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Monday PM July 21st, 2008

Counselors visit LyondellBasell after Friday's crane collapse…Shell evacuates about 185 offshore workers endangered by Tropical Storm Dolly…Index of Leading Economic Indicators falls slightly…

Counselors were at a Houston refinery today as crews returned to their jobs after the Friday crane collapse that left four contract workers dead. Safety meetings are also scheduled. Investigators are trying to determine what caused the accident at a LyondellBasell refinery. The 30-story-tall crane is owned by Deep South Crane & Rigging. The four men who died worked for the Louisiana company. Seven other workers were injured. The refinery has video cameras at various sites. Officials hope some footage will bolster the investigation.

Officials in Hildalgo County are bracing for ten to 20 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Dolly. Forecasters say Dolly could make landfall as a hurricane along the lower Texas Gulf Coast by late Wednesday. It’s expected to land as a Category 1 storm with sustained wind of 74 to 95 miles per hour. Shell began evacuations of some 125 personnel from some of its Gulf of Mexico West operations yesterday, and another 60 or so today. But no further evacuations are anticipated, based on current tracking information. The National Hurricane Center this morning issued a hurricane watch from Brownsville north to Port O’Connor.

A forward-looking gauge of economic activity is pointing down. The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.1 percent in June. Not only that, but its May figure was revised to reflect a decline, instead of slight growth. Among the negatives pressuring the business research group’s index, reduced hours for factory workers and falling stock prices. Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein says “the domestic economy is showing no sign of strength.”

German software maker Sap is closing its Bryan, Texas-based TomorrowNow. The subsidiary provided support for Oracle software–and was accused of stealing information from Oracle. TomorrowNow was formed by former engineers at PeopleSoft, with the idea of providing less expensive software support to PeopleSoft customers. Sap bought TomorrowNow in 2005, around the same time Oracle completed its $11 billion purchase of PeopleSoft. Oracle later alleged TomorrowNow employees hacked into Oracle’s computer network to steal information about its software. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in 2010 in San Francisco. Sap chief executive Henning Kagermann has acknowledged TomorrowNow made “inappropriate downloads” of Oracle’s software coding. But Kagermann has maintained its rival “wasn’t significantly harmed” by the breach. An oracle spokeswoman declined comment.

Yahoo! has reached a settlement with activist investor Carl Icahn to avoid a battle for control of the company. The agreement will avert a battle over control of the company in an August 1st shareholders vote. Under the agreement, eight members of the current board will seek re-election. Icahn will be appointed to the board, and two other seats will be filled based on a list of nine candidates recommended by Icahn. Icahn had wanted to replace Yahoo!’s directors with his own hand-picked slate to negotiate a sale of all or part of Yahoo!

A San Antonio-area school district says it’s the first in the nation to buy propane-fueled school buses. The Northside Independent School District showed off 16 classic yellow Blue Bird propane school buses Monday morning, saying the vehicles are cleaner and cheaper to run than traditional diesel buses. While districts across the U.S. converted school buses from diesel-run to propane for several years, the new buses are the first to come off the production line propane-ready, says Albert Burleigh, a regional sales manager for Fort Valley, Georgia-based Blue Bird Corporation. The district has about 85,000 students, and up to 45,000 are expected to ride the bus to and from school next year.

He’s been working to keep the nation’s economy afloat. Now, there’s word regarding the personal finances of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. His financial disclosure form, just released, shows holdings last year were in no-frills investments, including U.S. treasury securities, Canadian treasury bonds, mutual funds and annuities. The 54-year-old Bernanke also is receiving royalties on two textbooks he wrote. Royalty income was listed at between $50,000 and $100,000 for each textbook, the largest single portions of income other than his Fed salary. Bernanke’s salary last year was $186,600. The Fed chief’s largest assets last year were two annuities with each valued at between $500,001 to $1 million.

Government inspectors have found the same salmonella strain responsible for a nationwide food-poisoning outbreak in a Mexican-grown jalapeño in a Texas plant, prompting a new warning for consumers to avoid eating fresh jalapeños. The Food and Drug Administration called Monday’s announcement a “very important break in the case.” But it doesn’t mean Mexican jalapeños are the culprit–the pepper may not have been contaminated on the farm. And while tomatoes currently are safe to eat, health officials also said the finding doesn’t exonerate tomatoes that were sold earlier in the spring and summer.

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