European Union Launches Antitrust Probe on Google

EU Tackles Google Dominance in Antitrust Probe

Google Antitrust Probe

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union has launched an antitrust probe on internet king Google on Tuesday, after complaints the Silicon Valley giant abused its dominant position in the online search market.

European Union competition watchdogs formally announced their investigation, after rivals accused Google of “unfavorable treatment” of their services in both unpaid and sponsored search results, the crucial listings that make the web navigable.

Competition authorities are probing whether Google’s own services – the company has branched out into just about every web domain there is – are getting “preferential placement” when users punch in search queries, some of which may lead to consumer spending.

The official probe will certainly take months, and potentially carries echoes of a decade of antitrust pursuit of fellow computer giant Microsoft over issues from operating systems to web browsers.

An investigation does not necessarily mean legal action will follow, although fines in similar cases have run to many hundred of millions of Euros in the past.

Google’s share of the core US search market grew to 66.1% in September, according to industry tracker comScore.

The company posted a 32% leap in net profit to $2.17 billion between July and September, its latest available results.

One of the complainants, British search site Foundem, said in a statement that its revenue “pales next to the hundreds of billions of dollars of other companies’ revenues that Google controls indirectly through its search results and sponsored links.”

The commission wants to check if Google was “lowering the ranking of unpaid search results” as well as other allegations of advertising interference including imposing exclusivity clauses, restricting ads from competing providers and data on consumer impact.

Google said it would cooperate with the prove, saying: “There’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the commission to address any concerns.”

It insisted it had always sought to ensure that “ads are always clearly marked.”

Microsoft’s portion of the US market improved a fraction to 11.2% while that of Yahoo! slipped from 17.4% in August to 16.7% in September, comScore reported last month.

Approximately $12.4 billion will be spent in the United States this year on ads on search engines, with Google expected to rake in 73.3% of that cash, according to Marketer.

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Rising Apartment Rentals Report

Apartment Rents Set to Rise, Fueling Inflation: NAR

Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is Too Damn High Party

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US apartment rents are expected to climb next year as the economy recovers from recession, a rise that may fuel inflation, a real-estate industry group said Monday.

Multifamily real estate will star in an overall modest improvement in commercial property markets in 2011, the National Association of Realtors said in an outlook report.

NAR said ailing commercial real-estate markets — office, industrial, retail and rental housing — were flattening out after a steep plunge amid the worst recession in decades.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, predicted a rise in demand, as the economy slowly recovers from the downturn that officially ended in June 2009.

The number of people setting up a new home has plummeted amid high unemployment and plunging home values after a housing bubble collapsed more than three years ago.

“Multifamily housing is the one commercial sector that has held on relatively well in the past year, and can expect the best performance in 2011,” he said.

Yun predicted apartment rents could rise by one to two percent in 2011, after having fallen in 2009 and showing no growth this year.

“This rent rise therefore could start to force up broader consumer prices as well,” he said.

The cost of rent or mortgages is the biggest component in the government’s consumer price index, accounting for 32 percent of its total weight, he noted.

Multifamily vacancy rates were forecast to decline from 6.4 percent in the current quarter to 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Consumer price inflation has remained subdued in recent months despite a rise in energy prices, while the core inflation has trended lower, the Federal Reserve noted last week in the minutes of its last policy-setting meeting.

The central bank used weak inflation as a key justification for its controversial plan to buy an extra 600 billion dollars in Treasury bonds to juice the flagging recovery.

Critics, including several participants in the November 2-3 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, have said the plan risks spurring inflation.

NAR said the outlook for the office and industrial markets had improved, with modestly declining vacancy rates expected in 2011, while the retail sector would essentially hold steady.

Vacancy rates stuck in double digits, nevertheless, signal rents would remain under severe pressure.

“High vacancy rates imply falling rents,” Yun said.

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Personal Computer Sales Down

Analysts More Cautious on PC Sales Outlook

Personal Computer Sales Down

BOSTON (Reuters) – Market researchers are scaling back forecasts for global sales of personal computers, blaming an uncertain economic outlook in some markets and competition from tablet devices such as Apple Inc’s iPad.

Research firm Gartner cut its 2010 forecast on Monday, just as the crucial holiday sales season was getting under way for PC makers like Hewlett-Packard Co, Acer, Dell Inc and Lenovo.

Gartner said it expected consumers and businesses to hold off on buying PCs in the near-term as they seek to save money.

It said it now expected PC shipments this year to rise 14.3 percent to 352 million units, and it pegged next year’s growth rate at 15.9 percent. It had previously forecast growth of 17.9 percent in 2010 and 18.1 percent in 2011.

