Jumat, 09 Desember 2011

Playboy out early as nude Lohan photos leak

LOS ANGELES — Playboy is to release its January/February issue early after nude pictures of troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan leaked online, boss Hugh Hefner said.

The actress, who was reportedly paid nearly $1 million for the magazine spread, appears on the cover seated on a bright red Playboy bunny chair, only just protecting her modesty.

"Because of the interest & the Internet leak, we're releasing the Lindsay Lohan issue early," Hefner said on Twitter, adding: "Lindsay Lohan was the top search name on the Internet yesterday.

"Hot. Hot. Hot," tweeted Hefner, announcing that the next issue of the magazine will come out next week.

The leaked pictures show the curvy actress channeling Marilyn Monroe, flirting with the camera in a series of soft porn-style poses lying, kneeling or stretching herself voluptuously against red velvet drapery.

The actress had wanted $1 million for the Playboy spread and balked at an initial offer of $750,000 -- but Hefner eventually made an offer near enough to $1 million to entice her, celebrity news website TMZ reported.

Lohan -- once the promising child star of hit Disney movies "The Parent Trap" and "Freaky Friday" -- has a reputation for hard partying and has faced a series of legal tangles over the years.

Lohan was sentenced to 35 days of house detention in May as part of a plea bargain over the alleged theft of a $2,500 necklace from a jewelry shop near her home in Venice Beach.

Last month she spent five hours in prison after being sentenced to a 30-day stretch, for breaching probation on previous offences including a 2007 drug and drunk driving misdemeanor.(afp)

German Vision Prevails as Leaders Agree on Fiscal Pact

BRUSSELS — Europe’s worst financial crisis in generations is forging a new European Union, pushing Britain to the sidelines and creating a more integrated, fiscally disciplined core of nations under the auspices of a resurgent Germany.

Exactly 20 years to the day after European leaders signed the treaty that led to the creation of the European Union and the euro currency, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany persuaded every current member of the union except Britain to endorse a new agreement calling for tighter regional oversight of government spending. The accord, approved at a summit meeting in Brussels early on Friday, would allow the European Court of Justice to strike down a member’s laws if they violate fiscal discipline.

“It’s interesting to note that 20 years later we have realized — we have succeeded — in creating a more stable foundation for that economic and monetary union,” Mrs. Merkel said, adding, “and in so doing we’ve advanced political union and have attended to weaknesses that were included in the system.”

The agreement was a clear victory for Mrs. Merkel, and it prompted a sharp rally in stock markets in Europe and the United States. But it is viewed as unlikely to calm fears that Europe is unwilling to muster the financial firepower to defend the sovereign debts of big member states, including Italy and Spain, that have little or no economic growth and have big debt bills coming due soon.

At the meeting, member governments agreed to raise up to $270 billion that could be used by the International Monetary Fund to aid indebted European governments, and they moved up the date that a European rescue fund would come into operation. But the sums involved fell well short of what many investors and some Obama administration officials have argued are needed to ensure the survival of the euro. Administration officials on Friday welcomed the long-term overhaul of the euro zone’s rules, but argued that stronger measures were needed in the short run.

Germany has argued that the solution to the euro crisis is not a series of short-term bailouts but a long-term overhaul of the rules that govern European integration. Germany is using market turmoil as a cudgel to force more spendthrift European countries to adjust to their straitened circumstances by reducing spending and ushering in a period of austerity. But critics say such steps risk a deep recession.

The European Union emerged in its current form in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a French-German idea to bind the region in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. It is now being reinvented by a united Germany that has grown disillusioned by what it considers as debt-happy neighbors and is no longer reticent about wielding its economic and political clout.

The big loser in Brussels was Britain, which had endorsed the 1991 Maastricht Treaty on European integration but opted out of the new euro common currency to preserve its economic and monetary independence.

Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative and self-acknowledged “euroskeptic,” was isolated in his refusal to allow the German prescription of “more Europe” — to give teeth to fiscal pledges underpinning the euro.

Mr. Cameron was perceived as having made a poor gamble in opposing the push by Mrs. Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, embittering relations and possibly damaging his standing at home. Though some other countries, including Denmark and Hungary, initially shared Britain’s skepticism of the German-led agreement, only Britain ultimately rejected it.

The new disciplinary rules may help ensure that there will not be another euro crisis, but they may not be sufficient to fix the current crisis — to assuage market unease that Europe and the European Central Bank are not doing enough now to stand behind vulnerable nations.

While some progress was made here in increasing the size of the bailout funds to help the most heavily indebted states, it is still considered inadequate. That is largely because Germany refuses to sanction the use of the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort for the countries in the euro zone.

The leaders sent an important signal to the bond markets by scrapping a pledge to make private investors absorb losses in any future bailout for a euro nation. But they made only limited progress in increasing the financial backstop to vulnerable and core nations like Italy and Spain, which are paying unsustainable interest rates on their bonds.

