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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday March 8 2009 - (813)

Sunday March 8 2009 edition
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British Government Takes Over Lloyds Banking Group
2009-03-07 20:19:44

The British government Saturday confirmed it will take majority control of Lloyds Banking Group, with the taxpayer owning 65% of the voting shares in return for insuring £260 billion (about $370 billion) of the group's toxic assets.

After days of detailed negotiations the terms of the takeover were announced by the Treasury, with Lloyds making a commitment to lend at least £28 billion over the next few years.

The government is to insure the bank's riskiest loans and in return the taxpayer will up its ownership of the bank from 43% to 65% - rising to 77% when non-voting shares are included.

Alongside taking extra shares and obtaining the commitment to lend to businesses and individuals, the Treasury will upgrade £4 billion of the non-voting shares it already holds.

The government's fee for limiting Lloyds' losses from £260 billion of potentially bad assets totals £15.6 billion. Under the insurance scheme, Lloyds will take the first hit of up to £25 billion on toxic assets before the taxpayer steps in.

The new ordinary shares in the bank will be offered to existing private shareholders first, with the government committing to buy whatever is left.

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Australia's Islands Get Ready For Category 5 Cyclone Hamish
2009-03-07 20:19:20

Australian emergency services personnel are being deployed from all around the state of Queensland to deal with category five tropical Cyclone Hamish as it creeps towards the Whitsunday Islands.

Currently just 145 kilometers northeast of the Whitsunday Islands, forecasters say Cyclone Hamish is as destructive as Cyclone Larry and is expected to bring very destructive winds, rising sea levels and large waves.

Two of the north Queensland islands - South Molle and Long - have already been evacuated, but most visitors are staying on other islands with cyclone-proof resorts, like Hamilton.

An emergency services spokeswoman said almost 90 emergency services personnel had been deployed to areas around Mackay to help when the storm hits.

"(There's been) no reports of damage as yet," said the spokeswoman.

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Vatican Defends Excommunication Of Mother, Doctors For Abortion Of 9-Year-Old Raped By Stepfather
2009-03-07 20:18:36

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil after allegedly being raped by her stepfather.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Catholic church's Congregation for Bishops, told the daily newspaper La Stampa on Saturday that the twins the girl had been carrying had a right to live.

"It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

Re, who also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, added: "Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified."

The row was triggered by the termination on Wednesday of twin fetuses carried by a nine-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

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Spring Forward! Daylight Savings Times Starts Tonight
2009-03-07 15:38:20
Intellpuke: The beginning of Daylight Savings Time in the U.S. starts at 2 a.m. Sunday, which means you should set your clocks forward one hour before going to bed tonight. Then heave a sigh of relief because you won't have to "fall back" until Daylight Savings Time begins again, on November 1st.
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U.S. Citizen Beheaded In Apparent Drug Hit
2009-03-07 15:37:53
A U.S. citizen was one of the three men who were found decapitated this week in Tijuana, Mexican authorities said Friday.

The body of George Harrison, a 38-year-old former Chula Vista resident, had been dismembered and mutilated and was dumped in a vacant lot near Tijuana's beachside bullring.

Authorities said they suspected that it was an organized crime hit.

Harrison had several drug-related convictions in the United States and was suspected of drug trafficking in Mexico, said Baja California Assistant Atty. General Rafael Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said Harrison had been living in the Tijuana area since his release from a U.S. prison six months ago. He owned a pizzeria in Tijuana, from which he was abducted, said Gonzalez.

Authorities who searched Harrison's business found four weapons, including a .38-caliber handgun.
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U.S. Attorney In L.A. Bans Medical Pot Cases, Then Quickly Changes His Mind
2009-03-07 15:37:33
The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, California, sent a confidential memo to federal prosecutors last week ordering them to stop filing charges against medical marijuana dispensaries, then abruptly lifted the ban on Friday, according to sources familiar with the developments.

U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien declined comment on what prompted him to issue the directive or to later rescind it.

O'Brien's decision to temporarily halt the prosecutions came two days after remarks by Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, who seemed to imply at a Washington, D.C., press conference that medical marijuana prosecutions would not be a priority for the Justice Department under President Obama.

