Signs of the Times

U.S. Becomes Top Wind Power Producer

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States now leads the world in wind power after boosting wind energy capacity by half last year, the Global Wind Energy Council says. The U.S. overtook Germany by building windmills that can generate 25 gigawatts of energy, about a fifth of all global wind power, it said Monday. Surging interest in renewable energy and worries about climate change propelled a 29% increase in wind power generation capacity across the world last year — and fueled a wind turbine industry that was worth $47.5 billion in 2008, the council said. China doubled its wind power to 12 gigawatts — and expects that to nearly double again this year. But the wind energy association warned that the financial crisis has slowed U.S. financing for new projects and stalled orders for turbines.

Ø JJ Commentary: Well, there’s certainly a lot of hot air coming out of Washington. We should harness that energy too.

Executive Pledges $100M to Hospital for AIDS Research

BOSTON (AP) — A businessman is pledging $100 million to create a new institute that will search for an AIDS vaccine. The Boston Globe reports that Phillip Terrence Ragon announced the gift to Massachusetts General Hospital on Wednesday. The hospital will get $10 million a year for the next decade to bring together doctors, engineers and biologists from Massachusetts General as well as other research institutions, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The 59-year-old Ragon is the founder and sole owner of InterSystems Corp., a company that provides database software to hospitals and other industries. Ragon decided to create the institute after witnessing the plight of AIDS patients while visiting South Africa.

2 Million enjoy Free Breakfast at Denny’s

USA TODAY — Some day, when Josh Richardson finally finds a job, he’ll pay for a meal at Denny’s. But in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, the unemployed medical assistant from Greenville, S.C., waited 40 minutes in near-freezing temperatures outside a Denny’s restaurant for a free Grand Slam breakfast. Roughly 2 million other Americans lined up at local Denny’s for the too-good-to-pass-up deal. With the economy in a tailspin, Denny’s shook up the restaurant industry — if not the nation — Tuesday by doing something no family dining chain had done before: giving out free meals coast-to-coast from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. The entire promotion — including food, labor and airing an ad on Sunday’s Super Bowl — cost Denny’s about $5 million. “We’re re-acquainting America with Denny’s,” says CEO Nelson Marchioli.

MySpace: 90,000 Sex Offenders Removed from Site

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — MySpace says about 90,000 sex offenders have been identified and removed from its huge social networking website. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday the new figure is nearly double what MySpace officials originally announced last year. Cooper and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal have led efforts to make social networking websites safer. MySpace executives sent the updated numbers to Blumenthal’s office Tuesday. Last year, the attorneys general got MySpace and rival Facebook to implement dozens of safeguards. That included limits on older users’ ability to search the profiles of members under 18.

For Obama, Nominees’ Exits Take Off some of the Glow

WASHINGTON — Two weeks after he stood before the nation and pledged “a new era of responsibility,” President Obama confronted the biggest crisis of his young presidency Tuesday as two of his key nominees withdrew over their failure to pay their taxes. It was a disquieting day for a president who came into office with soaring approval ratings and a promise to have the most ethical administration in history. First, he lost former Treasury official Nancy Killefer, the woman he’d tapped to root out waste as the government’s first chief performance officer. Then, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle withdrew his appointment as Health and Human Services secretary. Obama had wanted Daschle to engineer an overhaul of the nation’s health care system. “I screwed up,” Obama told NBC News in one of five network interviews he did Tuesday as questions swirled about his administration’s vetting of nominees and his judgment.

Obama Draws Line on Stimulus Compromise

WASHINGTON — President Obama is willing to change elements of his economic stimulus plan to meet objections in Congress, but he won’t agree to increase its cost significantly or weaken its impact, his top economic adviser said Tuesday. As the president conducted five television interviews to promote the $800 billion-plus package, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers said Obama wants to focus on the economy’s needs, not the relatively small spending items Republicans have criticized. “We’re focused on the pie, not the crumbs,” Summers told USA TODAY. The House approved a two-year, $819 billion package of new spending and tax cuts last week without any GOP support, and the Senate this week is debating a version nearing $900 billion. Obama, who originally proposed $775 billion, wants to hold down the price tag. Senate Republicans seek to slash income and corporate tax rates as well as the overall level of spending in the bill.

