of the capital, according to officials of Tsvangirai’s political party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Tsvangirai was heading to his rural home for a Saturday rally when the crash occurred Friday afternoon. From his hospital bed in Harare afterward, he told one of his aides that a large truck driving on the other side of the road had come toward his Land Cruiser, the middle vehicle in a three car convoy. “What he told me was that the truck went for his car,” said Dennis Murira, director of public affairs in the prime minister’s office. “That’s how he put it.”

The truck driver told the police that he had fallen asleep at the wheel, said Murira.

The crash, coming less than a month after Mr. Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister in a tense and long-negotiated power-sharing government with his rival, President Robert Mugabe, stirred deep suspicions in his party, but most officials were careful to say not enough was known about the collision to make any accusations of foul play.

Mugabe and his wife paid a condolence call to Tsvangirai at the hospital on Friday evening.

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More Than 11 Percent Of Mortgages Delinquent Or In Foreclosure
2009-03-06 00:05:31

The number of homeowners falling behind on their mortgages or already in foreclosure surged to record highs during the fourth quarter, according to industry data released Thursday.

About 7.88 percent of mortgage loans were delinquent during the quarter, according to the survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry group. It is up from 5.82 percent during the same period a year earlier. Another 3.3 percent were in the foreclosure process, up from 2.04 percent a year ago. Both figures set records. Taken together, they mean that more than 11 percent of home mortgages are now in some form of distress. The association began keeping records in 1972.

The trend highlights the challenge facing the Obama administration as it launches a foreclosure prevention program that will pay incentives to lenders to encourage them to lower homeowners' payments to affordable levels. The administration aims to help up to 9 million homeowners either refinance their mortgages or attain a loan modification that keeps them out of foreclosure.

The House is also expected to vote today on legislation to allow bankruptcy judges to modify the mortgages of struggling borrowers. The financial services industry has fought the legislation for years, but after the foreclosure crisis deepened and Democrats gained greater control in Congress, the legislation gained traction.

Increasingly, homeowners are becoming delinquent after losing a job rather than because they are struggling with a risky loan, the Mortgage Bankers Association and analysts said. Falling home prices are exacerbating the problem, they said.

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Bank Of England Begins 'Printing Money' To Fight Slump
2009-03-06 00:05:04

The Bank of England Thursday announced unprecedented steps to prevent Britain's deepest slump since the 1930s when it unveiled plans to inject up to £75 billion (about $130 billion) into the economy over the next three months.

Alarmed by signs Britain's malfunctioning banking system is starving consumers and businesses of credit, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling Thursday gave Threadneedle Street clearance to begin printing money - the last-gasp measure used by Japan to end a decade of recession and deflation.

The Bank of England said it would embark on quantitative easing next week, after its monetary policy committee cut the bank rate for the sixth time since the global financial system came close to collapse last October. The rate is now 0.5% - a level not seen before in the Bank's 315-year history.

Mervyn King, the Bank's governor, said it was unlikely that the bank rate could go any lower and policymakers would shift focus to creating money instead. "We are very close to zero. What we are doing now is switching to injecting money into the economy directly."

The move came as one of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's closest allies came closer to admitting that Labor had to bear some responsibility for the crisis. Ed Balls, the schools minister, said the government had failed to take enough action to rein in the City (London's financial district) during the boom years. "In retrospect we all underestimated the risks and we were nowhere near tough enough," Balls told Sky News. "We need to learn from that and do it better in the future."

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Homeowner Rescue - U.S. House OKs Bill Allowing Judges To Alter Mortgages
2009-03-06 00:04:35

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled home mortgages, overcoming fierce financial industry opposition.

The bill, a package of housing-related initiatives, passed 234 to 191, largely along party lines. It now heads to the Senate, where it will face a tougher fight but has the backing of some powerful members.

Under the legislation, bankruptcy judges could cut the principal on a home owner's mortgage as well as reduce the interest rate and extend the terms - provisions known as cramdowns.

"I wish we had done this a year and a half ago," said Rep. Brad Miller (D-North Carolina), who had sponsored a version of the bill. "If we had it, we would be much further along in getting a handle on the foreclosure crisis."

