Monday, March 15, 2010

Bill Unveiled To Tame Financial Markets

A new Democratic Senate bill to tame the financial markets would give the government new powers to break up firms that threaten the economy and would force the industry to pay for its failures.

Legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd falls shy of the ambitious restructuring of federal financial regulations envisioned by President Obama or contained in legislation already passed in the House.

But the bill would still be the biggest overhaul of regulations since the New Deal. It comes 18 months after Wall Street's failures helped plunge the nation into a deep recession.

A leaner Federal Reserve would gain new powers to regulate the size and the activities of the nation's largest financial firms. The bill would create a consumer protection bureau within the Federal Reserve to write regulations governing all lending transactions. Bank regulators, however, could appeal those regulations if they believe they would affect the health of the banking system.

The breadth of the bill would touch all corners of the financial sector, from storefront payday lenders to the highest penthouse office suites on Wall Street.

The bill creates a powerful nine-member Financial Stability Oversight Council that could:

  • Place large, interconnected financial institutions such as insurance conglomerate American International Group under the supervision of the Federal Reserve.
  • Approve the break up of large complex companies if they pose a "grave threat" to the to the nation's financial system.

Such actions would require a two-thirds vote of the council.

Decision On Americans' Departure Was Before Deaths

After deciding last week to help family members of U.S. consulate employees in northern Mexico leave the area, the State Department waited until Sunday to announce the move.

On Saturday three people associated with the consulate in Ciudad Juarez were gunned down.

It's not clear that an earlier announcement would have changed the outcome in the city near El Paso, Texas, since two of the three shooting victims lived on the U.S. side of the border and the third person was a local Mexican not covered by the departure plan.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the decision to authorize the departure of family members of employees of six U.S. consulates in northern Mexico was made no later than last Friday. He was not certain of the date. The announcement was held to couple it with an updated State Department travel warning for Americans in Mexico. The warning superseded one issued in late February.

"It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if victimized," the new travel warning said, adding, "Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations."

Crowley said Saturday's murders are under investigation and that he had no clear indication of whether those killed had been targeted.

About 100 family members of consulate employees in Ciudad Juarez are eligible for the authorized departure, Crowley said, adding that he did not know how many had decided to leave. He said it was not any specific threat or event that triggered the decision to authorize the departures, but rather a general concern about declining security.

Faye Barnes, president of Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, which represents foreign service spouses, employees and retirees, said in a telephone interview that she saw no cause for concern that the State Department waited until Sunday to announce the authorized departures.

Of the three killed Saturday, Lesley A. Enriquez worked at the consulate. Her husband, Arthur H. Redelfs, also was killed. In a separate attack the same afternoon, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate, was gunned down in their car, according to officials.

Crowley said Enriquez worked in the American Citizen Services section of the consulate but he did not know her title. The section provides a wide range of services to American citizens in Ciudad Juarez, including matters involving arrests, death cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare and whereabouts inquiries, according to the consulate's web site.

Crowley said the three killed Saturday had attended the same private birthday party shortly before the shootings. Enriquez and her husband were driving back to their residence on the U.S. side of the border.

Russia Criticized Over Olympic Construction

The United Nations has criticized Russia for ignoring the ecological impact of construction projects for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

In a report made today, the United Nations Environment Program says government assessments do not take into account the effects the various projects will have on the region's unique wildlife. The report is to be published Tuesday and is based on the U.N. program's three-day trip to Sochi in January.

Russia's dated Black Sea resort of Sochi is under the spotlight as the next Winter Olympics host. As constructors set about building all facilities from scratch, environmental activists say the ecosystems have already sustained irreversible damage and bird and bear habitats have been destroyed. The government says it is aware of the concerns and accuses the activists of trying to sabotage the games as a public relations stunt.

The Sochi Games are a pet project of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who broke tradition to deliver a speech in English to the International Olympic Committee in 2007 during the bidding stage. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined immediate comment, saying he hadn't seen the UNEP report.

The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace Russia say the chief environmental threat is to the Mzymta River, which the communications link is set to follow. Thousands of beech trees have been felled to clear the path for the link.

UNEP also said Sochi organizers were delaying political decisions that would mitigate and compensate for the environmental fallout of the games.

The WWF and Greenpeace recently suspended their co-operation as consultants for Olympstroi, the state-run constructor, in protest that their concerns were being ignored.

The UNEP report urged both the activists and the government to continue cooperating, saying there was a "reluctance to engage with or even listen to each other's calls for actions from both sides."

The UNEP recommended a "comprehensive assessment of the overall impact of the Olympic and tourism projects on the ecosystem." UNEP added that the activists' concerns sparked the decision to visit Sochi and produce a report.

