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Wednesday, 17-Mar-2010 07:01 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Alaskans fear for their way of life

Like a lot of people in Alaska, Don Hernandez has always fed his family with deer he shoots and fish he
cheap pearl pendant catches in the Tongass National Forest.

He says his way of life is threatened by a plan to give the American Indian-owned Sealaska title to 85,000 acres of National Forest land. Sealaska wants to log 75,000 acres, including areas of large-tree old-growth forest surrounding Hernandez's hometown of Point Baker.

Sealaska says the plan — a swap of forest land it's entitled to use for land that is considered more valuable — can help preserve roadless old-growth forest that serves as watershed and hunting grounds. It also would help the region launch "a new type of economy" based on tourism and sustainable-energy instead of relying solely on logging, says Sealaska Vice President Rick Harris.

Hernandez, who is scheduled to testify against the proposal at a congressional hearing today, says he's worried about "our ability to go out, hunt and fish and help provide for our families. It all depends on good old-growth habitat and healthy stream habitat for spawning salmon."

Debt to Native Americans

Tongass is the nation's largest, most pristine rain forest.

Alaska's congressional delegation sponsored the legislation to settle a decades-old federal debt to sterling silver ring Native Americans. In 1971, the federal government gave Sealaska rights to 375,000 acres in the Tongass National Forest as part of a deal with 13 native-owned corporations to settle land claims and make way for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Sealaska says it wants to protect native villages by swapping adjacent land for land farther away.

The proposal allows for timber operations on up to 75,000 acres. It includes 250 sites throughout the sparsely populated region — sacred burial grounds and ancient hunting camps Sealaska would use for educational purposes and other spots where it plans tourist lodges and electricity-generation projects using tidal energy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sees the plan as a boon to the economy in southeast Alaska, where the population has been decreasing since timber dwindled, according to McKie Campbell, Republican staff director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources akoya pearl pendants Committee. Murkowski is the panel's ranking Republican.

"All of this land was native land and native communities" going back thousands of years, Harris says, referring to southeast Alaska. To make way for logging, "natives were shoved out of the places where they lived."

He says the proposal would save 200 timber jobs that would otherwise be lost when Sealaska's remaining timber is cut. The tracts Sealaska wants are valuable because they have roads from previous logging operations. The plan aligns with President Obama's goal of preserving roadless areas because Sealaska would relinquish its rights to untouched land where there are no roads.

The proposed tourism and other business sites would mean economic stability for Sealaska's 20,000 natives, Harris says.

There are objections from government agencies and conservationists.

If the proposal passes, it would set a precedent for negotiations with the nine other regional corporations that have yet to settle their land claims, says Marcilynn Burke, deputy director for programs and policy of the federal Bureau of Land Management.

"If the rules of the game change for one corporation, it would not be surprising if others seek similar relief" to get more valuable lands than they agreed to in 1971, Burke says.

John Schoen, a senior scientist with the conservation group Audubon Alaska, says Sealaska wants to swap its rights to average land for access to prime land 10 times richer in timber and wildlife habitat than the rest of the Tongass. The parcels are part of the forest that is considered large-tree forest, which is the best habitat for bear, white tail deer and salmon. It is more valuable for commercial logging, he says.

"Sealaska … logged the best lands first," Schoen says. "The lands they have left are relatively average compared to the rest of the forest."

Reconciling positions

Scott Newman, who makes a living as a guide for hunters of brown bear, deer and mountain goat, is more concerned about the 250 heritage and business sites Sealaska wants. His clients want to see "wild Alaska," not a lot of development, he says.

Campbell, the Senate staffer, predicts the bill will be altered, to protect more hunting areas among other things. He says it's not clear whether all the heritage and business sites will be illusion pearl necklace part of the final package.

Scott McAdams, mayor of Sitka, Alaska, moderated an emotional town hall meeting about the bill Friday.

