Monday PM January 5th, 2009

Continental Airlines joins other carriers in opposing stronger federal rules on crew rest during longer flights…President-elect Obama pushes stimulus plan on Capitol Hill…Former Enron executive Michael Kopper released from halfway house…

Several of the nation's largest airlines have joined in a lawsuit to block stronger federal rules on crew rest during the longest international flights. The airlines say that the Federal Aviation Administration bypassed usual rule-making procedures notifying American Airlines and Continental Airlines of the new rules in late October. They say that denied them the right to comment. The lawsuit was filed Christmas Eve in the Federal Appellate Court in Washington by Fort Worth-based American and Houston-based Continental, as well as by United Airlines, US Airways, JetBlue and two smaller carriers. In their filing, the airlines said the new requirements would saddle them with "substantial burdens and costs." They charged FAA didn't show how the rules would improve safety. The FAA rules would require that pilots on the longest international flights get more rest before flying again. The extra rest would be required even when only ten per cent of flights on a particular route exceed 16 hours. The FAA was trying to address pilot fatigue, which unions and others have argued is a growing safety concern, especially on flights that can run 16 hours or longer.

President-elect Barack Obama says the nation is in a "very difficult spot," with the economy going from bad to worse. He's been on Capitol Hill, pushing Congressional leaders for quick action on an economic recovery plan. His stimulus plan includes up to $300 billion in tax cuts. After talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said action is needed now to "break the momentum" of the recession. The broad economic stimulus package that Obama is pushing for will not be ready for his signature the day he takes office. That had been the goal, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has toldFox News Sunday Democratic leaders now hope to get the package approved in the House by the end of the month. If things go as leadership plans, that would put the stimulus package on track for passage in the senate by mid-February. Obama meets today with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to talk about the massive spending plan. The president-elect also has a separate meeting scheduled with the entire Democratic and Republican leadership teams.

Former Enron executive Michael Kopper has been released from a federal halfway house after serving less than two-thirds of his sentence. Kopper pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts and cooperated with federal prosecutors to help convict ex-CFO Andy Fastow for Enron-related crimes. Fastow is serving a six-year sentence in Oakdale, Louisiana.

Dow Chemical is extending production cuts at its Freeport complex, according to the Houston Chronicle. Dow is delaying the return of some 4,000 contract workers. It has already reduced the site's output to less than 40 per cent of capacity, and reduced levels are expected through the end of the month. Dow has about 6,000 employees in La Porte, Freeport, Texas City, Clear Lake, Seadrift and Houston. Dow joined BASF and DuPont in cutting back after record energy and raw material costs, followed by a global recession. Dutch chemical firm LyondellBasell is considering a bankruptcy filing to restructure debts.

A Texas-based unit of United States Steel says it will stop making certain steel pipes used in the automotive and mining industries in an effort to focus on core businesses. U.S. Steel Tubular Products says its departure from the drawn-over-mandrel pipe business will affect about 50 employees and result in a pretax charge of $25 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. The company will close lines that make the pipes in Lone Star, Texas. The pipes accounted for less than three per cent of U.S. Steel's tubular steel shipments last year. The product line was part of Lone Star Technologies, a Dallas-based welded pipe maker that U.S. Steel bought for $2 billion in 2007.

GM, Ford, Toyota and Honda are all reporting declines of more than 30 per cent, with the two Japanese carmakers faring worse than their U.S. competitors. Ford's U.S. sales fell 32 per cent in December, while GM's were down 31. Toyota had the steepest decline at 37 per cent. Honda's sales were off 35 per cent. For the year, Ford's sales fell 21 per cent, compared with 2007. That leaves it in third place in the U.S. auto sales race for the second straight year. GM led the pack, but its total of just under three million vehicles sold in the U.S. was a drop of 23 per cent from 2007. Toyota again came in second, with it 2008 sales dropping off 16 per cent. Subaru says its U.S. sales actually edged higher for the year, which could make it the only major automaker with an increase in 2008. Chrysler says December U.S. sales fell 53 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

The government says construction spending was down in November, but not as much as feared. Record activity on nonresidential projects helped to offset a steep decline in housing. The Commerce Department reported a decline of 0.6 per cent. The 4.2 per cent drop in housing construction was partially offset by the surprisingly strong 0.7 rise in non-residential activity. Government spending rose 1.4 per cent. Economists expect declines ahead as the prolonged recession cuts demand for new shopping centers and office buildings, and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s makes it harder for builders to get financing.

