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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday March 1 2009 - (813)

Sunday March 1 2009 edition
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Obama's Backing Raises Hope For Global Warming Pact
2009-03-01 02:17:45

Until recently, the idea that the world’s most powerful nations might come together to tackle global warming seemed an environmentalist’s pipe dream.

The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, was widely viewed as badly flawed. Many countries that signed the accord lagged far behind their targets in curbing carbon dioxide emissions. The United States refused even to ratify it. And the treaty gave a pass to major emitters in the developing world like China and India.

Yet, within weeks of taking office, President Obama has radically shifted the global equation, placing the United States at the forefront of the international climate effort and raising hopes that an effective international accord might be possible. Obama’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, said last week that the United States would be involved in the negotiation of a new treaty - to be signed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December - “in a robust way.”

That treaty, officials and climate experts involved in the negotiations say, will significantly differ from the agreement of a decade ago, reaching beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and including financial mechanisms and making good on longstanding promises to provide money and technical assistance to help developing countries cope with climate change.

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Battle Lines Quickly Set Over Obama's Policy Shift
2009-03-01 02:17:16

Battle lines are rapidly hardening over the broad policy shifts, massive deficits and tax increases President Obama unveiled last week in his first budget request, a 10-year spending plan thick with political friction points.

Saturday, the president used his weekly radio and Internet address to declare his budget plan a fundamental reordering of federal priorities that would deliver "the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November."

The budget proposal "reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited: a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis and a costly recession," said Obama. He warned off lobbyists and other critics, who, he said, "are gearing up for a fight as we speak."

"My message to them is this: So am I," he said. "The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't."

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Broadcasting Pioneer Paul Harvey, 90, Passes Away
2009-02-28 22:19:27
Paul Harvey, the news commentator and talk-radio pioneer whose staccato style made him one of the nation's most familiar voices, died Saturday in Arizona, according to ABC Radio Networks. He was 90.

Harvey died surrounded by family at a hospital in Phoenix, where he had a winter home, said Louis Adams, a spokesman for ABC Radio Networks, where Harvey worked for more than 50 years. No cause of death was immediately available.

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Chinese Police Shoot Tibetan Monk Who Set Himself On Fire In Protest
2009-02-28 14:36:27
A young Tibetan monk was shot by Chinese police after he set himself on fire Friday, the third day of the Tibetan New Year, at a market in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture, said Tibetan activist groups, citing eyewitnesses.

Many Tibetans this year are avoiding celebrating the New Year or are instead using the 15-day holiday to commemorate those killed in deadly riots in Lhasa last March. Chinese authorities, determined to avoid a recurrence of the violence, have sharply increased security patrols, detentions and so-called re-education campaigns. They are especially nervous about March 10, the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which Chinese troops forcibly suppressed shortly before the Dalai Lama fled into exile and Beijing imposed its own government in Tibet.

Witnesses told the activist groups that the monk's protest came shortly after he and about 1,000 other monks were refused entry to the main prayer hall at the Kirti Monastery in Aba because local authorities had forbidden observation of Monlam, a traditional prayer festival held after Losar, as the New Year is known. In defiance of the order, the monks sat down outside to begin their prayers about 1 p.m. while older monks pleaded with them to disperse, according to Students for a Free Tibet and the Washington, D.C.,-based International Campaign for Tibet.

The monks complied, but then a monk in his 20s named Tapey came out of the monastery, took out a homemade flag bearing a photograph of the Dalai Lama and at 1:40 p.m. walked to a nearby street market. He had doused himself with oil by the time he reached an intersection in the market, where he set himself on fire, said the activist groups.

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In Letter, Warren Buffet Is Frank But Optimistic
2009-02-28 14:35:55

At a time when every rule of investing has been turned on its head, there is apparently one constant: the renowned investor Warren E. Buffett has kept his sense of humor and his gift for plain-spoken investment wisdom.

In his annual letter to shareholders of his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, released Saturday morning, Buffett sifted through the wreckage of his worst year in four decades at the helm.

He found much to criticize about his own performance - including a reported 62 percent drop in 2008 net income - and far more to criticize about the performance of other top executives, particular those in private-equity investing and mortgages.

He also found reasons for optimism.

“As we view Geico’s current opportunities,” he wrote, referring to the insurance company that Berkshire Hathaway owns, he and his company’s chief executive “feel like two hungry mosquitoes in a nudist camp. Juicy targets are everywhere.”