“These results reflect marked reductions in expected near-term unit growth based on expectations of weaker consumer demand, due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad,” Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said in a statement.

He said he expected media tablets to displace about 10 percent of PC units by 2014.

Market researcher IDC said it was seeing a similar trend, though a spokesman said sales were still poised to grow in the double digits. IDC will update its forecast in mid-December.

Data from Gartner and IDC are watched closely to gauge the strength of the PC market.

Separately, Gartner said worldwide shipments of servers, or computer systems used by large organizations, rose 14.2 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier. HP led with 32.1 percent of overall revenue in the server market, with IBM a close second with 30.2 percent, Gartner said.

Of the top five vendors, only Oracle suffered a decline in third-quarter revenue, Gartner said. Oracle, the world’s third-largest software maker, has been trying to step up its competitive edge in hardware following its $7.5 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems earlier this year.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston, Ritsuko Ando in New York and Terhi Kinnunen in Helsinki; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Ted Kerr)

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Wikileaks Just the Facts

Wikileaks the Big Debate

Wikileaks Logo

With all the big bruhaha about Wikileaks, when the smoke clears and the idiots have all gone home, the truth is all the documents released on Wikileaks are actually old, not classified as secret and available to everyone who asks. So the question is, why is everyone so upset and calling for the head of the Wikileaks people? The answer? It’s a ruse. It’s just like dancing with the stars, football and American Idol. It’s to keep you ignorant of what is going on. No national security secret was revealed. No foreign diplomatic exchange was hurt. Nothing, absolutely nothing and noone was harmed in releasing the Wikileaks. I repeat, nothing was actually SECRET. All the documents are still available to you right now to ask for and get on your own, without Wikileaks.

WikiLeaks has released 272 diplomatic cables from a trove of more than 250,000. The remainder are to be dribbled out in coming weeks to provide maximum impact, the website says. A number of foreign diplomats acknowledged that the release could affect some of the most sensitive ongoing global issues and relationships.

1. Many Middle Eastern nations are far more concerned about Iran’s nuclear program than they’ve publicly admitted. According to one cable, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly asked the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake” — meaning, it appears, to bomb Iran’s nuclear program. Leaders of Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern nations expressed similar views.

2. The U.S. ambassador to Seoul told Washington in February that the right business deals might get China to acquiesce to a reunified Korea, if the newly unified power were allied with the United States. American and South Korean officials have discussed such a reunification in the event that North Korea collapses under the weight of its economic and political problems.

[Related: WikiLeaks docs reveal U.S. diplomats insulting world leaders]

3. The Obama administration offered sweeteners to try to get other countries to take Guantanamo detainees, as part of its (as yet unsuccessful) effort to close the prison. Slovenia, for instance, was offered a meeting with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions.

4. Afghan Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud took $52 million in cash when he visited the United Arab Emirates last year, according to one cable. The Afghan government has been plagued by allegations of corruption. Massoud has denied taking the money out of the country.

5. The United States has been working to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani nuclear reactor, out of concern that it could be used to build an illicit nuclear device. The effort, which began in 2007, continues.

6. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ordered diplomats to assemble information on their foreign counterparts. Documents in the WikiLeaks cache also indicate that Clinton may have asked diplomats to gather intelligence on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s plans for Iran, and information on Sudan (including Darfur), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran and North Korea.

7. The State Department labeled Qatar the worst country in the region for counterterrorism efforts. The country’s security services were “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” according to one cable.

8. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are tighter than was previously known. Putin has given the high-living Berlusconi “lavish gifts” and lucrative energy contracts, and Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe, according to one cable.

[Related: The Guardian gave State Dept. cables to the NY Times]

9. Hezbollah continues to enjoy the weapons patronage of Syria. A week after Syrian president Bashar Assad promised the United States he wouldn’t send “new” arms to the Lebanese militant group, the United States said it had information that Syria was continuing to provide the group with increasingly sophisticated weapons.

10. Some cables reveal decidedly less than diplomatic opinions of foreign leaders. Putin is said to be an “alpha-dog” and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to be “driven by paranoia.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel “avoids risk and is rarely creative.” Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi travels with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.

