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    CNN - Electronic gadgets latest sources of computer viruses

    Sent from's mobile device from

    Electronic gadgets latest sources of computer viruses

    From iPods to navigation systems, some of today's hottest gadgets are landing on store shelves with some unwanted extras from the factory -- pre-installed viruses that steal passwords, open doors for hackers and make computers spew spam.

    Computer users have been warned for years about virus threats from downloading Internet porn and opening suspicious e-mail attachments. Now they run the risk of picking up a digital infection just by plugging a new gizmo into their PCs.

    Recent cases reviewed by The Associated Press include some of the most widely used tech devices: Apple iPods, digital picture frames sold by Target and Best Buy stores and TomTom navigation gear.

    In most cases, Chinese factories -- where many companies have turned to keep prices low -- are the source.

    So far, the virus problem appears to come from lax quality control -- perhaps a careless worker plugging an infected music player into a factory computer used for testing -- rather than organized sabotage by hackers or the Chinese factories.

    It's the digital equivalent of the recent series of tainted products traced to China, including toxic toothpaste, poisonous pet food and toy trains coated in lead paint.

    But sloppiness is the simplest explanation, not the only one.

    If a virus is introduced at an earlier stage of production, by a corrupt employee or a hacker when software is uploaded to the gadget, then the problems could be far more serious and widespread.

    Knowing how many devices have been sold, or tracking the viruses with any precision, is impossible because of the secrecy kept by electronics makers and the companies they hire to build their products.

    But given the nature of mass manufacturing, the numbers could be huge.

    "It's like the old cockroach thing -- you flip the lights on in the kitchen and they run away," said Marcus Sachs, a former White House cybersecurity official who now runs the security research group SANS Internet Storm Center. "You think you've got just one cockroach? There's probably thousands more of those little boogers that you can't see."

    Jerry Askew, a Los Angeles computer consultant, bought a new Uniek digital picture frame to surprise his 81-year-old mother for her birthday. But when he added family photos, it tried to unload a few surprises of its own.

    When he plugged the frame into his Windows PC, his antivirus program alerted him to a threat. The $50 frame, built in China and bought at Target, was infected with four viruses, including one that steals passwords.

    "You expect quality control coming out of the manufacturers," said Askew, 42. "You don't expect that sort of thing to be on there."

    Security experts say the malicious software is apparently being loaded at the final stage of production, when gadgets are pulled from the assembly line and plugged in to a computer to make sure everything works.

    If the testing computer is infected -- say, by a worker who used it to charge his own infected iPod -- the digital germ can spread to anything else that gets plugged in.

    The recent infections may be accidental, but security experts say they point out an avenue of attack that could be exploited by hackers.

    "We'll probably see a steady increase over time," said Zulfikar Ramzan, a computer security researcher at Symantec Corp. "The hackers are still in a bit of a testing period -- they're trying to figure out if it's really worth it."

    Thousands of people whose antivirus software isn't up to date may have been infected by new products without even knowing it, experts warn. And even protective software may not be enough.

    In one case, digital frames sold at Sam's Club contained a previously unknown bug that not only steals online gaming passwords but disables antivirus software, according to security researchers at CA Inc.

    "It's like if you pick up a gun you've never seen before -- before you pull the trigger, you'd probably check the chamber," said Joe Telafici, vice president of operations of McAfee Avert Labs, the security software maker's threat-research arm.

    "It's an extreme analogy, but it's the right idea. It's best to spend the extra 30 seconds to be sure than be wrong," he added.

    Consumers can protect themselves from most factory-loaded infections by running an antivirus program and keeping it up to date. The software checks for known viruses and suspicious behaviors that indicate an attack by malicious code -- whether from a download or a gadget attached to the PC via USB cable.

    The AP contacted some of the world's largest electronics manufacturers for details on how they guard against infections -- among them Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which is based in Taiwan and has an iPod factory in China; Singapore-based Flextronics International Ltd.; and Taiwan-based Quanta Computer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc. All declined comment or did not respond.

    The companies whose products were infected in cases reviewed by AP refused to reveal details about the incidents. Of those that confirmed factory infections, all said they had corrected the problems and taken steps to prevent recurrences.

    Apple disclosed the most information, saying the virus that infected a small number of video iPods in 2006 came from a PC used to test compatibility with the gadget's software.

    Best Buy, the biggest consumer electronics outlet in the U.S., said it pulled its affected China-made frames from the shelves and took "corrective action" against its vendor. But the company declined repeated requests to provide details.

    Sam's Club and Target say they are investigating complaints but have not been able to verify their frames were contaminated.

    Legal experts say manufacturing infections could become a big headache for retailers that sell infected devices and the companies that make them, if customers can demonstrate they were harmed by the viruses.

    "The photo situation is really a cautionary tale -- they were just lucky that the virus that got installed happened to be one that didn't do a lot of damage," said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But there's nothing about that situation that means next time the virus won't be a more serious one."

    Reuters - Electronic Arts launches hostile offer for Take-Two

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    Electronic Arts launches hostile offer for Take-Two

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 10:39PM UTC

    By Scott Hillis and Anupreeta Das

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Electronic Arts Inc <ERTS.O> on Thursday launched a hostile offer for rival video game maker Take-Two Interactive Software Inc <TTWO.O> at $26 a share, taking the $2 billion bid directly to stockholders.

    Take-Two, publisher of the popular "Grand Theft Auto" -- or "GTA" -- series, last month rejected EA's unsolicited all-cash offer at the same price. The bid represents a 64 percent premium over Take-Two's closing stock price on February 15, the last trading day before EA sent the proposal to the company.

    "We believe that the offer we made is compelling. It is a full price and the longer we go on, the less valuable the asset is to us. At least so far, Take-Two's board is indicating they don't want to negotiate," EA Chief Executive John Riccitiello told Reuters in an interview.

    Take-Two responded with a statement advising shareholders to take no action for now on EA's offer. Take-Two executives have argued that EA is trying to buy the company on the cheap just before the April 29 launch of "GTA 4," widely expected to be one of the best-selling games of 2008.

