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Here a Trillion – There a Trillion – Everywhere a Trillion Trillion –

Yep, they could’ve given every American a million dollars each and we could’ve bought our own durn cars and houses, started our own businesses and made it through this touch and go situation without  being homeless, hungry and desolate.

– cricketdiane, 04-04-09

***

Estimated U.S. taxpayer cost for bailout jumps
Sat Apr 4, 2009 3:19pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional budget analysts have raised their estimate of the net cost to taxpayers for the government’s financial rescue program to $356 billion, an increase of $167 billion from earlier estimates.

The Congressional Budget Office had originally projected the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program would cost taxpayers $189 billion.

The additional cost, which applies to TARP spending for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, was included in the CBO’s March projection of a $1.8 trillion deficit for fiscal 2009, which ends September 30.

Congress passed the Wall Street bailout program in October with the goal of stabilizing banks and reassuring jittery markets.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jackie Frank)

– Reuters

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53323420090404

***

U.S. property bust threatens condo “death spiral”
Thu Apr 2, 2009 8:37pm EDT

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) – Rust pokes through the peeling paint on the railings, pest control has been curtailed and the palm trees are no longer being fertilized at the 1940s-era Miami Modern condominium building in Miami Beach.

The condo association has been forced to cut expenses because the owners of 11 of the 28 apartments in the modest two-story building are delinquent, victims of a mammoth U.S. real estate collapse that has hit Florida especially hard.

With so many cash-strapped owners failing to pay their monthly fees for upkeep, the condo board last year had to raise $40,000 with a special levy to fill a giant hole in the $80,000 annual budget, but only managed to collect $19,000 from the owners who are still able to pay their bills.

Florida’s condominium and homeowners’ associations are facing what experts call a trickle-down disaster from the property crisis. Dozens and perhaps hundreds of condo buildings have budget shortfalls as thousands of owners, under water on their mortgages or in foreclosure, stop paying monthly fees.

“I call it a death spiral,” Miami Beach city commissioner Jerry Libbin said. “It’s a catastrophe in the making.”

Nearly half of Florida’s 18 million residents live in condo or homeowners associations, communities where owners pay monthly fees for common expenses like cleaning, landscaping, pool maintenance and building insurance.

When a unit owner stops paying monthly fees, which can range from $150 in a small building to over $1,000 in a luxury tower, a condo board must collect money from other owners to make up the shortfall. Rising fees or special assessments, or levies, can drive other vulnerable owners into insolvency.

BANKS ARE STALLING

Condo advocates say banks are partly responsible for hobbling condo boards by being slow to foreclose on owners who have fallen behind.

Lenders don’t become responsible for an apartment’s costs until they foreclose and under current law, a bank is liable to pay only six months worth of fees in arrears, or 1 percent of the mortgage value, when it takes back a property.

Condo advocates say banks are deliberately stalling.

[Etc.]

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Doina Chiacu)
– Reuters

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53200O20090403?sp=true

***

MY Note –

This means that condo associations and their lobbying efforts are working to force banks to foreclose on owners faster ( in order to get about 6 months of fees that are in arrears) – without any compassion for the families, individuals and particularly elderly retirees that they are tossing out into the street.

Who needs international enemies when people like this are making decisions right here in the United States?

– CricketDiane

***

New York Times threatens to shut Boston Globe
Fri Apr 3, 2009 10:45pm EDT

By Jason Szep and Robert MacMillan

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York Times Co has threatened to shut The Boston Globe unless the newspaper’s unions quickly agree to $20 million in concessions, the Globe reported on Friday, quoting union leaders.

The union officials said executives from the Globe and the Times, which owns the Boston newspaper, made the demands on Thursday morning in a meeting with leaders of the newspaper’s 13 unions, the Globe reported.

If the Globe closed, it would join a growing list of big city dailies that have shut down this year, including EW Scripps Co’s Rocky Mountain News and the print edition of Hearst Corp’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Hearst’s San Francisco Chronicle might join that list.

Possible concessions at the Globe, the 14th-largest U.S. daily paper by weekday circulation, include pay cuts, the end of pension contributions by the company and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for some veteran staff, the paper said, quoting Boston Newspaper Guild president Daniel Totten.

The Boston Globe, the most widely circulated daily in Boston and New England, was founded in 1872 and privately owned until 1973, when it went public as Affiliated Publications.

On March 26, The New York Times and the Washington Post, two of the most respected U.S. newspapers, said they were cutting costs further in the face of dramatic declines in advertising revenue.

The Times said it laid off 100 workers and is cutting non-union salaries. It is also asking unionized employees to accept similar concessions to avoid layoffs in the newsroom.

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53303820090404

***

5 children found slain in Washington state, police say

* Story Highlights
* Police: Five children found shot to death in a home in Orting, Washington, Saturday
* Father apparently killed self later in nearby King County, sheriff’s spokesman say
* Police believe the children, ages 7 to 16, were killed by their father

(CNN) — Five children were found shot to death in a home near Tacoma, Washington, Saturday afternoon, police said.

Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer told CNN that the children, ages 7 to 16, were killed by their father, who apparently committed suicide later in nearby King County.

The children — four girls and one boy — were found in a Pierce County home.

Troyer said the children’s mother was located after the shootings

updated 31 minutes ago

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/04/washington.children.shot/index.html

***
Karzai: Afghanistan to review criticized sharia law

* Story Highlights
* Afghan president promises review of law that critics say legalizes marital rape
* “If there is something of concern, we will… send it back,” Hamid Karzai says
* Legislation says men can have sex with wife even if she says no
* President Obama called law “abhorrent,” German chancellor calls for its withdrawal

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) — Amid mounting pressure from the West, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his government will review a recently approved version of a law that critics say legalizes marital rape and the U.S. president has called “abhorrent.”
Recently approved version of law also mandates that a woman ask a male relative to leave the house.

Recently approved version of law also mandates that a woman ask a male relative to leave the house.

“We understand the concerns of our allies in the international community,” Karzai told reporters Saturday.

The minister of justice would study the draft, he said.

“If there is anything that is of concern to us then we will definitely take action in consultation with our [religious clerics] and send it back to the parliament,” Karzai said. “This is something that we are also serious about and we should not allow.”

Karzai’s news conference was in response to a series of news reports by Western media since the president signed the law last month.

He specifically mentioned a March 31 story by London-based The Independent, which called the law “a massive blow for women’s rights” and cited critics who said Karzai “rushed” the bill through parliament in hopes of appeasing Islamic fundamentalists ahead of August elections.

Human rights groups and news reports consistently refer to a report from the U.N. Development Fund for Women which reportedly stated that the legislation — a piece of sharia law, or Islamic law — that affects the Shiite community in the predominantly Sunni nation “legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband” by allowing men to force sexual intercourse on their spouses.
Don’t Miss

* Obama pleased with NATO allies’ pledges of support
* Advocate: U.S.-Taliban deal may threaten women’s rights

Shiites make up roughly 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population.

