Archive for August, 2010

13
Aug
10

Alabama Sues BP, Transocean, Halliburton over Gulf Oil Spill

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Alabama Sues BP, Transocean, Halliburton over Gulf Oil Spill
Alabama AG Sues BP, Transocean, Halliburton For “Catastrophic” Gulf Oil Spill

Friday, August 13, 2010

The U.S. state of Alabama is suing BP and Transocean for damages sustained from the Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

‘We are making this claim because we believe BP has inflicted catastrophic harm,’ said the state’s attorney general, Troy King.

‘We are suing them for the amount it will take to make Alabama whole.’

Mr. King did not name a figure.

Sky’s U.S. correspondent Robert Nisbet said: ‘This is particularly interesting within the state of Alabama because the state’s governor (Bob Riley) disagrees with the attorney general’s course of action. He wants to wait to see what compensation BP offers first.’

King defended his decision, arguing that it put the state in the strongest legal position.

Nisbet added: ‘Some 300 federal lawsuits have already been filed against BP and other companies involved in this spill in over 12 states – so a huge amount of legal complication and difficulty now facing BP.’
Louisiana sustained the most damage to its coastline and waters from the oil spill that began in April and was plugged with cement on July 15.

But oil also damaged the economies of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Alabama’s suit also names Anadarko Petroleum Corp, among others. ‘It is believed the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a blowout relating to the cementing work,’ according to the suit.

On the leak itself, meanwhile, National Incident Commander Thad Allen says they are still deciding when to resume work on the relief well.

Ambient pressure tests on the temporary, ‘static kill’, solution had been completed, he said, and those results suggest pressure is being maintained – although there is minor leakage from the flange.

However, they are concerned that proceeding with the ‘bottom kill’, the final cement plug using the relief well, could disrupt what they have done already and create increased pressure. More tests will be conducted.
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12
Aug
10

BP Agrees to Record $50.6 Million Fine for Texas City Blast

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BP Agrees to Record $50.6 Million Fine for Texas City Blast

Thursday, August 12, 2010

BP has agreed to pay a record $50.6 million fine related to the deadly 2005 blast at its Texas City refinery and spend $500 million on safety improvements, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The fine relates to BP’s repeated failure to meet safety standards both before and after the explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.

BP has also been slapped with huge fines for the pollution released from the troubled facility.

Those fines pale in comparison to the billions the British energy giant is liable for in the wake of the massive oil spill unleashed in the Gulf of Mexico after a deadly explosion sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration initially fined BP a record $21 million after it determined that BP failed to protect its workers ahead of the 2005 blast.

The penalty was increased to $50.6 million in 2009 after inspections found that BP failed to correct significant safety deficiencies.

‘This agreement achieves our goal of protecting workers at the refinery and ensuring that critical safety upgrades are made as quickly as possible,’ said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

‘The size of the penalty rightly reflects BP’s disregard for workplace safety and shows that we will enforce the law so workers can return home safe at the end of their day.’

The settlement does not impact ongoing litigation over the $30 million fine imposed for 439 new ‘willful violations’ discovered in the 2009 inspection.

‘It is perfectly within BP’s means to make that facility safe,’ OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab said in a conference call.

The settlement ‘commits them to a schedule to address those issues and it provides OSHA with an unprecedented level of oversight to make sure they do what they’re supposed to do,’ he added.
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12
Aug
10

Recovery still distant as GM turns a corner

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Recovery still distant as GM turns a corner
General Motors profits move past $1 billion

Thursday, August 12, 2010

••• General Motors said on Thursday its profits hit $1.3 billion in the second quarter, as the car company prepared to break free of U.S. government ownership by relisting on the stock exchange.

‘I am pleased with our progress on achieving our business objectives,’ said chief financial officer Chris Liddell, announcing the second consecutive quarter of growth.

The company erased a loss of $13 billion in the same period last year, as sales and revenues increased.

The firm saw stronger sales in North America in the quarter, even as sales in Europe floundered and market share around the world sank.

GM captured 15.4 percent of the U.S. market for cars versus 17.5 percent in the second quarter of last year, but elsewhere faired poorly.

GM’s executives have said that a public offering will come soon, a process that will help the U.S. government unwind its majority stake in the firm.

The U.S. Treasury Department still owns 61 percent of GM, which received $50 billion of U.S. government financing for its bankruptcy restructuring that led to mass layoffs, plant closures and billions of dollars in debt wiped out.

GM’s drive for an IPO will be boosted by news that the firm’s revenues swelled to $33 billion in the second quarter, a third more than the same period last year.

GM as well as its U.S. competitors Ford and Chrysler were hard hit by the recession which struck the United States in December 2007, caused by a home mortgage meltdown.

Of the so-called Detroit Three car makers, Ford was the only one to avoid bankruptcy, managing to stay afloat thanks to massive loans it had obtained prior to the credit crunch and because it moved more quickly to revitalise its product portfolio.
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12
Aug
10

Fed Effort to Aid Recovery Fails to Calm Investors

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Fed Effort to Aid Recovery Fails to Calm Investors

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More worried about the recovery, the U.S. Federal Reserve has taken a small step to bolster the U.S. economy.

Wrapping up a one-day meeting, the Fed said it will use money from its investments in mortgage securities to buy government debt on a small scale. That could help nudge down long-term rates on mortgages and corporate debt, but wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on stimulating economic growth, economists say.

Perhaps more importantly, the largely symbolic action sends a signal that the Fed sees the recovery weakening and that it stands ready to take more aggressive action, if needed, to keep it on track.

