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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday March 19 2009 - (813)

Thursday March 19 2009 edition
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Death Leaves Online Lives In Limbo
2009-03-18 23:24:25
When Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father's gaming friends know that he hadn't just decided to desert them.

It wasn't easy, because she didn't have her father's "World of Warcraft" password and the game's publisher couldn't help her. Eventually, Melissa Allen Spangenberg reached her father's friends by asking around online for the "guild" he belonged to.

One of them, Chuck Pagoria in Morgantown, Ky., heard about Spangenberg's death three weeks later. Pagoria had put his absence down to an argument among the gamers that night.

"I figured he probably just needed some time to cool off," Pagoria said. "I was kind of extremely shocked and blown away when I heard the reason that he hadn't been back. Nobody had any way of finding this out."

With online social networks becoming ever more important in our lives, they're also becoming an important element in our deaths. Spangenberg, who died suddenly from an abdominal aneurysm at 57, was unprepared, but others are leaving detailed instructions. There's even a tiny industry that has sprung up to help people wrap up their online contacts after their deaths.

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Britain's Chief Scientist: World Faces 'Perfect Storm' Of Problems By 2030
2009-03-18 22:35:39

A "perfect storm" of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migrations as people flee from the worst-affected regions, the U.K. government's chief scientist will warn Thursday.

In a major speech to environmental groups and politicians, Professor John Beddington, who took up the position of chief scientific adviser last year, will say that the world is heading for major upheavals which are due to come to a head in 2030.

He will tell the government's Sustainable Development U.K. conference in Westminster that the growing population and success in alleviating poverty in developing countries will trigger a surge in demand for food, water and energy over the next two decades, at a time when governments must also make major progress in combating climate change. 

"We head into a perfect storm in 2030, because all of these things are operating on the same time frame," Beddington told the Guardian.

"If we don't address this, we can expect major destabilization, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move out to avoid food and water shortages," he added.

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Whither The Economy? Pessimism Abounds Among European Leaders
2009-03-18 22:35:05
Jean-Claude Juncker thinks economic growth won't return to Europe before 2011. Jacques Delors is worried about the euro's future. Some of the European Union's staunchest faithful are increasingly pessimistic these days.

Given the unending stream of bad economic news so far this year, it was a surprising bit of optimism. "The situation is extremely bad, but there are the first signs of light," said Wolgang Franz, the president of the Center for European Economic Research, on Tuesday. He went on to say that the economy has almost reached its low point and hinted that a turnaround isn't that far off.

European Union leaders, past and present, apparently didn't get the message. In an interview with the conservative German daily Die Welt, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said that he was afraid the economic crisis could create major social problems in the 27-member bloc.

"I am afraid that, following the financial and economic crises, we will before long see a social crisis, which will be characterized by mass unemployment and lower incomes for many," said Juncker.

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U.S. Embassay Warns American Tourists Of Spiked Drinks In Tokyo Bars
2009-03-18 22:34:34

The U.S. embassy in Tokyo has issued an unprecedented warning to American citizens to avoid bars and clubs in the capital's seedy Roppongi district amid a reported surge in drink-spiking incidents.

The embassy cited a "significant increase" in the number of people who had been served drug-laced drinks and had their credit cards stolen as they lay unconscious.

"Typically, the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious for several hours, during which time large sums of money are charged to the victim's credit card or the card is stolen outright," it said.

"Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street."

The embassy said it had encouraged its employees to avoid Roppongi's bars and advised other U.S. citizens to do the same.

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President Obama Criticizes A.I.G. Bonuses, Calls For Greater Regulation
2009-03-18 18:08:14

President Barack Obama just spoke with reporters on the White House lawn as he prepared to depart for California. He criticized the bonsuses given to American International Group executives as an “inappropriate use of taxpayer funds,” and said he wants Congress to pass legislation giving the government greater regulatory authority over financial institutions like A.I.G.

