Monday PM January 7th, 2008

Environmentalists sue Shell Oil over pollutants released from suburban Houston refinery...Weakening real estate market takes toll on jobs in 2007...Airlines responding to oil's latest surge by pushing ticket prices even higher...

Environmental groups are suing Shell Oil and several of its affiliates, claiming the oil giant has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act at a suburban Houston refinery. The Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed a federal lawsuit accusing Shell of releasing millions of pounds of excess air pollutants, including toxic chemicals, from the refinery for the past five years. The lawsuit alleges that equipment breakdowns, malfunctions and other non-routine incidents at the refinery in Deer Park have resulted in the release of millions of pounds of pollutants into the air, in violation of limits imposed by state and federal laws. Houston-based Shell Oil is an affiliate of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world's largest oil companies.

The weakening real estate market took its toll on the mortgage industry last year. A new report released by says more than 86,000 jobs were cut last year, with Countrywide Financial leading the way. The nation's largest lender cut 11,665 positions--about 14 percent of all mortgage jobs lost during the year. expects the job cuts to continue in the coming year, but at a slower pace.

Some airlines are responding to oil's latest surge by pushing ticket prices even higher. Roundtrip domestic fares began rising $10 to $20 or more--as crude futures crossed the once-unthinkable $100-a-barrel mark. Several major carriers increased prices, with each citing higher fuel costs as the reason. The widespread increases follow nearly two dozen attempted system wide fare hikes in 2007, or about double the number during the previous year. The data was compiled by, which tracks airfare changes.

Welcome to the second "digital decade.'' And one of the chief movers says developments are going to come even faster than in the first one. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates last night gave his customary kickoff address at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He made the case that Microsoft may no longer be an unbeatable software giant, but its technologies are spreading into new areas, including, cars, living rooms and Internet TV. A Microsoft project called MediaRoom could turn a typical couch potato into a hotshot director. Nascar fans, for instance, should be able to hop virtually into the driver's seat on the track. A deal with NBC's online coverage of the Olympics should connect you with events you specifically want to see. And expect more personal interaction with your software by voice, touch and motion. This is Gates' last electronics show as Microsoft's boss. Later in the year, he'll be giving up his daily duties to devote full time to philanthropy.

Canon USA's new family of high-definition camcorders--Vixia--made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The new Vixia F10 features dual flash memory. It lets users record to an internal flash drive as well as a removable memory card, so they can record even when the camcorder doesn't have a memory card inserted. Flash memory camcorders can read and write data faster than other types of storage. Canon says the HF10 dual flash memory camcorder can record up to six hours of video to a 16-gigabyte internal flash drive, or to a memory card. The HF10 dual flash memory and the HF100 flash memory camcorders, which will be available in late April, cost about $1,099 and $899, respectively.

Toshiba is introducing a laptop computer that can read and record HD DVD discs, the first of its kind. But the news ahead of the International Consumer Electronics Show comes two days after Warner Brothers Entertainment said it would stop offering its movies in HD DVD, choosing instead to stick with a competing high-definition video format, Sony's Blu-Ray. The announcement deals a potentially fatal blow to HD DVD, which has been championed by Toshiba. Toshiba makes practically all HD DVD players. Toshiba's Qosmio G45-AV690 is powered by an Intel Core 2 processor and the Windows Vista operating system. Its 17-inch display offers resolution of 1080P, the highest currently available. The laptop also features 320 gigabytes of hard drive space, a remote control and a fingerprint reader. The $3,199.99 laptop comes with a mail-in offer for five free HD DVD titles through February 28th. Only two major U.S. studios now support HD DVD, while five support Sony's Blu-Ray disc.

KUHF's Charles Bronstein is covering the International Consumer Electronics Show, and will be filing reports this week from Las Vegas.

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