Western leaders attending a NATO conference Saturday also signaled their disapproval of the legislation.

“I think this law is abhorrent,” U.S. President Obama said in Strasbourg, France. “We think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture, but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed, with the latter saying, “We very much hope that the draft piece of legislation is to be withdrawn.”

The law was drafted by Afghanistan’s conservative lawmakers after spending more than a year off and on the parliament’s daily agenda. Shia Muslims have been practicing their form of Islam for centuries in Afghanistan, but this law allows them to preserve their identity among the majority Sunni population, one parliamentarian said.

Among its provisions are that women must ask a male relative to leave the house.

“What my fear is, women and children of Afghanistan are always the victims of political games,” Afghan lawmaker Fawzia Koofi told CNN in a recent interview. “I mean, they don’t have a gun to fight, they cannot create a mess.”

Koofi, and other critics of the law, hope that the supreme court will rule that the legislation is at odds with the Afghan constitution, which promises equal rights to all citizens — male or female. Video Watch Hamid Karzai’s comments »
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Still, despite the international outcry against the bill, many in Afghanistan remain unaware of it. Support can be found among those who do, especially the Shiite population.

“Shia people are in Afghanistan,” Shia resident Mohammad Zahir said. “They are a part of Afghanistan and there needs to be a law that they go by and follow.”
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CNN’s Atia Abawi in Kabul contributed to this report.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/04/04/afghanistan.womens.rights/index.html

***

Remarks at The International Conference on Afghanistan

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
The Hague, Netherlands
March 31, 2009

Thank you very much, Minister Verhagen, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Special Representative Kai Eide, President Karzai, Minister Spanta, friends and colleagues, I want to thank all of you, and especially the United Nations and the Government of the Netherlands for hosting us. I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of the government and people of the Netherlands to the mission in Afghanistan.

And I want to also acknowledge President Karzai, who fills a critical leadership role in his nation, and whose government helped to shape the shared comprehensive and workable strategy that we are discussing today.

We are here to help the people of Afghanistan prevail against a ruthless enemy who poses a common threat to us all. Afghanistan has always been a crossroads of civilization, and today we find our fate converging in those plains and mountains that are so far and yet so near in this interconnected world to all of us.

Thanks to the efforts of the international community, the perpetrators of the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11 – attacks which killed citizens from more than 90 countries – were driven from Afghanistan, and the Afghan people made a promising start toward a more secure future. But since those first hopeful moments, our collective inability to implement a clear and sustained strategy has allowed violent extremists to regain a foothold in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and to make the area a nerve center for efforts to spread violence from London to Mumbai.

The range of countries and institutions represented here is a universal recognition that what happens in Afghanistan matters to us all. Our failure to bring peace and progress would be a setback not only to the people of Afghanistan, but to the entire enterprise of collective action in the interest of collective security. Our success, on the other hand, will not only benefit Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, but also the blueprint for a new diplomacy powered by partnership and premised on shared interests.

So as we recommit ourselves to meet our common challenge with a new strategy, new energy, and new resources, let us be guided by an ancient Afghan proverb, “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

The plan I outline today is the product of intensive consultations with nations that have donated troops and support; Afghanistan’s neighbors and international institutions that play a vital role in Afghanistan’s future. The results of these consultations are clear: Our strategy must address the challenge in Afghanistan and Pakistan; it must integrate military and civilian activities and support them with vigorous international diplomacy; and it must rest on the simple premise that while we can and will help, Afghanistan’s future ultimately rests with the Afghan people and their elected government. Security is the essential first step; without it, all else fails. Afghanistan’s army and police will have to take the lead, supported by the International Security Assistance Force.

President Obama has announced that the United States will deploy 17,000 more soldiers and 4,000 additional military trainers to help build up Afghan security forces. The international community will also have to help. We should provide every army and police unit in Afghanistan with an international partner that can provide training and help build capacity. Our collective goal should be standing up an army of at least 134,000 soldiers and a police force of at least 82,000 officers by 2011. These steps will provide the people of Afghanistan with an opportunity to fight and win their own battle for their nation’s future.

We must also help Afghans strengthen their economy and institutions. They know how to rebuild their country, but they need the raw material of progress – roads, public institutions, schools, hospitals, irrigation, and agriculture. The United States is supporting the Government of Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, the National Solidarity Program, and other initiatives that help Afghans improve their lives and strengthen their own communities.

In consultation with the Afghan Government, we have also identified agriculture – which comprises 70 percent of Afghanistan’s economy – as the key for development. In the 1970s, Afghans exported food to their neighbors. They were often called the garden of Central Asia. Today, this sector lags far behind, and its problems feed the deadly malignancy of the narcotics trade. The United States is focusing its efforts on rural development in provinces near the Afghan-Pakistan border, and we hope that others gathered here will heed the United Nations’ and Afghan Government’s call for help throughout the country with job creation, technical expertise, vocational training, and investments in roads, electrical transmission lines, education, healthcare, and so much else.

As we work with the Afghan people to supply these building blocks of development, we must demand accountability from ourselves and from the Afghan Government. Corruption is a cancer as dangerous to long-term success as the Taliban or al-Qaida. A government that cannot deliver accountable services for its people is a terrorist’s best recruiting tool.

So we must work with bodies such as Afghanistan’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance to ensure that the government at all levels is responsible and transparent. The international community, gathered here, can help by providing auditors and governance experts and training a new generation of civil servants and administrators.

To earn the trust of the Afghan people, the Afghan Government must be legitimate and respected. This requires a successful election in August – one that is open, free, and fair. That can only happen with strong support from the international community. I am, therefore, pleased to announce today that to advance that goal, the United States is committing $40 million to help fund Afghanistan’s upcoming elections.

We must also support efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al-Qaida and the Taliban from those who joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation. This is, in fact, the case for a majority of those fighting with the Taliban. They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al-Qaida, and support the constitution.

Just as these problems cannot be solved without the Afghan people, they cannot be solved without the help of Afghanistan’s neighbors. Trafficking in narcotics, the spread of violent extremism, economic stagnation, water management, electrification, and irrigation are regional challenges that require regional solutions.

The United Nations has a central role in this effort to coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan and neighbors in the region to make sure that programs are properly prioritized and well focused. We are committed to working with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Representative Kai Eide to achieve that goal. The United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, will lead American efforts as we move forward, and we welcome the appointment of special representatives by other countries.

If we are to succeed, we will need the help of all the nations present here. As President Obama has pointed out, “the world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos.” While there is great temptation to retreat inward in these difficult economic times, it is precisely at such moments that we must redouble our effort. And as we make commitments and contributions, we must ensure they are flexible enough to respond to immediate needs and evolving opportunities. And we all must be willing to coordinate those efforts together.