    "While today's news means EA is moving forward with its offer, an acquisition by EA is by no means a certainty," Chairman Strauss Zelnick and Chief Executive Ben Feder wrote in a company-wide e-mail that was also filed with regulators.

    Take-Two added that its board would review the offer and tell shareholders of its position within 10 business days.

    This week, Take-Two, which also makes games like "Bioshock" and "Major League Baseball 2K," forecast quarterly earnings above Wall Street estimates, saying advance orders for "GTA 4" were better than expected.

    Analysts said Take-Two shareholders might warm to EA's bid, and that a number of recent buyers may be risk arbitrageurs.

    "EA has a pretty good chance of acquiring Take-Two at $26. They are going after Take-Two at their original price because they feel like they are in the driver's seat and no other bidders have emerged," said Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia.

    One arbitrage trader who specializes in takeovers said investors had to weigh the certainty of cash now against hopes that the shares would rise in a shaky economic environment.

    "There's always the chance of another bid, but Take-Two should conduct a rigorous auction to prove to shareholders what they can get," said the trader, who asked not to be identified.


    Earlier this week, Take-Two's two biggest shareholders disclosed that they had drastically cut their stakes, potentially undermining management's stance that the buyout offer was too low.

    Mutual fund company Oppenheimer Funds, Take-Two's biggest shareholder, halved its holdings to 8.8 million shares, reducing its stake to 11.5 percent from 23 percent, according to U.S. regulatory filings.

    FMR LLC, the parent company for the Fidelity mutual funds and once the second-largest owner of Take-Two shares, slashed its stake to 2.75 percent from 14.7 percent.

    Zelnick said earlier in the week that the big stock sales did not cause executives to reconsider their rejection of EA's offer and the trades indicated new shareholders expected the stock to rise above $26.

    Asked about that view, EA's Riccitiello said: "I knew a couple weeks ago that a number of shareholders were steadfast in their view that the offer needed to be above $26, but some of them have already sold at that. Now it's held by new people, and at the right moment they will consider our offer."

    Take-Two shares rose 2.9 percent to close at $25.64 on Nasdaq, but were still below a high of $27.61 set on February 28, shortly after EA announced its offer.

    EA stock inched up 3 cents to close at $47.26. Its tender offer, through a wholly owned subsidiary, will expire at midnight on April 11, but could be extended. Take-Two's annual meeting is scheduled for April 10.

    Morgan Stanley & Co Inc is dealer manager for the tender offer, for which Georgeson Inc is information agent.

    (Additional reporting by Jessica Hall in Philadelphia, Franklin Paul in New York and Peter Henderson in Los Angeles; Editing by Derek Caney, Tim Dobbyn, Richard Chang)

    Reuters - Gates urges U.S. to free up more spectrum for Wi-Fi

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    Gates urges U.S. to free up more spectrum for Wi-Fi

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 7:24PM UTC

    By Peter Kaplan

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates urged U.S. communications regulators on Thursday to free up more vacant television airwaves to be used for wireless services such as broadband Internet access.

    During an appearance before a Northern Virginia technology group, Gates said the so-called "white space" spectrum between analog broadcast channels could be used to expand access of wireless broadband service using Wi-Fi technology.

    "We're hopeful that that will be made available so that Wi-Fi can explode in terms of its usage, even out into some of these less dense areas (of the United States) where distance has been a big problem for Wi-Fi," Gates said in response to a question from the audience.

    Microsoft is part of a coalition of technology companies that has been lobbying the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow unlicensed use of white space spectrum.

    The group also includes Google Inc, Dell, Intel Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co and the north American unit of Philips Electronics.

    However, the idea is opposed by U.S. broadcasters and makers of wireless microphones, who fear the devices would cause interference.

    "Broadband penetration could be drastically improved through a fixed, licensed service without interference to TV reception. Unfortunately, Microsoft continues to push for an unlicensed technology that simply does not work," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.

    "TV viewers should not be inundated by the inevitable interference caused by such faulty devices," Wharton said.

    A proposal being studied by the FCC would create two categories of users for the airwaves: one for low-power, personal, portable devices like Wi-Fi and a second group for fixed commercial operations.

    The proposal would require that the devices include technology to identify unused spectrum and avoid interference.

    The FCC currently is testing prototype devices to see if they can make use of the white space spectrum without interfering with TV broadcasts.

    Also appearing with Gates was Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, who said a shortage of spectrum could hurt U.S. competitiveness. He said past decisions have not made enough spectrum available.

    "White space activity today is sort of our last hope to get some good spectrum," Mundie said.

    (Reporting by Peter Kaplan; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

    Reuters - AOL to buy Bebo social network for $850 mln

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    AOL to buy Bebo social network for $850 mln

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 11:40PM UTC

    By Kenneth Li and Kate Holton

    NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Time Warner Inc's AOL Internet division will buy social network Bebo for $850 million in cash, bolstering its consumer Web offerings even as the media conglomerate mulls splitting off the business.

    Privately-owned Bebo claims about 40 million global members, and the deal promises to significantly expand AOL's growing business of selling advertising on the Internet outside of the United States.

    The site is one of the top social networks in Britain and the market leader in Ireland and New Zealand but it is yet to create the same buzz in the United States. Bebo is number No. 3in the U.S., according to AOL, after News Corp's MySpace, and Facebook. According to independent Web traffic measurement firm comScore, Bebo was ranked eighth most popular in the United States in January.

    It is generally aimed at a younger audience than the college-favorite Facebook and it boasts that its users spend an average of 40 minutes on the site each day contacting friends, sharing photos and discovering new music.

    "AOL, at its core, is a way for people to connect," AOL President Ron Grant told Reuters in a phone interview. "We need to get back to our roots."

    Grant said Bebo's heavy focus on media and international interest had made it particularly attractive as it already has a service in Poland and is set to launch in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands in the next five or six months.

    "It's a smart move for (Time Warner CEO Jeff) Bewkes," Herb Granath, Chief Executive of Media & Entertainment Holdings Inc, said on a panel at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York, responding to a question about the AOL Bebo deal. "This may be a first shot across the bow: They're going to be a player."

