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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday March 4 2009 - (813)

Wednesday March 4 2009 edition
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No Problem - Asteroid Passes Within 38,000 Miles Of Earth
2009-03-03 20:58:35
Earth had a close encounter with a 40-yard-wide asteroid this week, but the astronomer who first spotted the large rock said it's nothing to worry about.

Asteroid 2009 DD45 on Monday passed within 38,000 miles of Earth, less than twice the height of the geostationary satellites we depend on for communications, according to Robert McNaught of the Australian National University.

McNaught, who watches for asteroids with his telescope 250 miles northwest of Sydney, Australia, discovered the approaching rock last week.

"It's not something to worry about, but something to be aware of," he said.

While a direct hit on Earth could be a devastating natural disaster, McNaught said keeping track of asteroids can make a hit "potentially preventable."

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Legislation Seeks More Oversight Of Pentagon Costs
2009-03-03 20:47:00

A bill to end cost overruns in major weapons systems would create a powerful new Pentagon position - director of independent cost assessments - to review cost analyses and estimates, separately from the military branch requesting the program.

Those reviews, unlike in the current process, would take place at key points in the acquisition process before a weapons program can proceed, according to legislation sponsored by US. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John McCain (R-Arizona)

Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that cost overruns on the Pentagon's 95 largest weapons acquisitions system totaled $300 billion even though the government cut quantities and reduced performance expectations.

"A train wreck is coming," McCain said at a hearing Tuesday on the bill.

The bipartisan legislation would also enable the Pentagon to pull the plug on a weapons project that has a critical cost overrun unless the Defense Secretary certifies, with reasons and documentation, that the program is essential to the national security and can be made cost-effective.

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Mexico's Communications Chief Tripped Up By His Words
2009-03-03 20:46:20
Mexico's communications secretary, Luis Tellez, has been embroiled in a scandal involving his private conversations, telephone calls and e-mail traffic, some of it recorded surreptitiously and some in a clumsy accident. All of it chock-full of embarrassing details.

He uses obscenities to trash associates and opponents alike. He accuses a former president of grand theft. He barks orders beyond his purview.

Coming just a few months before midterm elections, the comments, plus others that appear to reveal rather sleazy government conduct by Tellez, roiled Mexican politics and gave ammunition to the fiercest critics of the administration of President Felipe Calderon and of the country's political system as a whole.

Tuesday, after resisting for weeks demands that he resign, Tellez was forced to quit. He had become too much of a liability.

One of Tellez's most damning conversations was taped after he called a woman on her cellphone, got her voice mail and thought he had hung up. Instead, the phone recorded a conversation he went on to have with a group of friends.
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Obama Hails Beginning Of New Highway Construction
2009-03-03 15:21:22
President Obama parceled out $26.6 billion in highway construction money, the first installment from last month's $787 billion economic stimulus package, using the occasion to rally Americans behind spending meant to lift the nation out of recession.

Obama was joined by Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Obama said the new highway spending would create or save 150,000 jobs by the end of next year, most of them in the private sector.

"That's more jobs being created or saved in one year than G.M., Ford and Chrysler have lost in manufacturing over the past three years combined," he said. "And the jobs that we're creating are good jobs, that pay more than average, jobs grinding asphalt and paving roads, filling potholes, making street signs, repairing stoplights, replacing guardrails."

LaHood said the first contract from the highway construction total will be awarded to American Infrastructure, a family business in Pennsylvania, for resurfacing a one-mile stretch of New Hampshire Avenue, Route 650, in the White Oak area of Montgomery County. He said federal officials have identified more than 100 additional projects across the country, totaling more than $750 million, where construction can start within the month.

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Editorial: The Never-Ending Bailout
2009-03-03 15:21:01
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, March 3, 2009.

Americans awoke to the news on Monday that federal officials had spent yet another feverish weekend concocting yet another bailout. This time, the Obama Treasury Department - sounding a lot like the Bush Treasury Department -  promised another $30 billion to the American International Group, the giant insurer.

It was the fourth time since September that taxpayers have been called upon to rescue A.I.G. from collapse. It brings the bailout commitment for that one company to some $160 billion.

In a joint statement with the Federal Reserve on Monday, the Treasury justified the move, saying that “the potential cost to the economy and the taxpayer of government inaction would be extremely high.”

That’s a textbook rationale for any bailout. What no one is saying - the Bush folks wouldn’t, and the Obama team seems to have taken the same vow of Wall Street omerta - is which firms would be most threatened by an A.I.G. collapse. The Treasury and the Federal Reserve noted in their statement that A.I.G. is a “significant counter-party to a number of major financial institutions.”

