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March 23, 2013 at 1:01 PM   |   Comments

Cyprus close to bailout deadline

NICOSIA, Cyprus, March 23 (UPI) -- Political leaders from Cyprus were scheduled for meetings in Brussels Saturday to discuss acceptable terms for an international bailout.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was in Brussels to discuss acceptable parameters for raising $7.5 billion, which the so-called troika – the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – mandated Cyprus raise in order to secure a $13 billion international bailout.

The process was thrown into disarray Tuesday when members of Parliament in Nicosia overwhelming rejected the first plan, which included imposing a tax on bank accounts in Cyprus to raise the $7.5 billion.

Since then, Cyprus has explored alternative funding sources, including turning to Russia for help.

Russia said Cyprus must first reach a deal with the troika, the BBC reported.

Germany has rejected a plan under discussion in which Cyprus would nationalize the pension funds of its state-run companies, a plan that included holding an emergency government bond auction.

The word from Germany, the BBC reported, also includes the disapproval of the concept of ever again accepting a nation known as a tax haven into the European Union.

The concept of imposing a tax on bank deposits in Cyprus as part of the bailout came about because of the reputation of the nation as a tax haven for criminal groups, especially for organized crime from Russia.

International lenders were reluctant to provide aid for Cypriot banks, when that would play out, it was assumed, as if they were bailing out organized crime.

Cypriot banks, meanwhile, were heavily exposed to investments in Greece, which has put their banks in crisis.

Banks in Cyprus have been closed since Monday and are expected to remain closed until a solution to the bank crisis is found.

If there is no viable solution, Cypriot banks could fail, which could push Cyprus out of the eurozone in an exist that many believe will be severely disruptive to the eurzone 's financial system.

Cyprus is also working under a deadline. The European Central Bank has said it would cut off low interest loans to Cypriot banks on Monday, if a solution has not been found by then.


Apple aims for simpler look to iOS 7

CUPERTINO, Calif., March 23 (UPI) -- Software and hardware units at U.S. technology company Apple are now working more closely together, sources told The Wall Street Journal.

In the past, Jonathan Ive, the executive behind the sleek look of Apple's hardware, has had his own software development team create proxy operating systems that are used in the design phase of a new product.

The team developing the software that will end up in the product in stores, however, has been working on software without even knowing what product their programs might eventually be operating, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

With the departure in 2012 of Scott Forstall, the former head of iOS software, the two divisions have worked together with Ive attending software design meetings that have been described as "pleasant and cordial," a source close to the company said.

CNN reported Saturday that Ive is pressing for design changes that will give Apple products a simpler, less cluttered and flatter look.

Ive is not a fan of the analogue-oriented icons that Forstall favored, such as the symbol of a reel-to-reel tape deck that appears during a playback operation.

Analysts expect changes for the next generation operating system to be conservative, both the Journal and CNN reported.

Expect "some fairly significant changes to the design within some key apps and system-level elements, but overall don't expect a hugely different iOS," said MG Siegler, an Apple columnist at TechCrunch.

The term iOS refers to Apple's operating system.


Retailers applaud online tax bill

WASHINGTON, March 23 (UPI) -- Major U.S. retail groups applauded the Senate's approval in a 75-24 vote for a law forcing large Internet firms to collect state sales taxes.

The law, which exempts businesses with annual out-of-state sales of less than $1 million, "is proof-positive that the federal government's special treatment of online-only retailers will soon be a thing of the past," said Retail Industry Leaders Association President Sandy Kennedy.

The amendment is a "clear victory for Main Street retailers and those who believe in free and fair competition," Kennedy said.

"The retail community is unified in our commitment to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act and make it law," said the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Retail Federation Matthew Shay.

Shay called the vote a "critically important issue for retailers both large and small across the country."

Local retailers have long considered it unfair that they must charge state sales tax on purchases, while large Internet firms, like Amazon.com, can sell the same item without charging a sales tax, essentially giving their prices a discount.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can only force companies to charge a state sales tax if the company has a physical presence in that state.

Some states have attempted to force Internet companies to pay sales tax by redefining the terms so that smaller Internet companies that re-direct customers to larger firms are also considered part of the lager company. That expands the definition of having a physical presence in a state to include smaller companies affiliated with the larger retailer.

But retail groups have been seeking a federal law that would level the playing field.


Senate passes Keystone amendment

WASHINGTON, March 23 (UPI) -- Forty-five Republicans and 17 Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted yes to a budget amendment that recommends the Keystone XL oil pipeline be approved.

The budget amendment was approved with a 62-37 vote, The Hill newspaper reported Saturday.

The vote was largely considered symbolic, as the Senate's budget is non-binding. The next step in the process is reconciliation with the House budget and considerable changes are expected.

Nevertheless, the vote "puts the Senate on record in support of the Keystone pipeline project. And that's just appropriate, said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

"The Department of State has done four environmental impact statements over the last five years -- four -- and said there are no significant environmental impacts. And it's time that we in the Senate stepped up with the American people," Hoeven said.

As it stands, approval for the pipeline also requires agreement from the White House, because the pipeline, designed to bring oil from western Canada to the United States crosses an international border.

Hoeven, who submitted the pipeline amendment, has also proposed a law that would cut the White House out of the approval process.

President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision by the end of the year. The argument for and against the pipeline include Republicans, siding with some unions and industry groups, who believe the pipeline will create jobs and environmentalists who see the pipeline as an ecological risk.

Obama has not committed himself one way or another, but he has said he believed that much of the oil passing through the pipeline would be used for export, rather than for increasing supplies in the United States, which would lower prices here.

He has also said that the number of jobs the pipeline creates has been exaggerated by those supporting the project.

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