Archive for September, 2006

Politics this week: 23rd – 29th September 2006

September 29, 2006 Leave a comment

Shinzo Abe, who was confirmed as Japan’s prime minister by the country’s parliament, picked a cabinet. He also cut his pay by 30% as a symbolic gesture to help reduce Japan’s huge public debt. See article

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Getty Images

The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf, held talks in Washington, DC, with George Bush. Tensions between both countries have increased lately with each blaming the other for the surge in Taliban violence, which was illuminated by a suicide-bomb in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province that killed 18 people. See article

The leaders of Thailand’s military coup resurrected a dormant corruption commission so it could begin investigating the previous government. A week after tanks rolled onto the streets, the coup retained the support of most Thais. See article

Sri Lanka’s navy said it had engaged Tamil rebels in a sea battle 80km (50 miles) off the strategic port of Trincomalee. The navy claimed to have killed 70 rebels in the encounter; the rebels said three.

George Bush released some parts of a classified report on trends in global terrorism after it was leaked to the press. The document stated that a number of factors were contributing to the spread of jihadist ideology, including the “cause célèbre”—as the authors called it—of the Iraq war. See article

As Congress prepared to adjourn ahead of November’s elections, the White House reached a compromise with Republicans who opposed Mr Bush’s plans for interrogating and trying terrorism suspects. But legislation that sought to settle the legality of Mr Bush’s wiretapping programme was held up by differing versions of the bill.

The Republicans chose Minneapolis-St Paul as the site for their convention in 2008, an indication of how close the party thinks the presidential race in the Midwest will be. The Democrats are still considering whether to hold their jamboree in Denver or New York.

New Orleans held a party to celebrate the city football team’s first game at the Louisiana Superdome since it was used to house evacuees from the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Saddam Hussein’s chaotic trial in Baghdad was adjourned until October 9th. The defence lawyers had walked out after a change of chief judge, and Saddam himself was ejected from court three times in a week.

British forces in Iraq killed Omar al-Farouq, said to be a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. Captured in Indonesia in 2002, he escaped from an American military prison in Afghanistan last year.


Israel freed Nasser al-Shaer, the Palestinian deputy prime minister, but about 30 Hamas politicians remain in custody.

An Israeli newspaper reported a secret meeting between a senior Saudi official and Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert. Saudi Arabia has been trying to revive a 2002 Arab initiative calling for recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

Russia and Iran signed a deal over Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr, which they say should be fully operational in November 2007.

The latest report of a UN inquiry into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, confirmed that he was killed by a suicide bomber but did not elaborate on who was behind the attack.

Islamist forces captured the Somali seaport of Kismayo, strengthening their hold on the south of the country. See article

The European Commission gave the go-ahead for Bulgaria and Romania to join the European Union next January. But it set tough conditions so as to monitor the two countries’ progress towards EU standards. Most existing members will impose labour-market restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians. See article

Tension rose between Russia and Georgia after the Georgians arrested four Russian officers in Tbilisi on spying charges. Russia demanded their immediate release.

Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, admitted to receiving several large loans from friends when he was finance minister in the 1990s. Mr Ahern insisted he had broken no ethical, tax or legal codes, and said the lenders refused his offers to repay the money.

Tony Blair gave his final speech as prime minister to the annual Labour Party conference. It was well received, even by his enemies, easing pressure on him to step down sooner than next May’s touted departure date. See article

A top Bosnian Serb leader, Momcilo Krajisnik, was given a 27-year jail sentence for war crimes by the UN tribunal in The Hague. Mr Krajisnik, who was once speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, was a close aide to Radovan Karadzic, who is still wanted on war-crimes charges.

A German opera company cancelled a production of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” because it featured a severed head of Muhammad, among other religious leaders. The row over self-censorship for fear of Muslim extremism overshadowed an Islamic conference held by the government. See article

Final opinion polls before Brazil’s presidential election suggested that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would win a second term, probably without the need for a run-off ballot. See article

The governor of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, whose capital city has been brought almost to a halt by protests for four months, called for the dispatch of federal police to impose order. The protesters want the governor sacked as they claim he was fraudulently elected. See article


In Guatemala, seven prisoners died when 3,000 troops and police stormed a prison that had been controlled for more than a decade by inmates, some of whom produced drugs and ran businesses inside the jail.

