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    Monday, March 30, 2009

    Reuters - Google launches free, legal music downloads in China

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    Google launches free, legal music downloads in China

    Monday, Mar 30, 2009 9:16AM UTC

    BEIJING (Reuters) - Google Inc on Monday launched free downloads of licensed songs in China, while sharing advertising revenue with major music labels in a market rife with online piracy.

    Lee Kai-Fu, president of Google in greater China, said one reason Google lagged in the mainland search market was because it did not offer music downloads, the missing piece to its strategy in a market where it trails leader Inc.

    "We are offering free, high quality and legal downloads," Lee told reporters. "We were missing one piece ... we didn't have music."

    The service offers downloads of some 350,000 songs -- from Chinese and foreign artists -- a number that will rise to 1.1 million in the coming months, said Gary Chen, chief executive of Google's partner, a Chinese music website co-founded by basketball star Yao Ming.

    Music from artists signed by Sony Music, Warner Music, EMI and Universal Music will be available on the service, which Google has no current plans to expand beyond China, said Lee.

    "This is the first serious attempt to start (monetizing) the online market in China. I can't overestimate how important this is," said Lachie Rutherford, president of Warner Music Asia Pacific and Asia chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

    Users will be able to search by musical measurements such as the level of "beat" in a song and "instrumentality," as well as by artist and song name.

    IFPI said last year that more than 99 percent of all music files distributed in China are pirated, and the country's total legitimate music market, at $76 million, accounts for less than 1 percent of global recorded music sales.

    The new service will attract users away from illegal download sites because the music and service will be of a higher quality, said Warner's Rutherford.

    Downloads of unlicensed music and videos are rampant in China, the world's biggest Internet market by number of users.

    While Google dominates the global web search market, in China Baidu holds more than 60 percent of the market, more than double Google's share.

    ($=6.83 yuan)

    (Reporting by Kirby Chien, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

    Sunday, March 29, 2009


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    Thursday, March 26, 2009

    Reuters - U.S. billionaire roars into space history

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    U.S. billionaire roars into space history

    Thursday, Mar 26, 2009 1:0PM UTC

    By Shavkat Rakhmatullayev and Shamil Zhumatov

    BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi roared into space aboard a Russian rocket on Thursday, making history as the first tourist to make the epic journey twice.

    The Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft blasted into the leaden skies from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on schedule at 1149 GMT and is due to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) two days later.

    "We are feeling well. Everything is going well," Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka said in a live feed after take-off, a fluffy white toy hanging above the crew in the cabin.

    Hungarian-born Simonyi, 60, who made much of his fortune developing software at Microsoft, traveled into space in the cramped interior of the Soyuz rocket alongside Padalka and U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt.

    At an observation post near the launch pad, Simonyi's 28-year-old Swedish wife Lisa Persdotter burst into tears and hugged her relatives as the rocket flashed through the sky and gradually disappeared from view.

    His friends, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, opened bottles of champagne and cheered as loudspeakers at Baikonur announced the blast-off had been successful.

    A spokesman for Russian mission control said the rocket had safely reached its targeted orbit. "They are now in orbit. Everything is going well," the spokesman said.

    Simonyi, who paid a total of $60 million for his two space trips, has said he will hang up his space suit for good after this last trek.

    "I cannot fly for the third time because I have just married and I have to spend time with my family," Simonyi told a pre-flight news briefing from behind a sealed glass partition.

    He is set to return to earth on April 7 with Michael Fincke, U.S. commander of outgoing Expedition 18, and Russian flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov.

    "He is in great spirits, he is very excited. He feels very privileged to be able to go into space again," said Eric Anderson, head of Space Adventures which arranges space trips.

    Russia has borne the brunt of sending crews and cargo to the multinational ISS since the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003, killing its crew of seven.

    A source in Russia's space industry told Reuters two space tourists could be launched in 2011. He gave no further details.

    Space Adventures admitted its business had been affected by the global financial crisis. "The number of billionaires has been cut in half," Anderson told Reuters, but added that demand for space trips appeared to be stable for now.

    "It's a very long-term thing," he said. "You don't just wake up in the morning one day and decide to go into space."

    (Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Tim Pearce)

    Reuters - U.S. economy shrinks, profits plunge in Q4

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    U.S. economy shrinks, profits plunge in Q4

    Thursday, Mar 26, 2009 1:26PM UTC

    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. economy shrank at its fastest pace since 1982 in the fourth quarter and corporate profits plunged a record $120.1 billion, pulled down by falling consumer spending and exports, government data showed on Thursday.

    In another snapshot of the ailing economy, the number of workers collecting state unemployment benefits rose to a record 5.56 million earlier this month, while new claims climbed to 652,000 last week, a separate government report showed.

    "I think people realize the economy seemingly fell off the cliff in the fourth quarter and continued in the first quarter this year. The question now is will you see a moderation in bad news?" said Doug Bender, managing director at McQueen, Ball & Associates in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

    U.S. equity index futures pared gains after data, while U.S. government bond prices and the dollar were little changed.

    Gross domestic product, which measures the total output of goods and services within U.S. borders, fell at an annual rate of 6.3 percent in the October-December quarter, the steepest decline since the first quarter of 1982, the Commerce Department said.

    The government last month estimated the fall in fourth-quarter GDP at 6.2 percent and the modest revisions to the output estimates reflected adjustments to business inventories and investment figures.

    The economy expanded 1.1 percent in 2008, the smallest advance since 2001, after growing 2.0 percent in the prior year, the department said.

    Private business inventories were revised to show a $25.8 billion decline, previously reported as a $19.9 billion fall, as business responded to the slump in demand by cutting output.

    Business investment, which is typically made when companies are planning production increases, fell at a 21.7 percent rate, the biggest fall since the first quarter of 1975, from a previously estimated 21.1 percent contraction. Residential investment fell 22.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

    "Investment is down big time, and that will be down in the current quarter, so that is not going to help," said Kurt Karl, head of economic research at Swiss Re in New York.

    "Going forward, the only positive light in the short term is going to be the consumer, and eventually that will turn the corner for us but it won't be enough this quarter to turn the corner," he said.

    Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of domestic economic activity, dropped a 4.3 percent rate, unchanged from last month's estimates.

    Exports were down 23.6 percent, also unrevised from last month's report.

    The department said corporate profits after taxes plummeted by a record $120.1 billion in the fourth quarter. The 10.7 percent drop was the biggest decline since the first quarter of 1994.

    A separate report from the Labor Department showed the number of workers collecting state unemployment benefits surged 122,000 during the week ended March 14, from 5.44 million the prior week.

    That pushed the insured unemployment rate to 4.2 percent from 4.1 percent the prior week, the highest since May 1983.

    The four-week moving average for new claims, considered to be a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell to 649,000 from a revised 650,000 the week ended March 14.

    It was the first drop in that series after nine weeks of rises.

    (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington and John Parry in New York, Editing by Andrea Ricci)

    CNN - Commentary: No job? Create your own!

    Sent from's mobile device from

    Commentary: No job? Create your own!

    Madame Alexander was one of the great innovators in the doll industry.

    According to the company that bears her name, she made the first doll with moving eyelids, the first doll based on a licensed character (Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind), the first doll fashioned after a living person (Queen Elizabeth) and many others.

    But what's most interesting is how and why the company got started.

    Beatrice Alexander's father owned the first doll "hospital" in New York City, where broken porcelain dolls were sent to be repaired. That got her thinking. Maybe porcelain wasn't the best material for a doll. So she sat around her kitchen table with her four sisters, and they started a business sewing dolls out of cloth.

    Theirs were not the only cloth dolls (Raggedy Anne was already popular), but they created a Red Cross doll, a smart choice so soon after World War I. She put all the dolls in a big suitcase and lugged them around to local mom and pop stores where she made small sales.

    No bank would lend to her; she was a 20-something woman in the early 1900s, a poor risk. So she scraped together what she could and just started. Eventually, she found someone who was willing to loan her $1,600, which she paid back in half the time she was allotted.

    After four years of dragging that suitcase door to door, she got her first big break: a big sale to FAO Schwarz.

    Forbes magazine recently profiled the most popular toys of the past 100 years, and Madame Alexander topped the list from the 1920s. It beat the yo-yo.

    There's a lesson here for us. We've lost 4.4 million jobs since the economic mess started. And many of those jobs aren't coming back. John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia, told The New York Times, "There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don't want to be in their businesses."

    At this point, outplacement is just a bad bet. There is no place to be placed. Companies aren't hiring, they're firing.

    And when eventually they do emerge from this recession, those companies that are still solvent won't rehire to previous levels. Over the years, companies have gotten leaner as employees have gotten more productive. And they won't rehire as much when times improve because they'll want to keep their profit margins high. It's quite possible that the age of big business tending to thousands of workers is coming to a close.