The challenge we face is difficult, but the opportunity is clear if we move away from the past. All too often in the past seven years, our efforts have been undermanned, under-resourced and underfunded. This goal is achievable. We know we have made progress where we have made adequate investment and worked together.

The status of Afghanistan’s army, the lives of women and girls, the country’s education and health systems are far better today than they were in 2001. So if all of us represented here work with the government and people of Afghanistan, we will help not only to secure their future, but ours as well.

Now the principal focus of our discussions today is on Afghanistan, but we cannot hope to succeed if those who seek to reestablish a haven for violence and extremism operate from sanctuaries just across the border. For this reason, our partnership with Pakistan is critical. Together, we all must give Pakistan the tools it needs to fight extremists within its borders.

The Obama Administration has made a strong commitment through our support for legislation called the Kerry-Lugar assistance program. And in a few weeks, we will have a chance to join together in Tokyo for a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan to provide the support that the Pakistani Government and people need. I urge the nations here today in support of Afghanistan to join us in Tokyo on April 17th to help the people of Pakistan.

This effort has already required great sacrifice and it will require more. But in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we face a common threat, a common enemy, and a common task. So let us use today, this conference, to renew and reinvigorate our commitment and our involvement, and to lay a firm foundation for a safer region and a safer world. It is in the interests of all of the people who we represent as we sit around this conference table here in The Hague, and for the kind of world that we wish to help create.

Thank you very much.

PRN: 2009/T5-2

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http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/03/121037.htm

***
Kabul – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The total provincial population of Kabul is 3.5 million people. It is an economic and cultural centre, situated 5900 feet (1800 m) above sea level in a …
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabul – 151k –

http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=kabul

***

FACTBOX – Security developments in Afghanistan, April 4
Sat Apr 4, 2009 2:19pm EDT

(Reuters) – Following are security developments in Afghanistan at 5:30 a.m. EST on Saturday:

* Denotes new or updated incident

* SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN – A NATO soldier was killed in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said, without giving details of the location or the nationality of the soldier.

HELMAND – Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces killed 20 insurgents in a series of operations in Kajaki, some 475 km (295 miles) southwest of Kabul on Friday, the U.S. military said.

KHOST – Afghan troops captured a Taliban commander responsible for facilitating suicide bombings and roadside bombs in the Lagharah Valley, some 150 km (95 miles) southeast of Kabul, the U.S. military said.

(Reporting by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

***

Saturday, April 4, 2009

As North Korea counts down, Japan talks tough

Surprised by a 1998 launch, Tokyo is ready this time, warning against any violation of its airspace. Nervous Japanese officials know that the first moments after a North Korean rocket launch will be critical: Barely seven minutes after liftoff, it is likely to be hurtling over Japan’s northern coast.

latimes 7:00:00 AM CEST

Japan aims for walking robot on the moon by 2020

telegraph 9:23:00 AM CEST

Technology › Japan aims for walking robot on the moon by 2020

japantoday 12:44:00 AM CEST

Japan redfaced over mistaken N.Korean rocket report

alertnet 2:44:00 PM CEST

Latest News : Japan’s business confidence drops

tehrantimes 1:12:00 AM CEST

Picture of the Day › Play ball

japantoday 2:14:00 AM CEST

http://press.jrc.it/NewsExplorer/clusteredition/en/20090404,latimes-69ebb152ed3276b619f86d02c46a8e1e.html

****
Singer Mai Kuraki, 26, acknowledges the crowd before throwing the opening pitch at the Hanshin-Yakult game at Kyocera Dome in Osaka on Friday night.

Saturday 04th April, 08:01 AM JST

http://www.japantoday.com/category/picture-of-the-day/view/play-ball

*** 10.30 a.m. Hong Kong time 04-05-09 N. Korea launched long-range ballistic missile (10,30 p.m. EDT, Saturday evening, 04-04-09 our time.)  CNNI story this evening around 11 p.m.

***

Gov’t embarrassed over wrong N Korean rocket launch info

National › 06:55 AM JST – 5th April

TOKYO — As Japan went on high alert in anticipation of an imminent rocket launch by North Korea, erroneous launch information sent…

http://www.japantoday.com/

Gov’t embarrassed over wrong N Korean rocket launch info

Sunday 05th April, 06:55 AM JST

By Daisuke Yamamoto

TOKYO —

As Japan went on high alert in anticipation of an imminent rocket launch by North Korea, erroneous launch information sent out by the Japanese government on Saturday led to widespread confusion among the public and municipal authorities.

The mistake has been tracked to the Self-Defense Forces, which misunderstood radar information as indicating a rocket launch had taken place and allowed the information to be sent out to the country and the world.

The misstep has embarrassed the administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso, who was apparently hoping that by quickly conveying the launch information to the public, he could raise his profile as an effective crisis manager.

‘‘We caused a great deal of trouble to the Japanese people. This was a mistake in the transmission of information by the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces,’’ Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters. ‘‘I want to apologize to the people from my heart.’’

The saga unfolded little more than an hour into the time frame North Korea had given for a rocket launch, which Pyongyang said would be conducted sometime between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Saturday to Wednesday to put a satellite into orbit.

Tensions were mounting after a report earlier in the day by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency that the satellite ‘‘will be launched soon.’’

At 12:16 p.m., the government released information via its Em-Net emergency e-mail system saying that ‘‘North Korea appears to have launched a projectile.’’

Although the information was retracted as a ‘‘detection failure’’ five minutes later, the damage had already been done.

Media organizations, both domestic and international, reported the notification as breaking news and some municipalities issued alerts to their residents based on an emergency email message sent by the central government.

According to the ministry, the Air Self-Defense Force’s ground-based FPS-5 radar at the ministry’s Iioka research and development site in Asahi, Chiba Prefecture, picked up a trace over the Sea of Japan on the radar screen.

The ‘‘Spark Information’‘—a code used for the detection of a ballistic missile—was immediately conveyed to the ASDF’s Air Defense Operations Group in the suburbs of Tokyo.

The information was then relayed to the ASDF’s Air Defense Command on the same premises. The phrase ‘‘Detection at Iioka’’ had been added to it by then.

However, the person who received the information at the command mistook the ‘‘Spark Information’’ for satellite early warning information provided by the U.S. military, according to the ministry. When the person conveyed the information to another person there, it contained two phrases that were not identical to the previous ones: ‘‘Detection at Iioka. SEW received.’’

Satellite early warning information is based on data sent by the U.S. military’s Defense Support Program satellite orbiting the Earth. Equipped with an infrared telescope, the satellite is normally the quickest tool to detect ballistic missile launchings.

The erroneous information was then relayed to the SDF’s Central Command Post in the Defense Ministry headquarters in central Tokyo, where the word ‘‘launch’’ was added in the process, and soon found itself within the crisis management center at the prime minister’s office at 12:16 p.m.

