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Paterson Sets Wheels Into Motion

With sorrow, seriousness and a dollop of humor, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson opened his first full day as governor-in-waiting on Thursday, pledging his continued commitment to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s agenda but breaking markedly with the governor’s style.

In a flurry of meetings with legislative leaders, news conferences and briefings, Paterson began aggressively laying the groundwork for when he is formally sworn in as governor on Monday.

At a news conference on Thursday morning, Paterson said he would try to govern through consensus, declined to rule out an income tax increase and then took questions from an overflow crowd of reporters.

When asked whether he, like Spitzer, had ever patronized a prostitute, Paterson could not suppress his trademark dagger wit.

He paused, gave a sly smile, and answered, “Only the lobbyists.”

The tone Paterson set in his appearances was the most marked shift from Spitzer, who favored stern and high-flying oratory over self-deprecating humor.

“I kind of feel like the student who’s getting ready for the final exam but they didn’t attend any classes,” Paterson conceded Thursday morning in a radio interview broadcast from the Capitol.

In his remarks to reporters, Paterson signaled that he would remain committed to most of Spitzer’s priorities, including the broad outlines of the governor’s budget plan, a push for more restrictions on campaign donations and a $1 billion public investment fund to invigorate the upstate economy.

“I promised the governor yesterday that I would commit myself to the people of this great state, that we would have stability and continuity in those challenges that lie ahead,” said Paterson, a Democrat, at the news conference.

Unlike Spitzer, Paterson, who has favored tax increases on the wealthy in the past, did not rule out raising taxes to balance the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins April 1. The Assembly is pushing for a measure that would increase taxes on those earning more than $1 million to 7.7 percent from 6.85 percent. Briefly addressing Spitzer’s future, Paterson, 53, said he considered the governor a close friend, adding, “In my heart I feel he has suffered enough.” He acknowledged that some people might feel that prosecutors should pursue criminal charges against Spitzer.

The Dollar Reaches New Lows

How low can the dollar go?

Battered by bad news and mounting fears over the U.S. economy, the dollar plumbed new depths on Thursday, helping drive oil prices up to record levels.

The greenback traded at a new low of $1.56 against the euro, while oil prices closed at $110 a barrel. Early in the day, the dollar sank below 100 Japanese yen for the first time since 1995, but it ended the day slightly above that milestone.

The dollar has been declining in value against the euro and several other currencies since 2002, slamming travelers to Europe and American consumers purchasing European goods. Politicians are deploring the weak dollar as a sign of American economic decline and influence.

To make matters worse, many economists say that the problems of a sagging dollar are feeding off each other. As the dollar weakens, holders of dollars, especially those overseas, are aiming for better returns on their assets by diversifying their portfolios toward other currencies, sending the dollar into further decline.

AOL Buys No. 3 Social Networking Site

Bebo lacks the hundred million friends of MySpace and the charmed social status of Facebook. But it is the third most popular social networking Web site in the United States and, to the besieged Internet company AOL, it is worth $850 million.

AOL, a subsidiary of Time Warner, said Thursday that it would acquire Bebo and integrate the site with its popular AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), jump-starting AOL’s social networking strategy.

The chief executive of AOL, Randy Falco, called the deal a game-changer for the company, which has struggled to move from an Internet access business to an advertising-supported model. AOL has spent more than $1 billion to acquire the pieces for an advertising division called Platform A that would probably be used on Bebo.

Social networking sites — enabling online connections between friends, family and colleagues — are seen as a growing source of revenue for media companies, although making money has not been easy. The News Corp. purchased MySpace in 2005 for $580 million. Microsoft paid $240 million for 1.6 percent of Facebook in October.

In Lagging Haiti, First Lady Finds Optimism

Most Haitians are unemployed, but the first lady, Laura Bush, spoke to some of the fortunate few who do have jobs here in the poorest country in the hemisphere during her visit Thursday.

The trip was aimed at putting a positive face on some of the country’s social ills and highlighting what the Bush administration considers its success in helping to jump-start Haiti.

A young man who had dropped out of school told Bush how he had learned to repair automobile fuel systems through an American-supported jobs program and now earned a living wage. Several women who have received microloans talked about the small businesses that they had managed to build. Along the motorcade route, however, were thousands of jobless Haitians.

The first lady heard a classroom of barely literate teenagers in one of the capital’s poor neighborhoods reciting a Creole phrase meaning “I can read and write.” But that is true for only about half of Haiti’s population.

Bush, who stopped briefly in Haiti on her way to Mexico, also met with youngsters who had been infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but were receiving treatment and training.