Call it the maximum wage. President Obama wants to impose a $500,000 pay cap on executives whose firms receive government financial rescue funds, a dramatic intervention into corporate governance in the midst of financial crisis. The steps set the stage for the administration’s unveiling next week of a new framework for spending the money that remains in the $700 billion financial rescue fund. The most restrictive limits would apply only to struggling large firms that receive “exceptional assistance” in the future. Healthy banks that receive government infusions of capital would have more leeway.

Ø JJ Commentary: We’ve all been appalled at the exorbitant pay and bonuses received by execs at bailed out organizations, but having the government issue rules on pay is just another step down the path to socialism and more government control.

Postal Service Seeks to Weather Economic Storm

USA TODAY — These days, the check isn’t in the mail. It’s increasingly on the Internet — and that’s bad news for the U.S. Postal Service. Electronic communication and a withering economy have pushed the Postal Service into its worst financial crisis since Benjamin Franklin founded the institution in 1775. The Postal Service has lost $7.9 billion in the past two years. It has borrowed money to pay its bills. Mail volume fell 4.5% last year and the Postal Service expects a bigger drop this year. Last week, the agency asked Congress for permission to consider reducing delivery from six days a week to five. The Postal Service has withstood challenges from the telegraph and telephone. It has adapted to stagecoaches, railroads, airplanes and other innovations that quickened the pace of American life. Now, it’s facing a range of modern problems that could cause it to run out of cash this year or early next.

The Postal Service’s biggest challenge: the cost of providing health care to current and future retirees. Its $53 billion obligation is greater than those of the Big Three automakers. The service owes its retiree health fund $7.4 billion this year. Last week, Postmaster General John Potter asked Congress for permission to delay $2 billion in health care payments until after 2016. Without that break, the Postal Service could run out of cash Sept. 30, when a lump sum $5.4 billion retiree health fund payment comes due.

U.S. Libraries on Borrowed Time?

USA TODAY — Dwindling tax dollars are forcing libraries to close branches, cut hours and end programs just as more people are turning to them for services. “Libraries rely on public dollars, and we know there are less public dollars,” says Sari Feldman, vice president of the Public Library Association and executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio. At the same time, Feldman says, more adults are using free Internet services to search for jobs or apply for unemployment benefits, and more people are economizing by borrowing books, DVDs and CDs. Cities are making tough choices, says Chris Hoene, director of policy and research at the National League of Cities. As people lose income or curb spending, income tax and sales tax revenue falls. Local officials must choose between core services, such as police and fire protection, and services such as libraries and parks. “Obviously, when push comes to shove,” he says, city governments facing budget cuts “will protect city services considered more vital to the safety of the community.”

More Families Move in Together During Housing Crisis

USA TODAY — The weak economy — which has brought surging foreclosures, sinking property values, vanishing home equity and mounting job losses — is playing a major role in family dynamics, pulling relatives under the same roof to pool their resources and aid relatives who’ve lost their homes. Siblings are moving in with one another to help pay the mortgage. Adult children who’ve lost homes to foreclosure are moving back home with Mom and Dad. Even spouses in the throes of divorce are putting off separating, living together in awkward cold wars because they can’t sell their houses. hat’s in large part because those losing homes often have nowhere else to go. Many live paycheck to paycheck: Nearly 61% of local and state homeless coalitions are seeing an increase in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to an April 2008 study by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Foreclosure filings surpassed 3 million in 2008, according to a recent report by RealtyTrac. The report also shows that one in 54 homes received at least one foreclosure filing during the year.

More Losses, Layoff and Closings

WASHINGTON — Layoffs are spiking as the recession rips through the country, with retailers, banks, factories and others cutting costs ever deeper this week. It’s inflicting a painful toll on workers, and there’s little relief in sight. PNC Financial Services Group said it plans to cut 5,800 jobs. Liz Claiborne will eliminate 725 jobs, or 8% of its work force, one day after Macy’s said it was axing 7,000 jobs, or 4% of its work force. King Pharmaceuticals will get rid of 520 jobs. Military contractor and aerospace company Rockwell Collins is cutting 600 jobs and freezing salaries at last year’s level for all executives and managers. UPS is freezing management pay and is suspending its matching contributions to employees’ 401(k) plans. And General Motors said it will offer buyouts to all of its hourly workers. Video game publisher Electronic Arts posted weaker-than-expected results on Tuesday and is laying off 1,100 employees, or 11% of its work force.