Delivering a more downbeat assessment, the Fed now believes economic growth will be ‘more modest’ than it had anticipated at its late June meeting.

The Fed, citing ‘subdued’ inflation, said it would keep its target for a key interest rate at zero to 0.25 percent for an ‘extended period’.
Investors reacted positively to the statement. Stocks that were down sharply before the announcement made up some lost ground. The Dow Jones industrial average, down about 100 points just before the Fed decision, was down about 40 a short time later. However, the market was likely to fluctuate, as it usually does while investors pore over the Fed’s statement.

Treasury prices rose slightly as investors were pleased by the Fed’s plan to buy government debt, which would reduce the amount of Treasury securities in the market. The yield on the Treasury’s 10-year note, which moves in the opposite direction from its price, fell to 2.77 percent from 2.82 percent just before the announcement.

Economists doubt the Fed can turn around the economy on its own. Some believe additional help from Congress is needed. Others are sceptical that easier credit or even more government aid will persuade Americans to shop more and hire more. Yet others think some jobs – like in construction – will never return to pre-recession levels, as the economy makes a structural shift.
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11
Aug
10

Google Street View throws light on web privacy

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Google Street View throws light on web privacy

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Google’s online map feature has become a flash point for people worried about the erosion of privacy in the Internet Age.

Street View images at Google Maps sparked controversy from the outset of the project three years ago.

Google dispatched cars and tricycles rigged with cameras and satellite positioning gear to take pictures of what one might see on streets around the world and synched the images to its free online mapping service.

Some people complained that faces could be recognised in pictures, raising the potential that people caught in compromising situations, perhaps stepping out of an adult video store, would have such moments memorialised online.

Others expressed fears that numbers from licence plates could be used to figure out who parks or lives on certain streets.

People were soon accusing Street View vehicles of straying onto private roads or yards to snap pictures in violation of the California-based internet giant’s policies.

Google adapted to ameliorate concerns. It began blurring faces and car licence plate numbers in images.

This year the Street View controversy rocketed to a new level with the revelation by Google that electronics in its picture-taking vehicles captured data from wireless internet systems not secured by passwords.

Google basically had access to unencrypted email, video downloads, web browsing or other digital information passing through wireless routers in homes or businesses as its Street View vans went by, said John Verdi, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Centre.

Google has apologised repeatedly for what it called an accidental data grab, but authorities in more than a dozen countries are investigating whether the company broke privacy laws.

South Korean police on Tuesday searched the offices of Google Korea as part of its probe, an officer said.

Police seized computer hard discs and other material. After analysing the material they plan to summon the company’s staff for questioning.

Efforts by governments to get the Street View data threaten to multiply damage to people’s privacy even if Google is true to its word that it has done nothing with the information.

‘Simply handing over the data to governments can be a very bad idea,’ said Electronic Frontier Foundation international rights director Katitza Rodriguez.

‘In some cases, the remedy can be worse than the disease.’

Countries could use the pretext of investigating Street View to mine Google data in ways that ‘might create risky situations for human rights activists, dissidents, or bloggers fighting for their rights,’ she added.

Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle theorised that Google might have intended to map locations of open wireless ‘hot spots’ as a potential service to users.

‘Telling people where they can get on the internet for free while they are out and about sounds to me like a typical Google thing to do,’ Enderle said. ‘It wouldn’t surprise me.’

Identity thieves might view a roster of open wireless zones the way burglars might look at a list of homes left unlocked, according to the analyst.

Google said it would allow Germans to block out their homes on Street View ahead of its launch in the country this year but privacy watchdogs were still not happy.

‘Google Street View is a great tool, for instance, for tourists to scope out the location that he or she wants to visit,’ Rodriguez said.

‘However, Google’s technology is too invasive, and goes too far. We expect some degree of anonymity while we are walking on the streets.’
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10
Aug
10

Brazil seeks origin of oil slick lapping at beach

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Brazil seeks origin of oil slick lapping at beach

Monday, August 10, 2010

Earth A large oil slick reached beaches along the Atlantic Ocean in the Lakes Region in the north of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, local media reported early Monday.

The origin of the oil was not immediately known, and naval inspection technicians took samples of the water and the sand to determine if the fuel comes from a ship or an offshore platform. The relevant tests, however, could take up to 20 days.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil’s state-controlled oil producer, said it’s not responsible for an oil spill that appeared on five of the country’s beaches.
Petrobras, as the oil producer is known, is assisting Brazil’s Navy with clean-up efforts, a spokesman, who declined to be named because of the Rio de Janeiro-based company’s policy, said today in a telephone interview. Petrobras did a flyover and wasn’t able to spot any oil slick, he said.

Oil washed up today at five beaches, said a spokeswoman at the Rio de Janeiro state government environment agency. Petrobras is helping to investigate the spill’s origin, said the spokeswoman in a telephone interview. She can’t be named under internal policy.

The size of the spill hasn’t been determined yet, she said.

The affected beaches are near Cabo Frio, about 93 miles east of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
The leak in Rio comes after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva strongly criticized the oil giant BP over the disaster caused by its well in the Gulf of Mexico. He said such a disaster would never happen in Brazil. According to Lula, the technology used by Brazil’s state-operated oil company Petrobras is superior to that which is used in the United States.
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09
Aug
10

BP Prepares for Final Drilling Phase

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BP Prepares for Final Drilling Phase

Monday, August 9, 2010

BP today advanced on what it hopes is the final lap towards permanently killing the source of the world’s worst offshore oil spill and kicked off a $20 billion compensation fund with a first $3 billion deposit.