The center immediately passed the information on to local governments across the country and media organizations without realizing that it was mistaken.

‘‘Personnel at the Central Command Post should have confirmed on their own computer terminal that satellite early warning information had indeed been received. The mistake could have been avoided if they had done so,’’ a ministry official said.

The official declined to elaborate on why the personnel at the Iioka radar site misunderstood a trace on the radar screen as that of a ballistic missile or why the airman at the Air Defense Command mixed up the radar and satellite early warning information.

‘‘Although detection errors by an SDF radar are possible, the problem is serious if the launch information was disclosed to the public without cross-checking it with other pieces of information Japan and the United States had,’’ said Kazuhisa Ogawa, a military analyst.

Ogawa said those who are supposed to verify and make judgments on such detection information should be held accountable.

The day saw another blunder by the SDF in Akita Prefecture, over which part of the rocket is set to pass if it flies according to the plan announced by North Korea.

A few hours before the mistaken information was sent out by the central government, the Akita prefectural government was notified by the Ground Self-Defense Force that North Korea had ‘‘fired a missile.’’ Based on the information, it issued an erroneous report to all municipalities in the prefecture.

One of the municipal offices ended up communicating the report to households through a radio transmission for disaster management.

According to the Defense Ministry, the email computer system at the Ground Staff Office in the ministry malfunctioned and a message bearing wrong launch information was sent to hundreds of recipients of the service.

One of the recipients, a GSDF member at the prefectural government’s disaster preparedness headquarters, verbally communicated the message to a prefectural government official, who then passed on the information to all the municipalities six minutes later, prefectural officials said.

‘‘The (central) government disclosed the information it received as is, though it should have verified it at every step and carefully,’’ said Koichi Oizumi, an expert on crisis management.

‘‘This is the most elementary mistake…How can it defend the country like this? They need to scrutinize why they made mistakes,’’ the Aomori Chuo Gakuin University professor said.

© 2009 Kyodo News. All rights reserved. No reproduction or republication without written permission.

http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/wrong-launch-info-an-embarrassment-to-government

***

North Korea: U.S. Seeks To Resume Six-Party Discussions
Ambassador Bosworth (Apr. 3): “On the subject of the missile launch, which I suspect is at the forefront of everyone’s mind…we have continued to press the North Koreans and other countries on the issue of a missile launch. We take the position, as you know, that it is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718. We have continued to urge, as we urge now, the D.P.R.K. not to launch this.”  -Full Text  -Video

http://www.state.gov/

U.S. Policy Regarding North Korea
April 3, 2009

FPC Briefing
Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth
Special Representative for North Korea Policy, U.S. Department of State
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC

Date: 04/03/2009 Location: Washington, DC Description: Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth, Special Representative for North Korea Policy, U.S. Department of State, Briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center on “U.S. Policy Regarding North Korea.” State Dept Photo

11:00 A.M. EDT

Video

MODERATOR: Okay. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. We are very honored to have with us our Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth.

Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Thank you very much. It’s good to be here this morning. I recognize some faces and I suspect I will come to recognize more.

I have now been in this position for about six weeks. It has been a rather busy six weeks. I made, together with Ambassador Sung Kim and colleagues, a trip to the region. We went to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul. In Seoul, we consulted with our Russian partners in the Six-Party process. And I met with the press several times on that trip. This is the first time I’ve met with the press since being back here.

Let me just say a few words and then I’ll take your questions. On the subject of the missile launch, which I suspect is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, I really don’t have anything new to say. We have continued to press the North Koreans and other countries on the issue of a missile launch. We take the position, as you know, that it is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718. We have continued to urge, as we urge now, the DPRK not to launch this. Whether it’s a satellite launch or a missile launch, in our judgment, makes no difference. It is a provocative act. And we hope that they will still reconsider and not do this.

If it does occur, we will be continuing to work closely with our partners and our allies in the UN Security Council to consult vigorously on what action might then be appropriate. We believe that a defiance of a UN Security Council resolution is an action that requires that there be some consequences, and that will be our objective. At the same time, however, I would also say that we continue to look with great interest, and give great priority, to the need to resume the Six-Party discussions with the goal of the denuclearization – the verifiable denuclearization – of the Korean Peninsula. And that remains, of course, our long-term goal. And we would hope to be able to return to that goal in as reasonable a period of time as possible.

So with that brief introduction, I would be happy to take questions. Yes.

MODERATOR: Wait, just one moment, please. I’d ask you, please, to wait for the microphone and identify your media. Start in the back. Sir.

QUESTION: Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online, Slovakia. I would like to ask if you have a set of negative incentives, like a set of punishments, what happens if North Korea do not – do not back up, end their launch? This flight, and if – because the positive ones didn’t work in the past, so what do you plan to do if North Korea will go on and they’ll provoke?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I really am not going to get into that question in any depth at all, other than to say that we will continue to consult with our partners and the other members of the UN Security Council on what would be an appropriate response.

MODERATOR: Sir.

QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Tomohiro Deguchi with Kyodo News, Japanese wire. It looks like the North Koreans are trying to link the missile issue and the Six-Party Talk issue. It’s – if you bring the missile issue to the UN Security Council, then they are going to leave from the Six-Party Talk framework. And is that your position to – I mean, if they move forward on the denuclearization, are you willing to give them the remaining assistance, which is the Japanese portion, about 200,000 tons? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I’m sorry, the two questions seem conflated somehow. Whether the North Koreans step back from the Six-Party Talks as a result of what might happen in the UN Security Council as a result of their decision to launch a missile is up to the North Koreans. We can’t obviously control that. I would hope that they would not link the two issues because from our point of view, both are important.

With regard to fuel deliveries, that’s something we continue to consult with our partners about, and I am confident that when we get back to the negotiating table in the Six-Party process, that we will be able to find solutions to that question.

MODERATOR: I’m going to take a question from New York via videoconference. Go ahead, New York.

QUESTION: Okay. Hi, Mr. Ambassador. My question is about the UN Security Council discussion and – well, actually, given the fact that North Korea is threatening to withdraw from the Six-Party Talks, do you think – if there’s any chance for the U.S. to make a compromise in the discussion to talk them into coming back to the Six-Party Talks?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I really do not want to prejudice the outcome of discussions that may occur in the UN Security Council, so I really can’t comment on that. As I just said, we would hope and believe strongly that everyone has a long-term interest – regardless of this short-term problem, everyone has a long-term interest in getting back to the negotiations in the Six-Party process as expeditiously as possible. I’m not able to predict when that might occur, but we will be talking vigorously with our partners in the process to try to bring that about.

MODERATOR: Okay. Back there.

QUESTION: Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. Ambassador Bosworth, one, can you tell us how it is that you are urging the North Koreans not to go ahead with this proposed launch? Is it in direct contacts with them in – through the New York channel or otherwise? Or is it simply through intermediaries or is it just the sort of – you know, the comments that we’ve heard in public from the State Department spokesman and now yourself?

