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Saturday, June 18, 2005

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Malaysia says ringgit peg "not cast in stone"
By Liau Y-Sing

Malaysia kept currency speculators guessing on June 17, saying its fixed exchange rate was not cast in stone.

"There's a time to float and time to fix. Both regimes produce winners and losers," Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop told Reuters. "It's not cast in stone."

Nor Mohamed, who played a hand in pegging the ringgit at the height of Asia's financial crisis in 1998, and the central bank have walked a fine line in commenting on the peg, with huge sums of speculative capital hanging on their every word.

A tide of foreign money drove down government bond yields and pushed the domestic stock market to 4 1/2-year highs late last year but then retreated, leaving the local bourse languishing.

Most economists believe the ringgit is undervalued and expect it to be revalued over the next year or so to ease import costs. At 3.8 to the dollar, the cheap ringgit has made vital capital imports like planes and defence equipment very expensive and begun to hurt some domestic borrowers of foreign currency.

But economists expect Malaysia to wait until China revalues the yuan to ensure its exports remain competitive. Malaysia not only competes with China for export markets, China itself is a major buyer of Malaysian goods, such as palm oil.

Citigroup, the world's biggest financial services company, declared its views on the yuan and the ringgit this week, telling a briefing in Kuala Lumpur that China may loosen its currency peg in three months, perhaps spurring Malaysia to act by end-2005.

"I think there's no compelling reason for Malaysia to move first ahead of China. Our view has always been that it's an 'after you' view," Sim Moh Siong, Citigroup vice-president for Asia Pacific economic research, told a briefing on June 16.

Malaysia's second finance minister also gave a bullish outlook for the economy, despite concerns about a global economic slowdown, and said the government was "very positive" of meeting its 5%-6% economic growth forecast for 2005.

"Manufacturing and service sectors are expected to continue to do well. We don't see major downside at all," Nor Mohamed said.

Inflation also remains under control, he added, when asked about a pick-up in prices. Inflation hit 3.1% in the year through May, its sharpest rise in more than six years, as high oil prices forced the government to cut fuel-price subsidies.

"Inflation of course is...creeping up from 1.5% to 2.5% but certainly will be under control -- nothing to worry about," he said. -- Reuters

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Poll Shows Dwindling Approval of Bush and Congress - New York Times

Poll Shows Dwindling Approval of Bush and Congress - New York TimesJune 17, 2005
Poll Shows Dwindling Approval of Bush and Congress
By ROBIN TONER and MARJORIE CONNELLY

Increasingly pessimistic about Iraq and skeptical about President Bush's plan for Social Security, Americans are in a season of political discontent, giving Mr. Bush one of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and Congress one of its lowest rating in years, according to the New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Forty-two percent of those polled said they approved of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job, a marked decline from his 51 percent rating in the aftermath of the November election, when he embarked on an ambitious second-term agenda led by the overhaul of Social Security. Sixteen months before the midterm elections, Congress fared even worse in the survey, with the approval of just 33 percent of Americans, and nearly three-fourths saying Congress did not share their priorities.

Despite months of presidential effort, the nationwide poll found the public is not rallying toward Mr. Bush's vision of a new Social Security that would allow younger workers to put part of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. Two-thirds said they were uneasy about Mr. Bush's ability to make sound decisions on Social Security. Only 25 percent said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling Social Security, down slightly from what the poll found in March.

Moreover, 45 percent said that the more they hear about Mr. Bush's Social Security plan, the less they like it. The survey also found the public shared the growing skepticism in Washington about Mr. Bush's prospects for success on Social Security, with most saying they did not think Mr. Bush would succeed.

Nicole Devenish, a counselor to the president, dismissed the significance of the poll, saying Mr. Bush believes that following polls is equivalent to a dog chasing its tail. "We have advanced a broad agenda, and will continue to advocate the people's priorities," she said.

On Iraq, months of continued turmoil, insurgent attacks and casualties appear to have taken a further toll on public attitudes. Looking back, 51 percent said they thought the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, while 45 percent said military action was the right thing to do. That reflects only a slight erosion from findings by CBS throughout the spring, but a marked turnaround from 2004, when pluralities tended to think it was still the right thing to do.

Moreover, only 37 percent said they approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, down from 45 percent in February. And a strong majority of Americans now say the United States' effort to bring stability and order to Iraq is going badly - 60 percent, up from 47 percent in February.

Still, Mr. Bush continued to have majority support for his handling of the war on terrorism, one of his strengths throughout his 2004 re-election campaign.