A relief well being drilled by BP is on track to start this week to provide a definitive “bottom kill” shutdown of the crippled Gulf of Mexico well, unless an approaching weather system disrupts the timing, the top U.S. oil spill response chief said.

The biggest environmental response operation ever launched in the United States passed a critical milestone last week by subduing the blown-out deep-water well with injections of heavy drilling mud, followed by a cement seal.

BP’s Macondo well, 1 mile down in the Gulf of Mexico, had been provisionally capped on July 15th after spewing an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, soiling marshlands, fisheries and tourist beaches along several hundreds of miles of the Gulf Coast.

But the relief well is regarded as the final solution to plug the well 2.5 miles beneath the seabed.

“They are closing in on the last 30-40 feet . . . it’s ongoing and going in segments,” response chief retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen said in an update on the relief well. “We expect that sometime before the end of the week we will be able to . . . commence the kill,” he told a conference call.
As the deep-water engineering operation progressed, BP said it was also moving to fulfill its public commitments to compensate for economic damage caused by the spill.

Mr. Allen said the spill response authorities were closely watching a tropical weather system moving east over the Florida peninsula, which forecasters see crossing in a few days near BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill site.

He said that depending on its strength and direction, this system could affect the timing of the relief well “bottom kill” operation. Forecasters were giving this disturbance a 30 percent chance of strengthening into a tropical cyclone.

Elsewhere, BP said it had made an initial deposit of $3 billion into a $20 billion escrow fund.

The chief executive of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, Bob Dudley, said the $3 billion initial contribution to the escrow fund was intended to back up the company’s repeated pledge to “make good” economic losses caused by the spill to Gulf Coast fishermen, tourism operators and home owners.

“Establishing this trust and making the initial deposit ahead of schedule further demonstrates our commitment to making it right in the Gulf Coast,” Mr. Dudley said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed the contribution, saying it had completed negotiations with BP on the fund.
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08
Aug
10

First 3D Porn movie being shot in Hong Kong

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First 3D Porn movie being shot in Hong Kong

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Entertainment••• A group of Hong Kong filmmakers have started shooting what they claim will be the world’s first 3D pornographic film, a report said on Sunday.

The $3.2 million 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, set for release in May, has already generated interest in a host of Asian film markets, as well as Europe and the U.S., the Sunday Morning Post reported.
Loosely based on a piece of classical Chinese erotic literature, The Carnal Prayer Mat, the movie will star Japanese adult actresses Yukiko Suo and Saori Hara, the Post said.

The film chronicles the story of a young man who, after being introduced to the erotic world of a duke, realises his ex-wife is the love of his life and features ‘orgies, swinging and some very graphic sex scenes’, the paper said.
Producer Stephen Shiu acknowledged that censors would likely block the movie’s screening in mainland China, a key market for Hong Kong filmmakers.

‘(But) we are almost closing deals with some markets including Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and some pay TV channels in Hong Kong,’ Shiu told the paper.

Italian director Tinto Brass has announced he would produce a 3D remake of his 1979 erotic film Caligula, while Hustler plans to release a pornographic spoof of 3D science fiction film Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time which has earned about $2.7 billion worldwide since its release.
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07
Aug
10

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform

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Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform
President Obama Highlights Benefits to Seniors Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Saturday, August 07, 2010

In his weekly address this week, President Obama highlighted a Medicare Trustees report noting the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing, which will help to preserve Medicare for generations to come. Additionally, America’s seniors are already seeing more benefits as a result of health reform, including a rebate to cover the cost of their prescriptions if they fall into the Medicare Part D drug coverage gap. In the coming years, as we continue to ramp up reform, we expect seniors to save in premiums and out of pocket costs. And the President will continue to make Medicare stronger to ensure our seniors have access to affordable and quality healthcare.

Forty-five years ago, we made a solemn compact as a nation that senior citizens would not go without the health care they need. This is the promise we made when Medicare was born. And it’s the responsibility of each generation to keep that promise.

That’s why a report issued this week by the Trustees who oversee Medicare was such good news. According to this report, the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing. Reform has actually added at least a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare – the single longest extension in history – while helping to preserve Medicare for generations to come.

We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits. In fact, seniors are starting to see that because of health reform, their benefits are getting better all the time.

Seniors who fall into the “doughnut hole” – the gap in Medicare Part D drug coverage – are eligible right now for a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescriptions. Now, I know for people facing drug costs far higher than that, they need more help. That’s why we negotiated a better deal with the pharmaceutical companies for seniors. So starting next year, if you fall in the doughnut hole, you’ll get a 50-percent discount on the brand-name medicine you need. And in the coming years, this law will close the doughnut hole completely once and for all.

Already, we have put insurance companies on notice that we have the authority to review and reject unreasonable rate increases for Medicare Advantage plans. And we’ve made it clear to the insurers that we won’t hesitate to use this authority to protect seniors.

Beginning next year, preventive care – including annual physicals, wellness exams, and tests like mammograms – will be free for seniors as well. That will make it easier for folks to stay healthy. But it will also mean that doctors can catch things earlier, so treatment may be less invasive and less expensive.

And as reform ramps up in the coming years, we expect seniors to save an average of $200 per year in premiums and more than $200 each year in out of pocket costs, too.

This is possible in part through reforms that target waste and abuse and redirect those resources to where they’re supposed to go: our seniors. We’re already on track to cut improper payments in half – including money that goes to criminals who steal taxpayer dollars by setting up insurance scams and other frauds. And we won’t stop there. Because by preventing the loss of these tax dollars, we can both address the runaway costs of Medicare and improve the quality of care seniors receive – and we can crack down on those who prey on seniors and take advantage of people.

