February 20, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 8


Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“For the moment, we see a tougher position … motivated by the political space which President Hugo Chavez has tried to open for them.”

— Colombia’s peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, on the Venezuelan leader’s hostage negotiations with leftist rebels in Colombia (see “Chavez,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
“Dodgy collateral” fuels new bank borrowing
Wealth gap widens in Silicon Valley
Wikileaks shutdown thwarted

*Transportation*
Much puffery about air-powered car

*Chavez*
Friend of hostages, or friend of hostage-takers?


TOP STORIES

* “Dodgy Collateral” Fuels New Bank Borrowing

U.S. banks have borrowed almost $50 billion in the last month from the Federal Reserve, using an expanded Federal Reserve program that some critics fear will deepen instability long-term.

The Financial Times of London reports that the Reserve’s Term Auction Facility has enabled the government to reduce “financial stress” by “channelling liquidity into the banking system.”

It achieves this by allowing banks to “borrow at relatively attractive rates against a wider range of their assets than previously permitted.”

One analyst, however, told the Times that the move allowed banks to borrow more freely against “dodgy” or “garbage” collateral, and said the situation was “perilous.”

Overall, however, the U.S. government program is popular with banks, and may even be expanded.

Source:

“U.S. banks borrow $50bn via new Fed facility”
Financial Times, February 18, 2008

* Wealth Gap Widens in Silicon Valley

The information economy may be firing on all cylinders, but in Silicon Valley more than 60,000 “midwage” jobs — defined as those paying between $30,000 to $80,000 annually — disappeared between 2002 and 2006.

During that same period, however, Silicon Valley employers added more than 66,000 jobs paying less than $30,000.

The Silicon Valley Index, published annually by a public-private consortium, details the changes, many of which contain “good news,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

This includes increased worker productivity, more venture capital, and growth in niche markets and new industries, such as “clean tech.”

The report blames outsourcing as one of the main culprits in the exodus of higher-paying jobs, but also calls for more aggressive retraining of workers who have been sidelined by the global economy, and remain unaware of opportunities in other fields.

Source:

“Report: Midwage jobs vanish in Silicon Valley”
San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 2008

* Wikileaks Shutdown Thwarted

Infoworld technology guru Robert X. Cringley said the attempted shutdown of the Wikileaks Web site by a U.S. judge at the request of a Swiss bank was a futile effort that only fueled greater interest in the bank’s financial practices.

The move also caused the proliferation of “mirror” sites for Wikileaks around the world, he said, all carrying the leaked documents the bank wanted to keep from the public.

Source:

“Look before you leak”
Infoworld, February 20, 2008


TRANSPORTATION

* Much Puffery About Air-Powered Car

An automobile that runs on compressed air got a boost this week with an investment from India’s Tata Motors.

MDI Industries, of Carros, France, designed the cars based on technology invented by Guy Negre, a former Formula One engineer.

The project has been in development for 14 years, but no carmaker has yet put the car into production.

Now, according to some reports, Tata is planning to manufacture and sell air cars in India later this year for the equivalent of about $5,000.

But, in the Financial Times of London, Tata’s managing director downplayed expectations, saying: “It’s a very exciting concept, this way of running a car. We hope something will come out of it.”

The air car, which has a glass fiber body and weighs less than 772 pounds, has pistons powered by compressed air, as well as a fuel-burning engine for higher speeds.

The engine can be filled with compressed air from an on-board compressor or at fueling stations.

Some press coverage of the air car has questioned where these fueling stations will come from.

“There is a degree of skepticism about the air car,” said Indian car analyst Murad Ali Baig, according to the Web site ClimateChangeCorp.com.

The British Web site the Register mocked Negre’s long struggle to produce the car, calling it a “French hot-air jalopy.”

Sources:

“Tata aids air car launch”
ClimateChangeCorp.com, February 14, 2008

“India’s Tata funds air-power car”
CleanTech, February 15, 2008

“Tata looks to develop air-powered car”
Financial Times (registration required), February 18, 2008

“Inventor promises bottle-o-wind car in a year. Again.”
The Register, February 14, 2008


CHAVEZ

* Friend of Hostages, or Friend of Hostage-Takers?

Venezuela’s firebrand President Hugo Chavez has been deeply involved in recent months in trying to resolve the long-running standoff over hundreds of hostages held by Colombian rebels.

He was credited last month for gaining the release of two hostages, and he spoke last week with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about working to attain the release of more.

But new criticisms against Chavez say he is doing more harm than good — and a former hostage agrees.

Geologist Jorge Andres Sierra, who spent two years as a captive of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, Colombia’s second-largest leftist rebel group, said the Venezuelan government has provided safe haven to the guerillas.

Sierra’s remarks were reported by the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, as well as Spain’s EFE news agency, and published in English by the Hindustan Times.

“When Venezuelan military helicopters flew overhead, the pilots waved at the guerrillas. I yelled that I was kidnapped, but they told me that if I escape, the Venezuelan National Guard would hand me over to the ELN”, the Hindustan Times quoted Sierra as saying.

According to El Universal, the Colombian rebels have endorsed Chavez’s political ideas.

Colombia’s government bristles at Chavez’s contact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the nation’s largest rebel group.

Chavez has demanded that FARC be dropped from foreign registries of terrorist groups and considered instead as a legitimate insurgent group.

This week, Colombian Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said that Chavez’s stance is endangering negotiations to release more hostages.

“For the moment, we see a tougher position … motivated by the political space which President Hugo Chavez has tried to open for them,” Restrepo wrote in a statement, according to Reuters.

FARC is said to be holding as many as 750 hostages in jungle camps.

Among the most high profile is Ingrid Betancourt, a politician of dual Colombian and French citizenship who was kidnapped six years ago while campaigning for the presidency of Colombia.

Betancourt’s captivity has prompted France to become involved in the negotiations.

Sources:

“Colombia says Chavez bolsters rebels’ hostage stance”
Reuters, February 18, 2008

“Former hostage reports pact between rebels and Chavez”
El Universal, February 18, 2008

“Chavez talks with Sarkozy about Colombian prisoner swap”
Agence France Presse, February 15, 2008

“Freed Colombian hostage accuses Chavez of helping rebels”
Hindustan Times, February 18, 2008

For more background on the Colombia hostage situation:

“CHRONOLOGY-Hostage-taking in Colombia”
Reuters, January 14, 2008

“Q&A: Colombia hostage situation”
BBC News, January 14, 2008


Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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