The latest poll was conducted June 10 to 15 with 1,111 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

In general, the survey found Americans in a darker mood. In one key measure, only 33 percent said they thought the country was on the right track, while 61 percent said it had gone off in the wrong direction. Similar results were found by CBS in April and May, but that measure of national optimism was markedly better last November. There was little change in the way Americans rate the current condition of the American economy - 54 percent say it is very or fairly good. But the number of Americans who say the economy is getting worse is growing, to 36 percent, from 30 percent in February.

When asked an open-ended question about the most important problems facing the nation, Americans cited the economy and jobs, war and terrorism at the top of the list. Social Security, which has consumed an enormous amount of political energy this spring, did not make the top six, suggesting voters have a different view of political priorities than the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House.

The sharpest drop in Congressional approval in recent months occurred among Republicans. In February, 54 percent of Republicans said they approved of the way Congress was doing its job; in the most recent poll, that had dropped to 40 percent. Some analysts suggest that Congress is paying the price for months of intense partisan struggle over judicial nominations and the decision to intervene in the right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo, which was widely criticized as Congressional over-reaching.

Christine Weisman, a 54-year-old Republican homemaker in Reading, Pa., said in a follow-up interview: "They're not getting anything done. They don't seem to be able to come together on anything." She added, "It's all a political thing and they're forgetting the basic needs of the people."

Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "The American people know instinctively that we have major problems and we've got a Congress that is not attending or dealing with them." As the party in control, Republicans should be held responsible, Mr. Emanuel said, although he added that the 2006 midterm elections were far too distant for predictions.

Representative Tom Reynolds, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the old truism still held: "People are not enamored, maybe, of the institution of Congress, but they love their congressman." He added, "My advice to the policymakers around Congress is to continue to get the work done, and make sure that as we get the work done, people know about it."

Mr. Bush faces a very resistant public when it comes to his Social Security proposals. He recently embraced a solvency plan that would cushion the lowest-income workers from any benefit cuts, but a majority in the survey said they still believed Mr. Bush's general plan would benefit high-income people the most.

The president has spent months trying to explain the virtues of private investment accounts, but public opinion on them remains very divided. Forty-five percent said those accounts were a good idea, 50 percent a bad idea, the same breakdown found in the survey in January.

People like the idea that the accounts could be inherited and that they could result in more money for retirement; both arguments increase support for the accounts. But the idea that these accounts could lead to huge amounts of government borrowing - to finance the transition costs - resulted in a very negative response, as did the idea that the accounts would be accompanied by a cut in the guaranteed government benefit.

Americans also recognized that Mr. Bush has a Social Security plan and the Democrats in Congress do not. A majority said they would like to see the Democrats offer a plan and not simply oppose Mr. Bush's. Moreover, a majority say they believe the Social Security system does have real problems.

But most say they do not think Mr. Bush's plan for private accounts will do anything for the system's long-term solvency.

Fred Backus contributed reporting for this article.

CBS 46 Atlanta - State Fights Release of Klan File in Wayne Williams Case

CBS 46 Atlanta - State Fights Release of Klan File in Wayne Williams CaseState Fights Release of Klan File in Wayne Williams Case
Jun 16, 2005, 8:12 PM

ATLANTA (AP) -- The state is fighting a federal magistrate judge's order that could eventually allow convicted killer Wayne Williams access to wiretaps of reputed white supremacists that were collected during the Atlanta child murders investigation of a quarter-century ago.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court this week, the state Attorney General's Office also is disputing the portion of the judge's May 31 order involving a request to allow Williams access to the juvenile records of a key witness against Williams.

The evidence was contained in the so-called "8100" file, which lawyers for Williams say was withheld from the defense at his trial. Court papers say the file recorded the state's investigation of the Ku Klux Klan's possible involvement in the murders of 29 people -- mostly black boys -- in the Atlanta area between 1979-1981.

Williams was convicted of two murders and blamed for 22 others, but he was never charged in the other cases. He is currently serving a life sentence. A local police chief last month reopened the investigation into five of the deaths, saying he doesn't believe Williams committed any of the murders.

Williams, who is black, has long contended that he was framed and that Atlanta officials covered up evidence that the Klan was involved in the killings to avoid a race war in the city. State officials have countered that they believe they arrested the right man and that there is no evidence the Klan was involved.

The magistrate judge's order required the state to give the judge anything potentially helpful to Williams in the "8100" file, including any nonconsensual monitoring tapes produced during the investigation of a group of white supremacists that some believed committed the murders.

The order also required the state to give the judge the juvenile records of a then-15-year-old boy whose testimony at Williams' trial placed Williams in the company of one of the murder victims on the last day the victim was seen alive. Williams' lawyers say they have information that the witness was in jail at the time he supposedly saw Williams.