So we are no longer accepting business as usual. We’re making tough decisions to meet the challenges of our time. And as a result, Medicare is stronger and more secure. That’s important. Because Medicare isn’t just a program. It’s a commitment to America’s seniors – that after working your whole life, you’ve earned the security of quality health care you can afford. As long as I am President, that’s a commitment this country is going to keep.
Thank you.

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• Source(s): The White House
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07
Aug
10

A New Supreme Court Justice

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A New Supreme Court Justice
Honoring Elena Kagan

Saturday, August 07, 2010

“This is a good day,” said the President this afternoon. And it was, especially for Elena Kagan, who was being congratulated on her on confirmation as the next Supreme Court Justice. He thanked the other Justices in attendance for coming, and thanked the Senate – in particular Judiciary Chairman Leahy – for their work in the process.

The President noted the bipartisanship in the final vote and recounted the broad support her nomination received across the ideological spectrum:

These folks may not agree on much, but they’ve all been impressed, as I have, by Elena’s formidable intellect and path-breaking career – as an acclaimed scholar and presidential advisor, as the first woman to serve as Dean of the Harvard Law School, and most recently as Solicitor General. They admire how, while she could easily have settled into a comfortable practice in corporate law, she chose instead to devote her life to public service. They appreciate her even-handedness and open-mindedness, and her excellent – and often irreverent – sense of humor.

These are traits that she happens to share with the last Solicitor General who went on to become a Supreme Court Justice – one for whom Elena clerked, and whom she considers one of her heroes – Justice Thurgood Marshall. And we are very proud to have Justice Marshall’s widow here today joining us. (Applause.)

In a tribute she wrote after Justice Marshall’s death, Elena recalled how she and her fellow clerks took turns standing guard when his casket lay in state at the Supreme Court – and how 20,000 people stood in a line that stretched around the block to pay their respects. They were people from every background and every walk of life: black, white, rich and poor, young and old. Many brought their children, hoping to impress upon them the lessons of Justice Marshall’s extraordinary life. Some left notes, some left flowers. One mourner left a worn slip opinion of Brown v. Board of Education.

It is, to this day, a moving reminder that the work of our highest Court shapes not just the character of our democracy, but the most fundamental aspects of our daily lives – how we work, how we worship, whether we can speak freely and live fully, whether those words put to paper more than two centuries ago will truly mean something for each of us in our time.

For her part, Kagan echoed the gratitude for those who worked so hard in the process, and gave a special note of thanks to her family:

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends. I have a lot of family here today – my brothers and sister-in-law, a nephew, a niece, aunts, uncles, cousins – and I have a great many friends here as well. You came from all over the country as soon as you heard the Senate had approved my nomination. And I’m moved and deeply grateful for your support.

And all around me in this room, I feel the presence of my parents. I wouldn’t be standing here today if not for their love and sacrifice and devotion. And although my parents didn’t live to see this day, what I can almost hear them saying – and I think I can hear Justice Marshall saying this to me right now as well – is that this appointment is not just an honor. Much more importantly, it is an obligation – an obligation to protect and preserve the rule of law in this country; an obligation to uphold the rights and liberties afforded by our remarkable Constitution; and an obligation to provide what the inscription on the Supreme Court building promises: equal justice under law.

Tomorrow, I will take two oaths to uphold this solemn obligation: one, to support and defend the Constitution; and the other, to administer justice without respect to persons, to the rich and poor alike.

Today, Mr. President, I will simply say to you and to everyone here and across the nation that I will work my hardest and try my best to fulfill these commitments and to serve this country I love as well as I am able.

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• Source(s): The White House
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06
Aug
10

Accused NYC subway plotter pleads not guilty

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Accused NYC subway plotter pleads not guilty
New Charges Leveled Against NYC Man With Ties To Zazi, Others in Alleged Terror Plot.

Friday, August 6, 2010

••• One of the men accused in an alleged al-Qaeda bomb plot against New York’s subway system has pleaded not guilty.

Adis Medunjanin, 26, entered the plea on Friday at an arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The main suspect in the alleged 2009 conspiracy, Najibullah Zazi, pleaded guilty earlier this year.

Last month U.S. prosecutors said al-Qaeda leaders helped set up the plot as part of a Pakistan-based campaign against U.S. and British cities.

According to new charges, Zazi, Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay, who has also pleaded guilty, were recruited by al-Qaeda member Adnan El Shukrijumah.

He was described as being one of three leaders of al-Qaeda’s external operations program.
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06
Aug
10

Senate confirms Kagan as 112th justice

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Senate confirms Kagan as 112th justice
Senate confirms Elena Kagan as 112th justice of the Supreme Court

Friday, August 6, 2010

The U.S. Senate confirmed Elena Kagan Thursday as the Supreme Court’s 112th justice and the fourth woman in its history, granting a lifetime term to a lawyer and academic with a reputation for brilliance, a dry sense of humour and a liberal bent.

The vote was 63-37 for President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens.

Five Republicans joined all but one Democrat and the Senate’s two independents to support Kagan. In a rarely practiced ritual reserved for the most historic votes, senators sat at their desks and stood to cast their votes with “ayes” and “nays.”

Kagan watched on television in the conference room at the solicitor general’s office, with her Justice Department colleagues looking on. She is to be sworn in Saturday afternoon at the court by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Obama, travelling in Chicago, said Kagan will make an outstanding justice who understands that her rulings affect people and called the addition of another woman to the court a sign of progress for the country. He invited Kagan to the White House for a ceremony Friday marking her confirmation.

