Wednesday PM January 13th, 2010

Google to stop censoring search results and threatens to cease operations in China over hacking incidents…Airlines raise fuel surcharges on European travel…Texas Tech and Pantex to study research wind farm feasibility…

Google says it will stop censoring its search results in China and may pull out of the country completely after discovering that computer hackers had tricked human rights activists into exposing their e-mail accounts to outsiders. The change of heart heralds a major shift for the Internet's search leader, which has repeatedly said it will obey Chinese laws requiring some politically and socially sensitive issues to be blocked from search results available in other countries. Google officials say they plan to talk to the Chinese government to determine if there's a way the company can still provide unfiltered search results in the country. If an agreement can't be worked out, Google is prepared to leave.


Major airlines have raised fuel surcharges on travel to Europe by $20 per roundtrip, and some have added conditions that could cause travelers to pay higher fares. Airline officials say surcharges to Paris, Frankfurt and most cities on the continent were raised to $280 per roundtrip and to $242 for London. Tim Smith is a spokesman for Fort Worth-based American Airlines. He says American matched increases by Houston-based Continental and Chicago-based United to be competitive. Delta, United and Continental confirmed that they had raised surcharges to Europe by $20 a roundtrip. Airlines have been hit hard by the a downturn in travel and imposed surcharges for fuel and for passengers who travel on peak days around holidays such as Easter and spring break.


The competition for jobs is intensifying with companies reluctant to hire new workers. Millions of unemployed Americans are chasing fewer job openings. The Labor Department says there were nearly 6.4 unemployed workers, on average, for each available job at the end of November. That's up from 6.1 in October and a record high. That's in contrast to the situation at the end of 2007, when the recession is believed to have begun. There were 1.7 jobless people for each opening then.


Texas Tech University and officials of the Pantex nuclear weapons plant agree to study feasibility of research wind farm to power the panhandle plant. The agreement between Pantex and Texas Tech provides for a feasibility study on the installation of wind turbine generators and related infrastructure at the Pantex plant near Amarillo. The plant assembles and dismantles the nation's nuclear warheads. On Tuesday, Amarillo city commissioners approved a $100,000 grant to help Texas Tech build the proposed national wind resource center near Pantex. Tech is scheduled to begin work on the first phase of the center next year. The commission also approved a $12.5 million incentive package to entice Alstom Power to build a wind turbine and nacelle factory in Amarillo. The nacelles house the components of the wind turbine atop their soaring pylons.


President Barack Obama is trumpeting a new White House estimate that his economic stimulus plan has already created or saved up to two million jobs. The analysis is part of the administration's quarterly report to Congress on the controversial $787 billion package of spending and tax cuts. Obama signed the bill weeks after taking office last year. Republicans have denounced the stimulus plan as an expensive flop. They point to a national unemployment rate stuck at ten per cent, and December figures showing the economy shed 85,000 more jobs. But the President's Council of Economic Advisers report says the economy is a lot better off than it would have been without the stimulus. The council estimates the annual growth rate last year would have been roughly two percentage points lower. It also says there would have been 1.5 million to 2 million fewer jobs. Council chairwoman Christina Romer says the stimulus had a "stunning and important effect."


Five companies are willing to pay more than $128 million for the right to drill for natural gas on Pennsylvania state forest land. The unsealing of winning bids Tuesday by the State Forests Department unofficially awarded drilling rights on nearly 32,000 acres in north-central Pennsylvania. The per-acre average bid of about $4,000 is less than the $5,000-plus that some groups of private landowners received last year. The companies are interested in the Marcellus shale natural gas formation, which some geologists expect will become the nation's most prolific gas field. The winning bidders on the six tracts included Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City; Exco Resources of Dallas; Penn Virginia Oil & Gas of Radnor, Pennsylvania; and Seneca Resources and Anadarko Petroleum both of Houston. The state would take 18 per cent of production royalties.


Federal housing officials are investigating 15 mortgage companies that have suspiciously high default rates for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General says it served subpoenas to corporate offices of the companies demanding documents and data about failed loans. Inspector General Kenneth Donohue, said he wants to determine why defaults are so high among those companies and whether any have committed fraud. The lenders targeted by FHA officials include some of its worst-performing active lenders. For example, almost 20 per cent of the loans made by Alethes of Lakeway, Texas, over the past two years went into default. The national average was about five per cent. Two other FHA lenders being scrutinized, Alacrity Lending of Southlake, Texas, and Pine State Mortgage Corporation of Atlanta, each had default rates of about 15 per cent.

 

Two American nonprofits say a patent held by a French firm is keeping them from making high-protein products to help feed starving people around the world. Texas-based Breedlove Foods and the Mama Cares Foundation in California are suing Nutriset in federal court, saying its patent is too restrictive and blocks their plans to develop nut-based pastes to help malnourished children. Nutriset spokesman Remi Vallet says Nutriset hasn't seen the lawsuit. But he defends the company's patent on Plumpy'Nut Paste. The peanut butter-like substance is widely used by humanitarian groups in places like Darfur. Vallet says the patent allows Nutriset to control quality while licensing production in developing nations, thus creating jobs and feeding the hungry.


Netflix will come to the Nintendo Wii this spring. It's the last of the three current game consoles to get instant viewing of Netflix movies and TV shows over the Internet. There's no extra charge for Netflix subscribers who are have plans costing at least $9 a month. Netflix is hoping to sign up new customers with its exposure to millions of Wii users. Nintendo says more than 26 million Wiis have been sold in the U.S. through December. Netflix instant viewing is already available on the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, as well as devices such as the Roku digital video player, some Blu-Ray players and Internet-connected TV sets. It's also available on computers.


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...