"Folks share the opinion pink pearl ring that putting native lands in native hands for perpetuity is the right thing to do," McAdams says, but they're also concerned about "stewardship of those lands once acquired. People are talking about where do we go from here, how do we reconcile these two positions, both of which have merit?"


Wednesday, 17-Mar-2010 07:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Wall Street hits fresh 17-month high after Fed

The central bank also pointed to increased momentum in the economy's recovery, and that, coupled with strength in Intel, helped the S&P 500 hit a fresh 17-month high.

"Although everything was expected here, it's definitely a bullish sign that nothing negative came out of (the Fed) decision and the language as well," said Cort Gwon, director of research illusion pearl necklace and trading strategies at FBN Securities in New York.

Intel (INTC.O) ranked among the Dow's top performers, up 4 percent at $22.01 on speculation that the nature pearl ring world's top chip maker is expected to release positive guidance for the current quarter. The Philadelphia semiconductor index .SOXX gained 2.7 percent.

General Electric Co (GE.N) gained 4.5 percent to $18.07 after the Dow component's chief financial officer said he expects the company's earnings and dividend to rise in 2011.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 43.83 points, or 0.41 percent, to end at 10,685.98. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX rose 8.95 points, or 0.78 percent, to finish at 1,159.46. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC added 15.80 points, or 0.67 percent, to close pendant jewelry enhancers at 2,378.01.

The S&P 500 was able to puncture 1,150, a mark it had been unable to hold above in two previous attempts, and a level strategists cited as a significant obstacle for more gains.

"Throughout the silver jewelry day and the past week, we've been breaking out of this S&P 500 trading range of 1,050 to 1,1150 -- hopefully, we are breaking into a new trading range." Gwon added.

Earlier in the session, stocks moved higher after Standard & Poor's ended its review for a downgrade of Greece, saying the government's recent deficit-reduction measures are supportive of the ratings. Concerns about Greek debt have been a drag on equities in recent weeks.

Data on Tuesday showed U.S. housing starts fell last month as winter storms in parts of the country disrupted home building, while a drop in import prices pointed to muted inflation pressures.

About 7.89 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, the third slowest day of 2010, and below last year's estimated daily cultured akoya brooch average of 9.65 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 11 to 4, while on the Nasdaq, nearly 17 stocks rose for every 10 that fell.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)


Wednesday, 17-Mar-2010 06:56 Email | Share | | Bookmark
U.S. puts brakes on "virtual" border fence

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said an allocation of $50 million in funds made under the Recovery Act would be taken away from the ill-starred SBInet program, which seeks to mesh video cameras, radar, sensors and other technologies into a high-tech system to detect smugglers.

Napolitano said the wholesale south sea pearl project, which started in 2006 and was being developed by Boeing Co, has been beset by technical problems, missed deadlines and cost overruns.

"Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security will redeploy $50 million of Recovery Act funding originally allocated for the SBInet ... to other tested, commercially available security technology along the Southwest border," she said.

The SBInet program is focused on securing the areas between the ports-of-entry on the Mexico border. Its goal is to integrate new and existing technologies to enable federal border police to detect and respond to incursions at the border.

Criticism has centered on the project's development of costly new systems instead of using available off-the-shelf technologies, as well as insufficient consultation with border police in its development, among other issues.

Napolitano said funds allocated to the program would be diverted to acquire existing technologies including mobile surveillance equipment, thermal imaging devices, ultra-light plane detection systems, mobile radios, cameras and laptop computers for vehicles used by Border Patrol agents.

She said the department also had frozen all funding beyond SBInet's initial deployment to two areas purper pearl necklace south of Tucson and Ajo, Arizona, pending completion of an assessment ordered in January.

MCCAIN WELCOMES RETHINK

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a long-term critic of the SBInet program, on Tuesday welcomed Napolitano's decision to divert funding from the program.

"After spending over $1 billion of taxpayers' dollars on a failed system of sensors and cameras along the freshwater pearl bracelet Southwest border ... I am pleased that Secretary Napolitano has decided to instead turn to commercial available technology that can be used to immediately secure our border from illegal entries," he said in a statement.