What worries many is the size of the euro zone debts that must be refinanced early next year. Euro zone governments have to repay more than 1.1 trillion euros, nearly $1.5 trillion, of long- and short-term debt in 2012, with about 519 billion euros, or $695 billion, of Italian, French and German debt maturing in the first half alone, according to Bloomberg News.

But the new Italian prime minister, the economist Mario Monti, was more upbeat. He pointed to an increase in the firewall and in economic responsibility and said that the idea of collective bonds was not dead, despite continuing German and French opposition.

Mrs. Merkel said the crisis had provided important new lessons for how to restructure Europe. “We will use the crisis as a chance for a new beginning.”

In Brussels, much of the attention was on Mr. Cameron’s failure to get what he wanted or to stop other leaders from getting what they wanted.

Britain threatened to veto Germany’s proposal for a full treaty applying to all 27 members of the European Union. That pushed Germany and France to create an intergovernmental agreement that accelerates the move toward European consolidation, but will leave Britain out.

British hopes to lead an alliance of the 10 union members that do not use the euro were dashed. Mr. Cameron failed to bring along allies among the Nordic or ex-Communist nations whose membership in the bloc Britain had championed and who are usually regarded as more Atlanticist and favorable to free markets.

European officials argued that Mr. Cameron had in effect fallen into a French trap, making demands that most of his colleagues felt were unrelated to the euro zone crisis at issue. France has long desired an inner European core based on the countries that use the euro and excluding the free-market British.

“It’s a turning point,” said one senior European official. “Britain kept thinking that enlargement of the E.U. would make it come its way but it has turned out to weaken us.”

The official spoke with some sadness. “By being so isolated and raising these issues, but failing to deliver, Cameron is in a worse position than if he hadn’t flagged them in the first place. It will strengthen the hand of British euroskeptics who will be emboldened to demand a renegotiation of British membership terms and a referendum.”

Mr. Cameron requested concessions meant to secure the position of Britain’s financial services sector from the impact of European legislation and to ensure that the City of London would not lose out in rules that give an advantage to euro zone financial centers. But others, led by Mr. Sarkozy, said they would not be held hostage to the services that many blame for the crisis.

Mr. Sarkozy also said he was tired of British criticism of the handling of the crisis. “I am sick of hearing every day David criticizing us,” Mr. Sarkozy said, according to one official briefed on the discussions. On Friday, as the summit meeting was breaking up, Mr. Sarkozy snubbed Mr. Cameron, brushing past his outstretched hand.

British officials played down the significance of the meeting, saying that the outcome ensured that the government would have not have to seek a politically contentious ratification of a treaty at home. But one official acknowledged that the government would now have to assess the outcome and draw up a strategy.(nytimes.com)

Russian Election Fallout, Protests Shake Old Certainty, Spook Markets

MOSCOW—The stability of Vladimir Putin's government was once the keystone of Russia's investment model. Buffeted by volatile oil prices and capricious international sources of funding, the financial community could always point to what appeared to be permanent support for the country's leaders, as well as to low levels of sovereign debt.

Now an element of political uncertainty and the prospect of more large protests are shaking Russia's markets.

Mr. Putin's United Russia received less than 50% of the popular vote Dec. 4 in parliamentary elections, which were nevertheless widely criticized as unfairly favoring the ruling party. President Dmitry Medvedev has broached the idea of United Russia forming a coalition in the Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Few observers see enough widespread popular dissatisfaction to cause a forced change in government, although a large protest Monday night triggered a heavy police presence the next day, helping to send Russia's RTS Index down 4.7% Tuesday.

Fear gripped the market again on Friday as investors sold on the eve of what may be Russia's largest demonstration in years near the Kremlin on Saturday. The RTS slipped 4.3% Friday, compared with a 2% drop for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index and little movement in Brent crude-oil prices. The ruble dropped against the dollar and the euro.

Politics hasn't weighed on the Russian market this much since the arrest and trial of Yukos Oil Co. founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, investors said.

"There's a knee-jerk reaction that maybe it's going to all come tumbling now, particularly when markets are so sensitive," said Mattias Westman, head of Prosperity Capital Management, which holds about $4.5 billion in Russian equities. "Investors interpret things according to views that they had previously, and of course most people had some kind of adverse view on Russia."

Mr. Westman, who manages the investments of Norway's oil fund in Russia, doesn't anticipate significant violence on the streets, nor a sustained investor pullback from Russia, which, after all, hasn't been very popular among investors in some time.

Over the longer term, the emerging political forces could lead to reforms that would boost transparency and efficiency at state-controlled companies such as OAO Gazprom and pipeline operator OAO Transneft.

"If they want to stay in power they're going to have to give people some of what they want," Mr. Westman said, referring to Mr. Putin's United Russia. "It's not going to work to try to go back to more control of state companies."

Russia investors will be keenly watching the demonstrations over the weekend and the government's response. "Whatever the results are, it will be the top item in our discussions with clients on Monday morning, said Konstantin Nemnov, portfolio manager at TKB BNP Paribas Investment Partners.