    Looking for a job might make you feel better, but it won't pay your mortgage. Don't waste your time looking for a job that isn't there.

    There is another way. It's the great opportunity of our time. For many people, it's the only one. And it might actually make you happier than you were at the old job.

    Start a business.

    Wait, hold on. Before you get all angry at how out of touch I am, hear me out.

    In a New York Times article, "Weary of Looking for Work, Some Create Their Own," Ryan Kuder who started a Web design company after unsuccessfully looking for work for months said, "It's probably easier right now to find a problem, solve it and charge people than it is to find a job."

    Easier doesn't mean easy or painless. Any way you cut it, these are terrifying times we live in. And starting a company is a risky proposition. But this is one time when looking for a job might be riskier.

    A friend of mine, Ben Dubrovsky, recently laid off from his technology job in Boston, Massachusetts, shared with me an idea he's trying at his local synagogue. He's pulling a group of people together to brainstorm business ideas that leverage their skills, talents, passions and experience.

    "We're not looking for a trillion dollar return. We're looking for sustainable employment. Jobs that will give people an ongoing living, not companies as a vehicle for creating empires," he said to me.

    Then they'll look to their synagogue community for advice, contacts or investment. Perhaps even a synagogue-based micro-finance bank where small loans could help start these businesses -- businesses driven by passion.

    Brilliant. Ben's idea can translate to any community where people trust and care for each other. There are an estimated 400,000 churches in the United States.

    Imagine if each one could generate 10 jobs; that would be 4,000,000 jobs -- roughly the same number that President Obama is looking for out of the stimulus at a fraction of the cost. If you think that's unrealistic, imagine we got half that. Or even a quarter. Insane? Maybe. But it just might work.

    Don't wait until you come up with the perfect idea.

    You'll be better off if you work out the kinks as you face them. Just get started. And this is the perfect time to start a new business. Marketing costs are way down because of the Internet and less competition. And as I wrote in a recent article about the new economy, small companies are replacing big ones because we trust people more than companies.

    Just ask Howie Jacobson, author of "Adwords for Dummies," who started his Internet marketing business during the last downturn.

    He told me the entrepreneurs he knows all seem to be doing pretty well in this economy. They don't have huge infrastructures to support. They don't need to sell a million widgets just to stay in business. They're comfortable with modest profits that sustain their lifestyles. How are you surviving in this economy?

    Madame Alexander had a wise model for finding work. She started a business doing work she loved, with people she loved, solving a problem others were willing to pay money to have solved. It was a small company that took very little investment but gave her and others meaningful, sustainable work.

    In other words, start a business in your kitchen with your sisters.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Bregman.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    Reuters - Nokia invests in mobile money firm Obopay

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    Nokia invests in mobile money firm Obopay

    Wednesday, Mar 25, 2009 11:48AM UTC

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - The world's top cell phone maker Nokia has bought a minority stake in Obopay, enabling the U.S. mobile money firm to extend its product offering and geographical presence.

    "This investment reflects our belief in the global potential for mobile payments," Teppo Paavola, head of Corporate Business Development at Nokia, said in a statement. The size of the investment was not disclosed.

    Research firm Berg Insight expects the number of people using mobile financial services to grow on average 89 percent a year to 913 million in 2014 from just 20 million last year.

    Mobile banking services are expected to match those of online retail banking and eventually go beyond that with technologies like near-field communications (NFC), which enables payments by just waving a phone. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Hans Peters)

    Reuters - "Cloud-based" console takes aim at Wii, PS3, Xbox 360

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    "Cloud-based" console takes aim at Wii, PS3, Xbox 360

    Wednesday, Mar 25, 2009 1:37PM UTC

    By Gabriel Madway

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A new videogame company is aiming to challenge the big three console makers by providing a "cloud-based" gaming system promising on-demand access to games and no lag time.

    The fledging company, called OnLive, said its service will allow users to play games on any TV and nearly any personal computer -- even stripped-down netbooks and PCs without graphics processors.

    A console slightly larger than an iPhone connects TVs and broadband connections to the OnLive service, and is operated via a wireless controller. OnLive delivers games run on servers in the "cloud," rather than locally on a PC or a console.

    OnLive, which has been in development for seven years, has deals in place with 10 publishers to provide new game titles when they hit the shelves. Heavyweights such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take Two, and THQ have signed on.

    "When you want to play a game, you just click a button and it plays instantly," said Steve Perlman, OnLive's founder and chief executive. "It's that simple."

    Perlman is a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur who helped launch WebTV, which Microsoft bought in 1997.

    He said OnLive allows complex and graphically rich games to play with outstanding performance on even low-end PCs or Macs.

    The company expects to launch its service in the winter of 2009. Although OnLive did not release details on pricing, it will follow a subscription model and Perlman said it will be "significantly" cheaper than consoles.

    Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 consoles can cost anywhere from $200 to $400.

    OnLive was formally launched Tuesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Its innovation rests in its video compression technology, which instantly streams video down through the Internet so that it appears "effectively instantaneously," Perlman said.

    "Perceptually, it appears the game is playing locally."

    OnLive, which was spun out of technology incubator Rearden, is headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Its investors include Time Warner's Warner Bros., Autodesk and Maverick Capital.

    (Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Edwin Chan, Gary Hill)

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009

    CNN - Obama to beef up Mexico border policy

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    Obama to beef up Mexico border policy

    The Obama administration announced a major increase in security funding and the deployment of U.S.-Mexico border agents Tuesday as part of a comprehensive new plan to beef up resources at the Mexican border.

    The plan commits $700 million to bolster Mexican law enforcement and crime prevention efforts. The funds will provide, among other things, five new helicopters to increase mobility for the Mexican army and air force as well as new surveillance aircraft for the Mexican navy.

    The initiative is designed to help with Mexico's accelerating war against violent drug cartels.

    The plan, developed by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, calls for doubling the number of border security task force teams as well as moving a significant number of other federal agents, equipment and resources to the border.

    It also involves greater intelligence sharing aimed at cracking down on the flow of money and weapons into Mexico, which helps fuel the drug trade, the officials said.

    "The president is concerned by the increased level of violence, particularly in [the border cities of] Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, and the impact that it is having on the communities on both sides of the border," the White House press office said in a statement.

    "He believes that the United States must continue to monitor the situation and guard against spillover into the United States. [He] is firmly committed to ensuring our borders are secure, and we are doing all we can to reduce illegal flows in both directions across the border."

    The plan also will fund enhanced communications technology for Mexican prosecutors, law enforcement and immigration officials.

    The funds, meant to assist what administration officials described as an "anti-smuggling effort," will complement ongoing U.S. aid to Mexico under the Merida initiative, a three-year $1.4 billion package aimed at helping Mexico fight the drug cartels with law enforcement training, military equipment and improved intelligence cooperation.

    The administration also is looking to increase intelligence cooperation on the border with Mexican authorities, tighten enforcement of existing U.S. executive orders to go after drug trafficking money and money laundering and step up investigation and prosecution of cartel-related activities in the United States, the officials said.

    To help strengthen the U.S. side of the border, the administration also plans to triple the number of Department of Homeland Security intelligence analysts dedicated to stopping Mexican-related violence. It also will increase the number of immigration officials working in Mexico, double the number of "Violent Criminal Alien" teams on the border, strengthen the presence of border canine units and quadruple the number of border liaison officers working with Mexican law enforcement.

    It also will make an additional $59 million in federal funds available to support state, local and tribal border law enforcement operations.

    At the same time, more agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives will be deployed to the border region. The agents will be given updated equipment and surveillance technology to help track the movement of cash, drugs and weapons.

    "We are discussing more things we can do to address the very real problem of currency and weapons moving into Mexico and at the same time trying to prevent potential border spillover," one senior administration official said.

    The plan is scheduled to be announced at the White House by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and U.S. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden.

    The announcement comes shortly ahead of a planned visit of three Cabinet secretaries to Mexico before President Obama visits there next month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Mexico City this week, to be followed next week by Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder.

    Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been pushing back against U.S. criticism of drug cartel-related violence, which killed about 6,500 people in Mexico last year. In speeches and other recent comments, Calderon has said the United States also must take responsibility because much of the demand for drugs and most of the weapons used by narcotraffickers come from the United States.

    "Mexico believes we are not acknowledging the transitional nature of the problem and the role the U.S. is playing in this," another senior administration official said. "So we are looking at what U.S. law enforcement agencies can do to respond to the Mexican concerns."

    For real-time mobile news, go to -

    This story has been sent from the mobile device of For real-time mobile news, go to .

    Certain areas of economy swelling with jobs

    There is life and work in parts of the economy, from health care workers to hard hats.

    A handful of states and big industries have added jobs at a remarkably healthy rate throughout the recession, providing hope for job seekers in a tough economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

    JOBS FORECAST: Map shows outlook for all 50 states and DC by job sectors

    About 4.4 million people got new jobs in January, and 3 million more openings were available, BLS data show. Those numbers are down sharply from the start of the recession in December 2007 and weren't enough to offset the 4.9 million people who lost or quit their jobs in January. But the jobs data do show some bright spots expanding industries that promise new, stable career opportunities.