Venezuela lodged a diplomatic protest after its foreign minister was briefly detained while about to catch a flight from Kennedy airport in New York. American officials apologised. They said the minister had bought a ticket with cash just 30 minutes before the flight and had refused extra security checks.

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Business this week: 23rd – 29th September 2006

September 29, 2006 Leave a comment

The spotlight stayed on Hewlett-Packard’s boardroom spying scandal as Congress prepared to grill company officials about the affair. The big question is how much Mark Hurd, HP‘s chief executive, knew about the methods used in an investigation to uncover a company leak? Mr Hurd is now chairman too: he took over when Patricia Dunn stepped down on September 22nd, soon after Mr Hurd gave his first public account of the shenanigans. Ms Dunn had intended to step down next January. See article

An American federal judge ruled that a claim filed in 2004 against tobacco companies, alleging that they misleadingly marketed “light” cigarettes as comparatively safe, could proceed as a class-action lawsuit. With the potential to include tens of millions of smokers, it is thought to be the country’s largest class-action suit yet. The share price of big tobacco firms fell sharply. See article

It emerged that Johnson & Johnson is seeking $5.5 billion in damages from Boston Scientific and Abbott Laboratories for breaching J&J‘s 2004 merger agreement with Guidant, a maker of medical devices. J&J eventually lost a protracted bidding war for Guidant to Boston earlier this year. Abbott was also involved in the deal.

Rick Wagoner and Carlos Ghosn held talks in Paris about the mooted alliance between General Motors, Renault and Nissan, Renault’s affiliate. It was the chief executives’ first meeting since the idea was floated by Kirk Kerkorian, an investor who owns almost 10% of GM, in June. Since then, speculation has increased that GM would rather concentrate on its own restructuring plans, but both sides agreed to continue exploring the “potential opportunities” of a deal and report in the middle of October.

PSA Peugeot Citröen announced cost-saving measures that include the loss of 10,000 jobs, or 7% of its European workforce. Europe’s second-biggest carmaker is suffering from an erosion of its market position, attributed to the staleness of its models.

Aer Lingus priced its initial public offering towards the lower range of expectations, valuing the Irish state-owned carrier at euro1.13 billion ($1.4 billion) when it starts trading next week. The flotation is regarded as a gauge of investors’ appetite for airline shares after recent security scares—Aer Lingus will be the first airline to make its debut on the London Stock Exchange since easyJet in 2000.

Jacob “Kobi” Alexander was arrested in Namibia, several weeks after he went on the run to escape charges in a stock-option scandal stemming from when he was chief executive of Comverse. American regulators are to ask for the extradition of Mr Alexander, whose flight initiated a global manhunt and numerous alleged sightings.

Andrew Fastow received a six-year prison sentence for the part he played in Enron’s collapse. The energy-trading company’s former chief financial officer had agreed to a ten-year term as part of a plea bargain, but the judge reduced this because of the “exceptional” help Mr Fastow had given to the prosecution.

Germany’s E.ON raised its bid for Endesa by almost 40%, valuing a merger with the Spanish utility at around euro37 billion ($47 billion). E.ON acted after learning that Acciona, a Spanish construction group, had taken a 10% stake in Endesa, putting a further potential obstacle in the German company’s path. Spain’s government was criticised by the European Commission this week for its attempts to block the cross-border acquisition.

The battle for Endesa was not the only Spanish utility deal to excite investors. ACS, a Spanish building firm, bought a 6.3% stake, worth euro2.1 billion ($2.7 billion), in Iberdrola, the country’s second-biggest power company. ACS also dampened speculation that it was trying to pursue a merger with Union Fenosa, a utility of which it is the controlling shareholder, and displace Endesa as Spain’s biggest utility.