    Asked whether the panel believed Time Warner was in the process of dismantling itself following Bewkes' comments on Monday that were interpreted by the press as a signal of the media conglomerate's willingness to sell AOL, another panel member, Spark Capital founder Santo Politi, said Time Warner is "definitely in the business of building."

    On Monday, Time Warner CEO Bewkes told investors at a conference he would not rule out a transaction combining AOL with another company. Time Warner has discussed a tie-up between AOL and Yahoo, a person briefed on the discussions said last week.

    The Bebo deal comes amid a wholesale transformation of AOL from a dial-up Internet provider to an online ad seller.

    The transition has been rocky as it replaced Curtis Viebranz, the head of its advertising operations for about seven months, with chief Lynda Clarizio.

    It has spent nearly $1 billion to create one of the biggest third-party display ad units, Platform-A, as it aims to gird against the prospect of bigger rivals. Microsoft Corp is currently pursuing a deal to buy Yahoo Inc and Google Inc has just purchased DoubleClick.


    "Bebo will be the cornerstone of our strategy to transform online experiences for advertisers, media companies and consumers," AOL Chairman and CEO Randy Falco said.

    AOL said Bebo would also help round out its personal communications offerings, now comprised of AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ, two popular services that let users send quick text, video and audio correspondence.

    But despite its global popularity AOL has not had much success turning that into a business.

    "The acquisition demonstrates again how important the social networking sites are to major media and Internet brands, who are looking for new means to advertising growth," said Paolo Pescatore, an analyst with UK-based CCS Insight.

    "They represent a powerful opportunity, with their access to demographic data and ability to target specific audiences."

    Bebo President Joanna Shields will continue to run the group and will report to Grant after the transaction closes. Falco said he expected the deal to close in "the normal time" -- within around 30 days.

    The site was founded by husband and wife Michael and Xochi Birch, who own an undisclosed stake. Shields declined to say whether they would stay after the deal closes.

    Bebo is a product of the curious migratory patterns of online social networks. Like many of the world's top social networks, Bebo is based in San Francisco. And like many of these companies, its operations have taken root in distant lands.

    Bebo first grew in Britain. Rivals such as hi5 are powerful in Latin America. Google's Orkut first became popular in Brazil, then India and LiveJournal dominates in Russia.

    Social network pioneer Friendster now finds the bulk of its users in Southeast Asia, meanwhile the two major U.S. players, MySpace and Facebook, have focused on expanding over the past year into international markets.

    MySpace has local operations in 20 countries and has translated the site into languages ranging from Spanish to German to Japanese. Roughly 60 percent of Facebook's 67 million active users now live outside the United States.

    Banc of America Securities LLC and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. advised AOL. Allen & Co advised Bebo.

    (Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Frankfurt, Eric Auchard in San Francisco; Editing by Dave Zimmerman and Quentin Bryar)

    Michigan do-over in democratic primary seems likely, Democratic primary do-over in Florida? Not so much

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    Michigan, campaigns talk do-over primary

    By KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN, Associated Press Writer 9 minutes ago

    Michigan Democrats are close to an agreement with presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to hold a do-over primary.

    Party officials and the campaigns negotiated on Thursday, and state Democratic leaders were hopeful that an agreement could be reached on Friday, said Democratic officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. To go forward, any plan would require the approval of the two campaigns, the Democratic National Committee, state party leaders and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is backing Clinton.

    Michigan Democrats need to act quickly because the politically divided legislature will have to sign off on the deal and approve how to spend the privately raised funds for a new election. Members of the Democratic-controlled state House and Republican-controlled state Senate leave at the end of the month on their two-week spring break.

    The contest must be held by June 10 for the results to count under DNC rules. Michigan currently has an election set for May 6 for voters to decide on education issues. The date of that contest could be changed to accommodate a new presidential primary.

    The Clinton campaign made it clear that it strongly prefers a state-run primary to mail-in voting during the meeting, according to a campaign official speaking anonymously about the private talks. People involved in the private meeting said the Clinton advisers favor the state-run primary because there would be less likelihood of problems such as fraud and ballot counting than with a mail-in vote.

    The national party punished Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries before Feb. 5, stripping them of all their delegates. The two states have been struggling to come up with alternative plans to ensure their delegates are seated at the national convention this summer in Denver.

    Michigan held its primary Jan. 15 and Florida voted Jan. 29. Clinton won both, although she was the only major candidate on the Michigan ballot.

    On Thursday, Florida Democrats proposed a vote-by-mail presidential primary while acknowledging the plan's chances are slim.

    Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, offered a mail-in/in person proposal for voting and urged state leaders, the national party and the presidential candidates to sign on. Under the plan, all of Florida's 4.1 million Democrats would be mailed a ballot. They could send it back, or cast a ballot in one of 50 regional voting centers that would be set up. The election would end June 3, a week before a Democratic National Committee deadline to name delegates.

    The estimated cost is $10 million to $12 million.

    Asked if the plan will be implemented, Thurman said, "I have a feeling that this is probably closer to not, than yes."

    Members of Florida's congressional delegation reiterated their opposition to the plan, saying, "We do not believe that this is a realistic option at this time and remain opposed to a mail-in ballot election or any new primary election in Florida of any kind."

    Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, an Obama backer, said supporters of both candidates and those in the delegation who are uncommitted are working on an alternative to get the delegates seated. He said an option would be to find middle ground in the number of delegates that Obama and Clinton get.

    Clinton has said the delegates should be awarded according to the results of Florida's Jan. 29 election, which she won. Some Obama supporters have suggested splitting the delegates evenly since the candidates agreed not to campaign in the state since it violated party rules by going too early.

    "There's a high demand by one candidate and a low demand by the other, and somewhere in between is a resolution," Wexler said. "So that's what we're trying to figure out."

    Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida's senior Democrat and a Clinton backer, said one option that ought to be considered would be to award delegates based on the January vote, but have them count for half the delegates of other states.

    However, Obama's campaign said they will not support any plan that allocates delegates based on the January vote.

    Nelson said he discussed the issue with Obama and Clinton on the Senate floor Thursday.

    "I've been saying, `You guys have got to get this thing resolved.' And they both have said to me that they intend to get the Michigan and Florida delegation seated at the convention," he said. "But the devil's in the details."

