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    Sunday, May 24, 2009

    Reuters - Top U.S. military officer pushes Guantanamo closing

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    Top U.S. military officer pushes Guantanamo closing

    Sunday, May 24, 2009 10:21PM UTC

    By Will Dunham

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer on Sunday pushed for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison despite rising resistance in Congress, saying it serves as a "recruiting symbol" for America's enemies.

    Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, rallied behind President Barack Obama's move to close the detention facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, which is operated by the U.S. military.

    "Well, the concern I've had about Guantanamo in these wars is it has been a symbol -- and one which has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us. ... That's at the heart of the concern for Guantanamo's continued existence," Mullen said on ABC's "This Week."

    "Well, I've advocated for a long time now that it needs to be closed. President Obama made a decision very early after his inauguration to do that by next January. And we're all working very hard to meet that deadline," Mullen added.

    Obama on Thursday laid out his case for closing the prison, saying he was trying to clean up a legal "mess" he inherited from former President George W. Bush, who opened the facility in 2002. Many critics, including some close U.S. allies, have condemned prison, with saying torture has been used there.

    In a vigorous defense of the Guantanamo prison that same day, former Vice President Dick Cheney assailed what he called "this recruitment tool theory" that U.S. treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held there has helped al Qaeda and other U.S. enemies attract new members.

    "It's another version of that same old refrain from the left, 'We brought it on ourselves,'" Cheney said on Thursday.


    Republican Senator Jon Kyl, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," embraced Cheney's view. "I think it's palpably false to suggest that the existence of Gitmo created terrorists. And yet the president gets away with (saying) that," Kyl said.

    The U.S. Senate last week dealt a blow to Obama's plans to close the prison, denying him $80 million he sought to shut it until he presents a detailed plan on what to do with the 240 foreign terrorism suspects held there.

    Obama has run into resistance, not only from Republicans but from his fellow Democrats who control Congress.

    "Whether it's closed or not, we have to have a plan in place that outlines how we deal with the people who are incarcerated there," Democratic Senator Ben Nelson said on "Fox News Sunday."

    Obama said Guantanamo prisoners will be tried in U.S. courts and held in super-maximum-security U.S. prisons while others could be tried by in special military trials, but his speech on the issue left many questions unanswered.

    "I don't know why it is better to have somebody in a so-called super max facility in, say, Colorado, than it is to keep them in Guantanamo, a state of the art facility that we built not too long ago for the explicit purpose of holding these people. There's nothing wrong with the prison at Gitmo," Kyl said.

    (Editing by Sandra Maler)

    Reuters - Indie filmmakers in Cannes still dreaming of 3-D

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    Indie filmmakers in Cannes still dreaming of 3-D

    Sunday, May 24, 2009 5:44PM UTC

    By Bob Tourtellotte

    CANNES, France (Reuters) - When rock band U2 played at the Grand Palais of the Cannes film festival in 2007 to trumpet their new three-dimensional concert movie, backers of modern 3-D films hailed the coming of a new era in movies.

    Two years later, independent producers and distributors making films outside Hollywood's major studios are still waiting for that day to dawn.

    Many of them face the same hurdles major studios face -- a lack of theaters equipped to play 3-D films, especially in Europe and Asia, and questions over who will pay for the special eyeglasses to watch them.

    They also face a hurdle of their own, lack of money, because independents are rarely as well financed as studios.

    But much as The Walt Disney Co. did in 2005 with its 3-D version of "Chicken Little," a few indie producers are wading in, lured by the possibility of bigger box office from higher ticket prices and more fans.

    Their involvement is good news for film fans, because in recent years independents have made many of the best movies with original tales like Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire."

    Jonathan Wolf, executive vice president of U.S.-based trade group the Independent Film and Television Alliance, said that when special effects-filled movies became big business, people wondered if indies could keep pace with the majors.

    At the time the answer was yes, and it is the same with 3-D.

    "Anywhere there is commercial viability, there will be a market," Wolf said.

    Three-dimensional images date back to early movies and gained popularity in sci-fi films of the 1950s. But they quickly faded due to unsophisticated technology.

    New 3-D movies use improved eyeglasses and new digital projectors that improve the quality and theatrical experience.