The letter, as ever, gives shareholders an overview of the previous year’s activity, but it also doubles as a folksy state-of-the-economy address from one of the country’s most revered investors.

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U.S. Supreme Court Looks At Prisoners' Right To DNA Tests
2009-02-28 14:35:10
William Osborne says he's a victim of mistaken identity and a DNA test would prove it. Alaska prosecutors say his rape and attempted murder convictions are as solid as can be, and would be pointless to revisit.

Osborne's attorneys will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that DNA testing is not something states can choose to allow when they have doubts about a conviction, but a constitutional right.

They note that 232 prisoners around the country have been exonerated by such tests, and that Alaska is the only state that hasn't even tried to use the ever-evolving technology to see if it might have gotten a conviction wrong.

''Most prosecutors, judges and states recognize that while DNA testing in these crimes may not always protect a conviction, it protects our system of justice by revealing the truth,'' said Peter Neufeld, co-director of The Innocence Project. ''Alaska is the exception.''

Neufeld's group, which works to exonerate those who are wrongfully convicted, argues that the U.S. Constitution guarantees Osborne access to the DNA test when it says no state shall ''deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.''

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Economic Downturn Threatens To Undermine Government Spending Plan
2009-02-28 00:40:19
The economy is spiraling down at an accelerating pace, threatening to undermine the Obama administration’s spending plans, which anticipate vigorous rates of growth in years to come.

A sense of disconnect between the projections by the White House and the grim realities of everyday American life was enhanced on Friday, as the Commerce Department gave a harsher assessment for the last three months of 2008. In place of an initial estimate that the economy contracted at an annualized rate of 3.8 percent - already abysmal -  the government said that the pace of decline was actually 6.2 percent, making it the worst quarter since 1982.

The fortunes of the American economy have grown so alarming and the pace of the decline so swift that economists are now straining to describe where events are headed, dusting off a word that has not been invoked since the 1940s: depression.

Economists are not making comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the unemployment rate reached 25 percent. Current conditions are not even as poor as during the twin recessions of the 1980s, when unemployment exceeded 10 percent, though many experts assert this downturn is on track to be significantly worse.

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Gov. Schwarzenegger Declares Drought Emergency In California
2009-02-28 00:39:48
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought emergency Friday, urging Californians to cut water use by 20% and easing the way for water sales from Northern California to Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms.

The proclamation amplifies a drought emergency that Schwarzenegger declared last year in several agricultural counties, where more than 100,000 acres of farmland have gone unplanted for lack of water.

The drought declaration stops short of mandatory water rationing; but it asks urban water users to step up conservation efforts and it directs state agencies to cut back on landscape irrigation, including along highways.

The directive also orders the state to streamline permitting for water projects, such as recycling or desalination operations, and expedite water transfers to needy irrigation districts and urban areas in Southern California.

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Federal Court Rejects Obama Administration Bid To Stop Wiretapping Suit
2009-02-28 00:39:19
The Obama administration has lost its argument that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government's warrantless wiretapping program.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Justice Department's request for an emergency stay in a case involving a defunct Islamic charity.

Yet government lawyers signaled they would continue fighting to keep the information secret, setting up a new showdown between the courts and the White House over national security.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, claimed national security would be compromised if a lawsuit brought by the Oregon chapter of the charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, was allowed to proceed.

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U. Of Florida Professor Accused Of Pocketing NASA Money
2009-02-28 00:38:47
Federal investigators are accusing a University of Florida professor and three members of his family of fraudulently receiving millions of dollars from NASA and then funneling money to their personal bank accounts, court documents show.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the office of the university’s Innovative Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion Institute, which was founded by the professor, Samim Anghaie, who is its director and teaches radiological engineering.

According to court documents, Dr. Anghaie and his family members set up a company called New Era Technology, or Netech. His wife, Sousan Anghaie, was its president.

Court documents assert that the company submitted fraudulent proposals to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for research contracts. As a result, the company received several NASA contracts. The company is also accused of submitting fraudulent invoices to NASA for hours it said were worked by employees.

Investigators say Dr. Anghaie and his wife diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegally obtained government money from their corporate bank account to personal accounts. The government says some money was diverted to their sons, Ali Anghaie and Hamid Anghaie.

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Peanut Scandal Affects Companies Big And Small
2009-03-01 02:17:32

Candymaker Tom Hurst didn't even recognize the name Peanut Corporation of America when he first read about the company at the heart of the salmonella outbreak but, within days, the president of Heavenly Candy was calling Whole Foods stores across the country, telling them to pull his Peanut Bliss bars off the shelves, filling out unending paperwork for the Food and Drug Administration, and staring at a loss of a month's worth of products with a value of about $6,000.