    Thurman will review comments from Democratic leaders and make a decision by Monday on whether to continue with the re-vote. But she acknowledged that Obama has had concerns and the Democratic National Committee won't support a proposal unless both candidates also back it. She said there's a serious question over whether the state could legally verify the signatures of a privately run election.

    "If this becomes something that we can't do, then we can't do it," Thurman said.

    Florida's secretary of state's office said it could not assist with verifying the signatures on the ballot.

    Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, however, has said he isn't opposed to the state helping verify signatures as long as no taxpayer money is spent and state and national parties haven't already worked out another solution.

    Obama told reporters traveling on his campaign plane Thursday that although he has concerns about mail-in voting, "we're going to abide by whatever the DNC decides."

    "We're not gonna make the final decision on it, and I'll abide by whatever rules the DNC lays out," he said.

    Four Michigan Democratic leaders uncommitted to either candidate discussed options for a do-over Thursday with both the Clinton and Obama campaign leaders. Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Sen. Carl Levin and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger are in that group trying to develop a new plan with input from both sides.


    Associated Press Writers Nedra Pickler, Ken Thomas and Charles Babington in Washington and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

    Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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    The blind leads the blink

    USA TODAY - Spitzer successor promises stability

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    By Joseph Spector, Gannett News Service

    Lt. Gov. David Paterson on Thursday vowed to retain continuity in New York state government as he prepared to succeed disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer, indicating he will promote much of Spitzer's policy agenda.

    Paterson, like Spitzer, said he does not support an income-tax increase on people making more than $1 million a year, as proposed by Democrats in the state Assembly. He said he would also consider a property-tax cap being explored by a commission established by Spitzer.

    Paterson reiterated support for the redevelopment of Midtown Plaza in downtown Rochester and said he was committed to a $1 billion upstate economic development fund.

    Paterson, 53, stressed that even though he won't officially take the oath of office until Monday, he's already starting the transition process by meeting with leaders and receiving updates on the state budget process.

    "It is time to get back to the business of the state," he told a packed room of reporters at the state Capitol. "I promised the governor yesterday that I would commit myself to the people of this great state, that we would have stability and continuity in those challenges that lie ahead."

    "Now we have to get New York back on track."

    Paterson will officially be sworn in at 1 p.m. Monday and is expected to give an address to a joint session of the state Legislature.

    "I am prepared," he said.

    Paterson said he wanted the five-day transition in order to get up to speed on state business.

    "There may be a five-day transition period, but we are hard at work at this moment putting together a budget that will help New York to thrive," he said.

    Paterson, a Democrat, will become New York's first African-American governor and the nation's first legally blind state chief executive. He plans to retain some of Spitzer's aides, but other top advisors to Spitzer are expected to follow the departing governor out the door.

    Paterson, of Harlem, said his ascension is "not the way most people would want" and expressed sympathy for Spitzer and his family. Spitzer resigned Wednesday after he was linked to soliciting a high-priced prostitute on a trip to Washington D.C. last month.

    With his wit and sense of humor, Paterson lightened the mood of the critical time in state history.

    He joked, "On Monday at 1 p.m., I will have the oath of office administrated to me in the assembly chamber. Most of you are invited."

    Then he was asked whether he has ever patronized a prostitute, Paterson responded, "Only the lobbyists."

    Aides said Paterson has had regular conversations with Spitzer about the transition, and Spitzer is still conducting unfinished state business, such as signing some bills and orders.

    Spitzer's demise is remarkable for a politician who projected a squeaky-clean, family-man image as governor since January 2007 and for eight years as attorney general. Spitzer allegedly hired a prostitute to travel from New York to Washington D.C., where he had a hotel room reserved as part of a trip on state business.

    Paterson received a national-security briefing Thursday morning, allowing him to receive confidential national security details in the case of an emergency, officials said.

    The state's leadership, however, was still unclear. Aides said that Spitzer remains at the helm until Monday, but legislative leaders said Paterson is the "de facto" governor until he officially succeeds Spitzer.

    Paterson said he plans to meet with state leaders in the next few days as he prepares to take over.

    Earlier in the day, Paterson said he has a feeling of "guilt" over becoming the state's first African-American governor. Yet he said maybe he can serve as an inspiration for other people of color and those with disabilities.

    "There were many African Americans, men and women, who throughout the past couple of centuries had the ability, worked hard enough, had the acumen to run the state but because of the most petty and most banal aspects of human existence weren't afforded the opportunity," he said on an Albany radio show.

    He continued, "While it's a personal achievement for me, it says that we are moving in the right direction, but who knows what we could have accomplished if we had gotten there sooner."

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are showing support for the former minority leader of the state Senate, whom many have worked with closely for years.

    And unlike Spitzer's aggressive style, lawmakers said Paterson brings a more cordial tone.

    Former Republican Gov. George Pataki said in an interview that he has confidence in Paterson; they worked together when Paterson was a legislator.

    "He knows state government, and he knows it not just from the executive branch as lieutenant governor, but the legislative branch from his years of service in the Senate," Pataki told Gannett News Service.

    "As governor you have executive power and there are things you can do with that executive power, but if want to change anything legislative you need to have both houses. I think Gov. Paterson understands that."

    But some leaders expressed concern about Paterson's liberal voting record, which was to the left of Spitzer's positions.

    State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said he hopes Paterson will be at least be fiscally conservative, yet questioned Paterson's first decision to wait until Monday to assume office.

    "That's a mistake and I think that's cheating the taxpayers, leaving Eliot Spitzer on the payroll," Long said. "Why would you want to leave a person like that in office?"

    Spitzer's ties to the prostitution scandal, according to IRS officials, was sparked by an investigation into Spitzer's movement of large amounts of cash from bank accounts to one operated by the company, QAT, which is linked to a prostitution ring called Emperors Club VIP.

    The Associated Press reported that Spitzer may have spent up to $80,000 with the prostitution service over an extended period of time.

    The wiretap, according to federal complaint, identified a man known as Client 9, and believed to be Spitzer, on a telephone call Feb. 13 discussing plans to have a prostitute, called "Kristen," travel from New York to Washington. The call girl has since been identified as Ashley Alexandra Dupre, a 22-year-old aspiring Manhattan musician with a troubled past.