“Obviously, the whole issue of A.I.G. and these bonuses that have been paid out have been consuming a lot of attention, and rightfully so, because they represent what I think all of us consider an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds,” President Obama said. “But what I think is also important and just as outrageous is the fact that we find ourselves in a situation where we’re having to clean up after A.I.G.’s mess.”

He added: “One of the messages that I want to send is that, as we get out of this crisis, as we work towards getting ourselves out of recession, I hope that Wall Street and the marketplace don’t think that we can return to business as usual. The business models that created a lot of paper wealth but not real wealth in the country and have now resulted in crisis can’t be the model for economic growth going forward.”

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Judge To Bank of America: Merrill Lynch Bonus Info Must Be Disclosed
2009-03-18 18:07:48
A New York state judge on Wednesday ordered Bank of America Corp. to disclose information about bonuses given to employees at Merrill Lynch & Co. just before the bank bought the brokerage company.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Bank of America have been sparring over the release of the information for weeks. Cuomo is investigating whether Bank of America and Merrill failed to provide proper disclosures to shareholders about the bonuses.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried ruled that the compensation figures didn't constitute a trade secret, as Bank of America had claimed.

Bank of America and the attorney general's office did not immediately comment on the ruling.

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Fed Reserve To Expand Rescue Efforts To $1.2 Trillion In Bond, Mortgage Securities
2009-03-18 18:07:28

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it will deploy an additional $1.2 trillion to try to lower interest rates and stimulate the economy, an aggressive move aimed at containing the recession.

The central bank will increase its purchases of mortgage-backed securities by $750 billion, on top of a previously announced $500 billion. It also will double its purchases of debt in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to $200 billion. Those steps are intended to lower mortgage rates. The announcement of the previous purchases pushed mortgage rates down a full percentage point.

The Fed also said it will buy $300 billion in long-term Treasury bonds, a step it had previously considered but had been reluctant to act on. That move will lower long-term interest rates for the U.S. government directly and, Fed officials hope, will indirectly lower borrowing costs for businesses and individuals.

Following Wednesday's announcement, Treasury bond prices spiked and yields on those bonds declined, as traders anticipated the Fed bond purchases. At 2:30 p.m., 15 minutes after the announcement, the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds had fallen half a percentage point, to 2.53 percent.

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Hundreds Of New Civilian Employees Proposed For Afghanistan
2009-03-18 18:06:37

Hundreds of additional U.S. diplomats and civilian officials would be deployed to Afghanistan as part of the new civil-military regional strategy that President Obama's top national security advisers plan to present for his signature next week, according to administration officials.

Leading this proposed civilian expansion will be two veteran senior diplomats: Petere W. Galbraith, who will be the deputy to the top United Nations official on the ground; and Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., who will get the unprecedented title of "deputy ambassador" to boost the diplomatic heft of the U.S. Embassy. Obama last week nominated Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry,the former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, as the country's ambassador.

Other civilian officials are to be drawn from government departments such as Agriculture and Justice, and hundreds of new "full-time, temporary" positions are planned under a hiring program authorized by President George W. Bush four days before he left office.

The proposal for a civilian surge is part of a broad strategy review regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan that Obama ordered during its first weeks in office. The review has culminated in an intense series of high-level meetings and discussion of proposals from across the government, including from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the State Department effort headed by special Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy Richard C. Holbrooke.

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Family Gathers Around Actress Natasha Richardson
2009-03-18 18:06:05
The family and friends of the actress Natasha Richardson gathered at Lenox Hill Hospital on Wednesday to be at her side.

Richardson, 45, suffered a head injury on Monday while skiing in Quebec and was flown from Montreal Tuesday night to Lenox Hill, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Her mother, the actress Vanessa Redgrave, was seen entering the hospital that night, and her sister, Joely Richardson, was also reported to have shown up at the hospital that evening.