"Peanut Bliss had been selling really well, and then this happened," said Hurst, who runs the company out of his Oregon home and has one employee - his wife, Susan. "This was half my sales."

Hurst's supplier, which had purchased roasted salted jumbo Virginia peanuts from Peanut Corporation, is reimbursing Hurst for the cost of his recalled candy but not the lost profits. That makes Hurst luckier than some.

After government officials closed two of Peanut Corporation's three peanut plants, few were surprised when the company filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 13. But hundreds of companies that unknowingly bought its tainted products now face serious financial troubles of their own, and the fallout is affecting businesses as tiny as Heavenly Candy and as large as Kellogg.

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Kansas Gov. Sebelius Tapped To Head Health And Social Services
2009-03-01 02:16:56

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius Saturday accepted President Obama's request to become his secretary of health and human services, stepping into a central role in the new administration's ambitious effort to overhaul the nation's health-care system.

Sebelius's nomination comes just days before the White House is scheduled to convene a summit on health reform, an early step in the president's bold plan to vastly expand the reach of the health-care system. A formal announcement of her nomination is scheduled for Monday.

The summit, which is expected to be the first in a series of open meetings across the country, is intended to spotlight the challenges presented by the nation's balkanized health-care system - including soaring costs and gaping holes in coverage. It is also aimed at rallying public support for an overhaul certain to draw ideological and industry opposition. The health session, similar to last week's "fiscal responsibility" summit, will open with remarks by Obama. Participants will then split into working groups led by administration officials.

In his budget proposal unveiled last week, Obama set aside $634 billion for a new reserve fund that over the next decade would serve as a substantial down payment on the cost of moving the country closer to universal health-care coverage. About 46 million Americans lack coverage, a number likely to grow as the economic downturn puts more people out of work.

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Obama Ready To Take On Lobbyists
2009-02-28 14:36:38
President Barack Obama challenged the nation's vested interests to a legislative duel Saturday, saying he will fight to change health care, energy and education in dramatic ways that will upset the status quo.

"The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long," Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. "But I don't. I work for the American people."

He said his ambitious budget plan, unveiled Thursday, will help millions of Americans, but only if Congress overcomes resistance from deep-pocket lobbies.

"I know these steps won't sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they're gearing up for a fight," said Obama, using tough-guy language reminiscent of his predecessor, George W. Bush. "My message to them is this: So am I."

Some analysts say Obama's proposals are almost radical. He said all of them were included in his campaign promises. "It is the change the American people voted for in November," he said.

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Struggling U.S. States, 'Jonesing For Money', Look To Unorthodox Taxes
2009-02-28 14:36:15

In his 11 years in the Washington State Legislature, Representative Mark Miloscia says he has supported all manner of methods to fill the state’s coffers, from increasing fees on property owners to help the homeless to taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, most of which, he said, passed “without a peep.”

It was last month that Miloscia, a Democrat, decided he might try to “find a new tax source” - pornography.

The response, however, was a turn-off.

“People came down on me like a ton of bricks,” said Miloscia, who proposed an 18.5 percent sales tax on everything from sex toys to adult magazines. “I didn’t quite understand. Apparently porn is right up there with mom and apple pie.”

Miloscia’s proposal died at the committee level, but he is far from the only legislator floating unorthodox ideas as more than two-thirds of the states face budget shortfalls.

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Rhode Island Hit Hardest By Financial Crisis, But Why?
2009-02-28 14:35:38
Rhode Island is in the midst of an especially grim economic meltdown, and no one can pinpoint exactly why.

The smallest state, it is saddled with some of the nation’s biggest problems: the second highest unemployment rate, at 10 percent, according to the latest federal figures; and among the highest foreclosure rates, widest budget gaps and most-vulnerable pension systems.

Rhode Island is arguably the most economically hobbled state after Michigan, whose troubles and 10.6 percent unemployment rate are far easier to explain as the auto industry collapses. Now, as Rhode Island contends with a foundering economy and a stagnant, aging population, its leaders are scrambling to determine how to make the state more resilient and put it on a par, finally, with its more prosperous neighbors.