Consolidation among European drug companies continued apace as UCB reached an agreement to buy Schwarz Pharma for euro4.4 billion ($5.6 billion). The announcement came four days after Merck unveiled its acquisition plans for Serono, and Altana said it would sell its pharmaceutical business to Nycomed. See article

The price of oil briefly dipped below $60 a barrel for the first time since March. See article

American consumer confidence rebounded in September from August’s sharp fall (the news was one element pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average towards a new high). Cheaper petrol prices were said to be the main factor fuelling the optimism.

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Clinton Smackdown; Techmeme Brilliance; Woz Confesses

September 29, 2006 Leave a comment

Smackdown! Bloggers went wild this week as President Clinton barked back at Fox’s Chris Wallace over pre-9/11 efforts against Al-Qaeda and the results made the rounds on YouTube. YouTube’s about bursts of emotion, not ideological saturation, blogs the Times’ Screens blog, while BuzzMachine says Fox lost future viewers by taking the interview clip down, particularly since Clinton’s appearance generated the best ratings in three years (via Despite Clinton’s protests, the CIA’s Michael Scheuer says Clinton flubbed several opportunities to take out bin Laden blogs Knowledge Is Power and TownHall writes that Clinton’s rage might have just been calculated to motivate the Democratic base.

Plenty of bloggers also went crazy over Techmeme’s brilliantly simple sponsorship model, which is another nail in ad agencies’ coffin: Advertisers like Socialtext simply write a new blog post-slash-ad and it’s automatically uploaded to Techmeme’s page. It’s the first viable form of social advertising, says /Message, and the price is reasonable too. Wizbang Tech blogs that readers will trust Techmeme’s recommendation model of advertising. Digital Inspiration thinks Techmeme’s ad structure is good enough to get Gabe Rivera an invite to Federated Media.

 In other tech-blog news, Digg’s founders soaked up a million in VC for Revision3, an Internet video production house aimed at mobile phone/podcasting demand (via VentureBeat). Programs like DiggNation are already pulling in $100,000 a month with no ad team, writes Mashable!, and $1 million will help Revision3 hire a team and rent an office. Meanwhile Scobleizer has a new online show writes business2blog and BoingBoing has a weekly podcast featuring a blogger roundtable (via Bloggers Blog).

Dozens of new products made their debut at the ultra-exclusive tech conference Demo 2006 this week. Read/Write Web likes MojoPac which allows Windows users to save their entire PC onto a USB or iPod and BuzzLogic for tracking social influence on the Web – and is liveblogging the whole event. Also this week, Jajah announced its killer product for seamless phone-to-phone VoIP, and TechCrunch says it solves problems that have plagued mobile VoIP services. Only Symbian and Java-enabled phones can use it right now, writes OhGizmo!, although more are on the way. ZDNet Blog discounts threats to existing cells or VoIP, since cell users are already locked into plans and won’t have anyone they can talk to.

People talk at Google because the founders built it that way, writes Google Blogoscoped;  even telling Larry Page you just lost several million company dollars is a good thing in Mountain View. If you earn considerably more than several million a year, you might have made the Forbes 400 list-that means you, Larry-and Paul Kedrosky writes that these gazillionaires are distributed remarkably evenly across the U.S. If they ever need to talk with one another, Microsoft is ready with its Wallop social-networking spinoff It’s got big advantages (excellent network visualization, great mods) and disadvantages (Flash-based, and how do you permalink?). Think of it as a combination of MySpace and Second Life, reports Red Herring: a social network where you pay for bling.

 Problems paying for things may make eBay pull out of China, because of competitive pressure from China’s Taobao and pending regulation of online payment systems like PayPal. VentureBeat thinks that this would be a major defeat for Silicon Valley companies, given that Google is already getting trounced by Chinese competitor Baidu.

Finally, Steve Wozniak’s iWoz is in bookstores everywhere and it tells how young Steve phreaked into the Vatican phone system to try and wake the Pope at 5:30 a.m. Tragically, it’s also full of stories of Jobs and Wozniak debating who was better – Dylan or the Beatles?

