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Thursday
Mar062008

Govt. Officials Monitor Thousands of Letters Without Warrants

The US postal service approves more than 10,000 requests from US law enforcement each year to record names, addresses and other information from the outside of packages, according to information released through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The warrantless surveillance mail program -- as it is known -- requires only the approval of the US Postal Inspection Service Director, and not a judge.

Since 1998, the inspector has approved more than 97% of requests during criminal inquiries, new documents show. According to USA Today, which filed the request, "In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the most recent year provided, officials granted at least 99.5% of requests."

"The idea of the government tracking that amount of mail is quite alarming," Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national security project Jameel Jaffer told the paper. "When you realize that (the figure) does not include national security matters, the numbers are even more alarming."

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Thursday
Mar062008

Bank Bill Would Insulate Mortgage Lenders!!!

By Lisa Rein / Washington Post

Even as Maryland leaders move to mitigate the home foreclosure crisis, a bill to save state-chartered banks from paying hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds and damages to homeowners is moving quietly through the General Assembly.

The legislation, to be taken up by the state Senate today, has attracted little public notice. But it is the subject of one of the biggest lobbying battles in Annapolis in years, pitting the powerful state banking industry against Peter G. Angelos, Baltimore Orioles owner and lawyer. Both sides say they are championing the interests of thousands of consumers who take out home equity loans or lines of credit on their mortgages, often to fund renovations or consolidate debt.

At issue are the penalties banks charge borrowers who pay off the loans early, depriving lenders of interest payments, which generate their biggest revenue. The banks have for years agreed to waive upfront closing costs on second mortgages -- usually $500 to $1,500 -- as long as borrowers agree to keep their debt for two or three years.

The system was thrown into turmoil in December when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a Baltimore man who sued Provident Bank over a $681 fee he was charged when he refinanced a $17,000 home equity loan at a lower interest rate.

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Thursday
Mar062008

West Bank Barriers Keep Rising Despite Promises of Relief

Commute Becomes 'Daily Humiliation'

Karim Edwan's skepticism about the U.S.-backed Middle East peace process is rooted in his morning commute.

To travel from his home in this West Bank village to his job as an emergency room doctor, the 35-year-old must take at least two cabs, skirt a barbed-wire fence, climb a dirt mound, talk his way through multiple Israeli checkpoints and remove his shoes for a full-body security check.

Before the obstacles were imposed, the trip to his hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus took 30 minutes. Now it takes two hours.

"It's my daily humiliation," he said.

The hope of Abbas and other participants in the Annapolis peace talks last November was that the Israeli-occupied West Bank would become a model for what negotiations could bring.

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Thursday
Mar062008

FBI Chief Confirms Misuse of Subpoenas

Security Letters Used to Get Personal Data

By Dan Eggen / Washington Post

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told senators yesterday that agents improperly used a type of administrative subpoena to obtain personal data about Americans until internal reforms were enacted last year.

Mueller said a forthcoming report from the Justice Department's inspector general will find that abuses recurred in the agency's use of national security letters in 2006, echoing similar problems to those identified in earlier audits.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reported a year ago that the FBI used such letters -- which are not subject to a court's review -- to improperly obtain telephone logs, banking records and other personal records of thousands of Americans from 2003 to 2005. An internal FBI audit also found that the bureau potentially violated laws or agency rules more than 1,000 times in such cases.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Fed Report Signals Weakness in Variety of Industries

The economic downturn, which started in the handful of states where the housing market was in the worst shape, is spreading to almost every corner of the country and to a wide variety of industries, according to a Federal Reserve report released yesterday.

The trouble is showing up in such disparate ways as weaker demand for staffing services in New England, lower trucking volume in Ohio and surrounding states, and a resistance to spending money on capital projects by financial institutions on the West Coast.

That assessment is based on the "beige book," a compilation of anecdotes from businesses around the country gathered by the Fed's 12 regional banks. The previous report, in the middle of January, found signs of weakness in certain states and industries but described a U.S. economy that was generally holding up.

This time, two-thirds of the Fed's districts described a softening or weakening in the pace of business activity, and the others all referred to subdued, slow, or modest growth.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Govt. Needs to Investigate Predatory Lending Practices

Mortgage Foreclosures Rise


By Kathleen M. Howley / Bloomberg

U.S. mortgage foreclosures rose to an all-time high at the end of 2007 as borrowers with adjustable-rate loans walked away from properties before their payments increased, the Mortgage Bankers Association said today.