And secondly, are you not – you know, the Administration has made very clear from the Secretary on down that a launch would have consequences. Are you not concerned that consequences, whatever they might be, will simply push the North Koreans further away from returning to the Six-Party Talks?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: We have been communicating our position to the North Koreans in a variety of ways including most of the ones that you enumerated – through the New York channel, through our partners who are doing so directly, and through our public statements.

And my concern that acting to show that there are consequences would have an impact on the Six-Party – on the Six-Party Talks, obviously, there are connections here. But as I said, we believe that one, we have an obligation to demonstrate that there are consequences for the defiance of a UN Security Council resolution, and we believe that a missile launch, satellite launch, whatever it is, is in violation of that resolution.

We also believe quite strongly that all parties concerned, including the North Koreans, have an interest in coming back to the table to complete the discussions and the negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

MODERATOR: Yes, right here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. My name is Ai Awaji. I’m from Japanese newswire Jiji Press. So how are you going to get them back to the negotiation table? Are you still prepared to go back to Pyongyang if they invite you after the missile launch?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I don’t know what’s going to happen specifically after the missile launch, but I am prepared to go to Pyongyang whenever it appears to be useful. Whether we will be invited or not, I don’t know. We will be, as I said earlier, working very closely with our partners to ensure that after the dust of the missiles settles a bit, we get back to the longer-term priority of the missile – of the Six-Party Talks.

MODERATOR: I’ll take the next question from New York. Go ahead, New York.

QUESTION: Yes, it’s Ronda Hauben and I’m from Ohmy News International. And my question is: Is it possible that this is, in fact, not a provocative act of North Korea, but it’s a modification of its activities? Because it isn’t launching a missile; it’s saying it’s launching a satellite, and a satellite is not a missile. And so has that been considered? And has it been considered that there’s an – this is part of an effort to have the talks resume and that this should be looked at that way?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I think it’s a stretch to characterize this as part of an effort to have the talks resume. That the rest of the international community reacts adversely to a launch will come as no surprise to the North Koreans.

In our view, and this is a view shared by many others, UN Security Council Resolution 1718 prohibits any launch, whether it’s a ballistic missile or whether it’s to launch a satellite. And the reason for that is that we are concerned that even a satellite launch would advance North Korean capabilities in a way that would prove provocative and destabilizing.

MODERATOR: Okay. Here, this lady.

QUESTION: Good morning, Rosslyn Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Much was made during the last administration about the efforts between the United States and China to put positive pressure on Pyongyang. What can you say about a similar relationship in order to make Pyongyang back away from this planned launch?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I would only say that we’ve been working very closely and productively with the Chinese, and I think that that line of cooperation will continue. We share a broad range of common interests with regard to the region and particularly with regard to North Korea.

MODERATOR: Okay. The gentleman in the middle.

QUESTION: Hawon Lee, Washington correspondent for South Korea newspaper Chosun Ilbo. When – could you – according to the formula within the Six-Party Talks and bilateral talks in the Obama Administration, it seems that there are some concerns that having bilateral talks by you will weaken the Six-Party Talks.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: The Six-Party Talks, we believe, must be at the center and forefront of our efforts to deal with the issues of North Korea and their nuclear program. So that will not change. We will continue to have bilateral contacts with the North Koreans. And we are prepared to open that channel at any point. Now I don’t think that bilateral contacts of the sort, that have occurred in the past, and that, I believe, will occur in the future, weaken the Six-Party process. I think, indeed, that it is possible they will strengthen the Six-Party process.

And I would note that during the last administration in Washington, many of our partners and allies were urging that we have bilateral contacts with the North Koreans. And indeed, in the last couple of years of that administration, we did have bilateral talks, and they proved to be quite useful.

MODERATOR: Microphone.

QUESTION: My name is Alison Smith. I’m with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I’m curious to know what real leverage, what real pressure can be brought to bear on the North Koreans at this point. There’s an assessment that, in fact, their brinksmanship is working and that they have little to lose by firing off this missile. So what real leverage, what range of options do you have to pressure them not to do so?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: In my experience in dealing with North Koreans, pressure is not the most productive line of approach. You have to combine pressure with incentives and I think we are in a position to begin doing that.

QUESTION: What are the incentives?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I would rather not get into the incentives at this point, just to say that I think there are things that we can provide and do that the North Koreans would find positive.

QUESTION: My name is Hyunju Yi from KBS, Korean Broadcasting System. And you have emphasized the visiting schedule through the — Pyongyang several times, including Hillary Clinton, and she also mentioned about regret about North Korea’s reject of – for the invitation to North Korea. But what could be the agenda you can talk with North Korean authority when you are allowed to visit there?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I think there’s a wide range of issues that we would have on any agenda, and it would be on their agenda as well, having to do not only with the denuclearization issue, which is of course foremost in our thinking, but also with what might be required to normalize the relationship between the DPRK and the United States.

And one further point: how we can facilitate North Korea’s accommodation, integration into the region, which is another, I think, very important question.

MODERATOR: The gentleman in the front here. The microphone, please.

QUESTION: Mike Lavallee from TBS. You keep on saying that everybody wants to get back to the Six-Party process as soon as possible, but as you said, there has to be consequences if they fire off this missile. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect some cooling-off period after – if they do go ahead and fire off this missile?

And secondly, North Korea will most – if there are consequences, North Korea will mostly go into a mode of escalation. Are you confident that you can stop that escalation? Are you concerned about escalation, if there are consequences after this?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: First of all, I’m not in any way predicting that they will go into a mode of escalation. They might. They might not. I’ll come back and simply reiterate that in the period after the launch, we will be coordinating very closely with our partners to determine what steps would be most appropriate.

I think we all share the long-term objective of a negotiated, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. That is not going to disappear as a result of the missile launch. It complicates the equation, without question. And it may be that a cooling-off period is the inevitable result. I don’t know. I’m not predicting that. I still hope that they decide not to launch the missile.

QUESTION: Is that realistic?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Realistic or not realistic, it’s still my hope.

MODERATOR: Okay. I’ll take a question from New York next.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Joe Geni of Yomiuri Shimbun. Regarding consequences for North Korea after – assuming they do go ahead with the launch, could we see the U.S. seeking enforcement of existing sanctions under 1718, either through further Security Council action or through multilateral action with our partners?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Again, I’m reluctant to get into that question, because I do not want in any way to prejudice the outcome of the discussions that are going to be underway in New York at the UN. That’s a question that at an appropriate time you might address to the UN, to the U.S. Mission to the UN.