The vote, Obama said, was “an affirmation of her character and her temperament; her open-mindedness and evenhandedness; her determination to hear all sides of every story and consider all possible arguments.”

Kagan is not expected to alter the ideological balance of the court, where Stevens was considered a leader of the liberal wing. But the two parties clashed over her nomination and the court itself. Republicans argued that Kagan was a politically motivated activist who would be unable to put aside her opinions and rule impartially. Democrats defended her as a highly qualified trailblazer for women who could bring a note of moderation and real-world experience to a polarized court they said was dominated by just the kind of activists the GOP denounced.

Kagan is the first Supreme Court nominee in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge, and her swearing-in will mark the first time in history that three women will serve on the nine-member court together.

Her lack of judicial experience was the stated reason for one fence-sitting Republican, Sen. Scott Brown, to announce his opposition to Kagan’s confirmation Thursday, just hours before the vote.

Though calling her “brilliant,” Brown, who had been seen as a potential supporter from the minority party, said she was missing the necessary background to serve as a justice.

“The best umpires, to use the popular analogy, must not only call balls and strikes, but also have spent enough time on the playing field to know the strike zone,” Brown said.

Democrats said they hoped Kagan would act as a counterweight to the conservative majority that has dominated the Supreme Court in recent years.

“I believe she understands that judges and justices must realize how the law affects Americans each and every day. That understanding is fundamental,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman. With her confirmation, he said, “the Supreme Court will better reflect the diversity that made our country great.”

Most Republicans portrayed Kagan as a partisan who will use her post from the bench to push the Democratic agenda.

Kagan “is truly a person of the political left – now they call themselves progressives – one who has a history of working to advance the values of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and whose philosophy of judging allows a judge to utilize the power of their office to advance their vision for what America should be,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Just one Democrat – centrist Sen. Ben Nelson – crossed party lines to oppose Kagan.

A handful of mostly moderate Republicans broke with their party to back her: Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, retiring Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.

They argued that partisanship should play no role in debates over the Supreme Court and have called Obama’s nominee qualified.
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05
Aug
10

BP begins to seal runaway well in Gulf of Mexico

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BP begins to seal runaway well in Gulf of Mexico

Thursday, August 5, 2010

BP has begun sealing its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico with cement, one of the final steps to plug the gusher at the center of the worst U.S. environmental disaster on record.

Some 15 weeks after the well ruptured and 21 days after the flow was stemmed with a temporary cap, the massive slick which once stretched for hundreds of miles is rapidly disappearing from the Gulf.

But officials cautioned that a great deal of clean-up work remained and that the long-term impact of the disaster could be felt for years, even decades.

In a long-awaited breakthrough, BP brought the well under control on Wednesday after pumping heavy drilling fluid into the busted Macondo well for eight hours, forcing the oil back down into the reservoir miles beneath the seabed.

The British energy giant then began pumping cement at 09.15 CDT on Thursday after the procedure was approved by U.S. officials.

‘The aim of the procedure is to assist with the strategy to kill and isolate the well,’ BP said in a statement. ‘This procedure will complement the ongoing relief well operation.’

In giving the green light, spill response chief Thad Allen emphasised that the cementing should ‘in no way delay the completion of the relief well,’ expected to be finished in mid-August to seal the well permanently.
‘So, the long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is finally close to coming to an end. And we are very pleased with that,’ U.S. President Barack Obama said. ‘Our recovery efforts, though, will continue. We have to reverse the damage that’s been done.’

It took 106 days to shut the well down in the wake of a devastating explosion on April 20 that killed 11 workers and sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, unleashing a torrent of oil into the Gulf.

At 4.9 million barrels – or enough oil to fill 311 Olympic-sized swimming pools – the disaster is the biggest maritime spill on record.

It threatened the fish and wildlife-rich U.S. Gulf coast with environmental ruin and plunged residents of coastal communities into months of anguish over their livelihoods and the region’s future.

A government report released on Wednesday found that a third of the oil was captured or mitigated through burning, skimming, chemical dispersion and direct recovery from the wellhead.

Heat from the sun helped some of the chemicals in the crude evaporate. Waves and currents broke the slick up into smaller patches. Then the microbes which feed on natural oil seeping in the Gulf got to work, it said.

‘At least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system,’ said Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

‘And most of the remainder is degrading rapidly, or is being removed from the beaches.’
But Lubchenco was quick to stress that scientists will not be able to determine for a long time the full extent of the damage.

‘The oil that was released and has already impacted wildlife at the surface, young juvenile stages and eggs beneath the surface, will likely have very considerable impacts for years and possibly decades to come,’ she told reporters at the White House briefing.

The problem, she explained, is that oil is still toxic even when it has been broken down into very small droplets.

About 24 percent of the Gulf’s federal waters remain closed to fishing, and even when fishermen are able to fill their nets they fear consumers might not believe the seafood is safe to eat.

With tourists likely to avoid Gulf beaches for years and oil industry jobs under threat from Obama’s moratorium on new deep sea drilling permits, the future remains bleak for many coastal communities.

BP, meanwhile, is hoping to rebuild its shattered reputation but must also meet the claims of thousands of individuals and businesses whose livelihoods have been washed away, while a mammoth civil trial looms.

BP senior vice president Kent Wells expressed relief that 20 days after the flow of oil in the sea was stemmed with a temporary cap ‘it’s very difficult for us to find any oil anywhere on the surface.’