New foreclosures jumped to 0.83 percent of all home loans in the fourth quarter from 0.54 percent a year earlier. Late payments rose to a 23-year high, the organization said in a report today.

``We're seeing people give up even before they get to the reset because they couldn't afford the home in the first place,'' said Jay Brinkmann, vice president of research and economics for the Washington-based trade group.

The Bush administration is urging lenders to avert foreclosures by modifying mortgage terms amid the worst housing slump in a quarter century. The Federal Reserve has slashed its benchmark interest rate twice this year to try to avert the first recession since 2001. The central bank yesterday said the net worth of U.S. households decreased by $532.9 billion during the fourth quarter as home values fell.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Congress Threatens To Pull Funding for Air Force Tankers

Congressional leaders threatened yesterday to withhold funding for one of the U.S. military's biggest aircraft programs because the $40 billion contract went to a group that includes a European manufacturer.

Since Friday, when the Air Force awarded the initial part of a contract to replace 179 Air Force refueling tankers to the team of Northrop Grumman and European Aeronautic Defence and Space, congressional leaders have questioned why that bid was chosen over one by Boeing, the largest U.S. aircraft manufacturer. Critics have said that the Air Force is outsourcing its purchasing in a way that could threaten national security and have accused the service of not taking the creation of American jobs into account.

At a two-hour hearing of the House panel that controls defense spending, committee chairman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), said: "There is the industrial base you have to consider. The political implications are important. . . . This committee funds this program. All this committee has to do is stop the money, and this program is not going forward."

After the hearing Murtha said, "This is not a done deal."

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Thursday
Mar062008

Hizballah 'Ready' to Fight Israel and America


Hizballah will not start the next war, but if it comes, it is ready to fight both Israel and the United States, the group's deputy chief Naim Kassem said in an interview with the Hizballah-affiliated newpaper Al-Akhbar. "The Israelis know they have to pay a high price in any war," Kassem said in the interview published on Wednesday.

Hizballah "is well prepared to face an Israeli, American and international war."

His comments follow a spike in tensions stemming from the assassination of a top Hizballah terrorist in a Damascus car bombing. Hizballah blamed Israel for killing Imad Mughniyeh, but Israel denied involvement. Israeli sources were quoted this week as saying that Hizballah now has 20,000 short-range and 10,000 long range rockets, including those that can reach deep into Israel.

The U.S. recently deployed U.S. warships off the coast of Lebanon, presumably as a show of support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's pro-democracy, anti-Syrian government.

Thursday
Mar062008

Pelosi's Bill Could Benefit Husband's Stock Holding

On Aug. 2, Pelosi (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Early Treatment for HIV Act, a bill that could boost Medicaid coverage of HIV-related drugs, including Procrit, which is manufactured by Amgen and marketed by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, a firm in which Pelosi's husband owns at least $250,000 Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) campaign.

Specifically, the legislation would give states the option to allow patients who are HIV-positive, but do not have AIDS, to qualify for Medicaid coverage earlier in the course of the virus. Currently, Medicaid coverage doesn't kick in until a patient develops AIDS.

The legislation could also extend to HIV drugs Prezista and Intellence, manufactured by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. But these two drugs would not always be for early treatment of HIV.

The legislation has more than 50 co-sponsors, including some Republicans. However, considering Pelosi's potential interest in the legislation, her sponsorship of the bill is questionable, said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Parents of 166,000 Students Could Face Criminal Charges

By Bob Unruh / World Net Daily

A breathtaking ruling from a California appeals court that could subject the parents of 166,000 students in the state to criminal sanctions will be taken to the Supreme Court.

The announcement comes today from the Pacific Justice Institute, whose president, Brad Dacus, described the impact of the decision as "stunning."

"The scope of this decision by the appellate court is breathtaking," he said. "It not only attacks traditional homeschooling, but also calls into question homeschooling through charter schools and teaching children at home via independent study through public and private school."

"If not reversed, the parents of the more than 166,000 students currently receiving an education at home will be subject to criminal sanctions," he said.

WND broke the story of the ruling against Phillip and Mary Long of Los Angeles.

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