The alleged vote-rigging has struck a nerve among a much broader swath of Russia's new middle class than many analysts and politicians had expected. Moscow society ladies—rarely known for their politics—were discussing on Twitter Friday what to wear to the demonstration.

If 20,000 people or more take to the streets in Moscow on Saturday, Mr. Medvedev may come under pressure to share power or compromise with the opposition, which could lead to an accelerating capital outflow in the short term and a potential selloff of Russian assets, said Julia Tsepliaeva, BNP Paribas SA's chief Russia economist.

Russia is expected to see $85 billion in net capital outflow this year, with much of it blamed on wealthy local businessmen concerned about political risk and European banks moving money from their Russian units.(online.wjs.com)

Motive a Mystery in Killing and Suicide at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The man who shot and killed a campus police officer at Virginia Tech and then turned the gun on himself was a part-time student at a nearby college who had stolen a car at gunpoint the day before but had no apparent link to the officer, the police said Friday.

Officer Deriek W. Crouse

The gunman was identified as Ross Truett Ashley, 22, of rural Partlow, Va., and the police said he went to Radford University, a small college about 15 miles from Virginia Tech. Officials at Radford said Mr. Ashley was a business management major.

Why Mr. Ashley shot and killed the officer, Deriek W. Crouse, 39, around noon Thursday remained a mystery. The police said they had not been able to establish any connection between the men..

“There’s no prior contact, nothing has surfaced,” said Corinne Geller, the spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police. “It is literally a random act at this point.”

Little was known about Mr. Ashley. He lived on East Main Street in Radford. He did not appear on Facebook or MySpace and had no criminal history. The only photograph the police could find was from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. Ashley walked into a real estate office in Radford, pulled a gun and demanded the keys to an employee’s car, a white 2011 Mercedes-Benz S.U.V., the police said. The car was found Thursday on the Virginia Tech campus.

Mr. Ashley appeared to have considered his moves carefully. He had a change of clothes and a backpack, the police said. He drove to the campus in the stolen vehicle. But the police said they were still trying to establish why he walked up to Officer Crouse during a routine traffic stop and shot him dead.

Mr. Ashley killed himself about a half hour later, the police said.

Investigators were trying to establish a motive and “to recreate Ashley’s movements in the days and hours leading up to the murder-suicide,” the state police said in a statement.

After shooting Officer Crouse, Mr. Ashley fled to an area near the campus greenhouses. There he changed some of his clothes, leaving a wool hat and a pullover in his backpack, as well as an ID card, Ms. Geller said.

Shortly after Officer Crouse was shot, which put the university on high alert, an officer on the response team noticed a man “making some furtive movements” in a parking lot with hundreds of cars not far from the greenhouse, Ms. Geller said.

The officer approached, she said, but the man fell from view, and by the time the officer reached him, the man, who turned out to be Mr. Ashley, had shot himself.

The shootings on this quiet campus in western Virginia was a frightening reminder of the shooting spree on April 16, 2007, when a student, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people before killing himself in the worst shooting ever on a university campus.

“It brought back vivid memories of April 16,” said Wendell Flinchum, Virginia Tech’s police chief. “I’m not sure I have words to describe how it felt.”

University flags flew at half-staff on Friday, and students planned an evening candlelight vigil, said Larry Hincker, a spokesman for Virginia Tech.

Ms. Geller said the student who was stopped by Officer Crouse was unrelated to the shooting and was helping investigators. She said that Officer Crouse, who had five children and was an army veteran, did not fire his gun during the attack, that the only bullets fired came from the shooter’s gun.

A jarring reminder of what had happened — a large blood stain on the asphalt of a back parking lot where Mr. Ashley’s body was found — was being scrubbed away on Friday.

Around 2 p.m., two university workers finished washing the pavement and painting a large black square over the area.

When asked what they thought when they heard what had happened Thursday, both said, almost in unison, “Not again.”(nytimes.com)

Google's Chrome Will Run Console Games!

Don't look for id Software's Rage or Bethesda's Skyrim in your browser anytime soon, but it sounds like Google has big time gaming plans for its Chrome platform—plans that already involve running stuff like Xbox Live Arcade game Bastion in Chrome directly.

Google demoed Bastion running in its Chrome browser at a press event last night after working on the technology to make such a feat possible for three years, says CNet, adding that "[Bastion's] gameplay was smooth and...the graphics were highly detailed."

The technology's called "Native Client," or NaCl—an allusion to the periodic symbol for salt, implying per the dictionary definition that it "makes things more interesting"—and it's powerful enough to allow a sophisticated action roleplaying game like Bastion to run in Google's browser today. I mean literally today. You can grab Bastion from the Chrome store now for $15 (though, caveat, gamepad's aren't yet supported—boo hiss!).

According to Bastion's developer Supergiant Games:

This latest version of Bastion is built to run right in your web browser, using Google’s new Native Client technology. This really is the full Bastion experience, featuring our highly acclaimed 1080p artwork, musical score, reactive narration, and play experience, all built to run fast and smooth just like our Xbox 360 and PC versions. And, much like those versions, you can play through the prologue for free. The full game can be unlocked for $14.99.