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Business this week: 16th – 22nd September 2006

September 21, 2006 Leave a comment

Concerns were raised about the regulation of hedge funds after Amaranth Advisors, based in Connecticut, lost billions of dollars because it misjudged the natural-gas futures market; its losses this month could reach 65% of its funds. As speculators, including Goldman Sachs, counted their losses, Christopher Cox, head of America’s Securities and Exchange Commission, gave warning that certain types of hedge funds are not appropriate for individual investors. See article

Russia was criticised by Europe and Japan after withdrawing its approval, on environmental grounds, of a permit required for a $20 billion energy project led by Royal Dutch Shell on the eastern island of Sakhalin. The decision to revoke the licence (which must be approved by regulators) raises the chances that Gazprom, the state gas monopoly, will force its way into the project. See articleE+

Responding to speculation, which was putting pressure on its share price, EADS confirmed that there would be “further delays” in the production of Airbus’s A380. The planemaker’s parent company gave no details (a review of the super-jumbo’s production is expected soon).

Scania, a Swedish truckmaker, rejected a euro9.6 billion ($12.2 billion) takeover bid from MAN, a German rival. Scania’s two leading shareholders, Volkswagen and the investment arm of Sweden’s Wallenberg family, believe the offer undervalues the company. But a battle for control seemed certain after MAN received the support of Renault, which holds a 5% voting stake in Scania. See article

Ford said it had employed the services of Sir John Bond, Vodafone’s chairman and a former chairman of HSBC, as a part-time financial consultant to Bill Ford, the carmaker’s chairman. Last week investors showed little enthusiasm when Mr Ford unveiled plans for 10,000 more white-collar job cuts and two additional plant closures.

Detroit’s woes continued as DaimlerChrysler’s boss, Dieter Zetsche, predicted that Chrysler would make a loss for the year, rather than a previously forecast profit. As it continues to lose market share in North America, the carmaker is making additional cuts to vehicle production this year. See article

The row over Telecom Italia’s restructuring scheme intensified when the company’s chairman resigned in apparent protest at government meddling. The centre-left government and unions say they will oppose TI‘s plan to spin off its fixed-line and mobile businesses to concentrate on broadband and media services. But TI‘s commitment to the plan was underscored when it announced the acquisition of AOL‘s broadband business in Germany. See article

A consortium of private-equity firms led by Blackstone looked set to seal a $17.6 billion bid for Freescale Semiconductors after a rival consortium ended negotiations on its offer. Freescale, once part of Motorola, accepted Blackstone’s bid, but has 50 days to solicit other offers. See article

Motorola made its biggest acquisition since it took over General Instruments in 2000 by agreeing to buy Symbol Technologies for $3.9 billion. The deal allows Motorola to expand its corporate logistics business; Symbol makes hand-held devices (often used in supermarkets) for tracking stock and reading radio-identification tags.

Oracle reported a 29% increase in net profit for the quarter ending August 31st, compared with a year earlier—evidence that Larry Ellison’s strategy is working. Mr Ellison has spent $20 billion in acquisitions over the past three years, and maintained that his spree would result in higher profits. More tellingly, Oracle’s sales of new software licences rose sharply, indicating stable future revenues from its core business.

Serono, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, which had been searching for someone to take it over, finally found a buyer. Merck, a German rival, said it would buy the 64.5% stake in Serono held by the Bertarelli family for SFr16.6 billion ($13.3 billion) and make an offer for the remaining shares.

Another long-running drugs saga, over the purchase of PLIVA, a Croatian drugs company, came to a head when Actavis, an Icelandic rival, withdrew its bid, leaving a $2.5 billion offer from Barr Pharmaceuticals on the table.

America’s Federal Reserve left the federal funds rate unchanged at 5.25%. The decision came after it was reported that America’s headline inflation rate had fallen by more than expected in August, partly because of a slower increase in energy prices, which rose by 0.3% in August compared with 2.9% in July.

