Germany guarantees all private savings accounts

As German leaders and bankers worked feverishly to rescue a lender considered too big to fail, the government announced Sunday that it would guarantee all private savings accounts in Germany – worth about €500 billion – in an effort to reinforce increasingly shaky confidence in the financial system.

Officials in Berlin were frantically trying to salvage a €35 billion, or $48 billion, bailout devised just a week ago for Hypo Real Estate, a major German property lender based in Munich and member of the benchmark stock index, after commercial banks withdrew their support, fearing greater losses.

Much of the weekend activity was undertaken with a view toward having solutions in place by the time financial markets opened Monday in Asia, a trigger point that officials around the world have come to view warily.

With memories of how the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers put the crisis into high gear three weeks ago, officials fear letting investors wake up to a festering problem. That could easily provoke new losses in stock markets and test the limits of tight credit markets, the core of the crisis.

Worried that the continued turmoil at Hypo Real Estate would lead to a depositors’ panic at other German banks, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück made a rare Sunday appearance before television cameras in Berlin on the steps of the Chancellery to assure a jittery public about the safety of their savings.

The EU is trying to shut down Ireland from doing the same thing – relying upon pettifoggery regulations they say the Irish are violating.

Of course, they dare not try to smack down Germany – the strongest industrial engine in the whole EU – or they just might pull back a stub.

Skydivers first jump above Everest


Freefalling over Shyangboche

A group of skydivers has completed the first parachute jump over the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.

The three adventurers, from the UK, New Zealand and Canada, enjoyed a minute-long freefall after jumping from about 29,500 ft.

The trip took 15 years to plan and cost each jumper about $24,000. After doing the jump, Briton Holly Budge said it was worth the money.

There are now 29 other members of the group waiting to do the leap in the next couple of weeks.

“It was amazing, just spectacular,” Ms Budge told the AFP news agency by telephone after making a safe landing. “We had one minute of freefall and while we were above the clouds you could see Everest and the other high mountains popping out of the top.”

The jumpers had to use breathing equipment, extra-thick parachutes and special suits to deal with the thin air and sub-zero temperatures.

Rock on, folks…

Modern culture is destroying faith says the pope

Pope Benedict XVI attacked the Godless character of modern culture as he celebrated mass in a Roman basilica to mark the opening of a synod of Catholic bishops.

In a sombre homily in which he suggested that Christianity in Europe could become extinct like some Christian communities in history, the pope told more than 250 bishops from around the world that societies which rebelled against God in the past had faced His “punishment“.

“If we look at history we are forced to notice the frequent coldness and rebellion of incoherent Christians. Because of this, God, while never shirking in his promise of salvation, often had to turn
towards punishment,” he said.

Let’s hear it for Fire and Brimstone! Dude’s gonna get him some Southern Baptists.

“When men proclaim themselves absolute owners of themselves and the only masters of creation, are they really going to be able to construct a society where freedom, justice and peace reign?

I don’t see anyone else available offering to hand it over. I’m ready and willing to fight for those goals, alone and in concert with my fellow human beings.

Benedict however tempered his speech by saying “if in certain regions, faith weakens to the point of fading away, there will always be other people ready to receive it,” adding “evil and death never have the final word.”

Who is there this side of ignorance and superstition who believes that death has no dominion? Live with it, folks. Literally.

Oldest synchronized footprints on Earth found

The oldest-known tracks of a creature apparently using legs have been discovered in rock dated to 570 million years ago in what was once a shallow sea in Nevada.

The aquatic creature left its “footprints” as two parallel rows of small dots, each about 2 millimeters in diameter. Scientists said today that the animal must have stepped lightly onto the soft marine sediment, because its legs only pressed shallow pinpoints into that long-ago sea bed.

The tracks were made during what is called the Ediacaran period, which preceded the Cambrian period, the time when most major groups of animals first evolved. Scientists had once thought only microbes and simple multicellular animals that existed prior to the Cambrian, but that notion is changing, said Ohio State University Professor Loren Babcock.

“We keep talking about the possibility of more complex animals in the Ediacaran — soft corals, some arthropods, and flatworms — but the evidence has not been totally convincing,” Babcock said. “But if you find evidence, like we did, of an animal with legs — an animal walking around — then that makes the possibility much more likely.”

Little can be gleaned about what sort of creature it was, but Babcock “reasonably certain — not 100 percent” that it was an arthropod, such as one resembling a centipede or millipede, or by a leg-bearing worm. It might have been about one as wide as a pencil and may have had multiple, spindly legs.

Another one of the several disciplines I wish I got into when I was a kid.

Skype-style speakerphone for Wii owners

Nintendo held a media summit here in San Francisco and while the biggest buzz was centered around holiday games and the upcoming DSi, I’m way more excited by the announcement that a Wii Speak Channel will launch this November. I’m calling it “Skype for the living room.”