    The opening night film in Cannes this year was Disney/Pixar's "Up," which will have 2-D and 3-D versions.

    DreamWorks Animation Inc. enjoyed a $334 million global success this year with its $175 million "Monsters vs. Aliens," some of which came from 3-D, and Hollywood has a large slate of 3-D pictures ahead.

    Ticket prices for 3-D films can range from $2 to $5 higher than normal, and distributors find the excitement of seeing some types of movies -- animated family films, action, fantasy and horror -- in 3-D lures more fans to theaters.

    U.S. independent Lionsgate enjoyed a strong, $71 million global box office with its "My Bloody Valentine 3-D," which had a reported production budget of $15 million.

    Joe Drake, president of Lionsgate's motion picture group, said his company saw opportunities in 3-D, but initially did not know how to make a 3-D movie. Still, it forged ahead, learned the technology and after a time, found it workable.

    "The fact is, it's a very accessible, and not actually an over-complicated thing," Drake said.

    He declined to give a figure on how much making 3-D added to "Bloody Valentine," but said it ran into "the millions."

    Technology experts said 3-D can add as much as 10-15 percent to the cost of making a film, and DreamWorks chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has said the additional cost for making one of his big-budget flicks is $15 million.

    For now, the higher cost keeps 3-D in the realm of major studios or independents like Lionsgate that are well-financed and have their own -- or easily accessible -- distribution.

    The expense precludes low-budget filmmakers whose costs are $5 million or less from venturing into 3-D. Moreover, the human dramas or comedies made on low budgets for limited release in art-houses have little to gain from 3-D, industry experts said.

    However, the rule of technology is that costs decrease over time as commercial markets heat up, and executives envision a young Danny Boyle, for example, one day making a 3-D film that is as big a hit as Slumdog Millionaire, which he made in 2-D.


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    Reuters - Positive data needed to lift stocks

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    Positive data needed to lift stocks

    Saturday, May 23, 2009 2:22AM UTC

    By Chuck Mikolajczak

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street may feel more pressure next week unless a raft of economic data, including

    consumer confidence, home sales and GDP, restores the optimism that had driven a two-month rally before fading in the past few days.

    Investors cited the potential bankruptcy of General Motors <GM.N> as a concern, as further job losses could imperil the U.S. economy. Such an event, even though it is anticipated, would not help sentiment, which is already subdued after the major U.S. stock indexes fell on Thursday and Friday due to worries about the U.S. budget deficit.

    GM is facing a June 1 deadline to work out its issues with creditors if it wants to avoid a bankruptcy filing. On Friday, a spokesman for some of GM's creditors said the biggest bondholders of roughly $27 billion in debt plan to reject GM's current offer for a 10 percent equity stake.

    "That's the biggest risk for the market here," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont. "We are going to lose a lot of jobs as it is, with closing of dealerships both from Chrysler and GM.

    "A (GM) bankruptcy throws everything into chaos."

    Deutsche Bank analyst Joseph LaVorgna has forecast that a General Motors bankruptcy could lop 4 percentage points off of U.S. gross domestic product.

    Since the markets peaked two weeks ago on May 8, stocks have given back some of their gains over doubts about the speed of the economic recovery. U.S. stocks were higher through most of the session Friday, but sagged at the end of the day as investors sought to reduce positions heading into the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.

    For the week, the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 0.1 percent, while the Standard & Poor's 500<.SPX> gained 0.5 percent and the Nasdaq <.IXIC> advanced 0.7 percent.

    For the year, both the blue-chip Dow and the broad S&P 500 are in the red -- the Dow is down 5.7 percent and the S&P is down 1.8 percent -- while the Nasdaq is up 7.3 percent.


    With investors skittish over the indebtedness of the United States, stocks could be subjected to more volatility if the allure of U.S. assets dims further.

    The Chicago Board Option Exchange Volatility Index <.VIX>,or VIX, best known as Wall Street's fear gauge, climbed 4.1 percent on Friday to end above 30, a key psychological level, according to analysts.

    Next week, the U.S. Treasury will auction $101 billion in bonds, matching the record, with $2 trillion in new bonds expected to hit the market in fiscal 2009 alone.