He refused, however, to declare victory until the well is permanently sealed.
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05
Aug
10

Katy Perry Found Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ Video Offensive

NEWS
Katy Perry Found Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ Video Offensive

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Katy Perry found Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ video offensive … Oh, My God!!!

The ‘I Kissed A Girl’ hitmaker is ‘sensitive’ about the Christianity referencing promo – which features Gaga putting rosary beads in her mouth while dressed as a nun – and insists even her fiancé Russell Brand cannot get away with blasphemy.

Katy – whose parents are both Christian pastors – said: ‘I am sensitive to Russell taking the Lord’s name in vain and to Lady Gaga putting a rosary in her mouth. I think when you put sex and spirituality in the same bottle and shake it up, bad things happen.
‘Yes, I said I kissed a girl. But I didn’t say I kissed a girl while f◦◦◦ing a crucifix.’

Just as religion bashing makes her mad, the 25-year-old pop star is also infuriated by celebrities who claim they don’t read gossip about themselves on the internet.

She added to Rolling Stone magazine: ‘Any artist who says they don’t Google their name is a big fat liar. It’s a little gross when you look at other celebrities’ twitter feeds and see them posting about something they read about themselves on a Google Alert, it’s like, ‘Uh, maybe you should stop Googling yourself every day, the world does not spin around you.
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05
Aug
10

Rupert Murdoch says Apple’s iPad is a ‘game-changer’ for news media

NEWS
Rupert Murdoch says Apple’s iPad is a ‘game-changer’ for news media

Thursday, August 05, 2010

••• Global media chief Rupert Murdoch says Apple’s iPad will be a ‘game changer’ for newspapers.

The chairman and chief executive of News Corporation said the iPad would allow publishers to attract new readers to their mastheads.

‘It’s a real game changer in the presentation of news,’ Mr. Murdoch said on Thursday during a conference call for the company’s full year profit results.

‘We will have young people reading newspapers. We will have different looking types of newspapers.’

News Corp owns newspapers in the U.S., U.K., Australia and elsewhere.

Mr. Murdoch said he expected to see hundreds of millions of these devices around the world.

‘There will be all sorts of things we can do with them,’ Mr. Murdoch said.

‘As they develop technologically, we have got to to develop our methods of presentation of news.’

News Corp chief operating officer Chase Carey said the iPad ‘really starts to deliver on the promise of multimedia’ for the first time.

In terms of charging for online content, The Times and Sunday Times newspapers in the U.K. started slugging users $1.59 (£1) a day, or $3.18 (£2) a week, to access their content online from the start of July.

Mr. Murdoch said there had been a positive response, but declined to say how many people had paid for subscriptions.

‘We have had a very encouraging number of people subscribing at a good price,’ he said.

‘But we think we are on the right strategy there and we think it’s going well.’

Mr. Murdoch also flagged changes to News Corp’s social networking portal MySpace, which he said was going through a major overhaul under a new management team.

‘It will look very, very different in a few months to what it’s looked for the last few years,’ Mr Murdoch said.

‘We are going to see it out for some time yet.’
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05
Aug
10

Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, overturned by judge

NEWS
Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, overturned by judge

Thursday, August 05, 2010

••• Actress Portia de Rossi and her TV talk show wife Ellen DeGeneres have joined the celebration in the U.S. after a judge overturned California’s gay marriage ban.

Geelong-born de Rossi and DeGeneres married legally in 2008, shortly before Californians voted for Proposition 8, which ended gay marriage in the state and sparked furious public debate and a legal challenge.

Two gay couples launched the federal lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, claiming it violated their civil rights and, in San Francisco on Wednesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the voter-approved ban violated California’s constitution.
‘I am ecstatic that Proposition 8 has been overturned in the state of California. This is an incredibly exciting and historical day and a big step towards equal rights for all,’ de Rossi, the former star of U.S. TV series Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, wrote in a Tweet to fans.

DeGeneres wrote: ‘This just in: Equality won!’

Judge Vaughn’s ruling will not be the end of the debate or court battles, with the matter likely to be fought all the way to America’s highest court, the Supreme Court.

Gay couples would not immediately be allowed to marry in California.
Judge Vaughn temporarily stayed his order until Friday, giving Proposition 8 backers time to file appeals and seek a long-term stay.

Protect Marriage, a coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored the ban, confirmed it would appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would likely be a preview to the final Supreme Court showdown.

In his ruling, Judge Vaughn wrote there was no rational basis for excluding gays and lesbians from marriage and Proposition 8 failed to ‘advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license’.

‘The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,’ Walker wrote.
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04
Aug
10

News Corp. Posts $875 Million Profit as Ad Sales Rise

NEWS
News Corp. Posts $875 Million Profit as Ad Sales Rise

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

••• Media and entertainment giant News Corp. reported, Wednesday, that it has swung to profit in the fiscal fourth quarter on the back of strong performance from its television networks division which posted impressive ad sales.

News Corp. said its net profit in June quarter was $875 million or $0.33 per share as against loss of $203 million or $0.08 per share in the year ago period.

The company said its revenue moved up 5.7 percent to $8.11 billion.

Analysts, on average, had expected News Corp. to report profit of $0.20 per share on revenue on $7.87 billion.

However, operating profit, or sales minus the cost of goods sold and administrative expenses, slipped 1.7 percent year-on-year in June quarter to $932 million from $948 million.

The media conglomerate said its earnings were driven by strong performance put up by its television networks division, which accounted for more than half of its operating income.