That means that by enabling A.I.G. to avert bankruptcy proceedings, the taxpayer is also bailing out - whom exactly?

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Ford Sales Drop 48 Percent In February
2009-03-03 15:20:24
New-vehicle sales results being released Tuesday are expected to show a considerable drop-off in February after four months of relative stability, despite some of the biggest discounts ever offered.

The Ford Motor Company said its sales last month were 48 percent lower than February 2008. The company also said it would reduce second-quarter production by 38 percent from the same period in 2008. Toyota reported a 40 percent decline in the month.

“The economic and competitive environment remains challenging,” Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president for sales and marketing, said in a statement. “We’re determined to stay on course and stay focused - building a foundation for future growth.”

Other automakers, including General Motors and Chrysler, which have borrowed a total of $17.4 billion from the federal government since December to avoid seeking bankruptcy protection, are scheduled to report their February sales results later Tuesday.

Over all, analysts expect sales to be down about 40 percent on a year-over-year basis. In recent months, sales have been at the lowest level since the early 1980s.

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Arrest Warrant Issued In Levy Killing
2009-03-03 15:19:09
An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for an imprisoned Salvadoran immigrant in the killing of federal intern Chandra Levy, nearly eight years after the case captivated the nation's capital and ended the career of a congressman.

The warrant accuses Ingmar Guandique (gwan-DEE'-kay) of killing Levy on May 1, 2001, as she walked her dog through Washington's Rock Creek Park, said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor. Guandique, 27, is already serving time in a federal prison in Adelanto, California, for attacking two women in the same park.

''It dawned on me that there's very little I can do or anyone else can do for the Levys other than to offer them justice,'' District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a news conference. ''This has been a long time coming.''

The warrant is the latest development in an investigation that had gone cold for years after destroying the career of former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, of California.

Investigators in 2002 questioned Guandique in Levy's slaying after he was convicted in the other attacks, but he was not charged at the time.

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Obama Brings Toughness And Modesty To Foreign Policy
2009-03-03 20:47:13
Plagued by recession, the world's sole remaining superpower is reinstating realpolitik and seeking to improve relations with other countries, especially rivals China and Russia. But Washington still plans to take a tough approach toward the Taliban and al-Qaeda, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If there is one thing that the key players in Democratic and Republican foreign policy have in common, it is the rings under the eyes of the respective secretaries of state. Madeleine Albright wore them like badges of honor, and so did Condoleezza Rice. With the transfer of the State Department's official Air Force Boeing 757, the rings are now Hillary Clinton's.

After only a month in office, Clinton already looks exhausted. She has just returned from Japan and China, and now she is on her way to Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with the Russian foreign minister. But her current trip takes her to the Middle East first, where, as she says flatly, "I'm looking for results."

Before her departure from Washington, D.C., Clinton is scheduled to give a talk on human rights. The U.S.  government's annual report on human rights, all 100 pages of it, is sitting on her desk. It contains a plethora of demands, wishes and potential appeals to the Chinese and Russians, and to the Pakistanis, Somalis, Syrians and a whole list of the world's human rights rogues.

Clinton is now in charge of Washington's foreign policy and moral standing around the world. Her break with the previous administration is evident in the things she doesn't say. Her goal is not to admonish or lecture. She names only one country that she expects to make a significantly strong effort when it comes to human rights: her own. America, she says, must live up to its ideals from now on, and it must lead the way and set an example. The United States hasn't seen this much self-critique in a long time.

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Wall Street Modest Losses A Day After Tumble
2009-03-03 20:46:47
Investors bruised by Wall Street's latest rout found little reason to pile back into the market.

Stocks extended their losses in an erratic session Tuesday as investors wrestled with the reality that the economy is still far from a recovery. The pessimism that has dominated the markets for months stifled some tentative bargain hunting and in the process unraveled several attempts at a rally.

The selling pushed the Standard & Poor's 500 index to its first close below 700 since Oct. 28, 1996. But the losses were modest compared with Monday, when the Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 300 points and both the Dow and the S&P 500 index registered their lowest finishes in more than a decade.

Tuesday's fluctuations came as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress an economic recovery depends on the government's ability to stabilize weak financial markets. He said the efforts were needed to avoid "a prolonged episode of economic stagnation."

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Commentary: How The Kremlin Helped My Book On Stalin Disappear
2009-03-03 20:46:03
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by prominent historian Orlando Figes following Tuesday's cancellation by Russian publishing firm Atticus of Figes' acclaimed book on life in Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. The publisher says it canceled the book for economic reasons, but Figes, in his commentary, says he believes the decision resulted from Kremlin pressure, reflecting a desire by the Kremlin to rehabilitate Stalin's reputation in Russia. Mr. Figes' commentary follows:

The history in my book, "The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia", is inconvenient to the current regime in Russia.

