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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Caribbean tumult

Hurricane Ike became the third Atlantic storm in weeks to roll through the Caribbean, causing additional drownings in Haiti and bringing the death toll from it, Hurricane Gustav, and Tropical Storm Hanna to over 320. Haiti's fourth-largest city, Gonaïves, still was underwater from Gustav and Hanna when Ike hit.

"What I saw in this city today is close to hell on earth," UN special representative to Haiti Hédi Annabi told The New York Times.

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Haitian pastor Charles Amicy said one of his congregations outside Port-au-Prince was flooded with up to 8 feet of standing water after Ike passed through. The church lost all its vehicles and its walls collapsed. Amicy and his family spent an evening on the roof of their home before being rescued by relief crews. Others did not fare as well, he said, and "several church families lost children in the flood." Amicy's Presbyterian Mission in Haiti helps to supervise six churches and is building a school and orphanage, with a medical clinic also underway in nearby Messailler.

Flawed business model

The federal government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Sept. 7 with promises to inject up to $200 billion into the floundering mortgage giants and with hopes of injecting life into the housing and financial markets. The companies, now under the direct control of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, had posted losses of several billion dollars over the past year and seen their stock prices plunge. As part of the move, regulators ousted the two companies' CEOs, removed their boards, and placed a ban on the companies' lobbying efforts.

As "government-sponsored enterprises," Fannie and Freddie had for years offered investors an implicit guarantee of a federal bailout should problems arise. This arrangement, critics say, encouraged the firms to take on risky subprime mortgage-backed securities. In announcing the federal takeover, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called the GSE structure a "flawed business model," but the takeover plan leaves for the next president and Congress the decision on whether to make permanent changes to that model.

Record viewing

Barack Obama had Greek columns and a better rep on speech delivery, but more viewers tuned in to watch John McCain's acceptance speech in St. Paul than watched Obama in Denver. According to Nielsen, more than 38.9 million people tuned in to coverage on the final night of the GOP convention. Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention drew 38.4 million viewers. Gov. Sarah Palin's speech the night before McCain's drew 37.2 million viewers, while her counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden, drew 24 million viewers.

Feeling the squeeze

In San Diego County, churches are feeling the squeeze from tough economic times. A tight labor market, soaring energy costs, and the protracted housing slump have cut into giving, said Rev. Bruce Humphrey, senior pastor of Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church. Falling tithes have forced the church to trim $300,000 from its $4.5 million annual budget. "In my 30 years in ministry, these have been the hardest financial times I've experienced in a local congregation," Humphrey told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Following Sunday services, Humphrey said, he and church members pray with other members in need. "This is the first time I can remember people putting in prayer requests for family financial struggles at this level."

Odysseus unbound

It took Odysseus 10 years to get back to Ithaca, and it has taken researchers thousands of years to decide on just where Ithaca may be. The Greek isle of Ithaki, northeast of the island of Kefalonia, has never fully matched Homer's description as "farthest out to sea, towards the sunset."

Now using what amounts to 3-D body scans, satellite, and sonar technology, British researchers in the "Ithaca Unbound Project" this month released a report (geolsoc.org.uk/page4237_en.html) indicating that the western peninsula of Kefalonia, opposite modern-day Ithaki, at one time may have been its own island, separated by an underwater valley now covered in rock from seismic activity and well established with roads and houses. After more tests to verify the new location (Ithaki travel guides, beware) scientists will present their findings at London's Geological Society next month.

Cross-border fight

A senior al-Qaeda field commander from Saudi Arabia was killed Aug. 30 in fighting between U.S. forces and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, according to a Sept. 1 statement by al-Qaeda Afghanistan commander Mustafa Muhammad Abu Yazid, who had himself been rumored dead.

Five U.S. missiles on Sept. 8 hit a Taliban compound in Pakistan, killing nine and injuring up to 18. Not known: if target Siraj Haqqani, accused of masterminding recent attacks on NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was one of the victims. The attack was yet another sign of cross-border work by U.S. forces to take out Taliban strongholds in Pakistan.

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