Profits at domestic channels surged by 30 percent while international channels improved 40 percent. Overall, operating profit at cable television networks division, which include channels such as Fox News Channel and FX, surged 31 percent to $563 million on the back of advertising revenue which jumped 11 percent. The division also saw double-digit growth in revenue from fees paid by cable, satellite and fiber video providers.

Operating profit at News Corp.’s broadcast television division also surged 13 percent to $113 million on improved ad sales offsetting higher programming expenses at the company’s national broadcast network – Fox Broadcasting.

The group’s filmed entertainment division also did well but could not beat third quarter performance. Operating income in June quarter dropped 32 percent year-on-year to $137 million. In March quarter, profit stood at $497 million. At the time of announcing third quarter earnings, News Corp. had warned that one should not expect stellar performance from this division in the fourth quarter, largely due to an expected year-over-year decline in the film business due to the timing of releases.

The newspapers and information services division, which include the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch and Dow Jones, also reported 20 percent surge in profit to $115 million on higher ad revenue, though it was below Street estimates.

The company’s digital media division, which include social networking site MySpace, however, disappointed, reporting an operating loss of $174 million in the June quarter on lower search and advertising revenue. News Corp. said MySpace is set for a “major overhaul.”

News Corp.’s satellite TV division also disappointed, reporting a 37 percent slide in operating income to $97 million on the back of continued weakness at Sky Italia.

To reduce dependence on the economically sensitive advertisement-based revenue, News Corp. said it is beefing up its portfolio of subscription-based assets. In June, it said it has made a bid for the 61 percent stake of pay-TV operator British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc (BSkyB) it doesn’t already own.

“The opportunity for us to expand the scale of our franchises is significant, including through taking advantage of the continual technological advances that will broaden the reach of our core content and distribution businesses,” News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said in a statement.

The company’s full-year results were more impressive.

News Corp. said its net profit in fiscal year 2010 was $2.5 billion, helped primarily by blockbuster movie “Avatar.” DVD sales of other films like “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” also bumped up its profits. In the prior year, News Corp. incurred a net loss of $3.4 billion, which included a one-time pre-tax impairment and other charges of $9.2 billion.

“These results underscore just how well positioned we are – fiscally, operationally and strategically – for further growth across all of our markets,” Murdoch said.

Shares of News Corp., which owns Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, MySpace and 20th Century Fox among other things, closed up 1.61 percent at $13.85. Following the financial results announcement, the company’s shares were up 3.25 percent in the after-market hours.
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04
Aug
10

President Obama at AFL-CIO on the Economy: “Made In America”

NEWS
President Obama at AFL-CIO on the Economy: “Made In America”
Making the Right Choice for the Economy

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Speaking at the AFL-CIO Executive Council Meeting here in DC, the President thanked “all my brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO” who have worked so hard to help get America’s economy back on track. He spoke of the progress that’s been made, with millions of people at work now because of the Recovery Act, and the length left to go until the millions still out of work find their jobs.
As for his plans going forward, he summed it up in “three powerful words”:

Together, we’re jumpstarting a new American clean energy industry – an industry with the potential to generate perhaps millions of jobs building wind turbines and solar panels, and manufacturing the batteries for the cars of the future, building nuclear plants, developing clean coal technology. There are other countries that are fighting for those jobs, in China and India and in Germany and other parts of Europe. But the United States doesn’t play for second place. As long as I’m President, I’m going to keep fighting night and day to make sure that we win those jobs, that those are jobs that are created right here in the United States of America and that your members are put to work. (Applause.)

So the message I want to deliver to our competitors – and to those in Washington who’ve tried to block our progress at every step of the way – is that we are going to rebuild this economy stronger than before, and at the heart of it are going to be three powerful words: Made in America. Made in America. (Applause.)

That’s why we’re finally enforcing our trade laws – in some cases for the very first time. That’s why we’re fighting for tax breaks for companies that invest here in the United States as opposed to companies that are investing overseas or that keep their profits offshore. Because it is my belief – and I know it’s the belief of this room – that there are no better workers than U.S. workers. There are no better workers than your members. (Applause.) And they are absolutely committed to making sure that America is on the rise again. And we are going to keep moving forward with them – not moving backwards but moving forward with them.

As we rebuild our economy, we’re going to rebuild America as well. Over the last 20 months, bulldozers and backhoes have been whirring in communities across the country, as construction crews from local companies repair roads and bridges, railways and ports. That was part of our plan, and it’s put hundreds of thousands of folks to work. But there’s a lot more to do to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century, and a lot more Americans who are ready and willing to do that work. So that, too, is an area where we’ve got to keep moving forward.


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04
Aug
10

BP says “static kill” operation at ruptured U.S. oil well

NEWS
BP says “static kill” operation at ruptured U.S. oil well
Obama says long battle in Gulf close to end
New Report: 74% of Oil in BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill has been Contained or Mitigated

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

About three-quarters of the oil spilled from the ruptured BP well in the Gulf of Mexico has disappeared, a top U.S. official said Wednesday.

‘The scientists are telling us about 25 percent was not captured or evaporated or taken care of by mother nature,’ said Carol Browner, a top energy adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, on the ABC network’s Good Morning America program.

‘This is an initial assessment by our scientists in the government and outside the government. We think it’s important to make this available to the public. That’s what we’ll be doing today.’

Browner said the report to be released later on Wednesday was ‘encouraging’ but that more clean-up will be needed.

‘Mother nature will continue to break it down,’ she said.

‘But some of it may come onshore, as weathered tar balls. And those will be cleaned up. They can be cleaned up. And we will make sure they are cleaned up.’

An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days after an explosion on a BP-leased offshore rig on April 20.