    "There are no nurses looking for work," says Mary McNamara of the American Nurses Association. The big problem: finding nursing professors to train new nurses to meet heavy demand.

    Where the jobs are:

    Health care. Every part of the $2.5 trillion industry is growing. Hiring has continued non-stop at hospital, out-patient clinics and physician offices. Nearly every job is in demand: nurses, lab technicians, physician assistants.

    Government. The federal workforce has been growing at a faster rate than local governments' labor pool, but cities, counties and school districts are adding a greater number of jobs because they employ 15 million workers seven times as many as the federal government. Fastest job growth: education, police, firefighting and blue-collar jobs connected to infrastructure such as roads. Slowest growth: administrative work.

    Energy. Oil, gas, coal and electricity production keeps adding jobs, although the pace has slowed since energy prices declined last year. Sewer and water utilities are growing, too.

    "Government and service jobs are the big places to get jobs today," says John Connaughton, director of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Economic Forecast. Service jobs include health care and education, he says.

    During the recession, the unemployment rate has risen in every state. However, a few states have rates so low that they are near full employment: Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, South Dakota and North Dakota. "We've got plenty of jobs," says Michael Ziesch, research analyst at Jobs Service North Dakota, the state's employment agency. Firms are hiring in all parts of the state and in nearly every industry.

    The state's online job database has more than 10,000 job vacancies posted. "That's a lot for a small state like North Dakota," Ziesch says. The database is getting heavy use from out-of-state job seekers, he says.

    The aging population makes more nursing jobs a sure thing, says Cheryl Peterson, director of nursing practice at the American Nurses Association. "There will be jobs in 2015. No question."

    Monday, March 23, 2009

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    CNN - Armstrong breaks collarbone in race crash

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    Armstrong breaks collarbone in race crash

    American cyclist Lance Armstrong suffered a shattering blow in his comeback bid on Monday when he broke his right collarbone after falling on the first stage of a five-day race in northern Spain.

    Emerging from a hospital with his arm in a sling, Armstrong said he will return to the United States, where doctors will determined whether he needs surgery.

    "I'm miserable," said the record seven-time Tour de France champion. "I just need to relax a couple of days and then make a plan."

    Armstrong could be out for three to four weeks said Jacinto Vidarte, spokesman for the Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon race, following a crash that involved a group of 15 to 20 riders some 20 kilometers from the finish.

    The injury looks certain to end Armstrong's hopes of challenging for the Giro d'Italia from May 9-31 and must cast big doubts on his plans to chase an eighth Tour crown from July 4-26 in France.

    The 37-year-old Armstrong was taken to a hospital by ambulance and was seen pointing to his collarbone, CNN's Al Goodman reported from northern Spain.

    Armstrong, who came out of retirement after more than three years to return to competitive cycling with Astana in January, walked to the ambulance unaided, television pictures from the scene showed.

    Bartosz Huzarski, a cyclist racing for the Italian team ISD, saw the fall, but said he did not know what had caused it. Only Armstrong appeared to indicate he was hurt, the Polish cyclist said.

    The fall took place a on a sunny day on a stretch of two-lane highway, Goodman said, as riders tackled the 104-mile (168-km) opening stage, as Armstrong stepped up his latest return to the sport.

    Armstrong's first comeback came in 1998, two years after he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. Doctors gave him a less than 50 percent chance of survival.

    He has become a highly visible cancer activist at the head of his Livestrong foundation.

    Armstrong, whose Tour triumphs came between 1999-2005, announced in September last year that he would be returning to the saddle.

    He launched his comeback in January when he raced in the Tour Down Under in Australia, finishing 29th.

    Armstrong then played a key support role as Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer won the Tour of California title in February before finishing 125th in last Saturday's Milan-San Remo in Italy.

    He was riding in this week's Castilla and Leon race to continue his bid to reach peak form ahead of the Giro d'Italia and then a crack at an eighth Tour crown.

    Armstrong returned to the sport not only to attempt to become the oldest Tour winner, but also to raise awareness about cancer.

    "The most important issue is taking the global epidemic of cancer really to a much bigger stage," explained Armstrong, who previously fought a battle with testicular cancer.

    "The best way to do that is to race the bike all over the world. So you race in Australia, South Africa, South America, Europe, America -- that is the first priority," added the Texan.

    Sunday, March 22, 2009

    Reuters - U.N. panel says world should ditch dollar

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    U.N. panel says world should ditch dollar

    Wednesday, Mar 18, 2009 3:16PM UTC

    By Jeremy Gaunt, European Investment Correspondent

    LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - A U.N. panel will next week recommend that the world ditch the dollar as its reserve currency in favor of a shared basket of currencies, a member of the panel said on Wednesday, adding to pressure on the dollar.

    Currency specialist Avinash Persaud, a member of the panel of experts, told a Reuters Funds Summit in Luxembourg that the proposal was to create something like the old Ecu, or European currency unit, that was a hard-traded, weighted basket.

    Persaud, chairman of consultants Intelligence Capital and a former currency chief at JPMorgan, said the recommendation would be one of a number delivered to the United Nations on March 25 by the U.N. Commission of Experts on International Financial Reform.

    "It is a good moment to move to a shared reserve currency," he said.

    Central banks hold their reserves in a variety of currencies and gold, but the dollar has dominated as the most convincing store of value -- though its rate has wavered in recent years as the United States ran up huge twin budget and external deficits.

    Some analysts said news of the U.N. panel's recommendation extended dollar losses because it fed into concerns about the future of the greenback as the main global reserve currency, raising the chances of central bank sales of dollar holdings.

    "Speculation that major central banks would begin rebalancing their FX reserves has risen since the intensification of the dollar's slide between 2002 and mid-2008," CMC Markets said in a note.

    Russia is also planning to propose the creation of a new reserve currency, to be issued by international financial institutions, at the April G20 meeting, according to the text of its proposals published on Monday.

    It has significantly reduced the dollar's share in its own reserves in recent years.


    Persaud said that the United States was concerned that holding the reserve currency made it impossible to run policy, while the rest of world was also unhappy with the generally declining dollar.

    "There is a moment that can be grasped for change," he said.

    "Today the Americans complain that when the world wants to save, it means a deficit. A shared (reserve) would reduce the possibility of global imbalances."

    Persaud said the panel had been looking at using something like an expanded Special Drawing Right, originally created by the International Monetary Fund in 1969 but now used mainly as an accounting unit within similar organizations.

    The SDR and the old Ecu are essentially combinations of currencies, weighted to a constituent's economic clout, which can be valued against other currencies and indeed against those inside the basket.

    Persaud said there were two main reasons why policymakers might consider such a move, one being the current desire for a change from the dollar.

    The other reason, he said, was the success of the euro, which incorporated a number of currencies but roughly speaking held on to the stability of the old German deutschemark compared with, say, the Greek drachma.

    Persaud has long argued that the dollar would give way to the Chinese yuan as a global reserve currency within decades.

    A shared reserve currency might negate this move, he said, but he believed that China would still like to take on the role.

    (To read Reuters Global Investing Blog click on; for the MacroScope Blog click on; for Hedge Fund Hub click on

    (editing by Patrick Graham)

    Reuters - China's last eunuch spills sex secrets

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    China's last eunuch spills sex secrets

    Monday, Mar 16, 2009 2:1PM UTC

    By Emma Graham-Harrison

    BEIJING (Reuters) - Only two memories brought tears to Sun Yaoting's eyes in old age -- the day his father cut off his genitals, and the day his family threw away the pickled remains that should have made him a whole man again at death.

    China's last eunuch was tormented and impoverished in youth, punished in revolutionary China for his role as the "Emperor's slave" but finally feted and valued, largely for outlasting his peers to become a unique relic, a piece of "living history."

    He had stories of the tortuous rituals of the Forbidden City, Emperor Pu Yi's last moments there and the troubled puppet court run by the Japanese during the 1930s. He escaped back to the heart of a civil war, became a Communist official and then a target of radical leftists before being finally left in peace.

    This turbulent life has been recorded in the "The Last Eunuch of China" by amateur historian Jia Yinghua, who over years of friendship drew out of Sun the secrets that were too painful or intimate to spill to prying journalists or state archivists.

    He died in 1996, in an old temple that had become his home, and his biography was finally published in English this year.

    It unveils formerly taboo subjects like the sex life of eunuchs and the emperor they served, the agonizing castrations often done at home and also often lethal, and the incontinence and shame that came with the promise of great power.

    "He was conflicted over whether to tell the secrets of the emperor," said Jia, adding that Sun preserved a loyalty to the old system because he had dedicated so much of his life to it.