    "What happens if the demand isn't there from the foreign entities?" said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc, an investment advisory firm, based in Toledo, Ohio.

    "There's $2 trillion of U.S. Treasuries owned by foreign central banks, and if all of a sudden, they lose their appetite for U.S. Treasuries, there's only one way to pay this debt, and that will be to increase interest rates. And then you get the potential problem of higher inflation, a lower dollar and higher interest rates, like we had in the 1970s."

    The S&P 500 has risen 31 percent since hitting a 12-year closing low on March 9, which some analysts said put it at risk of a pullback, while the holiday-shortened week could exaggerate moves in the market due to light trading volume.

    U.S. markets are closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday.

    "Traditionally, the story has been 'sell in May and go away.' We are heading into the summer doldrums," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.

    "But the other side of things is that also normally leads to light trading volume and light trading volume can magnify reactions."


    The economic calendar is fairly busy despite the short week, and may prove to be the bright spot to reaffirm investors' recent optimism that the recession is ebbing.

    Friday marks the preliminary reading of U.S. gross domestic product for the first quarter. GDP, which measures output of goods and services within U.S. borders, is forecast to shrink at an annual rate of 5.5 percent, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

    Also on tap are readings on May consumer confidence and the final reading for May on consumer sentiment from the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

    The housing market, whose slump has been at the center of the economic downturn, will get more scrutiny when existing home sales are released on Wednesday and new home sales are released on Thursday. Both reports will cover April data.

    U.S. existing home sales are estimated to have risen in April to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 4.66 million units, up from 4.57 million in March, according to the Reuters poll. New home sales are projected to have inched up to an annual pace of 360,000 units in April from 356,000 in March.

    On Tuesday, the U.S. Commerce Department said housing starts fell 12.8 percent to an annual rate of 458,000 units, the lowest since the government began keeping records in January 1959.


    Earnings season has nearly come to a close, as 484 companies in the S&P 500 had reported through Friday, leaving just a handful of retailers, including Tiffany & Co <TIF.N> and Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O> for next week.

    Of the 484 companies, 65 percent beat analysts' estimates, 9 percent matched and 26 percent missed, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Also on the docket for next week is Dell Inc <DELL.O>. The

    No. 2 PC maker said on Thursday that it is still cautious about corporate technology spending, but plans to make acquisitions and aggressively pursue enterprise customers in an attempt to win back market share in the United States.

    (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Additional reporting by Ellis Mnyandu; Editing by Jan Paschal)

    Reuters - Tokyo park plays high-pitch tone to teen vandals

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    Tokyo park plays high-pitch tone to teen vandals

    Friday, May 22, 2009 6:48AM UTC

    TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A Tokyo park has started playing a high-pitched tone at night that only young people can hear to help drive away teenagers who keep vandalizing the toilets and other facilities.

    "We were having trouble improving the situation and trying to decide what to do, when we found out about The Mosquito and decided to give it a try," said Haruyuki Masuda, an official in charge of parks in Tokyo's Adachi district.

    "The Mosquito" is a device that emits a high-frequency tone that is unbearable to those who can hear it, Masuda said.

    The local authorities decided to act after young people hanging out in the district's Kitashikahama Park inflicted damage amounting to around 700,000 yen ($7,400) there last year.

    "We could not do anything about it from just patrolling," Masuda said.

    People's ability to hear high frequencies falls as they age. The device produces a high-pitch tone of around 17 kilohertz, which teens can hear but older people cannot.

    While such devices are used at some convenience stores in Japan also troubled by teens, Masuda said district officials were hesitant at first.

    "We were a little worried about whether the local government should be using such a device to exclude certain people, even if these are young people that are causing problems," Masuda said.

    "But we have been unable to resolve the issue and many people said we should try it," he said, adding that the device would be tested at the park from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. each night until March 2010.

    (Reporting by Yoko Kubota, editing by Miral Fahmy)

    Reuters - Tech companies look for deals as values fall

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    Tech companies look for deals as values fall

    Friday, May 22, 2009 5:3PM UTC

    By Anupreeta Das

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cheap valuations and glimmers of economic recovery are tempting cash-rich technology companies to seek acquisitions, and the second half of 2009 could see some steady dealmaking.