In several dozen recent interviews, Rhode Islanders agreed on this much: Their state’s smallness has contributed to its problems, but could be its best asset if properly exploited. Saul Kaplan, who until December was executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, called the state’s size a “secret sauce” that could help businesses develop products or services quickly.

Yet many of those interviewed said that, instead, the smallness has trapped the state in parochialism, insecurity and outdated traditions that block change at every turn.

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Republican Coleman Faces Setback In Minnesota Senate-Race Trial
2009-02-28 14:34:53
For the second time this week, the testimony of a key witness in Republican Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate election lawsuit was halted over a failure by Coleman's attorneys to disclose contacts she had with them before the trial.

Minneapolis poll worker Pamela Howell was testifying Friday about possible double-counting of some ballots in that Democratic-leaning city when it emerged that she had had e-mail contacts with Coleman's attorneys that weren't disclosed to Democrat Al Franken's team.

The three judges hearing the case were considering whether to toss out Howell's testimony.

Franken leads Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount completed in December. Coleman's legal challenge is in its fifth week.

Howell's testimony was struck earlier this week because she supplied written materials to Coleman's team that were not given to Franken's in violation of trial rules. She was reinstated Thursday because the three-judge panel hearing the case deemed it accidental.

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U.S. Soldiers In Iraq React Cautiously To Obama Pullout Plan
2009-02-28 00:40:07
Soldiers here at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, a dusty base in one of Iraq’s most volatile provinces, knew that at some point, the American war would end, but few here said they thought it would happen anywhere close to the deadline President Obama  announced Friday.

“At some point, we have to draw a line,” Sgt. First Class Michael C. Miller said as he waited, for hours, for a helicopter ride that never came because of winds that churned fine dust into the sky. “But I still think they need our help.”

President Obama’s plan echoed those sentiments, but the resoluteness of his deadlines - removing American combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, and the rest by the end of 2011 - still caught some by surprise.

“I thought the war would go on and on,” said Pvt. John R. Brown, a mechanic with the First Stryker Combat Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. He watched the president’s speech on the Armed Forces Network in a recreation building named after a soldier who died here in Diyala Province more than five years ago. “I thought it would never end.”

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Editorial: President Obama's Budget - Finally, Some Honesty About Taxes
2009-02-28 00:39:36
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, February 27, 2009.

President Obama’s first budget recognizes what most of Washington has been too scared or ideologically blind to admit: to recover from George W. Bush’s reckless economic policies, taxes must go up.

Mr. Obama’s blueprint, released on Thursday, commits to cutting by more than two-thirds, by 2013, the $1.75 trillion budget deficit that Mr. Bush dumped on the nation.

A credible pledge to reduce the deficit is imperative. Without it, foreign lenders - who financed the Bush-era deficits and are now paying for the stimulus and bailouts - could lose faith in the nation’s ability or willingness to repay in anything other than rapidly depreciating dollars. That would send interest rates up and the economy down, the worst-case scenario. Controlling the deficit is also necessary to sustain a recovery - when it comes.

The collapse of the Bush-era economy is ample and awful evidence of the folly of unconstrained debt-fueled growth. The Obama administration has acknowledged the need for deficit spending to stimulate the economy but has vowed that unpaid-for government will not become the norm. Judging from the blueprint, Mr. Obama is not just talking the talk.

A lot of the projected budget improvement is premised on economic recovery beginning in 2010, which may or may not happen. But much of it is premised on raising taxes. The proposed increases signal a serious attempt to tame deficits in a way that restores fairness to a tax code that has for too long been tilted in favor of the wealthiest Americans, resulting in budget shortfalls that disproportionately burden everyone else. At the same time, Mr. Obama has proposed a separate, targeted increase to help pay for health care reform in a way that doesn’t dig a deeper budget hole.

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California's Unemployment Rate Hits 10 Percent
2009-02-28 00:39:05
More than 1 in 10 California workers were unemployed in January, the largest percentage in nearly 26 years, the state reported Friday.

The 10.1% jobless rate is the highest since June 1983 and not far below the 11% record set in November 1982 at the worst point of a severe recession, according to the governor's office. Job losses escalated in January, with the state's unemployment rate jumping by 1.4 percentage points from a revised 8.7% for December.

The grim California job numbers tracked closely with data released earlier in the day by the U.S. Commerce Department that showed that the national economy contracted by 6.2% in the last three months of 2008, the biggest slowdown in 26 years.

Both numbers underscore that the U.S. and California economies are locked up because of a wrenching drop in demand for goods and services from businesses and consumers alike, said economists.

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