Monday PM December 6th, 2010

Continental Airlines will appeal a French court's verdict that found the carrier and a mechanic guilty of manslaughter in the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde outside Paris that killed 113 people. Continental says the carrier strongly disagrees with the "absurd finding.'' The court ruled that Continental must pay a $265,000 fine and Houston-based mechanic John Taylor must pay $2,650. Taylor was also handed a 15-month suspended prison sentence. All other defendants, including Taylor's now-retired supervisor Stanley Ford, were acquitted. Taylor, who also plans to appeal, told the Associated Press that "I've been nothing but wronged since this started." The presiding judge confirmed the long-held belief of investigators that debris dropped by a Continental DC-10 onto the runway at Charles de Gaulle Airport damaged the Air France jet on takeoff.


The Observer newspaper in London reports that George Clooney will adapt the West End’s “Enron” stage play into a movie. “Spider-Man” franchise producer Laura Ziskin has acquired the rights and says she will produce the film. Playwright Lucy Prebble, who sold the screen rights, is writing the screenplay for the project. Clooney reportedly will co-produce and possibly direct. The British stage cast is not expected to be involved, nor is their director Rupert Gould. The play closed after 15 performances when it came to the United States.


As Congress hammers out a deal on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, it's also moving to keep benefits flowing to the unemployed. Both Democrats and Republicans appear to be uniting behind a plan to continue jobless benefits for millions of Americans whose checks have either run out or soon will. Friday's jump in the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent has put pressure on Republicans to agree to the president's demand that Congress extend unemployment insurance for another year. The GOP point man in the talks with the White House, Senator Jon Kyl, now appears to link the unemployment benefits with the tax cut extension. He tells CBS that the recipe would likely include an extension of unemployment benefits and an extension of tax cuts for all Americans for some period of time.


President Barack Obama says he's ready “to roll up my sleeves” and work with Congressional leaders on a tax cut deal before rates are set to rise on January 1st. The president spoke Saturday after Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have extended tax cuts for the middle class but not the wealthiest Americans. Obama says lawmakers must give the American people “the peace of mind that their taxes will not go up” come in the new year. He says that will require compromise by both sides. He didn't say what kind of deal he'd embrace, but a temporary extension of all the tax cuts is emerging as the likely compromise. On Sunday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said it's become clear that taxes will not be raised for anyone during the current economic downturn. He told NBC's Meet the Press that the only question is how long they might be extended.


A new survey finds the average price of regular gasoline in the United States has jumped 3.92 cents in the last two weeks. The Lundberg Survey of Fuel Prices released Sunday says the price of a gallon of regular is $2.91. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price for a gallon of mid-grade was $3.05, and premium was at $3.16. Denver had the lowest average price among cities surveyed at $2.61 a gallon for regular. Long Island, New York, was highest among surveyed areas at $3.21. Diesel was at $3.23, up about a half cent. In California, the average price for a gallon of regular was $3.14, up about a penny.


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is stepping up his defense of the Fed's $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase plan. In a taped interview with CBS' 60 Minutes Bernanke says the economy is still struggling to become “self-sustaining” without government help. The interview is part of a broad counteroffensive Bernanke has been waging against critics of the bond purchase plan announced last month. The purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates, lift stock prices and encourage more spending to boost the economy. Critics fear the Fed's intervention could spur inflation and speculative buying on Wall Street while doing little to aid the economy. Bernanke says the risk of inflation is overblown.


The Supreme Court will consider throwing out a massive lawsuit that claims Walmart pays women less than men and promotes women less frequently. The justices stepped into a case that could involve 500,000 to 1.5 million women who work or once worked at the world's largest private employer. Walmart stores calls it the largest employment class action in history. Walmart is appealing a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the class-action lawsuit could go to trial, with potentially billions of dollars in legal damages at stake.


The J-1 summer work and travel program is one of the State Department's most popular visas. It allows college students to visit for up to four months. Participation has gone from about 20,000 in 1996 to more than 150,000 in 2008. However, government auditors for at least 20 years have warned about problems plaguing the J-1 visa program. An AP investigation found the State Department has not kept up with student complaints. It also revealed that some foreign students pay recruiters to help find work, and some students were sexually exploited. Thousands of students enjoy their experience but most of those interviewed say they're angry or disappointed. State Department officials say they're working on new rules for the program.


A national program that paid farmers millions of dollars for reducing greenhouse gasses has fizzled amid uncertainty about U.S. climate legislation and will no longer taken enrollment after this year. The program run by the North Dakota farmers union gave farmers carbon dioxide credits for using techniques that reduced emissions of gasses tied to global warming and distributed the proceeds when those credits were sold to businesses and others who needed to offset their pollution. About 3,900 farmers and ranchers from 40 states have earned about $7.4 million through the program started in 2006. But Farmers Union President Robert Carlson says credits that sold for up to $7 a metric ton a few years ago are now worthless, and he doesn't expect the price to rebound without federal legislation.


After a busy week, things slow a bit in the days ahead on Wall Street. Tomorrow, the Federal Reserve reports on consumer credit, which doesn't tend to move the financial markets. New unemployment claims are due on Thursday. Friday brings new readings on the nation's trade as well as on the federal budget.


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