You'll need at least a 1.7 GHz dual-core rig, 2GB of memory, 1GB of hard disk space, and a video card that with 512MB memory that supports shader model 2—pretty minimal specs, in other words.

And all that's just for starters. Google apparently used last night's event to announce that Chrome has over 200 million users, and to highlight other upcoming Chrome-based games. Look for IO Interactive's Mini Ninjas soon, for instance, courtesy Final Fantasy publisher Square Enix.(pcworld.com)

Downed US drone: How Iran caught the 'beast'

Hours after Iran state TV displayed the cream-colored American bat-wing RQ-170 "Sentinel" drone – it's undercarriage hidden by banners of a US flag, with stars replaced by skulls and marked with anti-US slogans – Iranian officials said the spy craft was proof of enduring US hostility toward Iran.

"Iran will target all US military bases around the world," in case of further violations, warned conservative lawmaker Mohammad Kossari today. Iran's response would be "terrifying."

US officials confirmed with "high confidence" that the drone displayed by Iran is almost certainly the one reported lost last by US forces in Afghanistan last week. It was on an intelligence mission to hunt evidence in Iran of nuclear weapons work.

Despite those and other intelligence-gathering efforts – which are reported to include even surreptitiously installing radiation detectors at suspect sites in Tehran – the drone flights have apparently not yielded new evidence that would change conclusions by the United States and the United Nations that Iran stopped systematic nuclear weapons-related work in 2003.

Loss of the stealth drone is "very significant," says Robert Densmore, a defense journalist and former US Navy electronic countermeasures officer contacted in London.

"These Sentinels are pretty rare technology still, and to have one in such good condition, to be lost to a potential adversary like this, is pretty significant, especially because Iran has open ties to Russia and has been courted by China," says Mr. Densmore.
US loss

"Strategically, the US will suffer from the loss of this because ... it has radar, a fuselage, and coating that makes it low-observable, and the electronics inside are also very high-tech," says Densmore. "Diplomatically, Iran is really looking for a way to save some face," after the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London, and increased scrutiny of its nuclear program, adds Densmore. "They are really looking for something to say to the world, to change public opinion, to say, 'Look, we're really the victims here.'"

Iran officially complained to the UN Security Council for the "blatant and provocative" violation of its airspace, and demanded "condemnation of such aggressive acts."

State-run PressTV said that international law made the clandestine US flights over Iran an "act of war."

Officials from Russia and China – which have close trade ties with Iran, and oppose Western efforts to increase pressure – "have asked for permission to inspect the US spy drone," Iranian media reported.
How Iran got the 'beast'

Nicknamed the "Beast of Kandahar" after it was first spotted in 2009 on an airport runway in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the drone was used to monitor Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, undetected, before the raid to kill the Al Qaeda leader.

The Iranian video shows Hajizadeh and another Guard officer examining the craft with its radar-evading curves and wingspan which resembles the larger B-2 stealth bomber. It was placed on a platform with banners hiding the undercarriage and landing gear. The banners – fixed to either wing with clear packing tape – read: "The US can't mess with us," and "We'll crush America underfoot."

It was not clear how Iran acquired the drone intact. Some US experts dismiss the possibility that Iran could hack and then takeover the drone's controls, as Iran claims. And yet similar disruptions have proven possible in other battlefields, notably with the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and drones from Israel.

"Those jamming capabilities exist, and a lot of them are not as new as we would like to imagine," says former US Navy electronics warfare officer Densmore.
"Anything that has a sensor, that takes communications links – as does the RQ-170, which has two, one for the satellite, and the other is line-of-sight with the ground control station – all it takes is disrupting that," says Densmore.

Often flying at 50,000-foot altitude, the RQ-170 would have had a hard landing, some say. And yet the Iranian video shows little visible damage, except that wings appear to have been reattached, and there was a small dent on the front edge of the left wing.

A senior US military source "with intimate knowledge of the Sentinel drone" was paraphrased by Fox News days ago as saying that the lost craft was "presumed to be intact since it is programmed to fly level and find a place to land, rather than crashing."

"This is a big prize in terms of technology," the source told Fox.

$6 million drone

The unmanned $6 million stealth drone is made by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs. It is the third high-profile loss of stealth technology: the first when a US F-117 jet fighter was shot down during the Kosovo conflict in 1999; the second when a stealth helicopter was damaged and largely destroyed in situ during the Bin Laden raid in Pakistan.

But this drone is not the most sophisticated stealth technology in the US arsenal, according to the Website AviationIntel.com.

The RQ-170 was "most likely constructed with expendability in mind," and so had "dumbed-down stealth characteristics" that would mean the US military's "most sensitive stealth secrets" would not be compromised, the site says.

AviationIntel also says Iran recently received from Russia an advanced mobile jamming and intelligence system called "Avtobaza" that could have detected the drone and perhaps jammed its communications links.

