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Nearly 30 percent of US homeowners now "underwater"

Total value of homes fell $2 trillion last year

Home prices in the US dropped 2.6 percent in the final quarter of 2010, the largest drop since the first three months of 2009, according to Zillow Inc's quarterly real estate survey. Year over year, home values were down 5.9 percent nationally, and have fallen 27 percent since their peak in June 2006.

The total value of US single-family homes fell a staggering $798 billion in 2010's fourth quarter, and for the entire year, more than $2 trillion.

The Obama administration has essentially washed its hands of the problems; its HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) has helped a fraction of those in need.

The number of US homeowners "underwater," i.e., owing more than their homes were worth, at the end of 2010, reports Zillow, jumped to 27 percent, up from 23.2 percent in the third quarter.

Furthermore, the report notes, "The rate of homes selling for a loss reached a new peak in December, with more than one-third (34.1 percent) selling for a loss. The rate of homes sold for a loss has increased steadily for the past six months."


Somali pirates capture supertanker, $150M of oil

© Punit Paranjpe/AFP
Suspected Somali pirates sit with their faces covered during a media interaction on board an Indian Coast Guard ship off the coast of Mumbai. India on Thursday warned of an increased threat to shipping off its southwest coast, as Somali pirates hunt targets beyond African waters to evade the clutches of an international naval force.
Nairobi, Kenya - Somali pirates captured a Greek-flagged supertanker carrying an estimated $150 million worth of oil to the Gulf of Mexico, the second successful attack against an oil tanker by sea bandits in two days, officials said.

Such vessels can command higher ransoms because of the value of the crude on board. Owners of the oil may want to resolve hostage situations quickly, particularly if oil prices are dropping, a situation that can cost owners millions of dollars more than the pirate ransom will.

Still, ransom prices are on the rise. One last year reached $9.5 million, and the increasing prizes have provided even more incentive for pirates to launch attacks despite stepped-up patrols by an international flotilla of warships.

Pirates hold 29 ships and roughly 660 hostages.

The Irene SL was sailing 200 nautical miles (360 kilometers) east of Oman with a cargo of 266,000 tons of crude oil and a crew of seven Greeks, 17 Filipinos and one Georgian when it was attacked on Wednesday, Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said. The Associated Press estimated the value of the oil at more than $150 million, based on the amount being carried and a price of $87 a barrel.

Heart - Black

US Troops Fight Banks, Fraudclosure

Captain Jonathon and Julia Rowles, along with their lawyer Bill Harvey, join The Dylan Ratigan Show to talk about their experience with JPMorgan Chase, who illegally foreclosed on 14 military families, overcharging $4,000 more for their mortgages. .

Che Guevara

ElBaradei warns Egypt will 'explode'

el baradei
© Unknown

Cairo- Leading Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei warned on Thursday that Egypt was about to "explode" and called on the army to intervene after President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down, AFP reports.

"Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now," he wrote on the Twitter website shortly after Mubarak handed power over to his deputy but said the transition to end his three-decade rule would last until September.

Some 200,000 Egyptians who had filled Cairo's Tahrir Square hoping to hear Mubarak step down reacted to the announcement with fury and dismay as they vowed to mount the largest protests yet on Friday's "day of rage."

Che Guevara

Egypt's hope turns to fury as Mubarak clings to power

© Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators in Tahrir Square. President Mubarak had seemed on the verge of giving in to demands to resign.
President hands some powers to vice-president Suleiman but will remain in control until September elections

President Hosni Mubarak dashed the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrating what they expected would be his resignation speech by defiantly telling them he would not bow to domestic or foreign pressure to quit.

Mubarak said he would hand some powers to his vice-president, Omar Suleiman, but would remain in overall control until September to oversee what he called an orderly transition to an elected government. He repeated a pledge not to seek re-election.

He also said that there would be no going back on a commitment of long-term political reform after the two weeks of growing protests to demand his resignation. However, he ominously referred to the army playing a role in ensuring an orderly transfer of power.


Mutant cholera of the 21st century

A female cholera victim at a hospital in Port au Prince (Haiti).
The Russian hygiene service is ready to send its specialists to cholera-hit Haiti alongside an international expert group. The epidemic has claimed the lives of over 4,000 people since it began in October last year. At present, the dangerous disease is reported to be spreading across neighboring Caribbean countries.

Having first appeared as far back as the 16th century, cholera outbreaks turned into a global challenge some 300 years later, in the early 19th century. The epidemic started in India and was then brought by merchant caravans to Russia, Europe and Africa. The world survived at least seven cholera pandemics which hit absolutely every continent.