"I have been calling for congressional oversight and administrative action on this issue since it became clear that SBInet was a complete failure."

Each year, Mexican smugglers haul thousands of tons of illegal drugs and guide hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants across the U.S. border, many through the heavily trafficked desert corridor south of Tucson.

The government announced last year it had begun building the two new stretches of the virtual fencing leverback pearl earrings covering a total of 53 miles at a cost of about $100 million. The system sought to use tower-mounted radars, cameras and other sensors to spot smugglers crossing from Mexico.

Officials said at the time that, should it be accepted by the Border Patrol, the project could be extended sterling jewelry across the southwest border -- with the exception of the Border Patrol's Marfa, Texas, sector -- by 2014 for an estimated $6.7 billion.

(Editing by Bill Trott)


Wednesday, 17-Mar-2010 06:52 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Fed renews "extended period" low-rate vow

The central bank's nod to a firmer job market after the deepest recession in decades offered a hint it may be moving closer to dropping its promise to hold borrowing costs at rock bottom levels.

However, it reintroduced a note of caution about the housing sector and repeated its view the economy's recovery would likely be moderate for a time. It also said inflation was likely to remain subdued as it held interbank overnight rates in a zero to 0.25 percent range.

Following the decision, most big banks that deal directly with the Fed forecast a rate hike by year end, likely in the fourth quarter.

"The (Fed's policy) committee ... continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period," the central bank said in a statement.

U.S. stocks added to gains after the decision, while the dollar slipped against the euro and yen, and prices for U.S. government bonds rose. The Dow Jones industrial average and the large-cap Standard & Poor's 500 Index closed at multi-month highs.

"The statement suggests that the doves still have the upper hand," said Paul Dales, an economist for Capital Economics in Toronto. "Admittedly, the tone was more upbeat...but the usual caution is still evident."

For a second consecutive meeting, Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Thomas Hoenig dissented, saying the commitment to keep rates exceptionally low for an extended period was no longer warranted.

The Fed said the labor wish pearl sterling silver pendant market was "stabilizing," a more optimistic view than expressed after its last meeting in late January, when the policy-setting committee said only that deterioration in the labor market was "abating."

The central bank also said business spending on equipment and software had risen "significantly," also a brighter assessment than the one offered in January.

The central bank reiterated that it intends to wrap up purchases of mortgage-related assets by the end of shell pearl earrings March, but said it would monitor the economic outlook and financial developments to see if more support is necessary.

As those purchases come to a close, officials voiced heightened concern about the very sector they were meant to assist, saying that new homebuilding activity was "flat at a depressed level."

Interest rates futures markets pared back the implied prospects that the Fed would raise the federal funds rate to 0.5 percent by its meeting in early November to 76 percent from 87 percent before the central bank's decision was announced.

"On the whole, there is nothing that will accelerate or decelerate toward a monetary tightening very late this year," said Jason Pride, director of investment strategy at wealth management firm wholesale shell strand Glenmede in Philadelphia.

NOT YET PUSHING EXIT DOOR OPEN

The Fed has held the benchmark federal funds rate near zero since December 2008 to bolster the economy and help it through the most severe financial crisis in generations. Last March, it committed to holding rates very low for "an extended period."

The economy resumed growth in the second half of last year, and expanded at a robust 5.9 percent annual clip in the final three months of 2009.

Although the turquoise fashion jewelry unemployment rate held at a lofty 9.7 percent in February as the economy shed 36,000 jobs, some of the lost jobs were pinned on blizzards that hit much of the nation. Many economists expect payroll growth as early as March.

Gains in manufacturing activity and retail sales have added to evidence the recovery is gaining traction.

The Fed has allowed special lending facilities to close as financial markets have returned to normal after the crisis, and it recently raised the discount rate it charges banks for emergency loans to 0.75 percent from 0.5 percent.