    Having assessed the damage to their balance sheets -- at least for now -- from the recession, tech companies from behemoths like IBM to niche players like NetSuite Inc are turning their attention to new growth opportunities.

    Already this year, Oracle Corp scooped up Sun Microsystems Inc for $7.1 billion. Chipmaker Broadcom Corp is in a hostile pursuit of Emulex Corp for $764 million. And NetApp Inc announced a deal this week to buy Data Domain Inc for $1.5 billion.

    The pace of acquisitions is going to quicken in coming months but most deals will be small to medium-sized, top U.S. technology executives said at the Reuters Global Technology Summit in New York this week.

    They agreed that potential targets on their shopping lists were cheaper now than even a few months ago. But they were divided on whether valuations have hit rock bottom or if they could fall further, since the feeble signs of improvement in the economy could be temporary.

    "Valuations could go lower," said Sybase Inc Chief Executive John Chen. "Somehow everybody thinks things are on the rebound. I think we're going to stay low for a while."

    Sybase is on the lookout for acquisitions to help expand its mobile enterprise business. Chen said he frequently gets calls from venture capitalists and private equity firms wanting to sell him their start-up companies.

    "Some of the start-ups are under the gun a little bit ... But we're cautious. There is no hurry," Chen said.


    Symantec Corp Chief Executive Enrique Salem also said he is patient about dealmaking because he expects valuations to fall further in the next few months.

    "We have $2 billion in cash, very little debt, high recurring revenue, so we have the opportunity to do M&A," Salem said. He added that Symantec wants to buy companies to pad up its core security, storage and systems management businesses.

    But "private companies' valuations need to be reset. I don't think private companies at this point have realized that there's been a change in the economy," Salem said.

    Other executives felt that valuations are low enough to go on buying sprees.

    Yahoo Inc Chief Technology Officer Ari Balogh said it was "amazing" how much lower valuations are compared to a few months ago.

    "It's a good time to be buying now," Balogh said, as Yahoo adds more social networking features to its properties as part of a renewed turnaround focus. I can guarantee you there will be some acquisitions."

    Mark Loughridge, chief financial officer of International Business Machines Corp, was also bullish about his company's appetite for deals.

    "I go through a deal review every week," he said, adding that the economic climate provided a "fertile" hunting ground for acquisitions.

    Even a company like Corning Inc, which has traditionally not been an aggressive acquirer, is on the prowl. Chief Financial Officer Jim Flaws said the specialty glass maker is looking to hire to expand its mergers and acquisitions team.

    Companies that were too expensive to buy earlier are now available at attractive prices, Flaws said, as the recession takes it toll.

    "Right now we have the money to do small acquisitions ... and we are actively looking," he said.

    Attractive prices apart, Dell Inc President Steve Shuckenbrock also suggested companies ought to act quickly or they risk losing potential targets to competitors amid a wave of consolidation in the industry.

    (Reporting by Anupreeta Das; Editing by Tiffany Wu, Phil Berlowitz)

    Reuters - Russian group mulls Facebook investment: report

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    Russian group mulls Facebook investment: report

    Saturday, May 23, 2009 1:40AM UTC

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A Russian Internet group, Digital Sky Technologies, has offered to invest $200 million in Facebook in a deal that would value the social networking site at $10 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

    "Facebook is a private company, so as a matter of policy, we don't typically share details about our financial plans or comment on rumor and speculation," the company said in a statement.

    Russia's Digital Sky Technologies was not immediately available to comment on the report.

    Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told the Reuters Global Technology Summit this week that, "If there's an investment to be done on very good terms, we will consider it if for no other reason than to have more buffer if we want to do something in the future."

    "Some of the rumblings that people are reporting on, are just different conversations that have happened, but there's really nothing new to talk about there," he added.

    Digital Sky Technologies, which owns a stake in Russia's Web site, offered an investment of $200 million in the company's preferred stock, which would value it at $10 billion, and an additional $100 million to $150 million investment in the company's common stock, which would value it at $6.5 billion, the report said.

    Facebook last got funding from Microsoft Corp in 2007, when the software company paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in the company.

    Facebook has more than 200 million active users, double the number it had last August. The company also ranks as one of the top photo-sharing websites, with more than 15 billion pictures uploaded onto its service.