Iranian officials said that this is not the first drone to be shot down in the region. Last January, Hazijadeh told an IRGC publication that Iran had "shot down a large number of their highly advanced spy planes." They were brought down outside Iranian airspace, and Iran "invited Russian experts" to see two of them," and later reproduced them through reverse engineering," reported the Fars News Agency, which is linked to the IRGC.
Iranian ability

Iran's own technical capacity is unknown. The country has excelled in some fields like nanotechnology, and stem-cell research, and created a sophisticated nuclear program that includes 8,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium – despite an array of sanctions.

But there are also limits, as evidenced by the launch of Iran's first Omid (Hope) satellite in 2009. While that event put Iran into an elite scientific club of just nine nations, the innards of the satellite appeared to be rudimentary.

State TV showed footage at the time of the satellite being assembled into a square silver box, its guts similar to those of a 1950s transistor radio, with D-size batteries and wires held in place with black electrical tape. Iran has also frequently made claims about advanced military systems that later proved exaggerated.

Aerial surveillance inside Iran is not new, according to a Washington Post report from early 2005 noted by the EAWorldview website. US officials said US drones were at the time "penetrating Iranian airspace" from bases in Iraq, using "radar, video, still photography and air filters designed to pick up traces of nuclear activity," the Post reported.

"We've always relied on [drones] as a force multiplier, a technological edge that we've had, and we've always known it wouldn't be a permanent advantage," says Densmore. Opponents "are expecting us now to deploy these things, they're looking for them, so a lot of that advantage has been lost."(csmonitor.com)

A Treaty to Save Euro May Split Europe

In a day of historic, seemingly tectonic shifts in the architecture of Europe, all 17 members of the European Union that use the euro agreed to the new treaty, along with six other countries that wish to join the currency union eventually. Twenty years after the Maastricht Treaty, which was designed not just to integrate Europe but to contain the might of a united Germany, Berlin effectively united Europe under its control, with Britain all but shut out.

Though not a perfect solution, because it could be seen as institutionalizing a two-speed Europe, the intergovernmental pact could be ratified much more quickly by parliaments than a full treaty amendment. Crucially, the deal was welcomed immediately by the new head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi.

“It is a very good outcome for euro area members and it’s going to be the basis for a good fiscal compact and more disciplined economic policy in euro area countries,” Mr. Draghi said early Friday morning.

The support of Mr. Draghi and the bank to continue to buy the bonds of troubled large countries like Italy and Spain is crucial to buy time for their economic adjustment and restructuring, to reduce their debt and avoid a collapse of the euro.

The outcome was a significant defeat for David Cameron, the British prime minister, who had sought assurances to protect Britain’s financial services sector in exchange for doing a deal. Mr. Sarkozy said that “David Cameron requested something we all considered unacceptable, a protocol in the treaty allowing the U.K. to be exempted for a certain number of financial regulations.”

Mr. Cameron said, “What was on offer wasn’t in British interests, so I didn’t agree to it.” He conceded that there were risks with others going ahead to form a separate treaty, but added, “We will insist that the E.U. institutions, the court and the Commission work for all 27 nations of the E.U.”

The prime minister seemed to be betting that his unhappy coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, would not bolt over the issue, and that calculation seemed to be right. On Friday, the party’s leader, Nick Clegg, said that as much as he regretted the turn of events, Mr. Cameron’s demands had been “modest and reasonable.”

The European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, said that in addition, the leaders agreed to provide an additional 200 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund to help increase a “firewall” of money in European bailout funds to help cover Italy and Spain. He also said a permanent 500 billion euro European Stability Mechanism would be put into effect a year early, by July 2012, and for a year, would run alongside the existing and temporary 440 billion euro European Financial Stability Facility, thus also increasing funds for the firewall.

The leaders also agreed that private sector lenders to euro zone nations would not automatically face losses, as had been the plan in the event of another future bailout. When Greece’s debt was finally restructured, the private sector suffered, making investors more anxious about other vulnerable economies.

Mr. Sarkozy said that the institutions of the European Union would be able to police the new pact, though Britain may dispute that.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who pressed hard for a treaty that would codify and enforce debt limits and central oversight of national budgets, said the decisions made here will result in increased credibility for the euro zone. “I have always said the 17 states of the euro zone need to win back credibility,” she said. “And I think that this can happen, will happen, with today’s decisions.”

European financial markets strengthened mildly on word of the agreement. The Euro Stoxx 50 index, a barometer of euro zone blue chips, gained 1.5 percent, while broader barometers rose slightly, and stocks rose in early United States trading as well. The euro’s value strengthened to $1.3369, up from $1.3338 on Thursday. In the bond market, the borrowing costs of the euro region’s two most closely watched debt-ridden economies, Italy and Spain, were little changed.

President Obama said on Thursday that the European leaders’ efforts to reach a long-term “fiscal compact where everybody’s playing by the same rules” were “all for the good.” Yet he added, “But there’s a short-term crisis that has to be resolved to make sure that markets have confidence that Europe stands behind the euro.”