It draws on several hundred family archives and thousands of interviews with survivors of the Stalinist regime which I conducted with Memorial, a human rights and historical research center which has been nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

On 4 December a group of masked men from the investigative committee of the Russian general prosecutor's office forced their way into the St. Petersburg offices of Memorial. After a search the men confiscated hard drives containing the entire archive of Memorial in St. Petersburg: databases with biographical information on victims of repression; details about burial sites in the St. Petersburg area; family archives; sound recordings and transcripts of interviews.

All the materials I collected with Memorial in St. Petersburg (about one third of the sources used in The Whisperers) were also confiscated. The raid was part of a broader ideological struggle over the control of history publications and teaching in Russia that may have influenced the decision of Atticus to cancel my contract.

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Bernanke: A.I.G. Acted Irresponsibly
2009-03-03 15:21:13
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told lawmakers on Tuesday that the country faces “a prolonged episode of economic stagnation” if they do not act quickly on President Obama's budget, but he quickly encountered deep anger, particularly over the dealings of the ailing American International Group. 

Bernanke told the Senate Budget Committee that the worst outlook, should action on the president’s budget be delayed, would be “further deterioration in the fiscal situation” and probably “lower output, employment and incomes for an extended period.”

The chairman was met at once with sharp questions from the senators, some of whom said they were passing on the resentment they have been hearing from constituents, not necessarily about President Obama’s proposed $3.55 trillion budget for the next fiscal year but about the rescue plan for the financial system and the stimulus package. 

“Mr. Chairman,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, asked at the outset, “at what point will the taxpayer no longer be on the hook for the massive A.I.G. failure? What is the end game for American taxpayers?”

Bernanke replied that nothing had made him more angry during the months of the sprawling financial crisis than the episode involving the insurance giant that has reported astronomical losses and has been given financial lifelines worth billions of dollars.

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Obama Restoring Endangered Species Act Provision
2009-03-03 15:20:44
Tuesday President Obama will restore rules requiring U.S. agencies consult with independent federal experts to determine if their actions might harm threatened and endangered species, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified, marking yet another reversal of President Bush's environmental legacy.

In December 2008, the Bush administration changed a longstanding practice under the Endangered Species Act by issuing rules that allowed agencies to move ahead with projects and programs without seeking an independent review by either the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Environmentalists and scientists said this shift could allow agencies to press ahead with plans that could hurt already-vulnerable species across the country.

Today Obama will issue a presidential memorandum, an administration official said, that will direct departments to yet again consult with the two agencies on decisions that could affect imperiled plants and animals "while the Interior and Commerce Departments review the Bush rule making."

The move, the official said, "will restore the status quo ante and allow the Interior and Commerce Departments to determine whether a new rule should be promulgated that will again codify the longstanding consultation practice under the" Endangered Species Act.

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Russian President Medvdev Reacts To U.S. Offer On Iran
2009-03-03 15:19:30
President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia's president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons, American officials said Monday.

On Tuesday, President Dmitri A. Medvedev offered a measured response, saying that the Kremlin was “working very closely with our U.S. colleagues on the issue of Iran's nuclear program,” but not in the context of the American missile defense plan.

“No one links these issues to any exchange, especially on the Iran issue,” Interfax reported that Medvedev said at a news conference in Madrid, Spain, where he was visiting to boost economic and political ties.

“What we are getting from our U.S. partners shows at least one thing: Our U.S. partners are ready to discuss the issue,” he said. “It’s good, because several months ago we were getting different signals - that the decision has been made, there is nothing to speak about, that we have done everything as we have decided.”

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8 Die As Gunmen In Pakistan Attack Sri Lankan Cricket Team
2009-03-03 15:18:43
A dozen gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan national cricket team and its police escort in a brazen commando-style operation in the city of Lahore on Tuesday, killing six police officers and wounding at least six cricketers before fleeing in motorized rickshaws, said the Lahore police chief and a Sri Lankan official.

The attackers ambushed a bus carrying the cricket team, using assault rifles, grenades and anti-tank missiles. Some Pakistani officials likened the audacity of the assault to the attacks in Mumbai, India, in November.

Two bystanders were also killed and six officers were wounded, according to the police.

The attack struck not only a major Pakistani city but also the country’s most popular sport - a game followed with near-obsessive fascination by many in the region. “Cricketers have never been attacked in Pakistan despite what the situation has been in the country,” Rashid Latif, a former Pakistan cricket captain, told Reuters. “Today is a black day for Pakistan cricket and a black day for Pakistan.”

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