Fed officials stressed the move was in keeping with the settling of financial markets and was not a precursor to efforts to tighten lending conditions.

However, policymakers have begun to spell out steps they anticipate taking to move away from their easy jade jewerly money policies when the recovery gains steam. Officials say the Fed would likely start by pulling back some of more than $1 trillion it pumped into the economy during the crisis before it begins raising rates.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder, Emily Kaiser and Glenn Somerville; Editing by Andrew Hay)


Wednesday, 17-Mar-2010 06:49 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Democrats defend health strategy as vote nears

Obama and House Democratic leaders lobbied undecided Democrats for support ahead of a possible weekend vote on the overhaul, which would constitute the biggest change in the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system in four decades.

Democrats are considering using a complicated process to avoid a direct vote on the Senate-passed bill, which is unpopular with House Democrats. Instead, they would declare the Senate bill passed once the House votes to approve changes it wants.

Republicans said the strategy was designed to protect Democrats in November's congressional elections by camouflaging their vote. "There is no way to hide from this vote," House leader John Boehner said. "You can run but you can't hide."

Democrats noted Republicans used the process when they controlled the House and accused them of trying to change the subject. "If you don't want to talk about substance, talk about process," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Republicans.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic House campaign committee, said the procedure was "perfectly appropriate" and he was not concerned about a political backlash.

"At the end of the day, what the American people are going to look at is what this bill does to affect their daily lives," he told reporters.

Pelosi said there would be no decisions on procedure until the Senate bill's changes are done. Democrats have struggled to find a combination that will win support and lead to favorable cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Democratic House leaders worked on the overhaul into the night in Pelosi's office, and Pelosi also met with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. House leaders told Democrats to expect votes ring mountings on either Saturday or Sunday.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, the top Democratic vote-counter in the House, told Fox News that Democrats still do not have the 216 votes needed for passage but he was confident of getting there.

'WE'LL GET THERE'

"I do not have 216 commitments yet, though I think we'll get there in time for the vote," Clyburn said.

The overhaul would extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans and ban insurance shell pearl earrings practices like refusing coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Health insurer shares were up on Tuesday slightly more than the broader market. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index was up 1.6 percent and the S&P Managed Health Care index rose 1.3 percent.

As many as two dozen undeclared Democrats could decide the overhaul's fate, which has been the focus of a political brawl that has consumed the U.S. Congress for months.

Representative Jason Altmire, who voted against the overhaul in November but is undecided this time, said he has spoken to Obama three times in the last 10 days, including a 10-minute wholesale shell strand phone conversation on Monday.

"When the president takes the time to personally reach out, it makes an impact," he told reporters. He said he also heard from several Cabinet officers.

Altmire said the voting procedure being considered by House Democrats would be a negative factor in his evaluation, although other undecided Democrats said it did not matter.

"The media is really focused on process. Most of us are focused on substance," said Representative Jerry Connolly, another undecided Democrat.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed the public is split on the reform plan, with 46 percent saying it
turquoise bracelet would be better to pass Obama's plan and 45 percent preferring to keep the system as it is now.

But supporters argued House Democrats, who passed an initial version of the overhaul in November with three votes to spare, should go ahead and finish the job or they could face dire consequences in November's elections.

"If we pass this bill, we will be judged by the results," Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said. "If we don't pass this bill, we will be judged by the accusations."

Republicans have condemned the health bill as a costly government takeover that would lead to higher insurance premiums and less consumer choice.

Under the procedure planned for passing the reform overhaul, the House would approve the Senate's version gemstone jewelry of the bill. The changes sought by Obama and House Democrats would move through a separate measure.

The House changes would then be approved by the 100-member Senate under budget reconciliation rules that require only a simple majority, bypassing the need for 60 votes to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.

"I feel confident that once the House does its work, we will take care of things over here," Reid told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by David Alexander, Todd Eastham and Bill Trott)


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