    Website address:

    USA TODAY - Bill Gates: Expect 'rapid advance' in technology

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    By Matthew Barakat, Associated Press

    Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said Thursday he expects the next decade to bring even greater technological leaps than the past 10 years.

    In a speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council, Gates speculated that some of the most important advances will come in the ways people interact with computers: speech-recognition technology, tablets that will recognize handwriting and touch-screen surfaces that will integrate a wide variety of information.

    "I don't see anything that will stop the rapid advance," Gates said, noting that technological change driven by academia and corporate researchers continued even after the Internet stock bubble burst in 2000.

    Gates also said the coming years will bring rapid changes in media as television increasingly becomes a targeted medium, where viewers can select niche content for news, sports and entertainment.

    "TV will be based on the Internet; it will be an utterly different thing," he said.

    Gates' speech came after he testified to Congress on Wednesday advocating greater investment in math and science education and more relaxed immigration rules that would allow foreigners who obtain college degrees in the United States to work here after graduation.

    RELATED ARTICLE: Bill Gates urges more visas for tech workers

    Current policy, he said, forces many bright, capable students to return to their native countries after the U.S. has invested in their education.

    Gates said Thursday he was optimistic that policymakers would make the right decisions about investing in technology and human capital, though he acknowledged that such investments don't pay off immediately.

    "Historically the United States has done a fantastic job of making the right investments," he said. "I think other countries, having seen that, are starting to duplicate those elements."

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    USA TODAY - 'Phishing' tops of IRS list of taxpayer scams

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    By Jim Abrams, Associated Press

    'Phishing,' Internet-based schemes of tricking people into revealing confidential financial information, topped the Internal Revenue Service's annual list of scams that taxpayers should be aware of.

    The IRS on Thursday also warned people not to fall for predators posing as IRS representatives who tell them they must reveal personal information to obtain the economic stimulus payment. That payment goes out automatically to anyone who files a tax return.

    IRS ADVICE: What You Can Do to Report Phishing, E-mail Scams and Bogus IRS Web Sites

    Also on Thursday, acting IRS Commissioner Linda Stiff told Congress that the first stimulus payment checks would go out shortly after this filing season ends. She said that those with a direct deposit account will receive their checks electronically the first week of May. The first paper checks will be mailed by the second week of May.

    Under the stimulus package enacted by Congress, individuals will receive $300 to $600 and couples $600 to $1,200. Parents will also receive $300 for each child under 17.

    The tax agency said taxpayers this year had forwarded to the agency 33,000 'phishing' scam e-mails reflecting more than 1,500 different schemes. It said thieves, some claiming to be IRS officials, use information to empty victims' bank accounts, run up credit card charges or apply for loans in the victims' names.

    "We take identity theft very seriously," Stiff told a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

    National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, also testifying at the hearing, applauded the IRS for taking proactive measures to assist victims, including the recent implementation of a tracking system for identify theft victim accounts. But Olson, who works independently within the IRS, said the agency still lacks a coordinated approach and has a "duty to restore integrity to accounts... not to exacerbate injuries."

    Olson also reported that some seniors who filed tax returns this year to get their stimulus checks after not filing for years have discovered that someone else has been using their Social Security numbers on tax returns. "The IRS does not have adequate procedures to address situations where the identity theft victim does not have a filing requirement," she said.

    "The IRS urges taxpayers to be extra-vigilant," it said in its release, to people claiming that they must provide information to receive their stimulus checks. It stressed that the agency does not contact taxpayers by phone or e-mail about those checks.

    Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., asked Stiff about the agency's spending of $42 million, "an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars," to send letters to taxpayers, most of whom would file returns anyway, to remind them that they must file a return to get a stimulus check.

    Stiff said it was a "prudent call" considering that, after Congress approved a similar rebate in 2001, the agency received 27 million calls, causing their systems to crash.

    Among other scams, it reminded taxpayers that they are liable for $5,000 penalties for submitting frivolous claims such as a constitutional right to object to military spending.

    Others on the list this year were fuel tax credit scams, the offshore hiding of income, the misuse of trusts and the abuse of charitable organizations. It warned people to watch out for tax return preparers who attract clients by promising large refunds and charge inflated fees for their services.

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    Reuters - Nestle raises outlook after strong 2008 start

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    Nestle raises outlook after strong 2008 start

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 1:48PM UTC

    By Sam Cage and Thomas Atkins

    ZURICH (Reuters) - Nestle <NESN.VX> surprised investors by raising its outlook on Thursday, saying the year had started strongly and it expected growth in 2008 to be similar to last year.

    The world's largest food company said it had already pushed through price increases to its customers in 2007 and now stood to benefit if price pressures on commodities such as grains and sugar abate in the second half of 2008.

    "We can never remember the company being this bullish so early in the year," ABN AMRO analysts said in a note.

    The unexpected news from the maker of Nescafe coffee and KitKat chocolate bars added 4.3 percent to its shares, which have benefited from its expansion program into healthy foods.

    Nestle shares rose to 498.50 Swiss francs by 5:58 a.m. EDT, compared with a 1.1 percent fall in the Swiss blue-chip SMI index <.SSMI>.

    Nestle claims to be one of the first major food firms to have recognized food price pressures approaching. Its hedges and consumer price hikes gave it an edge over competitors like Danone <DANO.PA> and Unilever <ULVR.L>.

    The company expected underlying sales to rise in 2008 at a similar rate to the 7.4 percent of last year and clearly above its long-term trend target of between 5 and 6 percent.

    "The Group's organic growth is off to a very strong start in 2008," outgoing Chief Executive Peter Brabeck said in a statement.


    Nestle said it expected raw material cost pressures to ease somewhat during 2008, and foresaw price increases trending lower in the second half of 2008.

    "The increase in the organic growth target for 2008 is a very positive sign from Nestle, which shows that a good result may be achieved even in the current climate of rising commodities prices and recessionary fears in the U.S.," said Vontobel analyst Claudia Lenz.

    At its full-year results last month, Brabeck declined to commit to matching Nestle's 2007 growth rate this year.