The order says that once the judge reviews all of the material, she will then determine what if anything to give to Williams.

The state says in its opposition filed Tuesday that the judge's order would require officials to conduct "a fishing expedition into documents that are not under" their control. The state wants the federal court to throw out the magistrate judge's order or at least ask Williams' lawyers to first question other agencies that might have the documents.

Williams lawyer Michael Lee Jackson said Thursday the state's argument amounts to more stonewalling.

"It is stunning that they would continue to oppose our discovery when we've shown a highly justifiable basis in fact for our request," Jackson said.

CBS 46 Atlanta - GA Republican Votes to Limit Patriot Act Powers

CBS 46 Atlanta - GA Republican Votes to Limit Patriot Act PowersGA Republican Votes to Limit Patriot Act Powers
Jun 16, 2005, 8:09 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican Representative Jack Kingston voted against his GOP colleagues in favor of an amendment to restrict government investigators from checking library and bookstore records under the Patriot Act.

Democrats were able to win support from enough Republicans Wednesday to limit the Act's provisions on a 238-to-187 vote.

Kingston said the Patriot Act provides important tools to help terrorism. But he said the country has to find the balance between privacy and overzealous investigators intruding on individual liberties.

The Senate still must act on the measure, and Georgia Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson signaled they're reluctant to limit the law enforcement powers.

Supporters of limiting the library and bookstore provision say the law gives the FBI too much leeway to go on fishing expeditions based on what people read. They say innocent people could get tagged as potential terrorists based on what they check out from a library.

Other conservative Republicans in Georgia argued it was necessary to give law enforcement every possible tool to fight terrorism. Representative Lynn Westmoreland said the restrictions would provide a library refuge to terrorists to use the computer or check out books to pass messages.

Japan Today - News - Tom Hanks buys movie rights to Deep Throat story - Japan's Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Tom Hanks buys movie rights to Deep Throat story - Japan's Leading International News Network

japantoday > world
Tom Hanks buys movie rights to Deep Throat story

Friday, June 17, 2005 at 07:45 JST
LOS ANGELES — Hollywood star Tom Hanks' production firm has signed a deal with former FBI agent Mark Felt, who last month revealed he was Deep Throat, to turn his story into a movie, industry press said Thursday.

Universal Pictures on Wednesday inked the deal on behalf of Hanks' Playtone company to bring the story of the shadowy insider who helped reporters expose U.S. President Richard Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal, to the silver screen.

Japan Today - News - Schiavo autopsy shows massive brain damage - Japan's Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Schiavo autopsy shows massive brain damage - Japan's Leading International News Network

japantoday > world
Schiavo autopsy shows massive brain damage

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Thursday, June 16, 2005 at 07:45 JST
MIAMI — Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was at the center of a bitter nationwide debate over life support until she died in March, had irreversible brain damage, the doctor who performed her autopsy said Wednesday.

"Her brain was profoundly atrophied," Pinellas County medical examiner Jon Thogmartin said at a press conference, presenting the results of Schiavo's autopsy.

Bronx Is Up as Yankees Unveil Stadium Plan - New York Times

Bronx Is Up as Yankees Unveil Stadium Plan - New York Times The New York Times
June 16, 2005
Bronx Is Up as Yankees Unveil Stadium Plan
By RICHARD SANDOMIR

The Yankees unveiled their design for a new ballpark yesterday with a look that would be recognized by Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio but with amenities and moneymaking potential that will enrich the team.

Construction of the ballpark will mean the end of major league baseball at Yankee Stadium, where Mickey Mantle roamed center field, Don Larsen pitched the only World Series perfect game, popes visited and Joe Louis beat Billy Conn.

"We are standing at the cathedral of baseball," Randy Levine, the Yankees' president, said at a crowded news conference with team executives and elected officials sitting beneath the stained glass of the Stadium Club. "We love this place. We honor its memories." But, he added: "This building is becoming nonfunctional. It can't go on for another 40 years."

George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, beamed as speakers called him King George I and praised him for having the team finance construction of the $800 million stadium.

"This is a great heritage," he said. "We love the Bronx."

He also indicated that Steve Swindal, his son-in-law and general partner of the team, would succeed him.

Steinbrenner, who bought the team in 1973, can look forward to the stadium's opening in 2009, shortly before his 79th birthday. It will rise just north of the old stadium; it will seat from 50,800 to 54,000, with 50 to 60 luxury boxes and an unspecified number of high-priced club seats. About 30,000 seats will be in the lower bowl, 20,000 in the upper, the reverse of the current configuration.

The new stadium will be reminiscent of Yankee Stadium circa 1923, with its limestone-based exterior, arches and grand entrance designed by Osborn Engineering, whose old drawings were studied by Earl Santee of HOK Sport + Venue + Event, the architect for the new venture.