    "I was the only person he trusted. He did not even confide in his family, after they threw away his 'treasure,'" Jia added, using traditional eunuchs' slang for their preserved genitals.

    They were discarded during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when having anything from the "old society" could put lives at risk.

    "He only cried about two things; when telling me about the castration and about the loss of his 'treasure'," said Jia, who works as an energy bureaucrat, but devotes all his spare time to chronicling the dying days of Imperial China after a childhood enthralled by the eunuchs and princes who were his neighbors.


    Over years of painstaking research, he has gleaned arcane details about every aspect of palace life, along with secrets about the emperor's sexuality and cruelty that would look at home on the front page of tabloid newspapers.

    For centuries in China, the only men from outside the imperial family who were allowed into the Forbidden City's private quarters were castrated ones. They effectively swapped their reproductive organs for a hope of exclusive access to the emperor that made some into rich and influential politicians.

    Sun's impoverished family set him on this painful, risky path in hopes that he might one day be able to crush a bullying village landlord who stole their fields and burned their house.

    His desperate father performed the castration on the bed of their mud-walled home, with no anesthetic and only oil-soaked paper as a bandage. A goose quill was inserted in Sun's urethra to prevent it getting blocked as the wound healed.

    He was unconscious for three days and could barely move for two months. When he finally rose from his bed, history played the first of a series of cruel tricks on him -- he discovered the emperor he hoped to serve had abdicated several weeks earlier.

    "He had a very tragic life. He had thought it was worthwhile for his father, but the sacrifice was in vain," Jia said, in a house stacked with old books, newspapers and photos.

    "He was very smart and shrewd. If the empire had not fallen there is a high chance he would have become powerful," Jia added.

    The young ex-emperor was eventually allowed to stay in the palace and Sun had risen to become an attendant to the empress when the imperial family were unceremoniously booted out of the Forbidden City, ending centuries of tradition and Sun's dreams.

    "He was castrated, then the emperor abdicated. He made it into the Forbidden City then Pu Yi was evicted. He followed him north and then the puppet regime collapsed. He felt life had played a joke at his expense," Jia said.

    Many eunuchs fled with palace treasures, but Sun took a crop of memories and a nose for political survival that turned out to be better tools for surviving years of civil war and ideological turbulence that followed.

    "He never became rich, he never became powerful, but he became very rich in experience and secrets," Jia said.

    (Editing by Nick Macfie and Bill Tarrant)

    Reuters - Washington Mutual sues FDIC for over $13 billion

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    Washington Mutual sues FDIC for over $13 billion

    Saturday, Mar 21, 2009 5:49PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Washington Mutual Inc, the failed U.S. savings and loan, has sued the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp for well over $13 billion in connection with the loss of its banking operations, which was acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

    In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the thrift's former parent accused the FDIC of having on January 23 made a "cryptic disallowance" of its claims, prompting the lawsuit.

    It also accused the FDIC of agreeing to an unreasonably low price in arranging the a $1.9 billion sale of the banking business to JPMorgan on September 25, when regulators seized Washington Mutual and appointed the FDIC as receiver.

    JPMorgan did not buy the parent holding company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the following day.

    In its complaint, Washington Mutual seeks to recover as much as $6.5 billion of capital contributions it said it made to its banking unit from December 2007 through the seizure.

    Washington Mutual also seeks the return of $4 billion of trust preferred securities it said were wrongfully transferred to the banking unit, and said it may be entitled to as much as $3 billion of tax refunds. It also seeks damages of $177.1 million related to unpaid loans made to the banking unit.

    The company also made claims on several other matters that together could add to any recovery. Washington Mutual is seeking a jury trial.

    In the January 23 letter, the FDIC said it disallowed Washington Mutual's claims because they lacked documentation or specificity, failed to state grounds to recover, appeared to be made against third parties, or had no legal basis.

    FDIC spokesman David Barr said the regulator does not comment on lawsuits.

    Seattle-based Washington Mutual failed after mortgage losses soared, and following a 10-day bank run when customers withdrew $16.7 billion of deposits. It had about $307 billion of assets, and remains by far the largest U.S. lender to fail.

    The parent is seeking to pay off creditors with amounts it recovers in the Chapter 11 proceedings.

    The case is Washington Mutual Inc v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 09-00533.

    (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, additional reporting by Karey Wutkowski in Washington, D.C., Editing by Eric Walsh)

    Saturday, March 21, 2009

    CNN - Three police officers dead in Oakland shootings

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    Three police officers dead in Oakland shootings

    Three police officers in Oakland, California, were shot and killed Saturday afternoon after a man pulled over for a routine traffic stop opened fire, police said.

    The man, a 27-year-old Oakland resident, was later fatally shot in a gun battle with SWAT officers in a nearby apartment complex where he hid.

    A fourth officer -- also shot -- remained in critical condition, police said at a late-night news conference.

    Authorities discovered the alleged gunman, 27-year-old LaVelle Mixon, had an extensive criminal history. At the time of the shooting, he was in violation of parole for assault with a deadly weapon, police said.

    The incident began about 1 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) in east Oakland when two motorcycle officers tried to pull over a car for a "fairly, routine traffic stop," said Dave Kozicki, the deputy police chief.

    Immediately afterward, emergency call dispatchers received reports that two officers were down at the scene and needed attention. They had been shot, Kozicki said.

    A manhunt was under way for the shooter when an anonymous caller directed authorities to a building on an adjacent street where the gunman was believed to be barricaded, said acting Police Chief Howard Jordan.

    The gunman opened fire on SWAT officers who entered the apartment, hitting two more officers before police returned fire, killing the suspect, Jordan said.

    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said flags at the capitol will fly at half-staff to honor the fallen officers.

    "This is a tragic day for law enforcement officers everywhere," he said in a statement. "All four officers dedicated their lives to public safety and selflessly worked to protect the people of Oakland."

    Friday, March 20, 2009

    CNN - Desperate Japanese head to 'suicide forest'

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    Desperate Japanese head to 'suicide forest'

    Aokigahara Forest is known for two things in Japan: breathtaking views of Mount Fuji and suicides. Also called the Sea of Trees, this destination for the desperate is a place where the suicidal disappear, often never to be found in the dense forest.

    Taro, a 46-year-old man fired from his job at an iron manufacturing company, hoped to fade into the blackness. "My will to live disappeared," said Taro. "I'd lost my identity, so I didn't want to live on this earth. That's why I went there."

    Taro, who did not want to be identified fully, was swimming in debt and had been evicted from his company apartment. He lost financial control, which he believes to be the foundation of any stable life, he said. "You need money to survive. If you have a girlfriend, you need money. If you want to get married, you need it for your life. Money is always necessary for your life."

    Taro bought a one-way ticket to the forest, west of Tokyo, Japan. When he got there, he slashed his wrists, though the cut wasn't enough to kill him quickly.

    He started to wander, he said. He collapsed after days and lay in the bushes, nearly dead from dehydration, starvation and frostbite. He would lose his toes on his right foot from the frostbite. But he didn't lose his life, because a hiker stumbled upon his nearly dead body and raised the alarm.

    Taro's story is just one of hundreds logged at Aokigahara Forest every year, a place known throughout Japan as the "suicide forest." The area is home to the highest number of suicides in the entire country.

    Japan's suicide rate, already one of the world's highest, has increased with the recent economic downturn.

    There were 2,645 suicides recorded in January 2009, a 15 percent increase from the 2,305 for January 2008, according to the Japanese government.

    The Japanese government said suicide rates are a priority and pledged to cut the number of suicides by more than 20 percent by 2016. It plans to improve suicide awareness in schools and workplaces. But officials fear the toll will rise with unemployment and bankruptcies, matching suicide spikes in earlier tough economic times.

    "Unemployment is leading to this," said Toyoki Yoshida, a suicide and credit counselor.

    "Society and the government need to establish immediate countermeasures to prevent suicides. There should be more places where they can come and seek help."

    Yoshida and his fellow volunteer, Norio Sawaguchi, posted signs in Aokigahara Forest urging suicidal visitors to call their organization, a credit counseling service. Both men say Japanese society too often turns a cold shoulder to the unemployed and bankrupt, and breeds a culture where suicide is still seen as an honorable option.

    Local authorities, saying they are the last resort to stop people from killing themselves in the forest, have posted security cameras at the entrances of the forest.

    The goal, said Imasa Watanabe of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government is to track the people who walk into the forest. Watanabe fears more suicidal visitors will arrive in the coming weeks.

    "Especially in March, the end of the fiscal year, more suicidal people will come here because of the bad economy," he said. "It's my dream to stop suicides in this forest, but to be honest, it would be difficult to prevent all the cases here."

    One year after his suicide attempt, Taro is volunteering with the credit counseling agency that helped him get back on his feet. He's still living in a shelter and looking for a job. He's ashamed, he said, that he still thinks about suicide.

    "I try not to think about it, but I can't say never. For now, the will to live is stronger."

