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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday March 14 2009 - (813)

Saturday March 14 2009 edition
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Aussie Oil Spill Bigger Than Thought
2009-03-13 18:48:12
The full scale of the environmental disaster off the Queensland coast has become clearer as the shipping company admitted its earlier estimates of the oil spill's size were "substantially" wrong and the length and the cost of the clean-up were revised upwards by the State Government.

An oil slick measuring tens of kilometers is staining the shore along Sunshine Coast beaches, Bribie Island and Moreton Island.

The cargo vessel Pacific Adventurer leaked the oil late Friday from a hull breach as it lay moored in Brisbane's port. It was a casualty of rough seas it had encountered on a voyage to Indonesia on Wednesday.

"I think it's fair to say the government and authorities were not informed accurately of the size of the spill," said Allan Sutherland, the Mayor of Moreton Bay Regional Council, where part of the clean-up was taking place. "[Swire Shipping] were hoping Mother Nature would take its course. It didn't."

It is not the ship's first accident. In 2006 the South China Morning Post quoted Chinese state media as reporting that the Pacific Adventurer had collided with a patrol boat off the city of Zhuhai. At least 13 of the patrol boat's crew were lost.

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Switzerland Eases Stance On Bank Secrecy
2009-03-13 18:47:49
The Swiss government bowed to pressure on Friday and agreed to exchange information on suspected cases of tax evasion, but it maintained that its principle of banking secrecy was intact.

Austria and Luxembourg also announced steps intended to fend off a global crackdown on tax evasion by offering concessions before a meeting of leaders from the Group of 20 nations in London at the start of next month.

That followed announcements by the small tax havens of Andorra and Liechtenstein on Thursday that they would relax bank secrecy rules.

In a statement on Friday, the Swiss government said it would agreed to exchange information with other countries on a case-by-case basis where there were “specific and justified” requests.

Accordingly, the government withdrew its reservations to a standard by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on international tax norms “and to enter into negotiations on revising double taxation agreements,” referring to the organization’s Model Tax Convention. The government added, however, that “banking secrecy is maintained.”

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Shares Finish Up 53.9 Points As Week Ends
2009-03-13 18:46:03

Wall Street’s hot hand cooled off on Friday, but shares still managed to finish higher on the day, the fourth consecutive session on the upside.

Before the markets opened, China’s prime minister said he was “a little worried” about the country’s $1 trillion investment in United States Treasury debt. China is the largest purchaser of American government debt, which is generally considered the world’s safest investment.

At the close, the Dow Jones industrial average was 53.92 points or 0.75 percent higher, at 7,223.98, and the Standard & Poor's500-stock index rose 0.77 percent or 5.81 points, at 756.55. The technology-heavy Nasdaq index was a 5.4 points higher at 1,431.50.

Crude oil settled 81 cents lower at $46.22 a barrel.Treasury prices were mixed on Friday morning as investors mulled over the comments from the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, and wondered whether they presaged a reduced appetite for American debt as the federal government ramps up huge new spending projects.

The Dow and S.& P. 500 posted their strongest gains this week since November, bouncing back from their worst levels in about 12 years.

After enduring months of increasingly bleak headlines about bank solvency and corporate losses, investors seized on a few strands of less-than-awful economic news and alchemized them into hope, breathing life back into depressed financial shares and other niches of the market.

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Andean Nations Oust U.S. Officials, Sign Of Discontent With U.S. Policy
2009-03-13 15:45:25
An American diplomat accused by the Bolivian government of conspiring with opposition factions left the country Thursday, one of several U.S. officials forced out of Andean nations in recent months and another sign of the deep discontent with U.S. policy that the Obama administration faces in Latin America.

The ejection of Francisco Martinez, the second secretary of the U.S. Embassy, for allegedly meeting with the political opposition and spies, follows Bolivia's decision to throw out Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg in September,  Venezuela's expulsion of Ambassador Patrick Duddy the same month and Ecuador's move against two American diplomats last month.

The departures do not include Bolivia's decision to banish 38 Drug Enforcement Administration agents and support personnel, its request to remove U.S. Agency for International Development employees from the coca-growing region of the Chapare or the U.S. government's decision to pull Peace Corps volunteers out of Bolivia.