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (AP) — Motorola posted a massive fourth-quarter loss Tuesday as it recorded charges to reflect the dwindling value of its cellphone business. The maker of telecommunications equipment also suspended its dividend and announced the departure of its chief financial officer. Motorola lost $3.6 billion, or $1.57 s share Motorola’s sales in the fourth quarter were $7.14 billion, down 26% from the year-ago period.

TOKYO (AP) — Panasonic said Wednesday it will slash 15,000 jobs and shut down 27 plants worldwide to cope with plunging demand for its TVs, semiconductors and other electronics products. The world’s largest maker of plasma display TVs also announced a net loss for the October-December quarter and lowered its forecast for the fiscal year through March to a net loss of $4.2 billion (380 billion yen), its first annual loss in six years.

NEW YORK (AP) — Time Warner reported a fourth-quarter loss, hurt by a $24.2 billion write-down for its cable, publishing and AOL assets. The media and entertainment company posted a loss of $16.03 billion, or $4.47 a share, compared with profit of $1.03 billion, or 28 cents a share, a year ago.

DETROIT — Auto sales in the U.S. took an unsettling drop of 37.1% in January, compared with January 2008, falling to a 28-year low. The slide also toppled the U.S. from its position as the world’s largest car market: For the first time, more cars were sold in China in one month than in the U.S. Limited credit availability and weakened consumer confidence continue to pummel sales, which fell to 657,000 vehicles, down from 1.04 million a year ago.

NEW YORK — Spectrum Brands, the maker of Rayovac batteries and Remington shavers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday under a heavy debt load. The Atlanta-based company filed for court protection after it missed a $25.8 million interest payment on Monday. The company is the latest in a long list of bankruptcies filed amid the global recession.

LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co. missed analyst profit targets Tuesday, as it reported a 32% decline in quarterly earnings amid a downturn that CEO Robert Iger described as “likely to be the weakest economy in our lifetime.” Iger said the recession had hurt all of Disney’s businesses in the three months to Dec. 27, from its theme parks to its broadcast networks.

FDIC: Estimate for Cost of Bank Failures to be More than $40B

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators now believe U.S. bank failures will cost the deposit insurance fund more than $40 billion over the next four years as the economy weakens, a government official said Tuesday. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chief Operating Officer John Bovenzi said the agency’s estimate last fall of $40 billion in losses through 2013 probably will be surpassed. He also said in testimony for a House hearing that Congress should more than triple the agency’s line of credit with the Treasury Department to $100 billion from the current $30 billion. The FDIC has never drawn on that credit line, but such an increase would ensure “that the public has no confusion or doubt about the government’s commitment to insured depositors,” Bovenzi said. Twenty-five U.S. banks failed last year, far more than the previous five years combined. Three banks failed last week alone, the same number of failures in all of 2007.

Ø JJ Commentary: Credit line? The government that is deep in debt to offer a credit line? Oh yeah, they just print more money as they need and add it to our taxpayer debt load.

Pilots: FAA Taking Too Long on Bird Radar

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is taking too long to develop a useful bird-detecting radar that might prevent incidents like last month’s dramatic splashdown of a US Airways airliner, officials for the nation’s largest pilots union said Monday. It’s been 10 years since the National Transportation Safety Board recommended the Federal Aviation Administration develop a radar system that enables airline pilots to avoid birds. The FAA is testing experimental systems at some airports, but agency officials caution the technology is unproven and still needs years of refinements. Radar has been capable of detecting birds for many years, but to be useful to pilots it must also identify the altitude of the birds and their distance from an airport. Most collisions between birds and airliners take place under 3,000 feet when aircraft are taking off or landing.

Obama Orders ‘Complete Review’ of FDA Operations

USA TODAY — The nationwide salmonella outbreak tied to peanut butter and peanut products is hitting a little too close to home for President Obama. Speaking of his 7-year-old daughter on NBC’s Today show Monday, he said, “That’s what Sasha eats for lunch probably three times a week.” Obama promised a “complete review” of Food and Drug Administration operations. “I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to.” Congress appears to agree. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will hold a hearing Thursday on food-safety oversight. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the salmonella outbreak next week. The outbreak has sickened more than 550 people in 43 states and is linked to eight deaths.