    Thursday, March 19, 2009

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    13 firms receiving federal bailout owe back taxes

    Thirteen firms receiving billions of dollars in federal bailout money owe a total of more than $220 million in unpaid federal taxes, a key lawmaker said Thursday.

    Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, chairman of a House subcommittee overseeing the federal bailout, said two firms owe more than $100 million apiece.

    TARP MONEY: Who got what (sortable chart)

    "This is shameful. It is a disgrace," Lewis said. "We are going to get to the bottom of what is going on here."

    The House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight discovered the unpaid taxes in a review of tax records from 23 of the firms receiving the most money, Lewis said as he opened a hearing on the issue.

    The committee said it could not legally release the names of the companies owing taxes. It said one recipient had almost $113 million in unpaid federal income taxes from 2005 and 2006. A second recipient owed almost $102 million dating to before 2004. Another was behind $1.1 million in federal income taxes and $223,000 in federal employment taxes.

    "If we looked at all 470 recipients, how much would they owe?" Lewis asked.

    Lewis said the panel plans to review tax records from other firms receiving federal money, but he was unsure if it would look at every firm.

    "We're not done," he said.

    Banks and other firms receiving federal money were required to sign contracts stating they had no unpaid taxes, Lewis said. But he said the Treasury Department did not ask them to turn over their tax records.

    Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, told the hearing that if an executive signed a contract knowing that information about unpaid taxes was false, "that would potentially be a crime." He said his office will look to see if crimes were committed.

    No one from the Treasury Department appeared at Thursday's hearing. Lewis said he asked Treasury officials for a private briefing on their efforts to uncover unpaid taxes, as well as someone to testify at Thursday's hearing.

    "They said no one was available," Lewis said in an interview.

    Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is already under fire on Capitol Hill for not preventing $165 million in bonuses from being paid to employees at troubled insurance giant AIG.

    People will ask, said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., why there are "large companies getting taxpayer dollars, making false representations, and we can't even name them, much less make them pay the money back, much less prosecute them."

    Davis continued: "Will they get their day on a billboard, hopefully?"

    "Absolutely," said Barofsky. If someone lied, he said, "They need to be prosecuted."

    The revelation is sure to spark outrage on Capitol Hill, where the House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would impose steep taxes on employee bonuses at AIG and other firms that have received bailout money.

    To date, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, has paid out more than $300 billion to private companies, with billions more on the way.

    Portfolio Mobile - Last Bytes: Hulu, Techie Cheney, IMDB, California Start-Ups

    Last Bytes: Hulu, Techie Cheney, IMDB, California Start-Ups

    An explanation from NBC boss Jeff Zucker for why you can't watch Hulu on Boxee. Sort of. [Business Insider]

    Dick Cheney reads on a Kindle and emails on a Blackberry, but there's no word on how well the reception is in his bunker. [WSJ Digits]

    You already go to IMDB to find out everything about every movie star ever. Eventually, it wants to stream movies to you when you come to do your research. [CNet News]

    According to one survey of CEOs, California is the worst state in which to start your business. Ouch. [GigaOm]Related Links Winner? Loser? Or Hobbled From the Start?
    Hulu Sprouts a Social Network
    Hulu Videos Return to Boxee (Sort of)

    Presented By:Want a great tech job? One site has them. is the #1 site for tech jobs. Search thousands of positions from top employers, get expert advice and talk with tech pros. Start your job search
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    (c) 2007 Portfolio. Powered by mLogic Media, Crisp Wireless, Inc.

    Reuters - Samsung launches movies to mobiles service

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    Samsung launches movies to mobiles service

    Thursday, Mar 19, 2009 6:0PM UTC

    LONDON (Reuters) - Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd launched a service allowing its customers to buy or rent movies and TV series to download to their mobile phones.

    The breadth of Samsung's offering, which includes over 500 blockbusters from top studios Warner Bros MTWX.N, Paramount and Universal, makes it competitive with other mobile media offerings from Apple Inc and Nokia Oyj.

    Samsung Movies, a dedicated virtual store for Samsung customers, launches initially in Britain and Germany and will extend to other key European markets later in the year, Samsung said in a statement.

    The service, which features films such as "The Dark Knight" and TV series including "E.R." and "Friends," will be compatible only with video-enabled Samsung phones such as its new Tocco Ultra Edition.

    Samsung plans to expand the service to notebooks, MP3 and MP4 portable music players and Samsung TVs.

    Samsung Movies will use technology from privately owned digital movie retailer Acetrax, which holds agreements with film studios and music labels.

    Prices start at 2.49 pounds ($3.55) for a 24-hour rental or 4.99 pounds to buy a movie.

    Samsung said it would double its titles to 1,000 by the end of the first quarter and again to 2,000 movies and TV shows by the end of June.

    UK-based research firm CCS Insight said in a note: "The move is tangible progress in (Samsung's) convergence strategy and a first step in delivering consumer services to rival those from the likes of Nokia and Sony Ericsson.

    (Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by David Holmes)

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Reuters - Consumers want unrestricted Internet access: survey

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    Consumers want unrestricted Internet access: survey

    Wednesday, Mar 18, 2009 4:28PM UTC

    BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Nine in 10 people expect their Internet service providers to offer open and unrestricted access to the Web, a survey showed on Wednesday. The survey, commissioned by Google, Yahoo and Web telephone company Skype, came as the European Parliament and EU states hold talks on a joint deal to reform the bloc's telecoms rules to boost competition.

    "EU lawmakers should make sure that national authorities have the powers they need to act in cases where traffic management by telecommunication companies constitute unnecessary, discriminatory and/or anti-competitive behavior," the companies said in a joint statement.

    The survey by market researcher Synovate was conducted among 944 consumers in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

    "Consumers clearly think that they should have access to all legitimate sites and services online. They do not want their access blocked or limited," said Synovate head Nigel Jackson.

    He said most Internet users were not aware that their Internet service providers might be restricting access to these services in any way.

    One in 10 of those polled in the survey in the UK said they were willing to fork out more for another Internet service provider if their company blocked or limited their service. The percentage was higher, at 15 percent for German consumers in the poll.

    The European Parliament and EU governments have joint say over the telecoms measures which were authored by EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding and include the setting up of a new EU telecoms regulatory body.

    (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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    College enrollment in computer science, engineering on the rise

    Relief may be finally on the way for engineering-starved employers.

    For the first time since the dot-com bust, there is a jump in the number of undergraduate computer-science majors. New enrollment in North American computer science and engineering programs rose 8% during the 2007-08 school year from the year before, according to a report released Tuesday by the Computing Research Association, a trade group for about 200 university computing departments. It is the first increase since 2002.

    "The perception that IT jobs are hard to come by is over, and the field is now considered an interesting place to be," says Peter Harsha, director of government affairs for CRA, which also represents government research labs and research labs for tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM.

    The allure of popular technologies such as Web 2.0, iPhone, Facebook and YouTube have drawn more teens into computer science and should boost enrollment figures next year, too, Harsha says.

    Adding to the surge: Many undergraduates who once considered business and finance majors are focusing instead on computing, says Jeff Hollingsworth, associate chair at the University of Maryland's computer-science department.

    The dramatic shift should ease concern within the tech industry that the U.S. does not graduate enough computer-science students. For years, that has driven tech vendors to outsource low-level programming jobs to India, China and elsewhere.

    The spike in majors comes as especially comforting news for IBM and others that often could not fill enterprise-computing jobs because of a paucity of qualified college graduates."(Information technology) skills are now required to be more competitive in all professions not just a technical company," says Mark Hanny, vice president of alliances and academic initiative for IBM Software Group.

    President Obama's $787 economic stimulus package underscores the importance of such skills in building a smart energy grid, modernizing health care and expanding broadband networks. Indeed, eight in 10 U.S. college students see a growing need for more IT professionals as technology advances, according to a survey by IBM and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, also released Tuesday.

    The change is easy to spot at Carnegie Mellon University, says Sameer Chopra, a junior majoring in computer science there. It used to be fairly easy to get into most classes. Now, some have waiting lists of up to 40 people, he says.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    Reuters - U.S. housing offers hope on economy

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    U.S. housing offers hope on economy

    Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009 4:40PM UTC

    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New U.S. housing starts and permits unexpectedly rebounded in February, according to data on Tuesday that provided a rare dose of good news for the recession-hit economy and fractured housing market.

    The Commerce Department said housing starts jumped 22.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units from 477,000 units in January. That was the biggest percentage rise since January 1990 and also marked the first increase since last April.

    "That is an encouraging sign for the U.S. economy. It is good signal of what is to come. With the rally in equities we hopefully have seen a bottom for the economy here," said Matt Esteve, foreign exchange trader at Tempus Consulting in Washington.

    U.S. stocks have been on the rise over the last several days and the major indexes opened flat on Tuesday. U.S. government bond prices trimmed gains after the data and the U.S. dollar fell against the euro as risk aversion eased.