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Obama Administration Wants To Bring Russia In From The NATO Cold
2009-03-06 00:03:29
The Obama administration moved Thursday to resume high-level relations with Moscow when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a western push to revive contacts between Russia and NATO.

Making her European debut as secretary of state, Clinton told a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that Washington wanted "a fresh start" in relations with Moscow. She will have her first official negotiations with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday.

"I don't think you punish Russia by stopping conversation with them," she said, adding that there could be benefits to the better relationship. "We not only can but must co-operate with Russia," adding, "We pursue it with our eyes wide open."

The meeting in Brussels agreed to reinstate the work of the NATO-Russia Council, a consultative body that was frozen last year in protest at Moscow's invasion and partition of Georgia.

The allies agreed that Russian and NATO defense and foreign ministers should resume meetings as soon as possible after NATO's 60th birthday summit in France and Germany next month.

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Layoffs Without Notice Sting Workers
2009-03-06 00:02:32

With the economy weakening, chief executives want Wall Street to see them as tough cost-cutters who are not afraid to lay off workers - but plenty of job cuts are not trumpeted in news releases.

Big companies also routinely carry out scattered layoffs that are small enough to stay under the radar, contributing to an unemployment rate that keeps climbing, as Friday’s monthly jobs report is likely to show.

I.B.M. is one such company. It reported surprisingly strong quarterly profits in January, and in an e-mail message to employees, Samuel J. Palmisano,the chief executive, said that while other companies were cutting back, his would not. “Most importantly, we will invest in our people,” he wrote.

Yet the next day, more than 1,400 employees in I.B.M.’s sales and distribution division in the United States and Canada were told their jobs would be eliminated in a month. More cuts followed, and over all, I.B.M. has told about 4,600 North American employees in recent weeks that their jobs are vanishing.

J. Randall MacDonald, I.B.M.’s senior vice president for human resources, said it was routine for the company to lay off some employees while hiring elsewhere. “This business is in a constant state of transformation,” he said. “I think of this as business as usual for us.”

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Monsanto's Uphill Battle In Germany
2009-03-06 21:44:37

Business is booming worldwide for U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, but in Germany the company has encountered fierce resistance. A colorful alliance of beekeepers, anti-capitalism protesters and conservative politicians are in the process of chasing the global market leader out of the country.

When Karl Heinz Bablok wants to relax and get away from his job at the BMW plant, he hops on his bike and cycles out to Kaisheim, a quiet town in Germany's southwestern Swabia region. It doesn't take Bablok long to reach his destination, sitting in the middle of a meadow: an apiary, made of rough-cut boards, which he made himself.

Bablok, an amateur beekeeper and skilled handyman, spends much of his free time here, repairing the apiary in the winter and making honey in the summer. The apiary is where Bablok's recharges his batteries, the place he goes to store up the energy he needs for everyday life and for his job at the BMW plant's training workshops. The apiary was supposed to be a very private place - far away from work and, most of all, far away from the public.

The apiary and the honey he produces there are no longer private. His honey is now at the center of a dispute being staged in German courts, and observed and influenced by both politicians and the media; and it has drawn Bablok, a man who just wanted his peace and quiet, into one of Germany's major ideological debates - a battle that has been waged for years in the courts, in the political arena and in the fields, with words, scientific studies and sometimes fists.

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Dow Up 32 Points As Wall Street Tries To Rally At Market's Close
2009-03-06 16:39:25

Wall Street staged a late rally Friday after a week of battering sell-offs that dragged down financial shares. In the end, investors were able to overcome a government report that unemployment had crested to 8.1 percent in February as the economy lost 651,000 jobs.

Stocks initially surged Friday morning on the news as investors apparently seized on the fact that last month’s job losses were not as stark as revised totals from December and January; but they fell lower in afternoon trading, before rallying in the last 30 minutes.

At the close, the Dow Jones industrial average was 32.82 points or 0.6 percent, higher. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was 0.14 percent higher while the Nasdaq was down slightly.

Shares of General Motors continued to fall, falling 20 percent to $1.47, one day after its auditors had raised “substantial doubt” about the automaker’s survival. Financial shares continued to grind lower, and technology companies slipped after JPMorgan Chase cut its profit views for the computer maker Apple.

Analysts said the grim employment numbers highlighted concerns that the economies in the United States and across the world are weaker than policymakers have believed.