Truce Further Threatened when Gaza Rocket Hits Israeli City

JERUSALEM (AP) — A long-range Grad rocket from Gaza slammed into the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Tuesday as delegates of the militant Islamic Hamas organization met in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials striving to mediate a long-term truce with Israel. The rocket was the first of its kind to hit the city of 122,000 since informal cease-fires were declared separately by Israel and Hamas two weeks ago at the end of Israel’s bruising three-week-long offensive in Gaza. Police said no one was injured in the attack. “Hamas is playing with fire and they alone will be responsible for the destruction of the quiet,” spokesman Mark Regev said. “The whole international community will understand that if there is a new escalation that will be the direct result of Hamas’ extremist, irresponsible and nihilistic behavior.”

U.N.: Hamas Seized Gaza Food Aid and Blankets

JERUSALEM (AP) — A U.N. spokesman says Hamas police in Gaza have seized thousands of blankets and food parcels meant for needy residents Spokesman Christopher Gunness says Hamas police raided a U.N. warehouse in Gaza City on Tuesday evening. He says police snatched 3,500 blankets and more than 400 food parcels. The aid is vital now because Gazans are facing hardship after Israel’s three-week military offensive against Hamas Hamas has ruled Gaza since it seized control of the territory in 2007. Israeli officials have charged that the militant group routinely confiscates supplies meant for needy Gazans.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli warplanes bombed the Gaza-Egypt border Tuesday, aiming for tunnels used by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to smuggle in weapons and supplies, retaliation for a Palestinian rocket attack on an Israeli city. The latest violence came as Egyptian mediators pressed for a long-term truce, and Arab nations urged Hamas to agree this week.

Pakistan Militant Attack Halts Supplies to U.S. and NATO Troops

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Islamist militants blew up a bridge in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, cutting a major supply line for Western troops in Afghanistan, a government official and a NATO spokesman said. The attack was the latest in a series on the Khyber Pass by insurgents seeking to hamper the U.S.-led mission against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that supplies along the route had been halted “for the time being,” but stressed the alliance was in no danger of running out of food, equipment or fuel. The attack will add urgency to NATO and U.S. efforts to find alternative supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan, an already vital task given American plans to double its troop numbers in the country.

Report: Iran Sends Satellite into Orbit

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has successfully sent its first domestically made satellite into orbit, state radio reported Tuesday, another development in the country’s ambitious space program that has worried many international observers. State television also showed footage of what it said was the satellite blasting off in the darkness from an unidentified location in Iran. The reports could not be independently verified by outside observers. Some western observers have accused Tehran of exaggerating its space program. Iran has long held the goal of developing a space program, generating unease among world leaders already concerned about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. One of the worries associated with Iran’s fledgling space program is that the same technology used to put satellites into space can also be used to deliver warheads.

No. Korea – 7 Years Running as Worst Persecutor

OneNewsNow — Once again North Korea has retained its title as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. According to the 2009 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, the communist nation of North Korea — described by the group as a nation with “severe persecution” — is the number-one worst persecutor of believers for the seventh year in a row. Saudi Arabia is number two and Iran is in third place. Both of those countries are ruled by Shariah law. Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Maldives take the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions. Yemen is number seven, followed by Laos, Eritrea, and Uzbekistan. Countries still imposing “severe limitations” on believers but showing a positive trend over the last year (i.e., whose persecution rating decreased noticeably) include Bhutan, China, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Those showing a negative trend (increased persecution) include Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, and India.

Heavy Snow in Britain causes Travel Chaos

LONDON (AP) — The British capital ground to a halt on Monday after the worst snowstorm in 18 years caused hundreds of flight cancellations and virtually halted public transportation. Shops, schools and courts shut down and long trails of commuters trudged through the streets looking for scarce taxis or ways to work. “We’re not in Russia here,” said Guy Pitt, a Transport for London spokesman. “We don’t have an infrastructure built for constant snow.” London’s airports were open Monday afternoon but with drastically reduced schedules, and rail and road connections to airports were hazardous and unreliable.

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