    The Vevey, Switzerland-based company -- which also makes Perrier water, Buitoni pasta and Maggi soups -- trades at about 16 times forecast 2008 earnings, according to Reuters data.

    That is just ahead of British sector peer Unilever, with a multiple of 15, but behind France's Danone.

    Nestle maintained a targeted improvement in its margin on earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) in 2008.

    The company plans to publish first-quarter results on April 21. A spokesman declined to give details on those figures.

    (Additional reporting by Pascal Schmuck; Editing by Louise Ireland and David Cowell)

    Reuters - Dollar hits new record low vs euro

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    Dollar hits new record low vs euro

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 8:54PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - The dollar extended losses late on Thursday, hitting fresh record lows against the euro, in selling driven by technical factors.

    The euro rose to $1.5644 against the dollar for the first time since it was launched, according to Reuters data. It last traded at $1.5627.

    A U.S. trader said stops in euro/dollar were triggered above $1.5630 .

    Late on Thursday, Reuters reported that Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is requiring payment in euros in a recently opened fuel export contract, citing a trader who has purchased a cargo under the contract.

    But a trader at a U.S. custody bank said there was very little impact of the news on the euro. "The market thinks (Venezuela President Hugo Chavez) is not worth listening to. We ran stops above old high and came right back off on no volume."

    (Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama))

    The Spitz

    Structure this

    Reuters - Sex scandal passes but Spitzer may face legal woes

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    Sex scandal passes but Spitzer may face legal woes

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 8:7PM UTC

    By Ellen Wulfhorst

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Resigning over reports he paid for a $1,000-an-hour prostitute, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer leaves behind his political post but could face legal trouble from the stunning sex scandal.

    Spitzer, who fought malfeasance on Wall Street with publicity-conscious vigor, fell from grace after The New York Times reported this week that his conversations to arrange for an expensive call girl in a Washington hotel were caught on a federal wiretap.

    "The remorse I feel will always be with me," a grim-faced Spitzer, 48, said as he resigned on Wednesday with his wife by his side.

    Indeed, his legal worries are likely far from over.

    Spitzer, who came into office in 2007 promising to clean up state politics, faces the possibility of federal criminal charges over how he may have paid for prostitution services, specifically charges of structuring, which entail payments made so as to conceal their purpose and source.

    Another violation may involve money laundering, if payments made to the suspected prostitution ring's shell corporations are found to be part of a larger conspiracy, legal experts said.

    Legal observers speculated Spitzer was seeking to reach a deal to avoid or reduce any criminal liability before he left office. On Wednesday, the top federal prosecutor in New York said there was no such deal.

    Prostitution is illegal in most U.S. states, but clients are rarely prosecuted and he is unlikely to face such charges.

    But because he allegedly paid for the prostitute to travel to Washington from New York, he may have violated the Mann Act that bans interstate transport to engage in prostitution.

    The Times reported on its Web site the prostitute was a 22-year-old woman who had left home in New Jersey at 17, originally hoping for a career as a singer in New York.

    "I just don't want to be thought of as a monster," the woman told the newspaper.

    It said she had been born Ashley Youmans but now is known as Ashley Alexandra Dupre, and that she was expected to be a witness in the case against four people charged with operating a prostitution ring. It said she had not been charged.

    Political woes also may follow. Spitzer feuded with the state Senate's top Republican, Joseph Bruno, who claimed that Spitzer used the state police to spy on him.

    On Thursday, attorneys were due in state court for a hearing on Spitzer's efforts to block further state Senate investigation into the matter. An earlier probe by the state attorney general was highly critical of Spitzer's administration.

    It's a stunning change of fortune for Spitzer, who in his previous post as the state's chief prosecutor aggressively pursued wrongdoing on Wall Street. His disgrace was cheered by some financial power brokers who resented what they considered his heavy-handed and self-righteous ways.

    (Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Emily Chasan, Caroline Valetkevitch, Vivianne Rodriguez, Christine Kearney, Joan Gralla and Edith Honan; Editing by Eric Beech)

    Reuters - Google to unveil new ad service for publishers: report

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    Google to unveil new ad service for publishers: report

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 6:47AM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Web search giant Google Inc plans to unveil a new service that Web publishers can use to manage their online ad sales and serve up ads each time a consumer pulls up a Web page, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

    The new Ad Manager service will provide the ad service free, said the Journal.

    Google is hoping that Ad Manager users will agree to carry some ads Google sells in any vacant ad spots on their own Web sites, and Google would take a commission on revenue from any ads it sells, said the report.

    A Google spokesperson was not immediately available.

    (Reporting by Yinka Adegoke, editing by Will Waterman)

    Latain America

    Los americas

    Reuters - Rice: U.S. concerned by terrorism in Latin America

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    Rice: U.S. concerned by terrorism in Latin America

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 6:3PM UTC

    By Arshad Mohammed

    BRASILIA (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that Washington was concerned about terrorism in Latin America but she declined to comment on the chances that it might add Venezuela to a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

    Washington had no "permanent enemies" in the region, Rice also said at a news conference in Brasilia.

    Questions about Venezuela's links to Colombia's FARC guerrilla group -- which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization -- were raised by a March 1 raid by Colombian forces inside Ecuador that killed a FARC leader, Raul Reyes.

    "We do have to be concerned about terrorism. We have to be concerned about the safety and well-being of countries in the region, that they should not be subject to terrorist activities or terrorist attacks that are either within their borders or beyond their borders," she said.

    Rice also referred to countries' obligations under U.N. accords to prevent their territory from being used by armed groups.

    "We expect responsible states to live up to those obligations," she said.

    Colombia defused the crisis that erupted over its cross-border raid by apologizing and promising not to take similar action if its neighbors cooperated in fighting the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

    The Colombian government seized several computers as a result of the attack and said they yielded data that proved leftist-led Ecuador and Venezuela were aiding the FARC.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says Colombia's accusations are part of a U.S.-backed plot to smear him.

    Rice declined to directly answer questions on whether the United States might add Venezuela to a list of countries deemed to support terrorism.