Her husband, the actor Liam Neeson, who had reportedly been filming a movie in Toronto when the accident occurred, was seen on Tuesday afternoon crouched inside an ambulance beside his wife at Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal, as she lay heavily wrapped in blankets with tubes around her face.

Alan Nierob, a family spokesman, said on Wednesday afternoon that he had no information about Ms. Richardson’s medical condition. Asked if she was on life support or had been taken off life support, or if she was brain dead or in a coma - all of which has been reported on several media outlets over the last 24 hours - Nierob replied: "I don’t deal with rumors. I don’t care about rumors. All I care about is facts. And I don’t have any facts to give you."

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Former Bush Aide Sentenced To 30 Months In Prison
2009-03-18 18:05:37

A 29-year-old former Bush administration aide was sentenced Wednesday to 2 1/2 years in federal prison for stealing nearly $600,000 from a nonprofit group that promotes democracy in Cuba.

Felipe E. Sixto, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty last year in U.S. District Court in the District to stealing from a federally funded program. Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton called the crime an "elaborate scheme" that badly damaged the nonprofit group, the Center for a Free Cuba, where Sixto worked from 2003 through July 2007. He continued stealing from the center after he switched jobs to become an associate director for intergovernmental affairs at the White House, said prosecutors.

"It is bad enough to steal, but when you steal from an organization that you say you care about, that makes it even more troubling," said Walton.

Sixto, who is of Cuban descent, apologized for his conduct, saying "I make no excuses for my actions." He resigned from the White House in March.

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Anger In Pakistan At U.S. Plan To Increase Drone Attacks
2009-03-18 22:35:51
Pakistan reacted with anger Wednesday to an American proposal to expand its drone missile strikes inside the country against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.

Pakistani politicians and officials described the idea of extending military operations into the vast, south-west province of Baluchistan as provocative and counterproductive, and warned of a severe backlash if the U.S. went ahead.

Sources in the U.S. administration confirmed that the White House has received recommendations from the military about an escalation in the use of the CIA's unmanned drones to launch missile attacks. At present, attacks are confined to the tribal areas in the northwest of the country.

The recommendation calls for a renewed focus on targets in the economically backward province which has provided a stronghold for the Afghan Taliban and a sanctuary for al-Qaeda elements. A source cautioned that President Obama has not made a decision and could decide any military gains from expansion into Baluchistan may be outweighed by the public backlash, putting at risk the Pakistan government.

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Britain's MI5 Faces New Rules On Terror Interrogations
2009-03-18 22:35:28

The British government Wednesday bowed to growing pressure over allegations of Britain's complicity in torture by promising to draw up and publish new guidelines for the security and intelligence agencies when they are involved in interrogating detainees abroad.

Announcing the unexpected move to Parliament members, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he condemned torture "absolutely" but had asked the intelligence and security committee (ISC) to help draw up new guidelines "in order to have systems that are robust".

In a separate move, the prime minister told Parliament members that compliance with the new guidelines would be monitored by intelligence services commissioner Sir Peter Gibson, a former appeal court judge, who will report annually.

Brown's announcement, which follows a succession of revelations in the Guardian newspaper about the ill-treatment and torture of U.K. nationals and residents abroad, appeared to be a tacit admission that existing guidelines were open to abuse. It was also seen as an attempt to resist calls for an independent inquiry into growing evidence of British complicity in the interrogation of suspects held in Pakistan and Morocco.

It did not satisfy campaigners and parliamentary critics who want a full independent inquiry into torture, rendition and alleged British collusion.

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Britain's Prime Minister Under Pressure Over Record Jump In Jobless
2009-03-18 22:34:47
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown was under increasing pressure to combat rising unemployment tonight after figures showed the deepening economic crisis caused a record jump in the jobless total last month.

As the headline figure of people out of work rose above two million, Brown clashed with Tory leader David Cameron  in bitter exchanges at prime minister's questions in the House of Commons.