MODERATOR: Okay. The gentleman in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yonhap News Agency, South Korea. Some say you may not be able to focus on (inaudible) North Korea because your job as special representative is part-time. What do you think? Also, North Korea rejected the offer – proposal to visit Pyongyang in February. What does that mean?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, the part-time issue is not, for me, an issue. I have committed to devote as much as time as is necessary to this position, and I have been doing so. I think that the two roles that I have are very compatible, one with the other, so I’m not concerned about the part-time issue. And I think I’ve demonstrated to our partners that I am accessible, I’m available, I can — I’m able to travel, whatever.

And the second question you had was?

QUESTION: North Korea rejected your proposal to visit Pyongyang in February. What does that mean?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I don’t think it means anything. So – I’ve been there actually, in February, in the first part of February, in a private capacity before I was appointed to this position. So I don’t think that my – the fact that I did not visit there in early March is relevant at this point.

MODERATOR: The lady here. Sorry, could you pass the mike?

QUESTION: Bagya from the Straits Times, Singapore. Do you think the hardliners have the upper hand in North Korea now?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I think I know relatively little — in fact, very little about who’s hard line, who’s soft line in North Korea. And you know, my view is that we must deal with North Korea as we find it, not as we would like it to be.

QUESTION: Thank you. Nami Inoue from Tokyo Broadcasting System. Once you get back to the Six-Party Talks, how would you try to put together the verification protocol which the North Koreans have been rejecting? Are you — do you have any different tactics or new ways to construct the verification protocol?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: We’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to that question. We’ve been discussing it very intensively with our partners. I think we have some ideas about how this could be done. Our immediate goal, of course, is to complete so-called phase two of the process, and move on to phase three of the dismantlement phase. And I’m quite confident that with some intense negotiating and diplomatic activity, we can get over that question.

MODERATOR: This lady here.

QUESTION: Kim Ghattas from the BBC. Ambassador Bosworth, when were you appointed, just over a month ago, you seemed to indicate that you believe the North Koreans were willing to engage with a new administration in the United States. And yet, now you are still waiting for an invitation to visit Pyonyang. Is the task proving much more difficult than you expected? How frustrated are you?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I’ve been dealing with North Korea on and off for 15 years or so. And I’ve long since suppressed my tendency toward frustration. I think that what is required is patience and perseverance. I think with patience and perseverance, we can make progress. So I’m not really frustrated. There are times in a negotiation process with the North Koreans where everything just stops for a time.

MODERATOR: Okay. The gentleman in the back.

QUESTION: Libo Liu, Voice of America, Mandarin Service. Ambassador, what’s China’s position on the North Korea launch that is related to you? Thanks.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: As I understand the Chinese position as explained to me by the Chinese Government, they have taken a very strong position that this is an act of provocation and that it should not occur.

MODERATOR: Okay. In the back.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Korean newspaper. My question is about the journalists that were detained by North Korea recently. So I wonder who are in charge of this issue in Department – State Department or U.S. – or Obama Administration? Are you also in charge of this issue of the journalists who are detained?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, let me just comment – to just say briefly, there is no higher priority for American foreign policy and the Department of State than the protection of American citizens abroad. We have been working with the Government of Sweden who, as you know, represents U.S. interest in North Korea, and we will continue to do that. We are fully engaged with the Swedes diplomatically.

As to who is responsible for that particular problem within the bureaucracy, there are a lot of us who are responsible for that, starting with the Secretary of State and going down from there. As I said, there is no issue on which we give higher priority than the protection of American citizens.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Kaori Arioka with NHK Broadcasting Corporation. Ambassador, are you willing to start the missile talks – I mean, missile negotiation with North Korea? And if so, would you rather do it in a Six-Party context or, I mean, rather separately from the denuclearization issue?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I don’t want to get too much into the details, but I think it’s – the current situation demonstrates quite effectively why it’s important for us to engage with North Korea on the subject of missiles. As you will recall, this was a topic that was under discussion at the end of the Clinton Administration. And we had made substantial progress – did not have an agreement, but we had made progress. We think it’s time to come back to that. Obviously, we think that it’s a subject that requires discussion, negotiation, as to precisely how it would be handled within the Six-Party process, I’m really not able to say right now. This is something on which we’ve been consulting with our partners. And I think we will work out an acceptable approach.

MODERATOR: We’re going to have time for about two more questions. I’ll start here and then go back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Jimkule Kim with Radio Free Asia. I know you went to the Capitol Hill last Wednesday to brief on North Korean issues. And as you know, some of the U.S. congressmen and senators have urged that U.S. should intercept North Korea missile. How much are you concerned about those opinions on the North Korean missile launch – those so-called hardliners?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: We had very useful consultations on the Hill with the House leadership and then with staff directors on the Senate side. I found a considerable amount of support for the approach that the U.S. is taking.

MODERATOR: The next question. This gentleman here.

QUESTION: Ambassador, I was wondering if you could comment a little on how the negotiating tactics might have changed for you with the Obama Administration coming in? And conversely, also, do you feel there’s been any change in reaction from the North Koreans in how their response may have altered over the last few months?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I wasn’t here in the last administration, so my point of reference is not all that clear. But I think I would say that clearly the Obama Administration is committed to diplomacy to solve problems of this sort. That does not mean that it is a diplomacy without strength. My own view is that diplomacy is most useful when it reflects strength and that will be our effort in this negotiation.

And the second part of your question?

QUESTION: Has North Korea changed its response in any way?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Oh, I don’t know. We’ll see. I would hope that perhaps they are little less difficult than I’ve found them in the past, but my expectations are well under control. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you all for coming. Ambassador.

http://fpc.state.gov/121278.htm

***

Equity firm wins Poloroid auction for $59M
Published: April 4, 2009 at 2:14 PM
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ST. PAUL, Minn., April 4 (UPI) — The private equity firm Patriarch Partners of New York appears to have won the auction for the beleaguered camera company Polaroid Corp.

The Star Tribune reported Saturday that the firm’s $59.3 million bid for the instant-photo company still must be approved by a bankruptcy judge. A hearing has been set for Monday, the Minneapolis newspaper reported.

Patriarch’s bid includes $43.2 million in cash and $7.8 million in stock in the new entity but excludes $8.3 million in various Polaroid assets, including Polaroid Japan.

Included in the deal, however, is Polaroid’s vast art collection, which includes more than 600 original Ansel Adams photographs, 13 original Andy Warhol photographs and thousands of museum pieces.

Lynn Tilton, chief executive of Patriarch Partners, said the private equity firm will seek to rebuild the Polaroid brand. Mary Jeffries, Polaroid’s chief executive officer, said in a statement that Patriarch Partners “has the vision and the resources to act on the myriad of opportunities to leverage this iconic brand.”

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2009/04/04/Equity-firm-wins-Poloroid-auction-for-59M/UPI-54511238868893/

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Ritz Camera to begin liquidation
Published: April 4, 2009 at 11:01 AM
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BELTSVILLE, Md., April 4 (UPI) — Ritz Camera was to began liquidation sales Saturday ahead of closing more than 300 stores in the United States, say company officials.