    "The United States doesn't have enemies -- permanent enemies. What we have is the effort to work well with any state that is acting responsibly on matters of democracy, on matters of security, on matters of economic development," she said.

    "That's our positive agenda for Latin America and we pursue it without an ideological litmus test."


    On Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said new information about possible links between Venezuela and Colombia's FARC guerrilla group was disturbing but Washington was far from a decision to declare Caracas a state sponsor of terrorism.

    That declaration could lead to sanctions on Venezuela although it was unclear whether it would disrupt Venezuelan oil supplies to the United States. Caracas, however, could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments.

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon on Wednesday said the United States was carefully studying the information on these computers as well as another belonging to FARC leader Ivan Rios, who was killed by his own bodyguard last week.

    Possible sanctions for being on the list include a ban on U.S. arms-related sales, bans on certain economic aid, and financial sanctions including U.S. opposition to World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans.

    Rice spoke at the start of a two-day trip to Brazil and Chile that will include an overnight stay in Salvador, the former slave port that is heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.

    In Brasilia, Rice, who is African-American, and Brazilian Racial Integration Minister Edson Santos signed a plan for the two countries to work together to fight racial and ethnic discrimination.

    The countries will share ideas on how best to combat discrimination in education, housing, the workplace and other areas. The plan will also explore expanding educational exchanges between U.S. and Brazilian schools and universities, including historically black U.S. colleges.

    Rice then flies to Salvador, where she is expected to tour the city, which was founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and is famous for its cobble-stoned streets and its 17th- and 18th-century palaces and Baroque churches.

    On Friday, she flies to Santiago to meet Chilean officials and to promote educational and commercial exchanges between Chile and California, which share similar agricultural, trade, coastal and environmental concerns.

    (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Ray Colitt; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Eric Beech)

    Craig Mundie of Microsoft

    Craig mundie

    Reuters - Microsoft's top visionary sees a parallel world

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    Microsoft's top visionary sees a parallel world

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 12:17PM UTC

    By Daisuke Wakabayashi

    SEATTLE (Reuters) - Craig Mundie, Microsoft Corp's chief research and strategy officer, is sure he has a good handle on where technology is going. When is another story.

    Mundie, who took over as Microsoft's lead visionary from co-founder Bill Gates in 2006, is preparing the company for a technology shift that he expects will be as big as the rise of the personal computer or the Internet: parallel computing.

    "It's a lot easier for us to have a fairly accurate sense of what will happen and even make good technical progress toward achieving it," Mundie told Reuters in an interview last week. "Almost everything we tried to do took longer than we expected."

    The overseer of Microsoft's $7 billion research and development budget, Mundie knows firsthand how even promising technologies can take time to develop. After all, he has led Microsoft's efforts in Web-based television and nontraditional forms of computing.

    Parallel computing has been hyped for years as the next big thing in technology, allowing computers to run faster by dividing up tasks over multiple microprocessors instead of using a single processor to perform one task at a time.

    The technology's full potential is almost unfathomable today, but it could lead to major advances in robotics or software applications that can translate documents in real time in multiple languages.

    The computer industry has taken its first steps toward parallel computing in recent years by using "multi-core" chips, but Mundie said this is the "tip of the iceberg."

    To maximize computing horsepower, software makers will need to change how software programmers work. Only a handful of programmers in the world know how to write software code to divide computing tasks into chunks that can be processed at the same time instead of a traditional, linear, one-job-at-a-time approach.

    A new programming language would be required, and could affect how almost every piece of software is written.

    "This problem will be hard," admitted Mundie, who worked on parallel computing as the head of supercomputer company Alliant Computer Systems before joining Microsoft. "This challenge looms large over the next 5 to 10 years."

    The shift to parallel computing was born out of necessity after processor speeds ran into heat and power limitations, forcing the semiconductor industry to assemble multiple cores, or electronic brains, on a single chip.

    Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc have already assembled chips with as many as four processors on a single chip. Tilera Corp, a Silicon Valley chip start-up, foresees a 1,000-core chip by 2014.


    Mundie, who assumed half of Gates' job almost two years ago, sets the long-term technological direction for the company as the co-founder moves to a part-time role in July to focus on philanthropy. Ray Ozzie, chief software architect, sets the shorter-term agenda.

    Mundie has at his disposal Microsoft's research department with over 800 PhD researchers working on the new technology.

    The research focuses on everything from Web search to simultaneous translation to touch-screen technology, but parallel computing is certainly among its top priorities because it will likely affect every part of Microsoft.

    Computers about 100 times more powerful than now will emerge within 20 years, Mundie estimated, packing the capabilities of a corporate data center into a single die sitting inside a mobile phone or laptop.

    A "killer application" will bring this computing power to the forefront, he said, just like what word processing and spreadsheets did for the PC and how e-mail and the Web browser popularized the Internet.

    Pushing a company as big as Microsoft -- with about 80,000 employees -- to look past historical strengths and traditional ways of doing things to focus on new technology is not easy.

    "Bill (Gates) and I have both talked at times over the years that you can't do these jobs unless you are an optimist, almost an extreme optimist because in a way you are fighting so many forces that are resistant to change," said Mundie.

    (Additional reporting by Duncan Martell in San Francisco, editing by Richard Chang)



    Reuters - Paulson: Time to toughen rules on mortgage brokers

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    Paulson: Time to toughen rules on mortgage brokers

    Thursday, Mar 13, 2008 4:10PM UTC

    By Glenn Somerville

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Financial regulators pledged on Thursday to toughen rules for mortgage brokers, lenders and credit agencies in a bid to ease a credit crunch and to try to restore investor confidence in markets.

    Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, unveiling a 20-page set of recommendations from the top-level President's Working Group, blamed a "dramatic weakening" of underwriting standards for lower-quality home loans for helping trigger turmoil in credit markets that raged on unabated as he spoke.

    Stock prices tumbled on rising fears of U.S. recession, gold prices soared and the dollar's value plumbed fresh record lows as investors shunned it in favor of the euro and other stronger currencies.

    Paulson, a Wall Street veteran before taking over the Treasury in mid-2006, said "financial innovation" -- like the practice of slicing up so-called subprime mortgages and using them as collateral for securities sold around the world -- had made the situation worse by introducing a baffling level of complexity.