Russia's Gazprom says it will cut the amount of gas it ships to Europe through Ukraine to make up for what it says Ukraine has stolen in recent days from pipelines crossing its territory. The reduction of 65.3 million cubic meters, or about 20 per cent of daily supply, was announced by Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller during a televised meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Miller said reductions would continue daily depending on what Ukraine steals. Gazprom cut off supplies to Ukraine on January 1st in a dispute over pricing and overdue bills but kept sending gas for Europe. Ukraine says Gazprom has not been supplying gas needed as fuel to send the gas westward, so it has been taking gas. Miller said Gazprom would take steps to compensate European consumers.

Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph Kennedy says Citgo has suspended its free heating oil program for low-income residents. Kennedy said the Venezuelan government's Texas-based oil subsidiary cited falling oil prices and the world economic crisis for forcing the company to re-evaluated all of its social programs. The oil program has provided hundreds of thousands of low-income U.S. households with fuel assistance. Kennedy urged those who have been helped by the program to write Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to share their stories. Citgo began the national program in 2005 with Boston-based Citizens Energy, a nonprofit run by Kennedy.

An Eni official says an explosion that damaged one of its pipelines in Nigeria's restive south has trimmed the country's daily oil output by 12,000 barrels. A spokeswoman for the Italian energy giant who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with company policy said technical inspections are under way. The official said Eni's share of the lost output totaled 2,400 barrels per day. International energy companies generally operate in Nigeria under joint venture agreements with the government and other energy firms. It was not clear when production would resume. The pipeline was blown up with dynamite late Friday. Attacks on oil industry infrastructure in the past two years have slashed oil output by almost a quarter in Nigeria, Africa's top crude producer.

Houston's PBS television station is airing a series of live, 60-minute, prime-time call-in shows to provide TV viewers with information on the upcoming digital transition. Surviving the DTV Switch is set for broadcast Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. on KUHT-TV channel 8. The station says about 23 per cent of its viewers receive signals over the air. The analog shut-off is set for February 17th. The station has also been airing Get Ready for DTV, a 30-minute program with the hosts of This Old House, with Norm Abram and Kevin O'Connor preparing homeowners for digital television.

Netflix is coming up with another way to get movies to people without having to send DVDs through the mail. Netflix is partnering with LG Electronics, which will start selling high-definition TV sets that stream Netflix videos directly from the Internet. No additional device will be needed. The deal marks the first time Netflix will have its streaming service embedded in a television. The head of Netflix says it's the natural evolution of the service. Tim Alessi, the director of product development for LG Electronics USA, says the broadband TVs will sell for roughly $200 to $300 more than a regular HDTV set. Netflix now offers about 12,000 movies and TV shows for instant streaming over the Internet.

Just 12 years ago, newspapers on either side of Arlington fought fiercely for every reader in the fast-growing city. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram spent millions of dollars to expand their staffs and cover the smallest meetings and sporting events. So it might come as a surprise that the two north Texas rivals started sharing photos and concert reviews in November. But these are unprecedented times. As readers and advertisers migrate to the Internet and the stumbling economy cuts deeply into revenues, news organizations are redefining what it means to compete. In recent months, papers around the country have tried to mitigate their staff cuts by forging partnerships with former rivals. The sharing has intensified as newspapers stepped up job reductions and slashed travel budgets, and such arrangements are more palatable than closing news bureaus or dropping some coverage areas altogether. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram began sharing photos and such features as concert reviews in November. Talks continue on expanding the exchange. Possibilities include having only one paper send photographers to out-of-town Dallas Cowboys games. All three major daily newspapers in south Florida formed a loose partnership, while five papers in Maine and eight in Ohio are sharing what they gather and produce. Fox and NBC television stations plan to share video, and the Washington Post and the Sun in Baltimore announced a collaboration on Maryland coverage in late December. Morning News owner A.H. Belo Corporation cut payroll by 13 per cent in 2008. That included the loss of about 50 newsroom positions, leaving the Dallas paper with about 350. The Star-Telegram owner, the McClatchy Company, went through two rounds of job cuts of about ten per cent each. The Fort Worth paper cut about 40 jobs on its own earlier. Cooperation isn't entirely novel for newspapers. The Associated Press got its start 162 years ago when five New York newspapers agreed to share costs of getting dispatches from the Mexican war. The cooperative grew into a global operation with more than 4,000 employees and 240 bureaus. In many cities, over the decades, competing papers forged joint operating agreements to combine printing, ad sales and other business functions.

The STRONG>New York Times is the latest newspaper to run ads at the bottom of its front page. Other papers that were already doing so include the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the International Herald Tribune. The Times, like other papers, is facing a decline in ad revenue. The front of the paper's main section is premium territory that can bring in even higher advertising prices. The first company to advertise on the front page of the times was CBS. The Times isn't saying how often the front-page ads will run, or what they'll cost.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...