"We are talking here about diplomats who are taking advantage of privileges and immunities, who use those privileges and immunities to perform intelligence tasks on behalf of a foreign power," Bolivian Government Minister Alfredo Rada said this week at a news conference in La Paz, the capital. "No government in the world would accept that."

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U.S. Trade Deficit Drops To $36 Billion, Lowest Level In 6 Years
2009-03-13 15:45:01
The U.S. trade deficit plunged in January to the lowest level in six years as a deepening recession cut demand for imported goods at an even faster rate than for exports.

The Commerce Department said Friday the trade imbalance dropped to $36 billion in January, a decline of 9.7 percent from December and the lowest level since October 2002.

The improvement was better than the $38 billion deficit that economists had expected and reflected the fact that crude oil imports dropped to the lowest point in three years and demand for a wide variety of other foreign goods from autos to heavy machinery and household appliances declined.

The import declines helped offset a continued slide in U.S. exports which fell to their lowest level since September 2006, a drop that has contributed to the severe recession in U.S. manufacturing.

For January, exports of goods and services fell 5.7 percent to $124.9 billion. Demand for a wide variety of U.S.-made products from farm goods to autos to civilian aircraft all dropped in January.

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16 Still Missing After Chopper Ditches Off Newfoundland
2009-03-13 02:12:00
The search will continue until at least Friday night for 16 people missing since Thursday morning when a helicopter carrying them to an offshore oil platform ditched in the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland, said Canadian officials.

One survivor, identified as Robert Decker, was found and taken to a hospital, but efforts to find more survivors had proven fruitless, said Maj. Denis McGuire of the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The body of one person, who has not been identified publicly, also was pulled from the water. There were 18 people aboard the helicopter when it went down, about 30 nautical miles from St. John's.

"All we've got is the debris field," said McGuire. "There are no indications of any [more] survivors, but the search will continue."

The water is 400 feet deep at the site where the helicopter hit the water, he said.

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Interview: 'The Global Banking Community Had A Heart Attack'
2009-03-13 18:48:02

Bryan Marsal, head of Wall Street restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal, has been liquidating assets for Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that collapsed last fall. He talked to Spiegel Online about the reasons for the collapse, mistakes made by U.S. leaders and the lessons of the financial crisis.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Lehman filed for bankruptcy on September 15th, 2008. How did you take over?

Marsal: I was watching a football game when I received a call from the board of directors of Lehman Brothers. This was at 10:30 at night on September 14th, and they asked me: Would I take on responsibility for the wind-down of Lehman?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you react?

Marsal: I said yes. And my question to them was: How much planning has gone into this bankruptcy? Their response was: This phone call is the first planning we have done.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This must have been quite a shock.

Marsal: Well, when you figure the assets of this entity were $651 billion (€509 billion), you would have expected there would be a lot of planning going into it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: They were apparently convinced they couldn't die.

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Germany School Shooting Internet Chat Room Post A Fake
2009-03-13 18:47:02

On Thursday, German police said they had made great strides toward developing a profile of the gunman in the Wednesday shooting spree which killed 15 people. But one key piece of evidence - a posting in an Internet chat room - has turned out to be fake.

The Baden-Wurttemberg Interior Minister was confident as he spoke to the dozens of reporters who had gathered at midday on Thursday to hear the newest developments. It was just over 24 hours after Tim K. had gone on a shooting spree killing a total of 15 people. All of Germany wanted answers.

The minister, Heribert Rech, announced one of the most important finds himself. In the night before the 17-year-old shooter went on his rampage, said Rech, he had logged into an Internet forum and written: "I am going to go to my former school tomorrow and thoroughly toast it…. Remember the name of the town Winnenden."

Unfortunately, the forum entry was most likely a fake. Just hours after Rech announced the existence of the post, Stuttgart prosecutors on Thursday evening said that "in the course of the afternoon, doubts arose about the authenticity of the Internet chat."