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U.S. Capitol Police Officers Ties Scrutinized Before Inauguration
2009-03-06 16:38:56
FBI found two veteran officers spent time with people who were under surveillance for capacity for violence, racial views.

In the days leading up to President Obama's inauguration, U.S. law enforcement agencies huddled regularly in an effort to minimize any possible security risk to an event that promised record crowds for the country's first black president. But one agenda item led authorities to a target close to home: the ranks of the U.S. Capitol Police.

An FBI investigation that included taped surveillance had placed two off-duty veteran Capitol Police officers in the company of individuals whose racial views and capacity for violence were under scrutiny. Although the recorded discussion did not center on Obama, federal law enforcement officials wanted to ensure that the officers were not on duty covering the Capitol, where the president took the oath of office, according to two sources involved in the matter.

The FBI alerted Capitol Police officials, but some federal officials grew concerned when no immediate action was taken, according to the sources. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan voiced his frustration to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, according to a senior federal official with knowledge of the incident. Chertoff, a former federal appeals court judge, told officials that if the Capitol Police did not act, he was prepared to take the issue to members of Congress overseeing the inauguration, said the senior federal official.

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Minnesota Supreme Court Rejects Franken's Senate Request
2009-03-06 16:38:26
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Friday blocked Democrat Al Franken's petition for an election certificate that would put him in the U.S. Senate without waiting for a lawsuit to run its course.

The decision means the seat will remain empty until the lawsuit and possible appeals in state court are complete. Republican Norm Coleman's lawsuit challenging Franken's recount lead is at the end of its sixth week, and both sides expect it to last at least a few more weeks.

After a state board certified recount results showing Franken 225 votes ahead, he sued to force Gov. Tim Pawlenty  and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to sign an election certificate. Franken argued that federal law stipulates each state will have two senators when the Senate convenes, and that law trumped a state law that blocks such certificates while lawsuits are pending.

The state Supreme Court disagreed. In their ruling Friday, the justices said states aren't required to issue such certificates by the date that Congress convenes.

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Food Contamination Problems Slip By Private Inspectors
2009-03-06 00:05:47

When food industry giants like Kellogg want to ensure that American consumers are being protected from contaminated products, they rely on private inspectors like Eugene A. Hatfield. So, last spring, Hatfield headed to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in southwest Georgia to make sure its chopped nuts, paste and peanut butter were safe to use in things as diverse as granola bars and ice cream.

The peanut company, though, knew in advance that Hatfield was coming. He had less than a day to check the entire plant, which processed several million pounds of peanuts a month.

Hatfield, 66, an expert in fresh produce, was not aware that peanuts were readily susceptible to salmonella - which he was not required to test for anyway. While Hatfield was inspecting the plant to reassure Kellogg and other food companies of its suitability as a supplier, the Peanut Corporation was paying for his efforts.

“The overall food safety level of this facility was considered to be: SUPERIOR,” he concluded in his March 27, 2008, report for his employer, the American Institute of Baking, which performs audits for major food companies. A copy of the audit was obtained by the New York Times.

Federal investigators later discovered that the dilapidated plant was ravaged by salmonella and had been shipping tainted peanuts and paste for at least nine months. Yet they were too late to prevent what has become one of the nation’s worst known outbreaks of food-borne disease in recent years, in which nine are believed to have died and an estimated 22,500 were sickened.

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Dow Closes Down 281 Points, Battered Bank Shares, Grim GM News Trigger Major Sell-Off
2009-03-06 00:05:18

U.S. stock markets plunged 4 percent Thursday as bank shares faltered and auditors for General Motors, the biggest U.S. automaker, warned that the company might not be financially viable.

The sharp drop came one day after a rally broke a five-day losing streak.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 4 percent, or 281 points, to 6594.44, a new 12-year low. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost 4.3 percent, or 30.32 points, to close at 682.55, its lowest close since 1996. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 4 percent, or 54.15 points, to close at 1299.59.

The sharp descent underscored the depth and breadth of the economy's problems. Every stock in the Dow other than Wal-Mart lost ground or closed flat. No sector in the S&P 500 was spared, either, with shares of financial companies leading the carnage, posting a 10 percent decline.