The sales were to occur at Ritz stores and affiliate stores Proex, Wolf and Kit Camera as part of a court-supervised bankruptcy reorganization, CNet reported, noting the company plans to keep another 400 stores operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Ritz Camera, based in Beltsville, Md., filed for bankruptcy protection in February after growing to a chain of more than 800 stores since its start as a single store in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1918, The Star Tribune of Minnesota reported Saturday.

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2009/04/04/Ritz-Camera-to-begin-liquidation/UPI-91661238857280/

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Disney announces 1,900 job cuts
Published: April 3, 2009 at 9:12 PM
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BURBANK, Calif., April 3 (UPI) — Walt Disney Co. said Friday it has eliminated about 1,900 jobs at its U.S. theme parks through job cuts and attrition.

The cuts came as a part of the company’s reorganization of its theme parks and resort operations, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The newspaper reported that Disney — based in Burbank, Calif. — has experienced a decline in attendance at its theme parks, including Disneyland and Disney World.

To help weather the U.S. economic downturn, Disney said it would lay off about 1,200 people and leave about 700 positions unfilled. Most of the cuts will be at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

About 1,400 jobs will be eliminated at the Florida property, while 300 jobs will be cut from the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif.

“These decisions were not made lightly, but are essential to maintaining our leadership in family tourism and reflect today’s economic realities,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to work through our reorganization and manage our business based on demand.”

In January, Disney offered buyout packages to 600 executives at its domestic parks division, which employs about 80,000 people, the newspaper noted.
http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2009/04/03/Disney-announces-1900-job-cuts/UPI-37921238807564/

***
GMAC drops minimum credit score for loans
Published: April 2, 2009 at 5:21 PM
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DETROIT, April 2 (UPI) — U.S. car loan giant GMAC said it would lower finance charges and open up car loans to borrowers with lower credit scores to jump start vehicle purchases.

GMAC has target $5 billion for the next two months to entice more customers into buying autos, The Detroit News reported Thursday.

The lender, which lowered its minimum credit score for borrowers to 620 in December, said it would accept loan applications for borrowers whose score falls under 620, which generally designates subprime customers.

John McEleney, president of the National Automobile Dealers Association, told the News it was “very positive step.” When GMAC raised its minimum credit score to 700 last October, analysts said it kept 40 percent of its potential customers from securing an automobile loan.

McEleney said lowering the minimum score “is going to help … dealers and make credit available to a wider range of customers.”

GMAC also said it will stop demanding “curtailment” payments, which are payments dealerships have been required to make on their GMAC loans if their inventory doesn’t move fast enough off of their lots.

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2009/04/02/GMAC-drops-minimum-credit-score-for-loans/UPI-37661238707280/

***

An Antarctic ice shelf has disappeared -scientists
Fri Apr 3, 2009 6:27pm EDT

WASHINGTON, April 3 (Reuters) – One Antarctic ice shelf has quickly vanished, another is disappearing and glaciers are melting faster than anyone thought due to climate change, U.S. and British government researchers reported on Friday.

They said the Wordie Ice Shelf, which had been disintegrating since the 1960s, is gone and the northern part of the Larsen Ice Shelf no longer exists. More than 3,200 square miles (8,300 square km) have broken off from the Larsen shelf since 1986.

Climate change is to blame, according to the report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey, available at pubs.usgs.gov/imap/2600/B.

“The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing — more rapidly than previously known — as a consequence of climate change,” U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

“This continued and often significant glacier retreat is a wakeup call that change is happening … and we need to be prepared,” USGS glaciologist Jane Ferrigno, who led the Antarctica study, said in a statement.

“Antarctica is of special interest because it holds an estimated 91 percent of the Earth’s glacier volume, and change anywhere in the ice sheet poses significant hazards to society,” she said.

In another report published in the journal Geophysical Letters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that ice is melting much more rapidly than expected in the Arctic as well, based on new computer analyses and recent ice measurements.

The U.N. Climate Panel projects that world atmospheric temperature will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius because of emissions of greenhouse gases that could bring floods, droughts, heat waves and more powerful storms.

As glaciers and ice sheets melt, they can raise overall ocean levels and swamp low-lying areas. (Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Xavier Briand)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN03361051

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U.S. property bust threatens condo “death spiral”
Thu Apr 2, 2009 8:37pm EDT

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) – Rust pokes through the peeling paint on the railings, pest control has been curtailed and the palm trees are no longer being fertilized at the 1940s-era Miami Modern condominium building in Miami Beach.

The condo association has been forced to cut expenses because the owners of 11 of the 28 apartments in the modest two-story building are delinquent, victims of a mammoth U.S. real estate collapse that has hit Florida especially hard.

With so many cash-strapped owners failing to pay their monthly fees for upkeep, the condo board last year had to raise $40,000 with a special levy to fill a giant hole in the $80,000 annual budget, but only managed to collect $19,000 from the owners who are still able to pay their bills.

Florida’s condominium and homeowners’ associations are facing what experts call a trickle-down disaster from the property crisis. Dozens and perhaps hundreds of condo buildings have budget shortfalls as thousands of owners, under water on their mortgages or in foreclosure, stop paying monthly fees.

“I call it a death spiral,” Miami Beach city commissioner Jerry Libbin said. “It’s a catastrophe in the making.”

Nearly half of Florida’s 18 million residents live in condo or homeowners associations, communities where owners pay monthly fees for common expenses like cleaning, landscaping, pool maintenance and building insurance.

When a unit owner stops paying monthly fees, which can range from $150 in a small building to over $1,000 in a luxury tower, a condo board must collect money from other owners to make up the shortfall. Rising fees or special assessments, or levies, can drive other vulnerable owners into insolvency.

No one seems sure how many condo buildings are in trouble but the number of calls to Florida’s condo ombudsman could be an indicator. They are up tenfold in recent months.

At Miami-based condo management company CADISA Inc, co-founder Jackie Diaz-Sampol estimated that delinquency rates are running at 30 percent to 35 percent in half her buildings.

As a result, associations are cutting back pool and hallway maintenance, trimming services and firing maintenance staff.

“We’ve had to become very creative. Desperate times create desperate measures,” Diaz-Sampol said. “We’ve even had owners who have volunteered to do a little painting.”

TROUBLED BUILDINGS

Carol Housen, the board president at the Miami Beach condo where nearly half the units are in hot water, would talk about its problems only with an agreement that the address would not be published. It’s tough to sell a condo with a bad reputation.

Housen points out chipped paint on the concrete walkways, which haven’t been redone lately. Crown-of-thorns and bougainvillea plants are blooming but she wonders how they will survive with the landscaper visiting less frequently.

“Everything is not going to look as nice,” said Housen, a property broker. “We had an exterminator once a month. Now he comes once every two months. We’re not fertilizing the trees.”

The story of this building is a familiar one.