The best hope for providing that shot of confidence has been seen as the European Central Bank. But the bank’s president, Mr. Draghi, at a news conference in Frankfurt on Thursday, seemed to back away from signals he sent last week that a grand bailout bargain might be in the works — a big infusion from the central bank in exchange for a commitment to greater fiscal discipline from the European heads of state.

On Thursday, Mr. Draghi said that he was “surprised” that a speech he made last week had been widely interpreted as meaning the central bank stood ready to shore up weak European Union members like Italy and Spain by buying many more of their bonds — or to possibly work in concert with the International Monetary Fund. He played down the I.M.F. idea Thursday as too “legally complicated” and said it might violate the spirit of the euro treaty.(nytimes.com)

Gloom, Boom & Doom's Faber expects global economic collapse

NEW YORK - Stocks climbed on Friday as European Union leaders agreed on measures to address the region's sovereign debt crisis, while U.S. consumer confidence rose to its highest level in six months.

An agreement on stricter budget rules for the euro zone went someway to address the structural problems behind the bloc's debt crisis, but investors said more was now needed to relieve stress in the region's troubled debt markets.

"Nothing really concrete has come out of that meeting yet, so it is a little surprising that we are seeing as much of an upturn as we have seen," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois.

Equities had risen in anticipation of a plan, with the S&P 500 up 6.5 percent since late November. But Wall Street tumbled on Thursday after the European Central Bank dashed hopes for additional bond buying, underscoring that markets continue to react to every headline out of Europe.

Banks, which have been pressured by the uncertainty over Europe, rallied after the summit. Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) rose 3.9 percent to $5.81, while JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) added 2.9 percent to $33.15. The Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF.P) rose 2.3 percent.

In the latest sign of resilience from the U.S. economy, consumer sentiment rose to its highest level in six months in early December on signs of a better jobs market and an improving economy, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 157.31 points, or 1.31 percent, to 12,155.01. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX rose 17.09 points, or 1.38 percent, to 1,251.44. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC added 36.34 points, or 1.40 percent, to 2,632.72.

The EU summit failed to secure changes to the EU treaty among all the member countries and investors warned the move was far from a panacea. Indications suggest the region is sliding into a recession and questions about how to bring down high sovereign debt yields are still unanswered.

Goldman Sachs suggested that investors short German equities through the benchmark DAX index .GDAXI in a note to clients published late on Thursday.

"The European summit seems focused on a set of future priorities for increased fiscal risk sharing and the outlining of some of the needed elements of a new fiscal arrangement, but looks to have little to say about alleviating proximate stresses in Greece and Italy and the European banking system more generally," Goldman said.

Still, German Bunds fell by more than one full point on Friday, while Italian bonds reversed losses, with traders citing frequent European Central Bank forays into Italian debt markets throughout the day.

Traders also said "fast money" accounts were covering short positions in bonds of so-called peripheral EU countries.

Some caution signals, though, were sent by major U.S. companies. DuPont and Co (DD.N) fell 5.1 percent to $44.17 after the Dow component cut its 2011 profit outlook, citing slower growth in some businesses.

Texas Instruments Inc (TXN.N) cut its revenue outlook for the current quarter, warning of lower demand. Altera Corp (ALTR.O) also cut its fourth-quarter revenue outlook late Thursday.

Texas Instruments fell 1.7 percent to $29.41 while Altera was off 0.8 percent to $35.18.

"We are now beginning to see the collateral damage of the events in Europe with the earnings guidance cuts," said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in an emailed note.(Reuters.com)

Russians fight Twitter and Facebook battles over Putin election

Protest against Vladimir Putin United party over elections have escalated across social media, including Twitter and Facebook, with a flood of automated counterattacks. Photograph: Yana Lapikova/AFP/Getty Images

Russians have flooded Facebook and Twitter as they organise unprecedented protests against Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. But they are not alone. Thousands of Twitter accounts appear to have been created with the sole purpose of drowning out opposition voices by flooding the service's hashtag search function.

The automated attacks have dumped a blizzard of meaningless tweets with hashtags such as #Navalny, on which tweets about Alexei Navalny are collated, making it impossible to follow the flow of news about the arrested opposition leader. Many of the so-called "Twitter bots" have now been shut down.

The flood of fake tweets came after liberal websites, including the LiveJournal blogging platform, the website for radio station Ekho Moskvy and weekly journal Bolshoi Gorod , were shut down by distributed denial of service attacks on Sunday, the day of Russia's disputed parliamentary vote.

The website for Golos, an independent election monitor, was also shut down. Golos employees complained this week that their email had been hacked and inaccessible for several days. On Friday, tabloid Life News published employees' private emails, detailing correspondence with the US development agency – presented as "proof" that the group was acting on foreign orders to disrupt the Russian election.