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Summers: Obama's Plan May Have Stabilized Consumer Spending
2009-03-13 15:45:35

President Obama's top White House economic adviser said Friday that consumer spending in the United States appears to have "stabilized," and he urged business leaders to show "more optimism and more confidence" in their investment decisions.

Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council, said a $787 billion economic stimulus package that Obama signed into law last month is starting to have an impact, saving thousands of jobs, providing continued unemployment insurance and health benefits to several hundred thousand workers and initiating tens of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank, Summers also said the administration aims not only to start an economic recovery but to build a more sustainable foundation for future economic expansion. He suggested that people who are focusing solely on the recovery are setting their sights too low. And he urged Americans to take advantage of the bargains available now because of reduced prices brought on by recession in many sectors of the economy.

"Our single most important priority is bringing about economic recovery and ensuring that the next economic expansion, unlike its recent predecessors, is fundamentally sound and not driven by financial excess," he said. He said there was "one ineluctable lesson of the history of financial crises: They all end."

Obama made a similar point after a meeting at the White House today with Paul A. Volcker, chairman of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and other advisers.

"It is very important, even as we're focused on the financial system and the credit markets, that we are laying a foundation for what I'm calling a post-bubble economic growth model," Obama told reporters. "The days when we are going to be able to grow this economy just on an overheated housing market or people spending - maxing out on their credit cards - those days are over. What we need to do is go back to fundamentals."

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China Uneasy About Its $1 Trillion Holdings In U.S. Treasuries
2009-03-13 15:45:10
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday that he is "worried" about the country's vast $1 trillion holdings in U.S. Treasuries and that China will pursue a policy of diversification when comes to its future foreign exchange holdings.

Wen's remarks, which were made at the close of the annual National People's Congress meeting in Beijing, echoed those that have been made by other high-ranking policymakers and bankers over the past year since the subprime crisis devastated the value of the mortgage-backed securities that made up a large chunk of China's U.S. holdings.

"We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried," said Wen.

At a number of diplomatic meetings since then, Chinese officials have raised the issue of U.S. Treasuries and have sought assurances the United States that it will do everything possible to maintain the stability of its economy. On Friday, Wen called on the Obama administration to "maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China's assets."

China does not release details about its foreign reserve holdings, but there has been growing evidence of its unease about those investments.

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Push To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Would Put A Price On Emitting Pollution
2009-03-13 15:44:39

President Obama's endorsement of climate legislation to clamp down on greenhouse gases has set off a lobbying rush in Congress and made the air thick with rival proposals.

Coal companies, utilities, economists and environmentalists are vying to shape legislation that could rechannel hundreds of billions of dollars from one part of the economy to others. The sense of urgency has been heightened by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman's push to have a bill ready by the end of May; the California Democrat plans to circulate a draft in about two weeks.

Because of regional differences in energy sources, the political lines are blurred, potentially uniting Democrats and Republicans from states heavily dependent on coal plants against other parts of the nation looking for alternatives.

Most lawmakers and climate activists embrace an approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions known as cap-and-trade, which would set and gradually lower a limit on nationwide emissions while letting companies buy and sell rationing allowances. Some economists have lined up with big oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, which has endorsed a carbon tax instead. Seven House Democrats, including House Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson (Connecticut), introduced a carbon tax measure this week.

Either way, climate legislation will aim to reduce emissions by putting a price on carbon, raising the cost of everything from gasoline to plastics to electricity.

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NTSB Warns Of Fault On Boeing 777 Engines
2009-03-13 02:11:49

Air accident investigators in the U.S. have warned there is a "high probability" that a fault leading to the crash landing of a British Airways jet at Heathrow will strike other Boeing 777s.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an urgent safety recommendation calling for a redesign of a Rolls-Royce engine component in the plane, following two engine rollbacks - sudden power losses - last year.

It came as a U.K. accident report showed how a build-up of ice on the fuel/oil heat exchanger (FOHE) could have caused the incident at Heathrow in January last year that left one person seriously injured among the 150 people on board.

The BA flight from Beijing just cleared a perimeter fence at Heathrow before crash landing short of the runway.

The plane's captain Peter Burkill and co-pilot John Coward were hailed as heroes for their skillful handling of the  aircraft.

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