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U.S. "Undoubtedly In Recession", Says Expert

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States has entered a recession, according to highly-regarded investor Jim Rogers, who told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday he was switching out of the dollar and into yen, the yuan and the Swiss franc.

The veteran investor, who predicted the 1999 commodities rally, also said he was still bullish about surging Chinese stock markets despite worries over a bubble.

Fears are growing over the health of the U.S. economy after the fallout from the subprime mortgage market crisis and the global credit crunch it triggered.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has already slashed borrowing costs by 50 basis points to 4.75 percent to try and shore up the world's biggest economy and is widely expected to lower interest rates again next week.

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Conoco unit pleads guilty to hiding Alaska spill

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A shipping company owned by ConocoPhillips' pleaded guilty to concealing a 2004 oil spill in the ocean off Alaska and was ordered to pay $2.5 million for the offense, officials said.

Polar Tankers Inc. entered its guilty plea in U.S. District Court on Tuesday and was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine and a $2 million community-service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

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Australian farmers face bankruptcy from drought

WEST WYALONG, Australia (Reuters) - Farmer John Ridley won't be harvesting so much as a bag of wheat this season from fields that stretch to the horizon as Australia's worst drought in 100 years takes its toll on the country's grain belt.

Beneath a cloudless sky, 60-year-old Ridley, a descendant of one of Australia's pioneering farming families, pulls a clump of brittle stubble from the dusty earth.

"It should be this high, waving green in the breeze," he says. "Farmers are in a stunned state at the moment. In a state of disbelief, shock, helplessness."

Ridley's farm is in the epicenter of devastation from the drought, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) west of Sydney. Prime wheat growing territory, the district normally grows much of the wheat that makes Australia the world's second-biggest exporter. Yet this year the district will produce almost nothing.

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Winds wane as 18 wildfires burn in California

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Dying winds gave California firefighters their first big break on Wednesday after four days battling wildfires, but San Diego faced more calamity as blazes there burned out of control and kept more than half a million evacuees from returning home.

The skies over much of the region were filled with thick, acrid smoke, forcing residents to stay indoors or wear masks.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said 18 fires burned on Wednesday and threatened 25,000 structures. Nearly 1,500 homes had already been lost. San Diego bore the brunt of the damage and officials there put losses in excess of $1 billion.

More than 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in the biggest mass evacuation in California's modern history.

Six deaths have been reported, while 40 people suffered injuries, many of them firefighters.

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White House Accused Of Watering Down Climate Testimony To Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House watered down climate change testimony to Congress - testimony by the head of the CDC -- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The changes were made before the testimony was delivered, according to a watchdog group Both the CD and White House deny it.

The anti-nuclear group Physicians for Social Responsibility said White House officials had forced CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding to remove specific references about the effects of climate change from Tuesday's testimony to a Senate committee.

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Fires create electricity 'island' in San Diego

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California wildfires created an electricity "island" of San Diego County on Wednesday as one major power transmission link to the U.S. West grid was shut and the other flickering on and off, said San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

This makes the San Diego area susceptible to major blackouts unless customers conserve power, said Michael Niggli, chief operating officer of SDG&E.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders implored residents to cut power use.

"You've got to conserve today. You have no choice," Sanders said.

About 20,000 homes and businesses were without power late Wednesday morning, down from 33,000 on Tuesday, SDG&E spokeswoman Rachel Laing said.

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2000 Year Old California Redwood's Fate In Mediators Hands

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. bankruptcy judge in Texas said on Tuesday he would appoint a mediator to try to hammer out a deal on the fate of 29,000 acres of giant, 2,000-year-old California redwood trees, which environmentalists and loggers battled over in the 1990s.

U.S. Judge Richard Schmidt expressed frustration at the slow pace Maxxam Inc. subsidiary Pacific Lumber Co. was moving since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January.

Schmidt issued his decision on Tuesday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Southern District of Texas at Corpus Christi after a daylong hearing.

"I'm going to put this on short-fuse mediation," Schmidt said.

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Countrywide, Non-Profit Partner to Help Homeowners

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Countrywide Financial Corp, the largest U.S. mortgage lender, and non-profit group Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America said on Tuesday they are partnering to help borrowers stay in their homes.

Under the plan, which aims to stem further worsening of the U.S. housing slump, homeowners would have options including a payment plan, or ways to modify, refinance or restructure their mortgages.

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California evacuees unwind with yoga, Kosher food

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - As emergency shelters go, the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego might get a five-star rating, with yoga and acupuncture for stressed-out adults, clowns and candy for bored kids and even Kosher meals.

The stadium, best known as home to the National Football League's San Diego Chargers, was converted this week into an emergency evacuation center accommodating 10,000 people forced from their homes by wildfires scorching the county.

City and state officials and legions of volunteers running the center did their best to provide not only for evacuees' basic needs but also lifestyle perks designed to make the Golden State's displaced denizens feel more at home.

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California's Wildfires Rage Into Fourth Day

SAN DIEGO - Relentless wildfires forcing the largest evacuations in California's modern history raged into a fourth day on Wednesday as 10,000 exhausted firefighters hoped for a break in the hot winds whipping the flames.  With half a million people driven from their homes, 1,000 houses already lost and some 470 square miles scorched across the southern half of the state, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's government has put economic losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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