Fighting the disease in Haiti today are a total of 36 health centers staffed by both local and foreign doctors. The trouble is that the epidemic may break those national boundaries as the warm season approaches, independent epidemiology and vaccination consultant Sergei Romanchuk says.

The disease is spreading throughout Caribbean Basin countries. In Venezuela, the number of ill people exceeded 100 - all of them got infected at a wedding in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Three fatalities were reported yesterday alone. Moreover, four people from the US, who attended the same wedding, fell sick upon their return home, Sergei Romanchuk said.


Mubarak not going anywhere, Egypt on a knife edge

Comment: The Guardian's latest video of the reaction in Tahrir Square to Mubarak's speech:

Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, has refused to step down from his post, saying that he will not bow to "foreign pressure" in a televised address to the nation on Thursday evening.

Putting to rest widespread speculations that he will quit, Mubarak announced that he was delegating some authorities to his new vice-president, Omar Suleiman, a close confidante.

In a much anticipated speech, Mubarak said he had put into place a framework that would lead to the amendment of six constitutional articles (including articles 77, 88, 93 and 189, and the annulment of article 179).

"I can not and will not accept to be dictated orders from outside, no matter what the source is," Mubarak said.

He said he was addressing his people with a "speech from the heart".

Che Guevara

Can an Egypt-style uprising happen in the U.S.?

© The New York Times
The Tahrir Square uprising "has nothing to do with left or right," said Dina Shehata, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "It is about young people rebelling against a regime that has stifled all channels for their upward mobility. They want to shape their own destiny, and they want social justice" from a system in which a few people have gotten fantastically rich, in giant villas, and everyone else has stagnated. Thomas Friedman - NYT

We have an inequality index that can go head to head with Egypt's. Of course food's cheaper here, so no one's in the streets. Thomas Geoghegan, Chicago labor lawyer - NYT

No matter how sympathetic we are with their struggle, most of us following the events in Egypt probably see it as something very foreign: an exotically attired, dark skinned people, speaking heavily accented English in a far off land, rebelling against the corrupt regime of an aging dictator, something to which we can only identify with by an intensely imaginative use of our powers of empathy, seeing few similarities with our own lives and condition. Wrong. Thomas Friedman, of all people, brought it all closer to home for me.


US: Updated - Five dead after massive Allentown, Pennsylvania gas explosion

Explosion destroys at least two center city homes, sets six on fire, more than 600 people evacuated.

Five people - including a 4-month-old boy - have died in Allentown's massive gas explosion and fire, authorities confirmed at a Thursday afternoon news conference. Search crews have located four of the five victims and the recovery operation continues. Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim declined to identify the dead whose bodies have been recovered, describing them only as a 79-year-old man, a 69-year-old woman, a 16-year-old girl and a 4-month old baby. Grim said search dogs were being used to find the fifth victim.

Family members and friends earlier confirmed the dead as: William Hall, 79, and his wife, Beatrice, 74, of 544 N. 13th St.; and Ofelia Ben, 69, Catherine Cruz, 16, and Matthew Manuel Cruz, 4 months, of 542 N. 13th St. About a dozen people were injured and more than 350 were forced to evacuate from surrounding blocks and the Gross Towers seniors apartment complex when an apparent gas leak ignited at 544 N. 13th St. about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday.


US: Employees Fired After Forwarding Obama E-Mail

Caption Compared President To Tar Ball In Gulf Of Mexico

Lawsuits were filed against the Centers for Rehab Services by two employees who were fired over an e-mail comparing President Barack Obama to a tar ball washing ashore in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company said the e-mail was inappropriate, but the employees said they were just expressing their political views and were wrongfully fired.

Team 4 investigator Paul Van Osdol reported that the e-mail in question was circulated last summer while the federal government was trying to contain the massive Gulf oil spill.

It showed an image of Obama walking along a Gulf beach with the caption, "Another tar ball washed up on the shore."

In a memo, a Centers for Rehab Services official called it "an inappropriate e-mail that contained political and discriminatory content."

The lawsuit said the e-mail led the company to fire Deborah Bonanno and James Sprung, who received the e-mail and forwarded it to co-workers.

In court papers, an attorney for Bonanno and Sprung said, "The motivation behind CRS' termination was to stifle (the employees') freedom of expression on a matter of public concern" -- namely, the Gulf disaster.

Vic Walczak, the ACLU's legal director in Pennsylvania, said employees have "very few" rights to sound off at work.

Walczak said he had not seen the lawsuits, but he said the Constitutional right to free speech does not apply when someone uses a workplace computer.