The classic rooftop frieze that endured from 1923 until it was destroyed by the 1974-75 renovation will return but will be made of a translucent material, not copper, and a restaurant will be built above a recreated Monument Park behind the batter's eye in the outfield. The field dimensions will remain as they are now, concourses will be wide, and the field will be visible from any snack bar or concession stand.

The team's decision to pay for the stadium is a position that has changed drastically over two decades. Steinbrenner had for years looked for ways out of the Bronx to move to New Jersey or Manhattan, fulminated about crime, parking and vermin in the neighborhood, and argued with public officials like Fernando Ferrer, then the borough president, about low attendance.

Steinbrenner stopped criticizing the neighborhood about the time the Yankees starting winning World Series again and their attendance rocketed from 2.25 million in 1996 to a team record 3.77 million last season.

In the many stadium plans suggested to or by Steinbrenner, in the Bronx or elsewhere, to build a stadium or to renovate the old one, he sought public financing.

By agreeing that the team will pay the cost of construction, he recognized a growing trend toward teams' paying their way if they want new ballparks.

"We decided to stay," Steinbrenner said. "That's the cost today."

Levine added: "It became evident over the past several years - not just in New York - that a public subsidy was not going to happen. We can afford it, and we can make the commitment."

The Yankees' announcement came three days after the Mets revealed that they would finance a new ballpark next to Shea Stadium, which will convert to use as an Olympic stadium if the city wins its bid to play host to the 2012 Summer Games.

The two stadiums are scheduled to open in 2009 and in both cases will get infrastructure help from the city and the state. "The state is helping," Gov. George E. Pataki said, "but George is footing the bill. It doesn't get any better than that."

In the Yankees' case, the city will contribute $135 million to, among other things, replace the land that the new stadium will occupy at well-used and well-worn Macombs Dam and John Mullaly Parks. The state will spend $70 million to build three new garages with 4,000 to 5,000 spots and get all the parking revenues.

No mention was made of a new Metro-North rail station at the stadium, which would come out of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's capital budget

The new parkland will include Little League fields and an esplanade along the Harlem River; a 400-meter track, and softball and soccer fields outside the old stadium; and tennis and handball courts atop two of the three new garages. The new ballpark and the old one - which may be cut down to its lower tier for use as an amateur baseball field - will be separated by an enlarged Babe Ruth Plaza.

The new ballparks will use tax-exempt bonds issued by the city that will save both teams millions of dollars in annual debt payments. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg bristled when asked if doing so constituted subsidizing the projects.

"The government is here to facilitate development in the city," he said. "We don't do subsidies." He added, "The city is getting paid back at a profit."

Another element of the financing for the Yankees will be their ability, granted by the collective bargaining agreement with the players, to offset their revenue-sharing payments to the rest of the league by deducting their debt payments.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College, described this financial practice as a type of subsidy from the other major league teams. The Yankees paid $60 million into the revenue-sharing pool in 2004.

"It's a subsidy, whether you're getting a check directly from Bud Selig, or indirectly, whereby you send a smaller check to the other teams," Zimbalist said, referring to the baseball commissioner.

Levine stopped short of calling it a subsidy, but said, "Clearly, the revenue-sharing rules were a factor in making the stadium affordable." He added that the other teams "may be the ones who are most unhappy about this."

But he said the substantial new revenues that the ballpark would generate may mean that the team will share more money in the future, simply not as much as it would if not for its ability to deduct debt payments.

Levine said that he believed the Yankees had so far convinced the Bronx community and its leaders of the need to build the ballpark, and that he did not expect significant opposition. The team will submit the project in the fall for the city's approval through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor, said he did not anticipate a fight over the stadium or a campaign like the ubiquitous one mounted by Cablevision against the proposed $2.2 billion Jets stadium on the Far West Side of Manhattan that could have been the centerpiece of the 2012 Olympics. The refusal by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last week doomed that project, forcing the city to look to Flushing in Queens.

"There's a small group that doesn't want everything to happen, wherever it is," Doctoroff said.

That small group appears to be Friends of Yankee Stadium, whose membership of 20 has been "waiting for something to organize against," said David Gratt, one of its members, who lives two blocks from the stadium.

The group has a Web site, yankeesstayhome.com.

"For 20 years, the Yankees have stated their desire for a new stadium, but never successfully stated a case for need," he said. "The mayor and the Yankees say it's approaching nonfunctionality, but it processed nearly four million people last year. I'm sure there are minor structural things to be addressed, but it's not nonfunctional."

Gratt said he would like to see the old stadium survive the way Fenway Park has.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

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