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Monday 09.22.2014

Ukraine crisis: Thousands march in Moscow anti-war rally
Tens of thousands of people have marched in Moscow to protest against Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict. People carrying Russian and Ukrainian flags chanted "No to war!" and "Stop lying!" Similar rallies took place in St Petersburg and other Russian cities. Ukraine accuses Russia of arming rebels in the east and sending Russian troops across the border. Moscow denies this. More than 3,000 people have died in fighting since April. A truce was agreed on 5 September but there have been repeated violations since then. The fighting began after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula in March - a move condemned by Ukraine and the West. The demonstrators marched from Pushkin Square to Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow. Organisers had hoped up to 50,000 people would take part to denounce what they described as Russia's "aggressive foreign policy". Moscow police said there were about 5,000 protesters but a reporter for the AP news agency estimated that the crowd was at least 20,000-strong.

For rich people, mortgages are getting cheaper and easier
Not only are big-pocketed borrowers paying lower average rates on the high dollar value loans known as jumbo mortgages, but lenders are now requiring even smaller down payments -- and, in some cases, they are waiving the mortgage insurance, too. For months, lenders of jumbo mortgages have been charging interest rates that are lower than what average borrowers pay. The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the average rate on jumbo loans -- mortgages of $417,000 or more (or $625,500-plus in high priced markets) -- was 4.24% last week, compared with 4.36% for conventional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. And now some lenders have reduced the required down payments on these loans to as little as 10%, down from 20%, according to Tom Wind, executive vice president of home lending for EverBank. In some cases, these lenders may not even require jumbo loan borrowers to purchase private mortgage insurance -- a prerequisite for almost anyone who takes out a low down payment loan.

Who's Funding ISIS? Wealthy Gulf 'Angel Investors,' Officials Say
A small but steady flow of money to ISIS from rich individuals in the Gulf continues, say current and former U.S. officials, with Qataris the biggest suppliers. These rich individuals have long served as "angel investors," as one expert put it, for the most violent militants in the region, providing the “seed money” that helped launch ISIS and other jihadi groups. No one in the U.S. government is putting a number on the current rate of donations, but former U.S. Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis says the cash flow from private donors is significant now and was even more significant in the early fund-raising done by ISIS and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front. "These rich Arabs are like what 'angel investors' are to tech start-ups, except they are interested in starting up groups who want to stir up hatred," said Stavridis, now the dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. "Groups like al-Nusrah and ISIS are better investments for them.

Is Secret Service falling down on job?

Tax refunds will be cut for Affordable Care Act recipients
A significant benefit of the Affordable Care Act is the opportunity to receive money-saving tax credits up front to cut the overall cost of health insurance, but now hundreds of thousands of consumers could owe back some of that money next April. Those affected took advance payments of the premium tax credit for health insurance. Some married couples could owe $600 or $1,500 or $2,500 or even more. It might feel like a raw deal for some who are already suffocating under the escalating costs of health insurance. "Health insurance is confusing enough, and now they're adding the complexities of the Tax Code," said Lorena Bencsik, a member of the Michigan Association of CPAs and owner of Prime Numbers in Ferndale. When you file that 2014 tax return next year, the Internal Revenue Service will compare your actual income for the year with the amount you estimated when applying for exchange-based health insurance under the health insurance law.

After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know
Before his three-hour neck surgery for herniated disks in December, Peter Drier, 37, signed a pile of consent forms. A bank technology manager who had researched his insurance coverage, Mr. Drier was prepared when the bills started arriving: $56,000 from Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, $4,300 from the anesthesiologist and even $133,000 from his orthopedist, who he knew would accept a fraction of that fee. He was blindsided, though, by a bill of about $117,000 from an “assistant surgeon,” a Queens-based neurosurgeon whom Mr. Drier did not recall meeting. “I thought I understood the risks,” Mr. Drier, who lives in New York City, said later. “But this was just so wrong — I had no choice and no negotiating power.” In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees...

Kerry Makes 'Climate Change … a Foreign Policy Priority' at UN
At the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary of State John Kerry will make "climate change a foreign policy priority," the State Department announced in press release. "Secretary Kerry Elevates Climate Change at UN General Assembly," the press release is titled. "Secretary of State John Kerry will participate in several high-level events to reinforce U.S. leadership on climate change action this coming week during the UN General Assembly in New York," reads the release. On September 21, Secretary Kerry will host the first-ever Major Economies Forum Foreign Ministers meeting. The meeting seeks to build political will and a sense of common cause to address climate change as a foreign policy priority. He will encourage countries to put forward robust climate targets next year to help reach an ambitious international climate change agreement in 2015 and explore fresh ideas to capture climate co-benefits. On September 22, Secretary Kerry will deliver keynote remarks at the opening event of Climate Week..

How will NFL move forward from domestic violence scandal?