A Justice Department official said Friday that the attorney general did not direct O'Brien or any other U.S. attorney to alter policies regarding the prosecution of such cases.

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Former NASA Official Indicted For Steering Money To Private Client
2009-03-07 15:36:54

A former top NASA official was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury for allegedly using a temporary NASA post to steer millions of dollars to one of the clients of his consulting business.

Courtney Stadd, 54, of Bethesda, Maryland, worked on George W. Bush's 2000 campaign and on the post-election transition at NASA. He went on to serve as NASA's chief of staff and as its White House liaison. Stadd left NASA in 2003 to become a private consultant, but in April 2005, he returned to the agency for a two-month stint as a "special government employee" to help with the transition to a new administrator, Michael Griffin.

Stadd is charged with using his government position to serve his own financial interest, as well as two counts of making false statements. If convicted on all counts, he could face 15 years in prison, said the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Let me defer to my attorney, if I may," Stadd said Friday.

"My client's done absolutely nothing wrong," said the lawyer, Dorrance Dickens. He said he had not yet read the indictment, which came after a 3 1/2 -year investigation.

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In A Shifting Era Of Admissions, Colleges And Universities Are Sweating
2009-03-07 15:36:21

As colleges weigh this year’s round of applications, high school seniors are not the only anxious ones.

Just as nervously, colleges - facing a financial landscape they have never seen before - are trying to figure out how many students to accept, and how many students will accept them.

Typically, they rely on statistical models to predict which students will take them up on their offers to attend. Yet this year, with the economy turning parents and students into bargain hunters, demographics changing and unexpected jolts in the price of gas and the number of applications, they have little faith on those models.

“Trying to hit those numbers is like trying to hit a hot tub when you’re skydiving from 30,000 feet,” said Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College in Ohio. “I’m going to go to church every day in April.”

In response, colleges are trying new methods to gauge which applicants are serious about attending: Wake Forest, in North Carolina, is using Webcam interviews, while other colleges say they are scrutinizing essays more closely. And they are making more vigorous appeals to try to convince parents and students who will be offered admission in April that theirs is the campus to choose, but, mostly, they are guessing: Will pinched finances keep students closer to home? Will those who applied in December be feeling too poor to accept in May - or show up in August?

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Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Quits, Hoping To Unify Palestinians
2009-03-07 15:35:50
Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, on Saturday submitted his government’s resignation, saying he hoped that it would help efforts to form a Palestinian unity government with the Islamic group Hamas.

A statement from his office said the resignation would take effect no later than the end of March.

Over the years, Fayyad, a political independent and an American-educated economist, who also serves as finance minister, has gained the trust of Washington and the international community. The announcement was bound to raise anxiety, coming just days after international donors pledged about $4.4 billion in economic assistance for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and for rebuilding Gaza.

The United States pledged $900 million to the Palestinian Authority, a third of it intended for rebuilding in Gaza after Israel's recent 22-day military offensive there.

Still, it was not immediately clear whether the resignation would be accepted by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Fatah, the mainstream party that is Hamas’ rival.

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European Union Says Israel Is Annexing East Jerusalem
2009-03-07 20:19:32

A confidential European Union (E.U.) report accuses the Israeli government of using settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank barrier as a way of "actively pursuing the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem.

The document says Israel has accelerated its plans for East Jerusalem, and is undermining the Palestinian Authority's credibility and weakening support for peace talks. "Israel's actions in and around Jerusalem constitute one of the most acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making," says the document, the E.U. Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem.

The report, obtained by the Guardian, is dated December 15, 2008. It acknowledges Israel's legitimate security concerns in Jerusalem, but adds: "Many of its current illegal actions in and around the city have limited security justifications."

"Israeli 'facts on the ground' - including new settlements, construction of the barrier, discriminatory housing policies, house demolitions, restrictive permit regime and continued closure of Palestinian institutions - increase Jewish Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, weaken the Palestinian community in the city, impede Palestinian urban development and separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," says the report.

The document has emerged at a time of mounting concern over Israeli policies in East Jerusalem. Two houses were demolished on Monday just before the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a further 88 are scheduled for demolition, all for lack of permits. Clinton described the demolitions as "unhelpful", noting that they violated Israel's obligations under the U.S. "road map" for peace.