Toyota Casts Doubt On Speeding Prius Claim

Toyota cast doubt today on a California man's claim that his Prius sped out of control, saying the report is inconsistent with the findings of the company's preliminary investigation.

Toyota said in a statement that the accelerator pedal was tested and found to be working normally and a backup safety system worked properly. The automaker said the front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating, but the rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition.

The motorist, James Sikes, said his car raced to 94 mph on a freeway near San Diego last week. The March 8 incident ended when Sikes stopped the car with help from a California Highway Patrol officer.

Racist Notes Found In Easter Eggs

The fun of finding Easter eggs and the meaning of Easter itself took an ugly turn in Auburn Hills Sunday when neighbors reported that they found racist notes stuffed inside plastic eggs, WDIV-TV in Detroit reported.

Some African-American families said they found the plastic eggs tossed in their yards with hateful messages inside. Some of the messages included the N-word and references to the Aryan Nation.

Sandy Springs, Georgia Mansion Goes Up In Flames

A 6,648-square-foot mansion in north Fulton County caught fire early this morning.

Firefighters told WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News that it was one of the biggest blazes they have seen in recent history. It happened in the 5800 block of Winterthur Drive Northwest at about 2:30 a.m.

Fire officials said it was hard to fight the fire because the mansion is built back into a mountain, making it difficult to get water on it. The home is a total loss.

No one was home at the time the blaze broke out, but officials have spoken with the homeowner's son. Officials said the homeowners were having renovations done at the home and that they were staying with relatives. A woman, who called WSB-TV and identified herself as a relative of the homeowner, said the family was preparing to list the home for sale.

Arson investigators will be called to the scene.

Marine Dies In Car Crash Near Six Flags

A 21-year-old U.S. Marine on his way home to Alabama after a tour of duty in Iraq was killed in a head-on collision near Six Flags. Police said Marine corporal Gregory Suedmeyer died at an Atlanta hospital two hours after an SUV driving the wrong way on Interstate 20 hit his car Saturday afternoon.

His wife, 19-year-old Katelyn Suedmeyer, is in critical but stable condition. Investigators said the couple's dog also died in the crash

Investigators said a 2008 gray Chevrolet Silverado driven by Bruce Joseph Quayle, 71, of Villa Rica, was traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes when it crashed into the Suedmeyer's 2000 Mitsubishi Mirage.

Quayle was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he is in stable condition. Quayle will be facing charges, police said.

Investigators said they haven't determined whether alcohol was a factor.

Shrimp-Like Critter Found Beneath Antarctic Ice

In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

Six hundred feet below the ice where no light shines, scientists had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.

That's why a NASA team was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica. A curious 3-inch-long shrimp-like creature (Lyssianasid amphipod, which is distantly related to shrimp) came swimming by and then parked itself on the camera's cable. Scientists also pulled up a tentacle they believe came from a foot-long jellyfish.

The video is likely to inspire experts to rethink what they know about life in harsh environments. And it has scientists musing that if shrimp-like creatures can frolic below 600 feet of Antarctic ice in subfreezing dark water, what about other hostile places? What about Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter?

"They are looking at the equivalent of a drop of water in a swimming pool that you would expect nothing to be living in and they found not one animal but two," said biologist Stacy Kim of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, who joined the NASA team later. "We have no idea what's going on down there."

Scientists say it's possible the creatures swam in from far away and don't live there permanently.

But Kim, who is a co-author of the study, doubts it. The site in West Antarctica is at least 12 miles from open seas. Bindschadler drilled an 8-inch-wide hole and was looking at a tiny amount of water. That means it's unlikely that that two critters swam from great distances and were captured randomly in that small of an area, she said.

Yet scientists were puzzled at what the food source would be for these critters. While some microbes can make their own food out of chemicals in the ocean, complex life like the amphipod can't, Kim said.

So how do they survive? That's the key question that scientists would like to answer.

"It's pretty amazing when you find a huge puzzle like that on a planet where we thought we know everything," Kim said.

On the Web:

NASA research in Antarctica

South Korean Man Marries Pillow

A South Korean man married a body pillow with a picture of a animated cartoon character on it, reported.

The site said Lee Jin-gyu had a ceremony with a local priest and the pillow, which was adorned with a white wedding dress. Friends said that Lee takes the pillow out to meals - where he orders a meal for it - and also to an amusement park.

The site said that the pillow carries an image of Fate Testarossa from Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. The groom is 28 years old.

The Wall Street Journal; US House of Representatives; The Federal Reserve; US State Department; AP; BBC; Sky News; WDIV-TV, Detroit; WSB-TV, Atlanta; NASA;

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