After 468 straight days of rain in the Mid-Atlantic, the sun came out briefly today, pulling many back from the ledges at Fool HQ. Then the clouds returned.

Martha Stewart and Sammy Sosa continued to dominate headlines with rumors circulating that Martha showed Sammy how to cork a bat -- with a decorative twist, no less. Now, the executive editor and managing editor of the venerable New York Times have resigned in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal.

Meanwhile, many in the financial media are talking about the Dow trying to sustain 9,000 -- as if it's some kind of magical number. What is it with nice, big round numbers? Why are we so preoccupied with them?

In today's Motley Fool Take:

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Quote of the Day

"Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons." -- Woody Allen

AOL Keeps Its Books

AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL) is taking its publishing division off the block after receiving some disappointing offers for the group. It had hoped to fetch around $400 million for the unit, which includes Little, Brown, & Co. and Warner Books, but no such generous buyers ever stepped up.

The media giant would have used the proceeds from the sale to chip away at its big, honking debt load of nearly $30 billion. CEO Richard Parsons has been and continues to be smartly focused on paying down AOL's debt. The company's been trying to generate cash for the effort by selling off non-core businesses. That's where the potential publishing division disposal came in.

AOL (one of David Gardner's Motley Fool Stock Advisor holdings) recently completed a sale of 50% of Comedy Central for $1.2 billion, and is still looking at shedding its Atlanta sports teams. It also may put its music manufacturing business up for sale, which is valued at about $1 billion. And in the fall, AOL hopes to spin off part of its cable unit. It has said it will use the first $2.1 billion in proceeds from the offering for debt reduction.

The publishing unit didn't represent a huge chunk of money, or a significant part of its debt reduction plans, compared to other assets the company's selling or trying to sell. Further, because of last week's resolution of the Netscape lawsuit, Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) will be forking over $750 million to AOL that could be used for debt reduction.

For these reasons, it isn't particularly troubling, or even surprising, that AOL is holding onto its book business. It doesn't signal a move away from its stated goal to shrink debt.

Discussion Board of the Day: AOL Time Warner

Is a breakup in AOL's future? There's talk once again of Time Warner spinning off the online unit, and our Fools are talking about it on the AOL Time Warner discussion board. Only on

European Rate Cut Helps

Today, the European Central Bank (ECB) finally relented to broad-based pressure for reduced interest rates, cutting its benchmark rate by 50 basis points (0.5 percentage points). This move, which many expected, brings the key European rate to 2.0%, its lowest level since World War II.

This long overdue decision to relax rates will provide much-needed stimulus to the European economy, which lately has been teetering on the verge of recession. While lower rates are not by any means the cure for all that ails Europe (e.g., overly high taxes, costly social safety nets, etc.), the increased liquidity will at least provide some modest boost to struggling European businesses. Fact is, any measure to prevent outright recession is worthwhile.

So why did the ECB wait so long to lower rates, you ask? Because the European bank has been too busy fighting the old war against inflation, failing to realize that the new war is against recession-induced deflation. Lately, European inflation has been declining, recently clocking in at 2.1%. In a weak economy, falling inflation is to be expected. Weakening economic demand causes prices to fall, which is why recessions are inherently disinflationary. The key for central banks is to make sure that demand doesn't dry up to the point of outright deflation. That's why today's decision by the ECB should be considered a positive.

And not just a positive for Europe, but for the entire global economy. A healthy Europe will provide better demand for imports from around the world, including those of American corporations.

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Quick Takes

As predicted, Martha Stewart has surrendered her roles as chairman and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(NYSE: MSO). She's sticking around on the company's board, though, and has been named chief creative officer. Board member Jeffrey Ubben will serve as chairman, and company president Sharon Patrick will ascend to CEO. Stewart also placed a large ad in USA Today and launched a new website today, proclaiming her innocence to the public.

In other media drama, The New York Times'(NYSE: NYT) top two editors have resigned. Executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd both quit today. The damage to the newspaper caused by plagiarizing "journalist" Jayson Blair proved insurmountable for the two longtime employees. Both had taken heat in the past few weeks for their handling of Blair when he was still at the Times and for their response to the crisis after he left.

Ford (NYSE: F) will be practically giving away cars through July 9, after the auto maker extended its current incentive promotion today. The program calls for rebates of up to $3,000 and 0% financing for up to five years on select cars and trucks. Ford sweetened the deal further by offering to match buyers' down payments up to $1,000 on new Ford Tauruses (Tauri, if you want to use correct Latin). Ford's announcement follows GM's(NYSE: GM) and Chrysler's(NYSE: DCX) similar moves earlier in the week to expand their incentive programs.

Six former bigwigs at Xerox(NYSE: XRX) have agreed to pay $22 million to settle civil charges brought by the SEC, which accused them of manipulating earnings between 1997-2000 to boost Xerox's stock price. Two of the company's former CEOs, Paul Allaire and Richard Thompson, will shell out the most, paying $8.6 million and $6.9 million, respectively.

And Finally...

Today on

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