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Commentary: Metaphorically Speaking, Pepsi's Gibberish Is Hard To Swallow
2009-03-07 20:19:02
Intellpuke: This article was written by Guardian columinist Ben Goldacre in his weekly Bad Science column. Mr. Goldacre's commentary appeared in the Guardian edition for Saturday, March 7, 2009.

An extraordinary document called The Pepsi Gravitational Field has been leaked on to the internet. The claim is that this 27-page wonder represents a successful $1.5 million (£1.05 million) pitch to make a slight modification to the Pepsi logo. Welcome to the science of PR.

"By investing in our history and brand ethos we can create a new trajectory forwards," they explain in the opening pages. This is entirely reasonable. A cognitive linguist by the name of George Lakoff has done some fascinating (and no doubt grueling) empirical work on metaphors in English literature. He has shown, for example, that we often conceive of the abstract in terms of the concrete: anger is an overheated fluid in a sealed vessel, emotional states are locations, and fascinatingly, we don't just talk about things in this way, we may also reason using these metaphors.

How else can you explain the fact that "baby, we're riding in the fast lane on the freeway of love" is so instantly meaningful to us? Perhaps - and this is speculation - we think about abstract things using brain hardware that originally evolved to deal with more simple visuo-spatial manipulations.

I am open to new ideas. Lakoff may or may not be entirely correct, but he is not throwing words around at random: his ideas are often coherent and stimulating, and they may have explanatory force for real world phenomena. Let us return to the Pepsi document. It is gibberish. "The investment in our DNA leads to breakthrough innovation and allows us to move out of the traditional linear system into the future". This is accompanied by a helpful diagram, which is reproduced for your delight on this page. "The Pepsi DNA finds its origin in the dynamic of perimeter oscillations," they explain. There is talk of an "authentic geometry". "The breathtaking color palette is derived," they explain, "using a scientific method of color assignment based on the product's essence and primary features." They go on to discuss "attraction theory", and the "Pepsi proposition".

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Shoe Reportedly Thrown At Iranian President Ahmadinejad
2009-03-07 20:18:23

When the Iraqi journalist, Muntazar al-Zaidi, hurled his shoes at the then-U.S. president, George W. Bush, in December, Iranian officials declared him a hero and hailed his gesture as a mark of Islamic courage.

They were presumably less impressed this week when Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was similarly targeted during a visit to the north-western city of Urumiye.

Ahmadinejad found the shoe on the other foot as he waved to the crowd from an open-top car on his way to give a speech at a local stadium.

An Iranian website, Urumiye News, reported that a shoe was hurled at the president as his convoy drove through a central square. Security guards waded into the crowds but failed to find the culprit.

A hat was also thrown in Ahmadinejad's direction before his car sped away.

The event went unreported on mainstream Iranian news outlets but has been hotly discussed on the country's highly active blogosphere. Some pro-Ahmadinejad bloggers have dismissed the reports as rumors spread by "royalists" and "counter-revolutionaries".

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Obama Tax Plan Shifts Wealth From The Top Down
2009-03-07 15:38:12

It has been called a Robin Hood budget: The spending plan President Obama sent to Congress last week would give the poor new tax cuts, new college loans and a new health care system by taking nearly $1 trillion from the rich in new taxes.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and other Republicans are blasting the plan as "socialist" and accusing the administration of "class warfare." Even Democrats are balking at a key element of the plan, a proposal to raise money for health care reform by limiting the value of itemized deductions, including on mortgage interest and charitable contributions, for the nation's top earners.

Obama is unapologetic in his pursuit of a fundamental shift in tax policy that would redistribute wealth from about 3 million elite families to forgotten lower and middle classes. "The past eight years have discredited once and for all the philosophy of trickle-down economics - that tax breaks, income gains and wealth creation among the wealthy eventually will work their way down to the middle class," his budget states. "In its place, we need economic opportunity to trickle up."