Another QE By China Central Bank After Economy Cools
Softer than expected economic growth in China has finally spurred the PBoC into action. However, rather than undertaking asset purchases that would inject reserves into the overall banking system, the PBoC forced liquidity directly into state-owned banks. NY Times: - With industrial production growing at the slowest pace since the worst of the global financial crisis and foreign direct investment in a tailspin, China appears to have taken the unusual step of using monetary stimulus in an attempt to forestall further economic weakness. China’s central bank has lent 100 billion renminbi, or $16.2 billion, to each of the country’s five main, state-controlled banks, bankers and economists said Wednesday, although the central bank and the five banks involved stayed silent. The seemingly stealthy decision to inject a total of $81 billion into the banking system this week came as the Chinese economy, like many economies in Europe, has slowed over the summer, although still expanding at a pace that...

Precious metals fall on surging greenback
Gold has settled at its lowest close of the year and other precious-metals prices have tumbled, as a surging US dollar and expectations of higher interest rates spur investors to sell. SILVER prices on Friday fell 3.6 per cent, its biggest daily drop in nine months, as investors looked for higher-yielding assets elsewhere. "Cash is flowing to the dollar, the US stock market and the US bond market, and out of precious metals," said Peter Hug, global trading director at Kitco Metals. "You get the feeling that (precious metals) investors have just given up." Gold for December delivery, the most actively traded contract, fell $US10.30, or 0.8 per cent, to $US1,216.60 a troy ounce, its lowest settlement since December 31. Silver for December delivery lost US67.3 cents to end at $US17.844 a troy ounce, its lowest price since July 2010. Palladium for December fell 2.3 per cent to $US812.60 a troy ounce, and October platinum fell 0.9 per cent to $US1,337.30 an ounce.

Ebola Outbreak: Lockdown In Sierra Leon Deemed ‘Success’
Officials in Ebola-stricken Sierra Leon are calling a three-day lockdown of citizens a success. Government officials in Sierra Leon called for a three-day lockdown of the region after a spike in Ebola cases. Officials had hoped the lockdown would help health authorities identify infected individuals and to properly dispose of victims’ bodies. Government officials said the lockdown was a success and there was no need to extend the curfew. According to the BBC, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Sarian Kamara said authorities had managed to discover 22 new cases of the virus during the curfew that may not otherwise have been properly diagnosed. “Had they not been discovered, they would have greatly increased transmission.” He also said between 60 and 70 Ebola victims had been buried in the past two days. Bodies of Ebola victims are highly contagious and their swift burial is considered key to containing the disease. Though the head of the country’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) Stephen Gaojia told the BBC...

Siemens cuts $7.6 billion cash deal for Dresser-Rand
German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG is planning to pay $7.6 billion in cash to buy out Dresser-Rand Group, making the Houston energy equipment maker its quintessential oil and gas business as it pushes against GE and others for elbow room in the global energy infrastructure market. The deal, expected to close in 2015, includes an assumption of debt. The acquisition, announced by both companies late Sunday, marks a major move for the engineering conglomerate, a rival of GE and other global industrial manufacturers, into Houston and in the U.S. oil and gas sector as steam turbines, engines, gas turbines and compressors have found a major market in oil and gas, power generation and other industrial uses in the United States as newly tapped shale plays yield a surge in domestic natural gas output. It’s Siemens’ biggest move so far in its 2020-focused plan to seize a larger foothold in oil and gas and other industrial sectors, coming a few months after its $1.3 billion purchase of Rolls-Royce...

Inside the terror threat
mages emerging from the Middle East of beheadings and mass executions by the radical Islamic extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are profoundly troubling. With the United States and its allies now committed to the fight against this rising threat, we have to take into account the result, which is the potential for an increased threat of an ISIS-inspired attack in New York. The recent call by ISIS on social media urging its followers to attack popular locations overseas such as Times Square only heightens this concern. Some say not to worry about ISIS as a threat to American citizens on U.S. soil. The group, they insist, is interested in establishing a caliphate in the Middle East – not in hitting targets in faraway lands. That may have been true a week ago, but with the announcement of a U.S.-led military coalition that may strike ISIS targets not only in Iraq but in Syria, whatever hesitancy ISIS had to attack the West at home will surely be diminished.

Federal judge to review, possibly halt water shutoffs in Detroit
Federal Judge Steven W. Rhodes, who is presiding over the Detroit bankruptcy trial, is expected to hear testimony Monday related to the controversial water shutoffs that have occurred in recent months. "Witnesses including Detroit residents at risk of shut off, public health officials, an economist, and nonprofit members are expected to testify on behalf of plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation about the dire personal and public health consequences of the water shut-off campaign that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has been undertaking," the ACLU said in a Friday statement about the hearing. "In an effort to preserve a moratorium on water shut-offs, a group of Detroit residents and civil rights attorneys filed court documents asking the judge to block the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) from terminating water service to any occupied residence, and to require the restoration of service to occupied residences without water."

What does the Fed's economic review actually mean?

Forget Flying Cars, a Future Without Personal Vehicles Is on Its Way
The growth of technology has hit an open sprint, as new innovations and ideas are being developed and perfected at a rate like never before. This has caused some turbulence in societies across the world, as people of all different races and age groups have had to wrestle with the idea and ultimate implementation of world-changing inventions, like the Internet. Now that people all across the globe have become interconnected and we’ve gotten used to smartphones and having cameras all over the place, the next inevitable step in the progression of technological innovation is set to take place. One way technology is going to have a huge impact is within our systems of transportation, especially within the United States. Looking back over the past century, the state of transportation across the country has evolved dramatically. In the early part of the 20th century, mass transit was the primary way people got around cities, utilizing public railways, streetcars and metro systems.