The most interesting hack attack, however, came via a more antiquated instrument – the telephone. On Thursday, the liberal Yabloko party and newspaper Novaya Gazeta said their telephone lines had been paralysed by endless calls featuring a recorded female voice: "Putin is very good. Putin loves you. Putin makes your life happy. Love Putin and your life will fill with meaning. Putin does everything for you. Remember, Putin does everything just for you. Putin is life. Putin is light. Without Putin, life has no meaning. Putin is your protector. Putin is your saviour." Over and over again.(guardian.co.uk)

Samsung Galaxy Nexus launch will not include Google Wallet, says Verizon

The launch of the Galaxy Nexus, the newest Google Android phone, has been shrouded in mystery. One feature that will not appear on the Nexus is Google Wallet, according to Verizon. As Hayley Tsukayama reported:

Those eager to buy the Google Galaxy Nexus in order to use its near-field communications chip for their shopping needs may be disappointed. Verizon — the only official carrier for the phone — has said that it will not support Google Wallet in its phones. Google confirmed that Verizon asked the company not to include the feature in the Galaxy Nexus phone.

Verizon is denying that it’s “blocking” the app, however, and said that it is in “commercial discussions” with Google on the matter.

In a statement, Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said that Google Wallet requires different considerations because it’s simply different from other apps.

“Google Wallet does not simply access the operating system and basic hardware of our phones like thousands of other applications,” Nelson said in a statement. “Instead, in order to work as architected by Google, Google Wallet needs to be integrated into a new, secure and proprietary hardware element in our phones.”

Others, however, say that Verizon isn’t supporting Google Wallet on the Galaxy Nexus because the company is working with AT&T and T-Mobile on its own contactless payment service, ISIS.

Media reform group Free Press said Tuesday that Verizon’s decision is hurting consumers, competition and innovation, and illustrates a need for stronger consumer protections from the Federal Communications Commission.

Even the price of the new Galaxy Nexus is under wraps, as the phone nears release. Some reports have put the price at $299, yet Verizon has not confirmed it. As Hayley Tsukayama explained:

The Galaxy Nexus, the highly-anticipated flagship phone of Google’s next Android operating system, has been a bit of a mystery. Not only has Verizon been quiet about when customers will be able to see the brand-new phone on store shelves, it’s also been mum about how much the phone will cost.

A report from Dow Jones Newswires, citing “people familiar with the matter,” pegs the phone’s cost at $299.99, which seems to be Verizon’s new standard for its premium smartphones.

The Droid RAZR, which the company is pushing hard in advance of the Galaxy Nexus announcement, is priced at $299.99, as is the HTC Rezound. Given the speed and power of the 4G phones, the report said, Verizon may feel more comfortable pricing the phones at the same range as high-demand devices such as the iPhone.

The Galaxy Nexus is certainly seen by some analysts as the most credible competitor to the iPhone so far, even outstripping it in some respect because it’s capable of running on Verizon’s 4G network. The phone has a bigger screen than the iPhone and, of course, has the distinction of being the first phone to run Google’s new Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.

The new system has quite a few experimental perks and features, such as the ability to unlock the phone using facial recognition and an NFC chip that will let users exchange information by tapping their phones together. One of the Galaxy Nexus’s functions, however, will not be a part of its U.S. release: the ability to pay with Google Wallet by using the chip. A report from the Associated Press said that Verizon is not enabling Google Wallet on its phones, likely because the company is involved in Isis, a competing payment system that uses NFC technology.

While the release date and price are still unknown, analysts have given the Galaxy Nexus strong early reviews. As Hayley Tsukayama reported :

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus — Google’s next flagship phone — has been getting strong early reviews ahead of its as-yet unannounced U.S. launch date. The phone hit stores in Britain Thursday, and reviewers are calling it the best Android phone yet. The Galaxy Nexus will launch in the U.S. on Verizon’s LTE network, but the review units handed out by Google run on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network — the international version.

Mashable’s Charlie White said that the hardware and software on the phone are fantastic, though he cautioned that the 4.65-inch screen may be a bit too big for people with smaller hands. The on-screen buttons that are baked into Google’s latest operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich, also eliminate the need for a bezel on the phone, apart from the space needed for the camera.

Edward C. Baig at USA Today called the phone a major upgrade, though he said that he doesn’t feel as if he’s had the phone long enough to give it a thorough review. His early impression, though, is favorable. He likes the phone’s camera, which shoots without lag thanks to Google’s new camera functionalities. He said that the phone is snappy and light, though he thinks the battery life will be short. Baig did, however, like that the phone gave him information on what was draining the battery (no surprises here: it’s mostly the screen) and on data consumption.(washingtonpost.com)

EU Summit: Parallel Bailout Funds, Sanctions, And Money For The IMF

European leaders reached an agreement over a “fiscal compact” which included stricter rules on budget deficits, considered the possibility of running the ESM and the EFSF together, and would allow for the possibility of Eurobonds in the longer-term, according to a draft summit communiqué released late on Thursday. Major points had been rejected by Germany and remained under discussion, according to reports.