Few analysts dispute the notion that the gap between rich and poor has widened to a troubling degree over the past three decades. Yet measures that use the tax code to fix this problem may carry their own risks. Republicans and other critics argue that Obama's plan would punish success and stifle the very kind of spending that would foster investment and economic growth. With the nation facing record budget deficits, lawmakers have questioned whether Obama will be able to balance the government's books while keeping his promise to tax only the top 2 percent of earners.

Tax analysts say Obama is taking a page out of the playbook of former president Bill Clinton, whose administration supplied many of the key players on Obama's economic team, including Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council, and Gene B. Sperling, a top aide at the Treasury Department.

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Editorial: When Jobs Go Missing
2009-03-07 15:37:42
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Saturday, March 7, 2009.

The numbers in the jobs report for February were bad, but the trends were worse. More than half of the 4.4 million jobs lost since December 2007, when the recession began, vanished in the last four months. The unemployment rate has also surged to 8.1 percent last month from 7.6 percent in January - and from 5.0 percent when the recession began. The ranks of the unemployed now total 12.5 million people. It’s fortunate, then, that the nation’s first line of defense against rising joblessness - unemployment insurance - was reinforced in the stimulus law that passed last month.

The law increases unemployment benefits by $25 a week and allows states to extend those benefits through the end of the year. It also provides $7 billion to the states to cover more than 500,000 workers - often part-time, low-wage and female - who are denied jobless benefits under outdated rules that apply in many states. Those states, of course, must reform their systems to specifically include those workers and to bring their programs more in line with federal guidelines.

Some Republican governors have resisted doing that, an act of grandstanding that does nothing but hurt their neediest constituents. Recently, however, several governors - from California, Florida, Georgia and Utah - and state legislatures have supported making the changes. Other states must step up soon to ensure that broad relief reaches unemployed workers in a timely way.

Congress and the Obama administration must also be prepared to do more as unemployment worsens - as it inevitably will in this contracting economy. In 11th-hour wrangling last month, a provision was struck from the stimulus bill that would have provided Medicaid coverage to unemployed workers who do not qualify or cannot afford to stay on their former employers’ group health insurance. The measure should be reintroduced and passed into law.

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President Obama Ponders Outreach To Elements Of The Taliban
2009-03-07 15:37:18
President Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. “There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region,” he said.

In a 35-minute conversation with the New York Times aboard Air Force One on Friday, Obama reviewed the challenges to his young administration. The president said he could not assure Americans the economy would begin growing again this year; but he pledged that he would “get all the pillars in place for recovery this year” and urged Americans not to “stuff money in their mattresses.”

“I don’t think that people should be fearful about our future,” he said. “I don’t think that people should suddenly mistrust all of our financial institutions.”

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NASA's 'Planet Hunter' Satellite Rockets Into Space
2009-03-07 15:36:42
NASA's planet-hunting telescope, Kepler, rocketed into space Friday night on a historic voyage to track down other Earths in a faraway patch of the Milky Way galaxy.

It's the first mission capable of answering the age-old question: Are other worlds like ours out there?

Kepler, named after the German 17th century astrophysicist, set off on its unprecedented mission at 10:49 p.m., thundering into a clear sky embellished by a waxing moon.

"It was just magnificent. It looked like a star was being formed in the sky," said Bill Borucki, Kepler's principal scientist. "Everybody was delighted, everybody was screaming, 'Go Kepler!'"

Kepler's mission will last at least 3 1/2 years and cost $600 million.

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Karzai Agrees To Delay Afghanistan Election
2009-03-07 15:36:00
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he would agree to postpone the presidential election until August, bowing to pressure from election officials and Afghanistan's international backers who do not believe that fair and safe polls can be held by spring as scheduled.

The president left unclear what should happen after his term expires in May. He declined to clarify whether he would seek to remain in power until the election and whether he would seek reelection after seven years in power.

In accepting the date proposed by the independent election commission, Karzai appeared to resolve a dispute that has thrown Afghanistan's political transition into turmoil and raised doubts about the stability of this fragile, insurgent-plagued democracy.

The president's confusing comments about whether he plans to continue leading the country until August, and whether he intends to be a candidate at all, left unresolved a second issue that could turn preparations for a smooth and orderly transfer of power into a political free-for-all.

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