Joe Oliver says G20 sees ‘significant economic challenges ahead’
Canada’s finance minister is urging European countries to consider taking quick action to repair their flagging economies by following stimulus programs similar to the one that pulled this country out of recession. “During the course of our [G20] discussions, we confronted an uncomfortable reality: We still have significant economic challenges ahead of us,” Mr. Oliver said during a conference call with Canadian reporters following the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Cairns, Australia. “Europe continues to struggle with incipient growth and very low inflation. Italy has entered in a triple-dip recession. China’s remarkable growth has moderated, our biggest trading partner, the U.S., appears to be emerging from sluggish and uneven growth but does not expect to be in a comparable position to its pre-recession levels,” he said. “No G20 nation is immune to these global economic challenges. And that’s why it is so important that we work together to overcome them.”

Top-level turnover makes it harder for Department of Homeland Security to stay on top of evolving threats
An exodus of top-level officials from the Department of Homeland Security is undercutting the agency’s ability to stay ahead of a range of emerging threats, including potential terrorist strikes and cyberattacks, according to interviews with current and former officials. Over the past four years, employees have left DHS at a rate nearly twice as fast as in the federal government overall, and the trend is accelerating, according to a review of a federal database. The departures are a result of what employees widely describe as a dysfunctional work environment, abysmal morale, and the lure of private security companies paying top dollar that have proliferated in Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The department’s terrorism intelligence arm, for example, has cycled through six directors during the Obama administration, decimating morale and contributing to months-long delays in releasing intelligence reports, according to interviews and government reports.

Wife pleads with ISIS for Henning's life

Are Military Fighter Planes Finished at Boeing?
The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars since the early days of aviation on aircraft of all descriptions, from fighter jets to trainers. The first fighter jet designed and built by The Boeing BA) took its first flight in 1923, seven years after the company was first incorporated as the Pacific Aero Products Co. Boeing build 157 copies of that first fighter, the PW-9, between 1923 and 1928. So far this year Boeing has delivered 9 of its F-15 Eagle fighters and 31 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. At its current pace of production of 4 per month, the Super Hornet/Growler will deliver a total of 47 airplanes in 2014. The F-15 has no set monthly delivery schedule: Boeing shipped 2 planes in the months of January, April, and June; 1 plane in February, March, and July; and none in May or August. The Wall Street Journal noted in a story on the company’s fighter jets last week that production of the F/A-18 could end in 2017 and the last of the F-15 line could close production in 2019.

Iraq's Only Honest Broker: Obama
In addressing the threat posed by Islamic State, President Barack Obama has repeatedly emphasized that there is no American military solution to the crisis in Iraq and noted that only a more inclusive Iraqi government can hold the country together. So far, however, Obama has been far more specific about the military campaign in Iraq than the diplomatic mission. That needs to change. Iraq’s long history of violent sectarianism prevents Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds from initiating or sustaining talks. But each group accepts the U.S. as a neutral arbiter. That's why the Obama administration should push for the creation of an Iraq reconciliation commission, which would mediate between all groups, but especially between Iraq's discontented Sunni leaders and the central government in Baghdad. In the absence of such an institution and dialogue, Iraq's sectarian divisions will continue to invite extremism that threatens the entire Middle East.

Georgia agency: Adding photos to food stamp cards to cost $7.7M
State officials expect adding photos to food stamp cards will cost Georgia more than $7.7 million next year. Members of the Department of Human Services Board approved that budget request last month. Lawmakers included the photo requirement as part of a larger bill aimed at preventing fraud in food assistance programs this spring. State Sen. Don Balfour, a Snellville Republican, sponsored the law and said the cost is reasonable to prevent people from selling the food benefits for cash. He said the budget estimate amounts to around $10 each per card, since an estimated 900,000 people receive food stamps in Georgia. The budget request also covers the cost of new technology, educating recipients and food retailers about the changes and a future study, according to DHS spokeswoman Ravae Graham. "I guarantee you we'll see more than that in savings," Balfour said. "The people looking to use these to get money are using the cash for something other than food. That's not the purpose."

400,000 Converge on Manhattan to Demand Climate Change Action
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton all attended. At the People’s Climate March in New York Sunday, a four-foot-tall walking banana passionately articulating his feelings about wind turbines. “They can make things run just by the wind,” said 9-year old Danny Haemmerle, who dressed up as the yellow fruit to attend the march with his family. “And my parents don’t have to pay as much,” added his brother Eddie Haemmerle, 11, sporting a lime green wig. The Haemmerles were joined by an estimated 400,000-strong crowd that flooded the streets of Manhattan to demand UN action on global warming–a showing that quadrupled expected attendance and made the march the largest climate protest in history and largest social demonstration of the last decade. Timed to coincide with the UN Summit on climate change, which meets this week to discuss an international carbon emissions agreement...

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