"This is distinctly unlike anything we have seen since World War II," said Philip J. Roth, chief market analyst at New York brokerage Firm Miller Tabak. "The last time the market had a long, straight-line decline was in 1937 and 1938."

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U.S. Supply Chain To Afghanistan A Weakness
2009-03-06 00:04:50

The U.S. military is laboring to shore up a vulnerable supply chain through Pakistan and Central Asia as it seeks to expand the flow of supplies into Afghanistan by at least 50 percent to support an influx of tens of thousands of new troops, according to defense officials and experts.

One new link is now undergoing testing with the first shipment of U.S. military nonlethal cargo through Russia, said officials. That cargo has already crossed into Kazakhstan on its way to Afghanistan, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Escalating attacks on supply convoys in Pakistan, the anticipated closure in less than six months of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan - the last remaining U.S. air hub in Central Asia - and slow progress in opening up the northern supply route into Afghanistan have added urgency to the effort to strengthen the logistical backup for the troop increase, they said.

"If you ask me what I worry about at night, it is the fact that our supply chain is always under attack," said Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander of the U.S. military's transportation command, in testimony that focused on Afghanistan last week.

McNabb said that so far 130 contract drivers have been killed trucking U.S. supplies through Pakistan, for example. Once inside Afghanistan, he said, some roads are so dangerous that the U.S. military will have to fly over them to carry in supplies and personnel.

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Undisclosed Losses At Merrill Lynch Prompt Trading Investigation
2009-03-06 00:03:51
One Merrill Lynch trader apparently gambled away more than $120 million in the currency markets. Others seemingly lost hundreds of millions on tricky credit derivatives. 

Somehow all this red ink did not spill into plain view until after Merrill earmarked billions for bonuses and staggered into the arms of Bank of America.

Inside Bank of America headquarters here, executives are asking why. The bank is investigating how Merrill accounted for wayward trades in the final, frantic months of 2008 - and why at least one big loss was slow to appear on Merrill’s books.

Of particular concern are the activities of a Merrill currency trader in London, Alexis Stenfors, whose trading has come under scrutiny by British regulators, according to people briefed on the investigation. The loss Stenfors is believed to have incurred so alarmed Bank of America that this week the bank examined the books of other traders who were on vacation.

Bank of America’s embattled chief executive, Kenneth D. Lewis, is trying to bridle Merrill’s traders, whose rush into risky investments nearly brought down the brokerage firm; but questions over the Merrill losses - in particular, who knew about them, and when - keep swirling. Merrill hemorrhaged $13.8 billion during the final three months of 2008 alone.

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U.K. Spy Agencies' Multimillion-Pound Computer Project In The Scrapper
2009-03-06 00:03:10

A multimillion-pound computer project designed to improve Britain's security by giving key government officials speedy access to secret intelligence on terrorism and other threats has been scrapped in a move described as "appalling" Thursday by a watchdog of senior Parliament members and peers.

The damning criticism is contained in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is studded with asterisks hiding facts and figures needed for the public and parliament to know what MI5, MI6, and GCHQ are up to. The committee says it is appalled that a significant phase of the project, called Scope, on which "tens of millions of pounds have been spent" has been abandoned because of technical problems. Serious failures with the computer system were revealed by the Guardian newspaper last year, but the committee says it had not yet investigated the reasons.

Scope was previously described as marking the "beginning of the end" of the distribution of paper copies of intelligence reports around Whitehall and as "fundamentally changing the way the U.K. intelligence community interacts".

A limited version of the project, called Scope 1, is up and running after a two-year delay. It enables MI5, MI6, and GCHQ to communicate with each other more quickly and securely than before. They can call up the latest intelligence within 15 minutes rather than waiting 12 hours.

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U.S. Charges 2 British Men In KBR Bribery Case
2009-03-06 00:01:52
U.S. authorities charged two British men Thursday with helping a former Halliburton Co. subsidiary steer massive bribes to Nigerian officials to win construction contracts.

Federal prosecutors in Houston say Jeffrey Tesler, 60, and Wojciech Chodan, 71, conspired to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The two men are charged with helping steer bribe money from Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC to officials of the Nigerian government to win contracts valued at more than $6 billion.

Authorities say Chodan discussed using Tesler and other agents to pay tens of millions of dollars worth of bribes.

Tesler was arrested by the London Metropolitan Police, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Chodan.

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