As they scrambled to find some long-lasting solution to the underlying, fundamental problems flailing the Eurozone, Merkel, Sarkozy, and co. negotiated the terms of the next EU Summit communiqué on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Among the latest developments was an agreement over a “fiscal compact” based on stronger coordination of economic policy and greater consequences for those that break the rules. Within the options enumerated in the draft communiqué were a balanced budget amendment and the forcing of Eurozone members with budget deficits that exceed 3% of GDP to submit to a plan of structural reforms prepared by the EU Commission and Eurozone finance ministers.

Breaching the 3% deficit limit would also activate automatic sanctions, unless a certain majority of Eurozone finance ministers choose to let it slide. The draft also stipulated “more intrusive control of the national budgetary stance by the E.U., such as the ex ante approval of budgetary plans.” In other words, countries, already devoid of monetary sovereignty would begin to lose fiscal sovereignty.

Highly contentious, the draft stipulated several points that clearly go against Angela Merkel, and Germany’s, wishes; we could say it sounded rather French. According to the report, EU leaders were considering “common debt issuance” or Eurobonds, a position Merkel has strongly rejected.

The draft also delineated a possible framework for the Eurozone’s bailout mechanism. Leaders were considering moving the launch of the ESM forward to July 2012 and allowing the temporary EFSF to exist alongside the permanent facility, thus building up their joint firepower. The ESM would count with a €500 billion ($666.9 billion) lending capacity on the back of €80 billion ($106.7 billion) in paid-in capital and €620 billion ($827 billion) of callable capital.

More importantly, the draft stipulated that the ESM could be given a banking license, effectively granting it access to the ECB’s funds. Governments were pledging to keep the ESM’s paid-in capital to outstanding issuance ratio at 15%, meaning they were ready to capitalize the permanent bailout facility faster than previously expected.

There was also mention of funding fore the IMF. According to the report, the EU would be willing to provide up to €150 billion ($112.5 billion) in funds, while it expects the international community to raise another €50 billion ($66.7 billion), to capitalize an IMF lending facility to help solve the crisis.

Beyond rejecting joint debt issuance, Germany has been the one force pushing against greater ECB involvement in settling sovereign bond markets. On Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi, an Italian citizen, announced the central bank was cutting its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to 1%, while adding that the ECB’s asset purchases were an extraordinary event and wouldn’t go on indefinitely. In other words, giving the ESM a bank license isn’t of Germany’s fancy.

Merkel is also opposed to the idea of having the ESM run parallel the EFSF, according to the reports. The tug-of-war between Merkel, Sarkozy, and the rest of the European policymakers will continue until the official communiqué is released. The European sovereign debt crisis has continuously escalated and has become a global phenomenon. U.S. banks like Citi, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America tumbled on Draghi’s pessimistic comments, while gold and the euro tumbled in reaction to the news.(forbes.com)

PC Shortfall in 2012 Caused by HDD Shortages: IHS iSuppli

The flooding in Thailand, which is causing shortages in HDD supplies, will mean 3.8 million fewer PCs shipping in the first quarter 2012, IHS iSuppli analysts say.

The shortage of hard disk drives caused by the recent flooding in Thailand will limit the number of PCs that will ship in the first quarter of 2012, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.

IHS iSuppli analysts are cutting their first-quarter PC forecast by 3.8 million units— to 84.2 million—and reducing their full-year growth numbers for 2012, saying worldwide PC shipments for the entire year will rise 6.8 percent over 2011, down from the 9.5 percent growth the firm forecasted in August.

Getting hit the hardest will be notebooks, which are the systems most impacted by the HDD shortages, the IHS iSuppli analysts said in a report Dec. 8. They are now predicting that notebook shipments will grow 10.1 percent year-over-year in the first quarter 2012, down from the 13.8 percent they initially forecasted.

“The PC supply chain says it has sufficient HDD inventory for the fourth quarter of 2011,” Matthew Wilkins, senior principal analyst of compute platforms for IHS iSuppli, said in a statement. “However, those stockpiles will run out in the first quarter of 2012, impacting PC production during that period.”

The monsoon season hit Thailand early and hard this year, causing flooding that started in October and lasted weeks. The floods impacted the HDD industry the hardest—Thailand assembles about 70 percent of the world’s hard disk drives.

The HDD shortages are not the only challenge facing the PC industry, IHS iSuppli analysts said. Continued weakening in demand for PCs—thanks in part to the rise in popularity of tablets—and the difficult global economic situation also are contributing. However, the flooding is having a particularly strong impact. Total unit PC shipments in 2012 are now expected to be 376 million, down from the firm’s previous forecast of 399 million.

The analysts expect the HDD supply issues to improve in the first quarter, with major suppliers already moving production to locations outside of Thailand. However, shortfalls will continue, with supply not beginning to meet demand until the end of the third quarter in 2012, they said. Meanwhile, PC shipments should rebound in the second half of the year, though not enough to keep the analysts from reducing their year-long forecast.

However, the HDD supplies do rebound, they will swing back hard, the IHS iSuppli analysts said. Once the Thailand production facilities get back up to full speed, the output from those combined with the supplies from the facilities outside of the country could result in an excess of supply, they said.(eweek.com)