    The data came as the Federal Reserve's policy-setting committee was due to start a scheduled two-day meeting on Tuesday, It is expected to leave the target for its benchmark overnight funds rates unchanged at zero-0.25 percent.

    But the statement at the end of the meeting on Wednesday will be scrutinized for clues on the central bank's readiness to start buying Treasuries to boost its efforts to jump-start an economy in recession since December 2007.

    New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, rose 3.0 percent to 547,000 units, from 531,000 units in January. That also marked the first advance in permits since April last year.

    Compared to the same period in 2008, housing starts were down 47.3 percent in February and permits declined 44.2 percent. Completions rose 2.3 percent to a rate of 785,000 from January's 767,000.


    The housing market is at the center of the financial and economic meltdown and bringing some measure of stability to the sector is crucial to rescuing the economy.

    Collapsing house and stock market values are a drag on consumer spending, which accounts for over a third of economic activity.

    A separate report from the Labor Department showed U.S. producer prices rose by less than expected in February after the pace of energy price increases slowed, but core producer prices came in a bit above forecast.

    The seasonally adjusted producer price index increased by 0.1 percent last month versus a 0.8 percent gain in January.

    "These two reports will be a relief for everybody and bring some optimism. But the Fed will remain cautious because one month doesn't make a trend," said Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist at Swiss Re in New York.

    Compared with the same period last year, producer prices were 1.3 percent lower, the largest fall since a 1.8 percent decline in September 2002.

    Core producer prices, which exclude energy and food costs, rose 0.2 percent in February compared with a forecast for a 0.1 percent increase. This followed a 0.4 percent rise in January. Core producer prices were 4.0 percent higher measured on a year-over-year basis.

    A moderating in price increases for energy goods limited the rise in the headline PPI index in February, the data showed. Energy goods rose by 1.3 percent in February after climbing 3.7 percent the month before.

    Capital equipment was up only 0.1 percent after a 0.5 percent increase in January, while consumer foods prices fell 1.6 percent.

    (Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington and Richard Leong and Nick Olivari in New York, Editing by Andrea Ricci)

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    CNN - Obama blasts AIG 'outrage,' will try to block bonuses

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    Obama blasts AIG 'outrage,' will try to block bonuses

    President Barack Obama said Monday he will attempt to block bonuses to executives at ailing insurance giant AIG, payments he described as an "outrage."

    "This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed," Obama told politicians and reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where he and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were unveiling a package to aid the nation's small businesses.

    The president expressed dismay and anger over the bonuses to executives at AIG, which has received $173 billion in U.S. government bailouts over the past six months.

    "Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"

    Obama was referring to the bonuses paid to traders in AIG's financial products division, the tiny group of people who crafted complicated deals that wound up shaking the world's economic foundations.

    The president said he has asked Geithner to "pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole."

    Obama spared AIG's new CEO, Edward Liddy, from criticism, saying he got the job "after the contracts that led to these bonuses were agreed to last year."

    But he said the impropriety of the bonuses goes beyond economics. "It's about our fundamental values," he said.

    "All across the country, there are people who are working hard and meeting their responsibilities every single day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multimillion-dollar bonuses. You've got a bunch of small-business people here who are struggling just to keep their credit line open," Obama said.

    "And all they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules. That is an ethic that we have to demand."

    Obama said he would work with Congress to change the laws so that such a situation cannot recur.

    Then, coughing, he added in jest, "I'm choked up with anger here."

    Under pressure from the Treasury, AIG scaled back the bonus plans and pledged to reduce 2009 bonuses -- or "retention payments" -- by at least 30 percent. That did little to temper outrage at the initial plan, however.

    In a letter Sunday to Geithner, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold urged the Obama administration to explore "legal options" to prevent the millions in AIG payouts.

    "I write to ask why any bonuses would be legally required, given the company's abysmal performance," says Feingold, D-Wisconsin.

    Feingold asked whether the bonuses could be canceled or recouped from recipients, and whether the administration will sue AIG executives for breaching their duties to shareholders

    "There are a lot of terrible things that have happened in the last 18 months, but what's happened at AIG is the most outrageous," Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, told ABC's "This Week."

    "What that company did, the way it was not regulated, the way no one was watching, what's proved necessary, it is outrageous."

    And on "Fox News Sunday," White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee said Geithner was "really upset by the news."

    "He stepped in and berated them, got them to reduce the bonuses following every legal means he has to do this," Goolsbee said.

    In a letter to Geithner, obtained Saturday by CNN, AIG Chairman and CEO Edward Liddy said his company was taking steps to limit compensation in AIG Financial Products -- the British-based unit responsible for issuing the risky credit default swaps that have brought the company to the brink of collapse. The default swaps amount to insurance against losses from bad loans, which have increased dramatically since the U.S. housing boom peaked.

    In the letter to Geithner, Liddy said the unit's 25 highest-paid contract employees will reduce their salaries to $1 this year and all other officers in the unit will reduce their salaries by 10 percent. Other "non-cash compensation" will be reduced or eliminated. But he told Geithner that some bonus payments are binding legal obligations of the company, and "there are serious legal, as well as business consequences for not paying."

    Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told Fox that bailout recipients should have to follow stricter compensation rules, and said Congress should look into whether the bonuses are "legally recoverable."

    "We can't just violate legal obligations, I understand that," the Massachusetts Democrat said. "But I do want to find out at what point these legal obligations were incurred. Who said, and at what point, 'We're going to give these bonuses no matter what?' And I do think it's inappropriate for those people to stay in power at that company."

    Frank said that if banks complain that the Obama administration has made things too tough, "They can give the money back. We made that easy."

    Goolsbee said AIG was following "a policy that's really not sensible, is obviously going to ignite the ire of millions of people."

    "We've done exactly what we can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening again," Goolsbee said. Summers told ABC that the administration was taking "every legal step possible to limit those bonuses."

    AIG lost a record $62 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008. It has more than 74 million insurance policies issued in 130 countries around the world.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Portfolio Mobile - Hulu Sprouts a Social Network

    Hulu Sprouts a Social Network

    On the one-year anniversary of its launch, video-on-demand site Hulu has added social networking features to let friends share viewing histories while becoming more valuable to advertisers. (The more data the site gathers, the better its ads can target users.)

    The Wall Street Journal concludes that Hulu's embrace of social networking somehow means it might not threaten the traditional television-watching model as much as it may have otherwise. "By underscoring that the site is about providing entertainment on the computer, and not replacing television" writes the WSJ, "the new social-networking features also could help ease concerns about Hulu's potential to undermine the business interests of TV networks and cable operators."

    This is rather strange logic.

    Extra features normally add to the allure of one service over another, rather than detracting from it. If Hulu has social networking features, it's hard to see how that will make viewers prefer their television without those features. It's more likely that television sets will eventually incorporate social networking, than that social networking will prevent internet television from cannibalizing broadcast.

    One thing that's not up for debate is that Hulu's premium content -- much of which comes from its parent companies NBC Universal and News Corp. -- continues to draw more viewers. Nielsen's latest data puts Hulu on course to stream 33 percent more videos in February than in the previous month. By comparison, YouTube's mostly short-form video streams declined 11 percent in the same period.

    The new "Hulu Friends" feature appeared on the site on Thursday. To use it, sign in, then click your Profile link and go to the Friends tab to add contacts from  Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, Hotmail and/or Yahoo Mail (you can also enter names and email addresses by hand). Once people are connected to your profile, you'll be able to monitor a feed of their viewing activities on the site and browse their profile pages.

    by Eliot Van Buskirk

    See Also:

    ZillionTV: Hollywood and ISPs Unite to Deliver Video over the Net

    For Many, MegaVideo Trumps Bit Torrent

    Free, Legal and Online: Why Hulu Is the New Way to Watch TV

    Hulu Content Vanishes From, Blocked on Boxee

    Hulu Videos Return to Boxee (Sort of)Related Links
    Hulu Videos Return to Boxee (Sort of) Just Might Be a Contender
    Hulu Closes In on YouTube -- Fast

    (c) 2007 Portfolio. Powered by mLogic Media, Crisp Wireless, Inc.

    Portfolio Mobile - Jim Cramer Did Something Wrong. I'm Shocked! Shocked!

    Jim Cramer Did Something Wrong. I'm Shocked! Shocked!

    Watching Jim Cramer getting his ass kicked by Jon Stewart last night left me with mixed feelings, but mostly feelings of déjà vu. I mean, is anyone really surprised by any of this?

    It is nothing new that Cramer engaged in sleazy tactics when he ran a hedge fund. Hell, that was known years ago, and was admitted in his 2002 book Confessions of a Street Addict and one by a former employer, Nicholas Maier, Trading With the Enemy. It's also a matter of public record that as a fund manager he was the subject of an SEC inquiry, later dropped.