    In a speech at the National Press Club, Paulson appealed to banks and other lenders not to stop issuing loans and implied they should cut back on dividends paid to shareholders if necessary to raise capital.

    "We are encouraging financial institutions to continue to strengthen balance sheets by raising capital and revisiting dividend policies; we need those institutions to continue to lend and facilitate economic growth," he said.

    Among recommendations from a top-level Presidential Working Group that he heads, Paulson said he wanted "strong nationwide licensing standards" for mortgage brokers as part of an effort to ward off future housing crises and reassure investors.

    Paulson said the focus of the Presidential Working Group's work since the current bout of market turmoil began last summer was to reduce the chance of repeating past mistakes.

    "Regulation needs to catch up with innovation and help restore investor confidence but not go so far as to create new problems, make our markets less efficient or cut off credit to those who need it," Paulson said.

    The working group includes the heads of the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as well as the Treasury. It issued recommendations that touch nearly every corner of the credit market, from Wall Street firms to credit rating agencies and regulators.

    In a sign of the severity of the credit crunch stemming from U.S. subprime market woes, a European affiliate of a high-profile U.S. buyout firm revealed on Thursday that it has defaulted on $16.6 billion of debt and faced having its remaining collateral seized.

    Carlyle Capital Corp, a fund listed in Amsterdam, said in New York late on Wednesday that talks with lenders had soured after a drop in the value of its mortgage investments, which it said would result in new margin calls on top of existing ones, implying its survival was at stake.

    Paulson said state and local regulators need to toughen oversight of all mortgage originators. Sloppy lending practices including loans made to homeowners with no requirement of proof of income, are widely blamed for a soaring tide of foreclosures, especially among subprime mortgages held by people with the shakiest personal credit.

    Paulson said credit rating agencies need to make sure that securitized credit issuers -- like those who issue mortgage-backed securities -- "perform robust due diligence of originators of assets that are securitized or used as collateral for structured credit products."

    Paulson said the working group was now ready to push for its recommendations to be put in place and vowed that it will "stay on top of this" while trying not to add to existing stress in markets.

    "We are going to be mindful when we implement it to not create a burden," Paulson told the Wall Street Journal in an interview earlier. "But we think it's very appropriate to lay out some of the causes and some of the steps that need to be taken ... to minimize the likelihood of this happening again."

    The report said various government bodies had worked on the recommendations for more seven months and that Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had "huddled" for half a day early this month to review the details.

    (Additional reporting by David Lawder and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

    Green Tea


    USA TODAY - New color $5 bills come out today

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    By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

    Abraham Lincoln is getting a little color in his cheeks. New $5 bills bearing the gaunt visage of the nation's 16th president with some touches of color added are making their way to banks and cash registers today.

    The Federal Reserve, supplier of the nation's cash, will start Thursday shipping the bills to banks, which send them to businesses and eventually into the hands of people in this country and beyond.

    DETAILS OF NEW BILL: See the security features

    Fittingly, one of the new bills will be spent for the first time Thursday at the gift shop of President Lincoln's Cottage on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in northwest Washington.

    The new $5 bill is the latest in a series of redesigned banknotes aimed at foiling counterfeiters, who over the years have grown increasingly sophisticated.

    A portrait of Lincoln is still on the front and the Lincoln Memorial remains on the back.

    To the naked eye, the most notable difference is splashes of light purple at the center of the bill that blend into gray near the edges.

    Small yellow "05" numerals are printed to the left of Lincoln on the front and to the right of the memorial on the back. The Great Seal of the United States, which features an eagle and shield, will appear in purple to the right of the president's portrait. Arcs of purple stars border Lincoln and the seal.

    The note also will feature an enlarged "5" printed in high-contrast purple ink in the lower right corner of the back of the bill. It also will have two separate watermarks and a number of other high-tech changes to make it harder for counterfeiters to knock off.

    The old $5 bills will continue to be accepted and recirculated until they wear out.

    The makeover of the $5 bill is similar to changes to $10, $20 and $50 bills.

    Next up for a new look: the $100 bill.

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    USA TODAY - Gold crosses $1,000 an ounce as dollar dips to 12-year low

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    By Paul Wiseman, USA TODAY

    Gold futures prices sailed to a record $1,000 an ounce Thursday, fueled by a combination of a weakening dollar, strong investment demand and inflation fears due to rising crude oil prices.

    After touching the new high, gold prices slipped back a bit.

    Gold has been pushing up against the $1,000 mark for weeks, mainly due to the weaker dollar. Interest rate cuts and the prospect of more on the way have weakened the dollar so much that foreign investors can buy dollar-based commodities like gold more cheaply

    On thursday, the dollar plunged below 100 yen for the first time in more than 12 years, dragging Asian stocks down with it.

    In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index skidded 427.69 points, or 3.3%, to 12,433.44. Plunging head first were shares of exporters such as Toyota (down 3%), Honda (4.4%) and Canon (4.3%). The dollar dipped to 99.75 yen in Asian trading first time it's sunk below 100 yen since November 1995 before bobbing back to close above 100. A stronger yen makes Japanese-made products more expensive in the U.S. market and shrinks dollar earnings from the U.S. when they're brought home to Japan as yen.

    "It could do a lot of psychological damage in the short term and will hurt Japan's growth going forward," says Chi Lo, research director at Ping An of China Asset Management in Hong Kong. Lo says Asian markets are also jittery about the health of the U.S. economy and stock market. "The market is very volatile. It all depends on the U.S. economic situation. (Restoring calm) could take another six months, if not longer."

    In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index tumbled 1,121.12 points, or 4.8%. Shares fell 2.6% in South Korea, 2.6% in Taiwan, 4.5% in Indonesia, 3.8% in Singapore and 2.5% in Malaysia. Airline stocks skidded on rising oil prices: Cathay Pacific shares nosedived 4.5% and China Southern Airlines shares dropped nearly 10%.

    "It's going to be a volatile and difficult year," Lo says.

    Oil futures hit a trading record above $110 a barrel overnight and were at $109.80 midafternoon in Singapore.

    Contributing: wire reports

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    The Remnants