The apartments were converted to condos at the height of a boom that saw prices — inflated by speculation and fraud — double within four years, then tumble in the last three. A one-bedroom, 560-square-foot (52-square-meter) unit that topped out near $200,000 might now get $70,000, leaving owners drowning in debt.

Still, said Housen, it could be worse. She pointed to a nearby tower where she said more than 200 of the 244 units have liens or lawsuits pending.

Housen said an upscale building not far away — where units that once sold for over $1 million and are now priced below $500,000 — has 16 troubled apartments of 44 in the building.

The crisis could mean serious pain for Miami Beach, a resort town with 88,000 residents and 42,000 condos. If debtors walk away from their units, buildings could become derelict.

“I haven’t seen it yet, but I think we’re going to see it,” Housen said.

BANKS ARE STALLING

Condo advocates say banks are partly responsible for hobbling condo boards by being slow to foreclose on owners who have fallen behind.

Lenders don’t become responsible for an apartment’s costs until they foreclose and under current law, a bank is liable to pay only six months worth of fees in arrears, or 1 percent of the mortgage value, when it takes back a property.

Condo advocates say banks are deliberately stalling.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s done so they don’t have to pay the fees,” Rosa de la Camara, a lawyer with Becker & Poliakoff, a Florida firm that does condo legal work.

Proposed legislation would make banks pay up to 12 months of fees. Advocates also want the Florida legislature to allow associations to collect rent directly from tenants when owners are taking in rent but not paying condo fees, and said other states are considering similar legislation.

Libbin, the Miami Beach commissioner, left this week for the state capital Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers to pass a bill giving more financial protection to condo associations. He took with him resolutions from Florida condo boards representing some 135,000 unit owners pleading for help.

He said the state might end up taking over bankrupt condo associations. “Imagine what it will be like if you have to call the governor’s office to get a plumber,” he said.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Doina Chiacu)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53200O20090403?sp=true

****

New York Times threatens to shut Boston Globe
Fri Apr 3, 2009 10:45pm EDT

By Jason Szep and Robert MacMillan

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York Times Co has threatened to shut The Boston Globe unless the newspaper’s unions quickly agree to $20 million in concessions, the Globe reported on Friday, quoting union leaders.

The union officials said executives from the Globe and the Times, which owns the Boston newspaper, made the demands on Thursday morning in a meeting with leaders of the newspaper’s 13 unions, the Globe reported.

If the Globe closed, it would join a growing list of big city dailies that have shut down this year, including EW Scripps Co’s Rocky Mountain News and the print edition of Hearst Corp’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Hearst’s San Francisco Chronicle might join that list.

Possible concessions at the Globe, the 14th-largest U.S. daily paper by weekday circulation, include pay cuts, the end of pension contributions by the company and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for some veteran staff, the paper said, quoting Boston Newspaper Guild president Daniel Totten.

The guild is the Globe’s biggest union, representing more than 700 editorial, advertising and business office employees, the report said.

“Management told union leaders Thursday that the Globe will lose $85 million in 2009, unless serious cutbacks are made, according to a Globe employee briefed on the discussions,” the Globe report said. That compares with an estimated $50 million loss last year, the newspaper quoted the employee as saying.

“The ad revenues have fallen off the cliff,” the Globe quoted Ralph Giallanella, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 259, as saying. “Just based on everything that’s going on around the country, they’re serious.” His union represents about 200 drivers who deliver the paper.

Giallanella and Globe executives could not be reached by Reuters. A Times spokeswoman declined to comment. Totten was not immediately available for comment.

The Times sought the concessions because it can no longer subsidize the Globe’s losses, the report said, quoting the Globe employee, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.

The threat comes as a host of U.S. newspaper publishers have reduced staff, declared bankruptcy or shuttered newspapers to cope with a recession that has squeezed advertising revenues and with a new era in which readers seek news online.

Many U.S. newspapers have lost 20 percent or more of their advertising revenue as more people get news online for free.

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe completed cutting the equivalent of 50 full-time newsroom jobs.

Separate media reports have said that the Times may try to sell the Globe to drum up cash to pay off debt. As recently as two years ago, the Globe was considered to be worth more than $500 million. The Times bought it in 1993 for $1.1 billion.

A report late last year by Barclays Capital pegged its value as low as $20 million.

Boston and the surrounding area has not proven to be a good investment for the Times. The Telegram-Gazette in Worcester, which the Times also owns, has been dealing with falling ad revenue like most U.S. papers.

The Times also is trying to sell its stake in the holding company that owns the Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team as a way to raise money to pay off debt.

It has taken other measures including selling its stake in its New York headquarters and borrowing from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who owns a large stake in the Times.

The company also is awash in widespread media speculation that the Ochs-Sulzberger family, which has controlled it for more than a century, could sell the Times.

The Boston Globe, the most widely circulated daily in Boston and New England, was founded in 1872 and privately owned until 1973, when it went public as Affiliated Publications.

On March 26, The New York Times and the Washington Post, two of the most respected U.S. newspapers, said they were cutting costs further in the face of dramatic declines in advertising revenue.

The Times said it laid off 100 workers and is cutting non-union salaries. It is also asking unionized employees to accept similar concessions to avoid layoffs in the newsroom.

Non-union employees at the New York Times and the Boston Globe would get a 5 percent pay cut for nine months, along with 10 days off, the Times said. At other units, including the company’s Worcester, Massachusetts, newspaper, the amounts would be a 2.5 percent pay cut and five days off.

(Reporting by Jason Szep in Boston and Grant McCool and Robert MacMillan in New York; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Gary Hill)

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53303820090404

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Estimated U.S. taxpayer cost for bailout jumps
Sat Apr 4, 2009 3:19pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional budget analysts have raised their estimate of the net cost to taxpayers for the government’s financial rescue program to $356 billion, an increase of $167 billion from earlier estimates.

The Congressional Budget Office had originally projected the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program would cost taxpayers $189 billion.

The additional cost, which applies to TARP spending for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, was included in the CBO’s March projection of a $1.8 trillion deficit for fiscal 2009, which ends September 30.

The TARP cost projection was raised due to changes in financial market conditions, new transactions and a shift in expected timing of payments, the CBO said.

The Treasury Department announced plans to use some of the money to help avoid home foreclosures and made new deals with Bank of America and American International Group. Those programs involved higher subsidy rates than previously estimated, the report said.

Congress passed the Wall Street bailout program in October with the goal of stabilizing banks and reassuring jittery markets.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jackie Frank)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53323420090404

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BANKS ARE STALLING

Condo advocates say banks are partly responsible for hobbling condo boards by being slow to foreclose on owners who have fallen behind.

Lenders don’t become responsible for an apartment’s costs until they foreclose and under current law, a bank is liable to pay only six months worth of fees in arrears, or 1 percent of the mortgage value, when it takes back a property.

Condo advocates say banks are deliberately stalling.

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53200O20090403?sp=true

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