    I reviewed both books for Business Week, and the title of my review, in BW question-y style, was "Brilliant Stockpicker -- or Brazen Hustler?" and it was obvious from my review that I leaned heavily toward the latter. I had no choice -- Cramer was very forthright on the subject. I wrote:
    He then opened a hedge fund, Cramer Partners, where he developed a special approach to earning money. He describes this method with such candor that some readers may be taken aback. After all, controversy is now swirling around analysts. And they were at the core of Cramer's "formula for making money every single day, day in and day out." As developed in the early '90s, the system consisted of becoming "merchants of the buzz." Cramer writes: "We would work to get upgrades or downgrades because we knew, cynically, that Wall Street was simply a promotion machine."

    Cramer would look for stocks likely to move quickly on good news. Then one of his staffers would begin calling the companies, looking "to find anything good we could say about them." When he discovered a stock that seemed ready to take off, or when his staff uncovered something favorable about the company that the analyst community didn't know, Cramer would load up on options and stock and then "give the good news to our favorite analysts who liked the stock so they could go do their promotion." That would get the buzz going, and "we would then be able to liquidate the position into the buzz for a handsome profit."

    In other words, Cramer used his pals in the analyst community to engage in a kind of legal pump-and-dump scheme. Part of what makes his account compelling is that Cramer is so matter-of-fact, even proud. He sees absolutely nothing wrong or unfair about the practice. In fact, at one point he says that he sees himself as "the proverbial Boy Scout, never breaking any laws, never even getting a parking ticket," a man who had "nightmares about overdue library books. I was Little Miss Goody Two-shoes." Nope, introspection is not his strong point. [emphasis added]
    Maier had accused Cramer of frontrunning short positions. That turned out to be wrong, and his book was withdrawn from circulation, pulped, and a new edition released.

    But the publisher's retraction was not quite as sweeping as Cramer might have liked. HarperCollins says the only inaccuracy was the specific reference to Western Digital, which the new version of Maier's book doesn't mention. But the revised book does say that Cramer was the subject of an SEC inquiry, later dropped, concerning trading in options of an unspecified stock. "Our timing on this occasion may have been too perfect," Maier says in the post-pulping version. A call to Cramer was referred to his lawyer, who says both versions are inaccurate, and that there was no SEC inquiry at all.
    So I guess I can't quite figure out why people, Stewart and his researchers included, are surprised by Cramer's sleaziness, since he admitted it himself in his book. As a matter of fact, watching Cramer's awful performance last night, I couldn't understand why he didn't admit that he came clean (more or less) in a book he'd written nine years ago.

    I have only limited sympathy for people who buy stocks based on what Cramer or any other market guru has said. A financial genius named Burton Malkiel has been arguing against the very concept of stock picking for years, and wrote a book called A Random Walk Down Wall Street which became a best-seller.

    Three years ago I made my own modest contribution to the genre in Wall Street Versus America, whose central point was that you had to listen to Malkiel and disregard the Cramers of this world. I pleaded with people to avoid managed mutual funds, hedge funds and individual stocks, to buy stock indexes and disregard stock newsletters and market "wizards" like Cramer. As I argued in the book, there is no way to beat the markets, no way of getting rich unless everyone in the market is getting rich (or way of escaping getting poor if the market goes into a slump).

    Cramer has nothing to be ashamed off that he's hustled his way to a fortune, pushing a dream of riches that countless studies have shown to be illusory, since markets are reasonably efficient. But you can't get rich being a Cassandra, and the best way to make money is to lie that you can make money for other people. Cramer knows that as well as anyone, and now he is paying the price.

    by Gary WeissRelated Links
    AIG: The Cramer Conspiracy Theory
    Hedge Fund Datapoint of the Day
    The Hedge Fund Money-Go-Round

    (c) 2007 Portfolio. Powered by mLogic Media, Crisp Wireless, Inc.

    Saturday, March 14, 2009

    Reuters - Cash-hungry U.S. states turn to Web to auction goods

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    Cash-hungry U.S. states turn to Web to auction goods

    Saturday, Mar 14, 2009 10:11AM UTC

    By Tom Ryan

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. municipalities, strapped for cash as the recession decimates revenues, are stepping up sales of everything from old police cars, helicopters and bicycles to confiscated jewelry and slot machines in an effort to reduce swollen deficits.

    And municipalities that previously relied on old-fashioned auctions conducted in local parking lots are getting more sophisticated, turning to the online world as they seek to maximize their sales.

    As many as 46 states are struggling with deficits, according to the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And governments, which are required by law to close budget gaps, are being creative in seeking ways to meet the shortfall.

    "Anything that we can dispose of that generates revenue definitely helps to reduce any deficit that we have in the budget," said Greg Spearman, director of purchasing for Tampa, Florida.

    Tampa recently raised more than $300,000 from the sale of a 1978 Piper police airplane. The sale was conducted by auction on, a website founded by a former investment banker and two partners to help local governments maximize returns on unwanted assets.

    Listings on the site have increased significantly in recent months and governments are looking deep into their closets for things to sell, according to Chief Executive Bill Angrick.

    Agencies from Alabama, for example, sold about $3 million worth of goods in the first two months of 2009, compared with $9 million for 2007 and 2008 combined. Items included a batch of 27 confiscated bicycles sold by the city of Montgomery for $270.

    Georgia agencies have chalked up $1.8 million in sales in the first two months of 2009, compared with sales of $9.1 million for all of 2008. Among the goods sold was a confiscated Yukon SL Crossbow sold by the town of Rome for $147.

    The Austin, Texas, police raised $388,100 in an auction of confiscated slot machines last week.

    State and local governments are "getting a lot of visibility and more competition" than they would using the old-fashioned open-outcry auctions, said Angrick.

    Scott Bartley, an accountant in the controller's office of Charleston County, South Carolina, said municipalities previously sold used equipment and other assets in annual auctions, typically held in a local parking lot.

    That meant paying for storage until enough inventory had accumulated and relying on the largess of the few buyers who typically turned up.

    Bartley said the county's revenues have roughly tripled since it stepped up efforts to generate cash, with the website helping it access a larger pool of buyers.

    Since the county started using the service in 2005, revenues from sales have climbed to between $800,000 to $1 million a year from an average $170,000 to $200,000 previously.

    The county is now selling up to seven used police cars a week online and "we're getting above bluebook value," he said.

    About 1.2 million buyers have used the site, ranging from other states and municipalities to companies, entrepreneurs and resellers, all of whom are prescreened to ensure they can pay.

    Vehicles are the most popular items sold on the site, although Angrick believes the second most popular item -- highway maintenance equipment -- could increase significantly with President Barack Obama's massive spending on infrastructure as part of his economic stimulus plan.

    The largest ticket item auctioned in 2008 was a 1993 McDonnell Douglas MD520N helicopter sold by the Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky Metro Government, to a tour operator in Hawaii for $791,000.

    Among the more surprising offers is an Arabian horse currently on offer from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, with a starting bid of $50. The 100-mile endurance horse was used for exercise physiology and nutrition research at the university.

    The Nashville Metro Airport Authority in Tennessee is selling a 40-foot tall rotating beacon for an airport with bids starting at $200.

    Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, is auctioning off a batch of confiscated jewelry including a 10-carat gold necklace and various rings and watches.

    And, in November of last year, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, put its 85-foot fireboat, "Mayor, J. Harold Grady," on the block after 47 years of service.

    Allan Johnson, owner of a marine contracting firm in Akron, Ohio, won the bidding at $80,000. Johnson, who was hoping to pay $50,000, still believes he got a good deal. A new one could be well over $1 million.

    Of course, online auctions have not always been successful for municipalities.

    Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, campaigning as John McCain's vice presidential running mate last year, famously trumpeted her move to put a "luxury jet" used by the previous governor up for sale on eBay. What she shied away from mentioning was that the jet failed to find a buyer on eBay and she ultimately hired a broker to sell it.

    (Additional reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Leslie Adler)

    Reuters - Web founder warns against website snooping

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    Web founder warns against website snooping

    Saturday, Mar 14, 2009 10:13AM UTC

    By Jonathan Lynn

    GENEVA (Reuters) - Surfers on the Internet are at increasing risk from governments and corporations tracking the sites they visit to build up a picture of their activities, the founder of the World Wide Web said on Friday.

    Tim Berners-Lee, whose proposal for an information management system at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN 20 years ago led eventually to the World Wide Web, said tracking website visits in this way could build an incredibly detailed profile of who people are and their habits.

    "That form of snooping I think is really important to avoid," he told an anniversary celebration at CERN.

    Technology now being developed will make it easier to decide who can see material one posts on the Web, and in what circumstances. For instance people may not want prospective employers to see an album of holiday photos, he said.

    Berners-Lee, a British software engineer who is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said innovation on the World Wide Web was speeding up.

    "The Web is not all done, it's just the tip of the iceberg," Berners-Lee said. "I am convinced that the new changes are going to rock the world even more."