The leak was capped on July 15, and on Wednesday BP said it succeeded in controlling the pressure in the ruptured well through a procedure called a ‘static kill.’

The New York Times said the report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, indicated that fears that a huge underwater glob of oil would surface at some point to tar Gulf beaches looked increasingly unlikely.

‘There’s absolutely no evidence that there’s any significant concentration of oil that’s out there that we haven’t accounted for,’ Jane Lubchenco, head of the agency, was quoted as saying.

Today, a panel of government scientists released a report which said that the vast majority of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed much of which is in the process of being degraded. A significant amount of this is the direct result of the federal government’s aggressive response to the spill.

The chart below outlines the breakdown of what has happened to the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico since the oil spill began in April:

These interagency findings were generated using a scientific tool called the Oil Budget Calculator, which employs a combination of direct measurements and the best scientific estimates available. The calculator is based on 4.9 million barrels of oil released into the Gulf, the government’s latest estimates of the flow rate from Monday. More than 25 of the best government and independent scientists contributed to or reviewed the calculator and its calculation methods. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), as well as academic scientists are continuing to work to refine these calculations.

While we welcome the news contained in this report, we continue to be extremely concerned about what this oil spill means for the health of the Gulf ecosystem and the millions of people who depend on the Gulf for their livelihoods and enjoyment. To that end, our response effort will continue until the well is killed, the oil is cleaned up and until all of the people are made whole again.

For more information about the ongoing Administration-wide response to BP Oil Spill, visit RestoreTheGulf.gov.
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04
Aug
10

MasterCard 2Q profit jumps 31 percent, tops view

NEWS
MasterCard 2Q profit jumps 31 percent, tops view

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

••• Anaemic consumer spending in the U.S. was offset by strong international growth to help boost MasterCard Inc’s second-quarter profit by 31 percent.

The gain topped Wall Street profit expectations, but fell short of the 38 percent leap in operating income posted by the company’s larger rival, Visa Inc., last week.

MasterCard shares slipped $1.76, to $200.70 in midday trading as the broader market sputtered.

MasterCard’s gains showed the Purchase, NY-based payment processor’s reliance on overseas use of its cards and networks. Worldwide purchasing volume rose eight per cent, while U.S. purchasing volume eked out a gain of less than 1 percent.

Worldwide, credit card use rose 10 percent, while debit card use leaped 29 percent.

Chief Financial Officer Martina Hund-Mejean said in an interview that card use was particularly strong in Latin America and Asia Pacific, which both saw double-digit growth rates.

‘Even in Europe,’ she said, alluding to the economic turmoil on the Continent in recent months. ‘We do not see any significant impact on our numbers in terms of the Europeans not spending.’

U.S. credit card use edged down 1.5 percent, continuing a two-year decline, but showing the smallest drop since the third quarter of 2008.

Debit card use edged up less than 1 percent. That reflects more frequent use of debit cards, but was held down by MasterCard’s loss of several debit card deals with banks, most notably the former Washington Mutual, which was bought by JPMorgan Chase in 2008. Hund-Mejean said US debit growth was closer to 20 percent if the banks winding down their MasterCard programs are stripped out.

U.S. spending, particularly with credit cards, picked up in April but was less robust later in the quarter, Hund-Mejean said. ‘People still feel a little careful and cautious, and I think that’s what we saw in May and June,’ she said.

Analysts noted the growth compared with a weak quarter last year. Thomas McCrohan from Janney Capital Marketssaid it is hard to read into the results to say whether they indicate any real improvement in the economy. But there was ‘nothing alarming’ in the results.

‘There’s nothing that would support a double dip’ of the recession, McCrohan said.

The number of transactions MasterCard handled was basically flat at 5.6 billion. Cross-border volume jumped 15.2 percent.

Net income rose to $458 million, or $3.49 per share, compared with $349 million, or $2.67 per share, a year ago.

Revenue rose 7 percent to $1.37 billion from $1.28 billion in the 2009 second quarter. MasterCard said the revenue increase reflected the higher cross-border volumes, higher gross dollar volume of the transactions it processed and the impact of price increases of 4 percent.

Wall Street expected earnings of $3.33 per share on revenue of $1.38 billion.

Total operating expences dropped 10 percent to $648 million. The decrease was led by a drop in severance and compensation costs as a result of layoffs in 2009.

President and CEO Ajay Banga said it is too early to tell what results MasterCard will feel from the limits on debit card fees included in the financial overhaul bill signed by President Barack Obama last month.

‘I know that everybody is eager to fully understand the impact on our business, but the truth is we just have to wait for the (Federal Reserve) to develop the regulations, and for our customers to react, before we will know the full implications both for the industry and for our company,’ he said during a conference call.

Banga noted there are a number of options for implementing the new rules, and quipped that MasterCard benefits in this case from having a smaller market share of U.S. debit than Visa.

Regardless of the new regulations, Banga said he doesn’t see the shift from cash and checks to electronic payments slowing down. He spoke enthusiastically about a number of pilot projects and overseas ventures MasterCard has to expand its network beyond card payments. Deals the company struck on mobile payments in Latin America, money transfer services in China and contactless payments in the U.S. position MasterCard for continued growth as the payments market evolves, he said.

David Parker, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets, said it will be a few years before ‘electronic wallets’ are a reality, and there are some challenges in terms of customer and merchant adoption, but it is clear the market is moving in that direction.

MasterCard’s investments in this area could help it overcome its disadvantage in debit cards.

‘I think there is an opportunity there with mobile commerce,’ he said.
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