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White House Salaries 2010 Report

Our Tax Dollars in White House Salaries

Obama Makes $400,000/yr

According to the White House’s salary list, Obama and most senior staff did not get a pay raise last year.  The annual White House payroll though is a whopping $39 million.  As of this year, the salary list, which it reports to Congress yearly, was also made available online.  This was the first year this was done.  Aside from the vice president’s office, which is technically an arm of the U.S. Senate, the salary list itemizes the salary and title of every employee in the White House.  Obama’s personal salary is not included in the salary list, which is $400,000 yearly, but is regulated by Congress.  The White House now employees a staggering 469 people.  This number is down 17 positions from last year, 2009.

From 2009 to this year, there was little change, since Obama had capped all salaries of those making more than $100,000 yearly.  Allegedly, salaries in the White House range from $21,000 to about $180,000

Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Twenty-three top aides, press secretary Robert Gibbs, speechwriter Jon Favreau, White House counsel Bob Bauer and senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, make the top full-time staff salary of $172,200. (Two health-care policy “detailees” — Michael Hash and Timothy Love — make $179,700.) By comparison, Vice President Joe Biden makes roughly $230,000 a year, according to Senate records.

White House social director Juliana Smoot makes $150,000, which is $37,000 more than her predecessor, Desiree Rogers, who left the administration not long after a scandal involving party-crashers at a state dinner in December. Former Duke basketball star Reggie Love still makes just over $100,000 as President Obama’s body man. Not on the list: actor Kal Penn, who left his job in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement on June 1 to film the third sequel in the “Harold & Kumar” film series.

Most so-called rank-and-file members of the White House staff pull in an average income between $40,000 and $60,000 — including dozens of “staff assistants,” press aides, analysts and researchers. Only three people are listed as working for free.

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Obama Cuts Federal Civilian Salaries But Not Military Salaries

Obama Freezes Federal Civilian Salaries

Obama is Showering Everyone With Cash Except Workers

Monday president Obama froze all federal civilian workers’ salaries.  This is to stay in place for two whole years in an effort to curb federal spending.  Note that this does not affect any military workers’ salaries, which includes a huge pool of workers state-side that never ever see combat.  In making the distinction though Obama tried to smooth it over by saying:

“These are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices. And I’m asking civil servants to do what they always do and play their part.”

Obama tried to say the decision was not easy.  By White House estimates the freeze will save $2 billion for the remainder of 2011 fiscal year, $28 billion in five years and over $60 billion in 10 years, however it does not affect any military personnel.

What is not being said, is why exactly Obama is doing this.  He is to sit down with Republican congressional leaders tomorrow to discuss the economy, the proceeding next two years and other issues.  He hopes the pay freeze will help him negotiate with the congressional fiscal conservatives whom he hopes to count on for some of his White House economic policies, such as extension of the tax cuts for the middle and upper class, defense appropriations and federal funding.

Congressional fiscal conservatives have championed federal salaries as a major sticking point.  Obama hopes that he has headed off nearly all talking points of the fiscal conservatives who had been making an issue of federal spending, including proposing many federal spending cuts.  For its part the media has helped the fiscal conservatives by pointing out how much SOME federal workers are paid.  Some reports have said the number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office.

Please note that Obama’s plan to freeze ALL federal civilian salaries does nothing to remove any of those $150,000 / year workers’ salaries nor does it touch any military workers’ salaries.

The president had originally announced a plan to raise 2 million federal workers’ pay 1.4 percent.

In context, the pay freeze itself represents only a small fraction of the federal deficit, but it was among the recommendations in the preliminary report from the president’s deficit commission. The commission’s full report is due Wednesday.

In many cash-strapped states around the country, the issue of public employee salaries and retirement benefits has already played out as a major issue:

  • In California, where pension debt is considered the largest driver of the state’s soaring budget deficit, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reached agreements with some unions to cut pensions for new state hires.
  • In Minnesota, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed legislation this year to overhaul public employee pension plans.
  • And in Wisconsin, state workers will soon begin paying into their pension funds instead of having it fully covered by the state.

The truly evil part of all of this, is that this policy:

  • affects even the federal workers who only make $19,000 / year
  • does not remove superfluous federal jobs that were created just to get someone’s nephew a high paying fake job
  • does nothing for the federal deficit spending [ the percentage of the federal deficit spending this affects is so minor as to not even be 1% ]
  • the high paying federal jobs will not go away and more than likely more high paying jobs will be created at tax payers’ expense
  • none of this affects military workers’ salaries [ including those who work right along side of federal workers ]

You either fall for the ruse that Obama is a Democrat and he’s catering to Republicans or you open your eyes and realize that there is no difference between the two-party system, and Obama is simply being as Republican as any former Republican president.  The sooner people wake up, the faster we can remove these jackals and get real people in office and do away with this “duet”.

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