    (Reporting by Peter Henderson and Clare Baldwin in San Francisco; Editing by Richard Chang)

    Reuters - Target faces Ackman showdown at annual meeting

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    Target faces Ackman showdown at annual meeting

    Friday, May 22, 2009 7:41PM UTC

    By Nicole Maestri

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - One of the season's most high-profile proxy battles will culminate in an unfinished Target Corp <TGT.N> store in Wisconsin next week as the retailer's shareholders decide whether to elect a slate of directors proposed by activist investor William Ackman.

    Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management owns a 7.8 percent stake in the retailer, is seeking a seat for himself and four other nominees on Target's board. In the increasingly contentious battle, Target is running four incumbent directors for election at the May 28 meeting.

    If he wins, Ackman will be in a stronger position to push the retailer to sell the rest of its credit card operations or spin off its real estate holdings.

    For Target, a win would show support for its current management team, which has argued that it is best suited to position the retailer for success over the long term.

    What has made the proxy contest unusual is that analysts and investors have praised Target as a best-in-class retailer with a capable management team -- not the type of company that typically becomes the target of an activist investor.

    But some have acknowledged that Ackman, who is known for well-researched and often successful proxy battles, could bring a fresh perspective to Target's board and prod the insular retailer to explore new business opportunities.

    Greenwood Capital Associates portfolio manager Walter Todd said he voted for Ackman's slate, except for Ackman himself.

    "I don't have a real issue with what management has done and what they are doing," said Todd, who holds roughly 70,000 Target shares, a very small stake in the retailer.

    But he added: "I think the idea of having the best possible people, having some new fresh ideas on the board ... I don't think that's a bad thing."

    On the other side, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board has voted in support of all of Target's nominees. It owns roughly 2 million Target shares, or a 0.27 percent stake in the retailer, according to regulatory filings.

    Determining the outcome of the proxy battle remains uncertain. Headed into the annual meeting, the two sides appeared unwilling to reach a compromise, with Ackman telling Reuters on Thursday that settlement talks were not ongoing.

    "If either side believes it has a chance of winning, they won't settle," said Charles Elson, Director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. "You only settle when you're convinced that you're going to lose."


    Ackman is planning to attend Target's annual meeting, but he has ribbed the retailer for choosing the location, an unfinished store that has yet to open to the public.

    Investors who do not attend the meeting will also be at a loss to follow the action. Although Target has webcast from meetings in the past, it will not provide one this year.

    Spokeswoman Susan Kahn said she did not have a comment on Target's decision not to webcast. Target also said it has held its annual meetings in unfinished stores for several years.

    Corporate governance executives said Ackman faces an uphill battle in his proxy contest, although they said it is easier to win over shareholders by running a short slate of candidates -- as Ackman has -- instead of seeking full control of the board.

    Ackman has won the support of RiskMetrics, the leading shareholder advisory firm, which recommended Target shareholders vote to elect him and former Starbucks CEO Jim Donald to the board. Target disputed the RiskMetrics' report, saying it contained statements that were "inaccurate or misleading."

    Meanwhile, proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis & Co recommended that shareholders vote for all of Target's nominees, while Proxy Governance recommended that shareholders elect two of Ackman's five dissident board nominees.


    The annual meeting marks the culmination of a proxy contest that was launched in March, but whose seeds were planted in 2007, when Ackman began accumulating his Target stake.

    After seeing his investment wither as Target's stock plunged during the economic downturn, Ackman pushed Target to buy back its stock and sell its credit card operations.

    While Target partially complied with those requests, Ackman launched his proxy contest after the retailer rejected his idea that it spin off the land under its stores into a real estate investment trust, which he said would boost its stock price.

    Ackman has publicly praised Target's management team, but said its board lacks critical expertise in real estate, credit cards and food retailing. That left it more vulnerable than Wal-Mart Stores Inc <WMT.N> to the recession, he said, after shoppers stopped buying its high-profit margin trendy clothes and stuck to buying basics, like groceries.

    Shareholders will also need to vote to determine the size of Target's board, which the retailer contends is 12 but Ackman contests is 13.

    (Reporting by Nicole Maestri; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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