The Wii Speak peripheral, a multidirectional “community microphone” with a reception radius of up to 12 feet, was mentioned this summer, but only in relation to the upcoming online game Animal Crossing: City Folk. Now Nintendo tells us they’re also going to sell Wii Speak separately, and that it’ll come with its own non-game Wii Channel, where you can communicate simultaneously with up to three other Wii owners. (Assuming they also have Wii Speak, and you’ve all exchanged friend codes.) You’ll also be able to use the channel to leave voice mails and exchange image files.

The reason I’ve dubbed the Wii Speak Channel Skype for the living room, however, is because it’s a VoIP communication device that doesn’t depend on a computer or a headset mic. If it works as billed, it could be used not only to make free person-to-person calls, but to hold conversations between entire rooms full of people. Of course the Nintendo exec who briefed me kept emphasizing the gameplay possibilities, and those are nice. But considering the tens of millions of people around the world, from every walk of life, who already own the Wii (it’s forecast to be in 30 percent of all American homes by 2011), the Wii Speak Channel has the potential to become a popular communication alternative over the next decade.

As Wagner notes, at a minimum it will be the world’s largest speakerphone – just for Wii owners.

Citigroup court order suspends Wachovia-Wells Fargo deal

Citigroup announced late Saturday that it had persuaded a New York judge to temporarily block Wells Fargo from acquiring Wachovia, firing the first shot in what could be a prolonged legal battle.

Citigroup has accused Wells Fargo of wrecking its plan to acquire Wachovia’s banking operations for $2.2 billion, or $1 a share, in a deal arranged by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Four days after that deal was struck, it fell apart when Wachovia agreed to Wells Fargo’s offer to pay seven times as much for the entire company.

The underlying battle is over which company will emerge from the economic crisis in a stronger position among a smaller number of financial giants. Citigroup contends that the deal with Wells Fargo violates an agreement that prohibited Wachovia from having any sale or merger discussions with anyone other than Citigroup until Oct. 6.

The order issued by a judge on Saturday extends the term of that agreement until further court action, Citigroup said. A person briefed on the situation said that Citigroup was seeking $60 billion in damages from Wells Fargo for interfering with the initial transaction.

Efforts to reach a Wells Fargo representative late Saturday night were unsuccessful. Christy Phillips-Brown, a Wachovia spokeswoman, said the bank “believes its agreement with Wells is proper, valid, and is in the best interest of shareholders, employees and American taxpayers.”

In case you’ve been asleep for the past week, these are some of the greedy thugs the Americans are bailing out with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Courtesy of Congress and the White House.

French save money for a rainy day


Photo by John Crosley

“From our correspondant” – is a special sort of journalism still practiced in Europe. It used to be pretty common in the States, as well; but, budgets cuts focused on reducing the not-very-high-priced help take their toll everywhere, eh?

This piece is by Emma Jane Kirby for the BBC.

“I cannot believe,” said Monsieur Arnaud as he firmly pushed my chin into the plastic support, “just how short sighted the British and Americans are…”

It is never a good idea to start defending yourself and your country when your head is strapped into a strange medical contraption and a man you hardly know is staring into your pupils and poking his fingers under your eyelids. So I decided there and then not to take offence.

Concerned about my sight after a recent accident, I was only half concentrating on Mr Arnaud’s conversation and was just vaguely perturbed that he seemed so resentful about the thousands of myopic Brits like me, who rely on contact lenses or glasses to get them safely from one side of the street to the other.

And then as he shone his pen torch into my irises, I quite suddenly saw the light. Mr Arnaud’s problem, like that of so many other French people I have talked to over the past two weeks, was to do with how the British and indeed the Americans have shut their eyes to the fact that, when you live on credit, a crunch is inevitable

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T-Mobile admits to data theft for 17 million customers – in 2006!

Europe’s leading telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom, has admitted that it has lost confidential data belonging to 17 million T-mobile clients. The theft, in 2006, which is now subject to a judicial inquiry, involved telephone numbers, dates of birth, addresses and email addresses, subsidiary T-Mobile said in a statement.

Spokesman Frank Domagala said that bank details were not attached, and that “according to our information, even though these details have been put up for sale on the black market, there has not been a buyer.”

Domagala added that data security procedures have been reinforced since 2006.

Whoop-de-doo!

According to news weekly Der Spiegel, copies of the information continue to circulate.

If this isn’t something that had to be reported to T-mobile clients – why not?

Dumpster-diving drug ring run from jail

Wisconsin authorities say they’ve broken up a large-scale prescription drug ring that at one time allegedly was operated by a county jail inmate.

The group would allegedly use information gathered from trash bins outside pharmacies to forge prescriptions, purchase such drugs as the addictive painkiller oxycodone and distribute them in Milwaukee and elsewhere in Wisconsin.

Jailed on felony charges are Micah Reno, 30, of Franklin, Wis., and James Leipski, 42, of Milwaukee. Authorities said Reno, identified as the ringleader, continued running the operation even while serving time in the Milwaukee County House of Correction on a cocaine possession charge from May 2007 through January, the newspaper said.

It’s critical to the mental health of prison inmates that they have secure communications with the outside world. Or so I’m told.