Speaking hours after the release of figures showing that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits rose by 138,000 in February - the biggest rise since records began in 1971 - the prime minister said: "Any person losing their job, or in fear of losing their job, is a matter of personal regret for me and for the whole government. We are prepared to spend money to help the unemployed. We are not going to walk by on the other side, we are going to help them."

Cameron demanded that the government apologize for having let the economy tip into its deepest recession in decades and the jobless total jump. "This government has announced the biggest rise in the dole queue since records began. That is a rise faster than under any Conservative government or any Labour government. You've led us to this point without the hint of an apology and the British people will never forget it."

The sharp rise in the number of people claiming benefits means it has increased by almost 600,000 in the past year to 1.4 million. The figures were equally bad on the government's preferred measure of unemployment - the wider Labour Force Survey measure - as it also set a milestone by rising through the two million mark in the three months to January, wiping out all the gains seen since Labour came to power in 1997. The jobless rate is now 6.5% and there has been a record drop in vacancies and a record rise in redundancies.

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Actress Natasha Richardson Dies After Ski Accident
2009-03-18 20:57:36
Natasha Richardson, the luminous British actress from one of the world's great acting families, whose performances ranged from the highbrow drama "The Handmaid's Tale" to the lightweight comedy "The Parent Trap" and the Tony-winning Broadway production of "Cabaret," died Wednesday. She was 45.

The wife of "Schindler's List" actor Liam Neeson and the daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and the late film director Tony Richardson died at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Alan Nierob of Rogers & Cowan said in a statement Wednesday night: "Liam Neeson, his sons and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha. They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time."

Richardson suffered a devastating brain injury in a skiing accident Monday at Mont Tremblant, a luxury resort in Canada. The actress was taking a lesson on a beginner's run near the bottom of the ski area and was not wearing a helmet in what first appeared to be a minor accident.

She initially reported that she was well, but soon started to complain of a headache. Hours after the fall, the star of a number of acclaimed stage plays - including roles in "Anna Christie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Closer" - slipped into unconsciousness, and she was transported Tuesday from a Montreal hospital back to New York, where she was surrounded by family and friends.

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A.I.G. Chief Asks Execs To Return Half Of Bonuses
2009-03-18 18:08:04
As the lucrative bonuses paid to employees of the American International Group fueled fresh outrage at the White House and on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the embattled chief executive of A.I.G. said that he had asked some recipients to give at least half the money back.

The chief executive, Edward M. Liddy, made the announcement during his testimony on Wednesday afternoon before a Congressional committee investigating the problems at the insurance giant.

“I have asked the employees of AIG Financial Products to step up and do the right thing,” Mr. Liddy told lawmakers. “Specifically, I have asked those who received retention payments of $100,000 or more to return at least half of those payments.”

The A.I.G. chief said that some recipients had already offered to give up all of their bonuses.

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Stocks Rise On Federal Reserve Announcement
2009-03-18 18:07:37

Stocks rose dramatically Wednesday afternoon after the Federal Reserve announced that it is expanding unconventional efforts to lower interest rates and stimulate the economy.

At the conclusion of a two-day meeting, the Fed said it would increase its purchases of mortgage-related securities by $750 billion and would buy $300 billion in long-term Treasury bonds. Overall, the central bank said it would deploy an additional $1.2 trillion to revive the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average  closed up about 1.2 percent, or 91 points, while the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was up 2.1 percent, or 16 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index also was up 2 percent, or 29 points.

Concerns about the Fed's statements had been weighing on some investors earlier in the day, when stocks hovered near negative territory, said Joseph Brusuelas, director of Moody's "I think that this concern is misplaced, but it is very real early on in the trading day," he said.

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U.S. Marine's Accuser Changes Her Story In The Philippines
2009-03-18 18:07:05
A Filipino woman who won the conviction of an American serviceman for raping her in 2005 in a contentious year-long case that strained Philippine-American relations now says she has “doubts” about the events of that night, saying that she had been drunk and might have been “too friendly” and made him think she was willing to have sex.