    One big change that is coming is "linked data," in which individual bits of data are machine-readable, not just the Web pages they appear on.

    That would allow users to link readable data to similar data and manipulate it, for instance putting it in spreadsheets or plotting graphs. The sum of human knowledge would then grow exponentially in what Berners-Lee calls the Semantic Web.

    Examples would be students accessing data from research institutes, or ordinary people getting hold of government data -- paid for by taxes -- to improve websites.

    The system would allow investors to process the data contained in company press releases.


    People who put data on social networking sites such as Facebook, for instance tagging names on pictures, would also be able to use that data in other applications, for instance ordering a T-shirt on another website.

    Berners-Lee said the future of the Web was on mobile phones, which already have more browsers than laptops do.

    "In developing countries it's going to be exciting because that is the only way that a lot of people will actually get to see the Internet at all," he said.

    When Berners-Lee wrote his proposal in March 1989, his boss at CERN, the world's biggest particle physics laboratory, scrawled "vague, but exciting" on the memo.

    A year later, he tested the idea by justifying it as a test program for a new NeXT computer, whose software is the basis of the current OS X Macintosh operating system for computers made by Apple Inc.

    In two months in 1990, Berners-Lee wrote the software that allowed users to share access to information over the Internet, coining the name World Wide Web.

    The code was made freely available in 1991 and was rapidly picked up and developed by other enthusiasts. "It took off because people across the planet got involved, that's the most exciting thing about that period," he said.

    Among his regrets was starting Web addresses with http:// as the two slashes were redundant, leading to billions of wasted keystrokes.

    Another regret was the way web addresses were constructed. In retrospect it would have made more sense to start with the most general elements such as countries or organizations -- for instance using ch/cern/info instead of as at present, he said.

    (Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; editing by Tim Pearce)

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Portfolio Mobile - 44, Day 52: Everyone Out of the Pool

    44, Day 52: Everyone Out of the Pool

    An ongoing log of the daily activities of the 44th president of the United States during his first 100 days:

    -President Obama today again warned against anyone thinking they could benefit unfairly from the $787 billion stimulus plan. And Vice President Joe Biden said spending rules would be coming tomorrow. "A little hint," Biden said. "No swimming pools in this money."

    -The president today met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in the Oval Office. Get the White House's readout here.

    -We missed something yesterday. President Obama met with 13 of the nation's top travel executives, all of whom are concerned that Washington has become anti-travel as it takes companies to task for holding conventions, retreats, and conferences during these tough times. "He left with an understand that our industry means jobs, and that 17 million people in the United States are working in some form or fashion in the travel and tourism industry," Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman and chief executive of Loews Hotels, told POLITICO. "And he just asked us to stay focused and do all we can to encourage travel. As he says, he was traveling a lot, which allowed him to get this job, and he deeply understands the benefit of travel and tourism in the United States of America."

    -Personnel watch: the FBI today raided the offices of the president's choice to be U.S. chief information officer. Authorities took the action on Vivek Kundra's offices (he's now the District of Columbia's chief technology officer as part of a bribery sting that last week led to the arrest of two people.

    by J. Jennings Moss

    Sources: The White House, Politico, CNET, and the Associated Press.Related Links
    Top Tech Policy People to Watch
    44, Day 22: On the Road Again
    44, Day 28: Where's Click and Clack When You Need Them?

    (c) 2007 Portfolio. Powered by mLogic Media, Crisp Wireless, Inc.

    CNN - Police: U.S. teens were hit men for Mexican cartel

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    Police: U.S. teens were hit men for Mexican cartel

    Rosalio Reta sits at a table inside a Laredo Police Department interrogation room. A detective, sitting across the table, asks him how it all started.

    Reta, in Spanish street slang, describes his initiation as an assassin, at the age of 13, for the Mexican Gulf Cartel, one of the country's two major drug gangs.

    "I thought I was Superman. I loved doing it, killing that first person," Reta says on the videotape obtained by CNN. "They tried to take the gun away, but it was like taking candy from kid."

    Rosalio Reta and his friend, Gabriel Cardona, were members of a three-person cell of American teenagers working as cartel hit men in the United States, according to prosecutors. The third was arrested by Mexican authorities and stabbed to death in prison there three days later.

    In interviews with CNN, Laredo police detectives and prosecutors told how Cardona and Reta were recruited by the cartel to be assassins after they began hitting the cantinas and clubs just across the border.

    CNN has also obtained detailed court records as well as several hours of police interrogation videos. The detective sitting across the table from Reta and Cardona in those sessions is Robert Garcia. He's a veteran of the Laredo Police Department and one of the few officers who has questioned the young men.

    "One thing you wonder all the time: What made them this way?" Garcia told CNN. "They were just kids themselves, waiting around playing PlayStation or Xbox, waiting around for the order to be given."

    Over a nearly one-year period starting in June 2005, the border town of Laredo, Texas, saw a string of seven murders. At first glance, the violence looked like isolated, gangland-style killings. But investigators started suspecting something more sinister.

    Then Noe Flores was gunned down in a clear case of mistaken identity. Investigators found a fingerprint on a cigarette box inside the suspected shooter's get-away car. That clue unraveled the chilling reality and led police to arrest Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta.

    Prosecutors say they quickly discovered these two teenagers were homegrown assassins, hired to carry out the dirty work of the notorious Gulf Cartel.

    "There are sleeper cells in the U.S.," said Detective Garcia. "They're here, they're here in the United States."

    The cases against Cardona and Reta -- both are in prison serving long prison sentences for murder -- shed new light into the workings of the drug cartels.

    Prosecutor and investigators say Reta and Cardona were recruited into a group called "Los Zetas," a group made up of former members of the Mexican special military forces. They're considered ruthless in how they carry out attacks. "Los Zetas" liked what they saw in Cardona and Reta.

    Both teenagers received six-month military-style training on a Mexican ranch. Investigators say Cardona and Reta were paid $500 a week each as a retainer, to sit and wait for the call to kill. Then they were paid up to $50,000 and 2 kilos of cocaine for carrying out a hit.

    The teenagers lived in several safe houses around Laredo and drove around town in a $70,000 Mercedes-Benz.

    As the teens became more immersed in the cartel lifestyle, their appearance changed. Cardona had eyeballs tattooed on his eyelids. Reta's face became covered in tattoo markings. (Prosecutors say during his trial Reta used make-up to cover the facial markings.) And both sported tattoos of "Santa Muerte," the Grim Reaper-like pseudo-saint worshipped by drug traffickers.

    "These organizations, these cartels, they function like a Fortune 500 company," Webb County, Texas, prosecutor Uriel Druker said. "We have to remember that the United States is the market they are trying to get to."

    In Cardona's interrogation tape, there are clues that "Los Zetas" are reaching deeper and deeper into the United States. Cardona is asked, "Where else are the Zetas?" And Cardona responds, "I've heard in Dallas and Houston."

    And that's why the cartel recruited these young Americans. Cardona and Reta could move freely and easily back and forth across the border with Mexico.

    Just hours before they were arrested, federal authorities taped a phone conversation between them in which Cardona brags about killing 14-year-old Inez Villareal and his cousin, a Cardona rival.

    Cardona laughs as he describes torturing the two boys and dumping their bodies in large metal drums filled with diesel fuel. He says he made "guiso," or stew, with their bodies.

    As the call ends, Cardona says, "There are three left to kill, there are three left."

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    Reuters - Marvel delays The Avengers, Thor releases

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    Marvel delays The Avengers, Thor releases

    Thursday, Mar 12, 2009 12:29PM UTC

    March 12 (Reuters) - Media company Marvel Entertainment Inc said it rescheduled the release dates of some of its self-produced feature film properties through 2012.

    As per the revised schedule, the release date of the multi-character superhero film 'The Avengers' has been extended by about a year to May 4, 2012, from July 15, 2011.

    'Thor', the big-screen adaptation of one of Marvel's popular comic book characters, will now release on June 17, 2011, instead of July 16, 2010, the company said.

    "It maximizes the visibility of our single character-focused films, leading to the highly anticipated release of the multi-character The Avengers film in 2012," David Maisel, chairman of Marvel Studios, said in a statement.

    The company now plans to release 'The First Avenger: Captain America' on July 22, 2011, instead of May 6, 2011.

    However, 'Iron Man 2' will be released as scheduled on May 7, 2010, Marvel said.

    Marvel also confirmed that Sony Pictures will release 'Spider-Man 4' on May 6, 2011. Marvel has licensed theatrical rights of Spider-Man, its most popular character, to the unit of Sony.

    Shares of Marvel closed at $24.55 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

    (Reporting by Bijoy Koyitty in Bangalore; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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    If you know me then you know my name. I am The Black Rider and the world is my Flame. The rider writes, observes, creates, produces, and learns the world around him. Ride on. Ride on!

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