“My conscience continues to bother me,” said her statement. “I would rather risk public outrage than do nothing to help the court in ensuring that justice is served.”

During the trial, the woman testified that she had been raped and treated “like a pig” by Corporal Smith and three fellow servicemen and that she wanted nothing but the death penalty for him. The reversal, which the woman made in a sworn statement released to news media on Tuesday, has created an uproar in the Philippines.

In one community in Manila, four people were stabbed on Wednesday after a melee erupted while they were debating her case, said the police; and nationalists accused the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the United States of pressuring the woman into changing her story. The statement came a week after the woman left the Philippines for the United States, where she plans to marry her American fiance, according to her mother.

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Madoff's Accountant Charged With Securities Fraud
2009-03-18 18:06:20
The accountant who provided auditing services to Bernard L. Madoff's investment advisory business for more than a decade, operating out of a tiny storefront office in Rockland County, was charged on Wednesday with securities fraud and aiding investment adviser fraud in connection with Madoff’s vast Ponzi scheme.

The accountant, David G. Friehling, who became Madoff’s primary auditor in the early 1990s when his father-in-law retired and he took over the two-man firm of Friehling & Horowitz, surrendered to federal authorities and prosecutors on Wednesday morning.

The charges are the first filed publicly since the 70-year-old Madoff pleaded guilty to fraud on Thursday and was ordered to a federal jail to await what is expected to be the equivalent of a life sentence. People briefed on the matter say they expect more cases to follow as prosecutors and F.B.I. agents focus on Madoff’s family members and employees despite his assertion that he carried out the fraud alone.

Friehling’s 80-year-old father-in-law and former partner, Jeremy Horowitz, who had been suffering from cancer, died in Florida on the same morning Madoff pleaded guilty in United States District Court in Lower Manhattan. Friehling will appear in the same courthouse to be arraigned later Wednesday.

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Gates: Forced Army Service Will All But End In Two Years
2009-03-18 18:05:55
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that over the next two years, he would all but eliminate an unpopular practice that has prevented thousands of active duty soldiers and reservists from leaving military service on time if they were scheduled to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

More than 13,000 Army personnel remain unable to exit from military service under the policy, in place since 2004, and known as “stop-loss.” Gates said the practice was “breaking faith” with those in uniform, and announced a timetable that would cut the numbers affected in half by next June, and virtually eliminate them by March 2011.

He revealed his decision on the evening of the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, where more than 140,000 American troops are still deployed.

Gates cautioned that “scores,” but not thousands, of Army personnel might continue to be affected by the policy if they had skills that were particularly important to the war effort. He said retroactive pay benefits would be awarded those who fell under the policy.

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Studies Fault Prostate Screening
2009-03-18 18:05:28

Two large, long-awaited studies have failed to produce convincing evidence that routine prostate cancer screening significantly reduces the chances of dying from the disease without putting men at risk for potentially dangerous and unnecessary treatment.

The PSA blood test, which millions of men undergo each year, did not cut the death toll from the disease in the first decade of a U.S. government-funded study involving more than 76,000 men, researchers reported Wednesday.

The second study, a European trial involving more than 162,000 men that was released simultaneously, did find fewer deaths among those tested, but the reduction was relatively modest and the study showed that the screening resulted in a large number of men undergoing needless, often harmful treatment.

Together, the studies - released early by the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with presentations at a scientific meeting in Stockholm - cast new doubt on the utility of one of the most widely used tests for one of the most common cancers.

"Americans have been getting screened for prostate cancer because there is this religious faith that finding it early and cutting it out saves lives," said Otis W. Brawley of the American Cancer Society. "We've been doing faith-based screening instead of evidence-based screening. These findings should make people realize that it's a legitimate question about whether we should be screening for prostate cancer."

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