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Politics this week: 16th – 22nd September 2006

September 21, 2006 Leave a comment

The leaders of Thailand’s (bloodless) military coup gave assurances that a new prime minister would be named shortly and promised new elections within a year. A military junta seized power after months of political limbo following April’s contentious general election. Thaksin Shinawatra, who had retained the post of prime minister, was in New York at the time of the coup. He was told he was welcome to return, but could face corruption charges. See article

Shinzo Abe was virtually assured of becoming Japan’s next prime minister after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party chose him as its leader. Although a protégé of Junichiro Koizumi, who steps down at the end of this month, observers have questioned Mr Abe’s commitment to a reform agenda. See article

A suicide-bomber riding a bicycle killed four NATO soldiers in a district of southern Afghanistan, one day after the district had been declared free of Taliban insurgents. Britain’s defence secretary admitted that battling the insurgents was “harder than we expected” and urged NATO countries to respond to a request for 2,500 extra troops.

The White House and Senate leaders sought a compromise on interrogating terrorist suspects after a mini-revolt by leading Republicans, including John McCain. The rebels backed legislation to bring America more in line with the Geneva Conventions. George Bush, in a testy press conference, warned he would shut a CIA interrogation programme if he didn’t get his way.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private charity, offered $50m (if others stumped up a further $100m) from Warren Buffett to create a nuclear fuel bank run by the IAEA, the UN‘s nuclear guardian. The aim is to encourage countries to buy civilian nuclear-reactor fuel, rather than make their own using proliferation-prone technologies.

California launched a lawsuit against six carmakers for the impact of vehicle emissions on climate change. Although carmakers have been sued to force a reduction in emissions before, this is the first time that a state has sought damages for the consequences.


Hungary’s capital, Budapest, was hit by successive nights of riots and car-burnings as protesters took to the streets after a leaked tape revealed that the prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, had misled them about the state of the economy. Mr Gyurcsany was quoted as saying, before his Socialist Party won re-election in April, that “we lied morning, noon and night.” He refused to resign. See article

Muslims around the world continued to protest, sometimes violently, over the pope’s recent lecture quoting a Byzantine emperor’s negative views of Islam. The Vatican issued a rare apology for any offence that had been caused, and the pope’s trip to Turkey in November is still on. See article

In their general election, disgruntled Swedes threw out the long-serving Social Democrats led by Goran Persson in favour of a four-party centre-right alliance under Fredrik Reinfeldt. Mr Reinfeldt will have a narrow majority of seven seats, but that is enough for him to form a new government, which promises modest tax and welfare cuts and some privatisation. See articleE+

The breakaway Moldovan enclave of Transdniestria held a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly opted for independence and possible union with Russia. No outside body endorsed the vote, not even Russia. See article

In two state elections in eastern Germany, the Christian Democrats, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, lost heavily. And the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party won a clutch of seats in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania for the first time.

Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, told the United Nations that 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur could stay for a bit, despite an earlier threat to throw them out, but rejected the plan for a bigger UN force. The Security Council and African leaders tried to work out how to make the African force more robust. See article

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the UN General Assembly that America and Britain were using the Security Council for their own ends. George Bush adopted a relatively conciliatory tone in his address to the body, saying he hoped diplomacy could solve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme. See article

General John Abizaid, America’s top military commander in the region, said that America is unlikely to begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq until mid-2007.

Abdullahi Yusuf, the president of Somalia (or at least of its temporary capital, Baidoa), narrowly escaped assassination by a suicide car-bomb, which killed several people.

A judge in South Africa threw out a corruption case against Jacob Zuma, a former deputy president, before it properly began. Mr Zuma was acquitted of rape earlier this year and it now looks as if he will run for president in 2009. See article

The World Health Organisation recommended that use of the insecticide DDT, which was more or less banned because of its effects on wildlife, should be actively encouraged in certain circumstances: people who live in malarious areas should spray their houses to kill mosquitoes.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the failed left-wing candidate in Mexico‘s presidential election in July, proclaimed himself president-elect, promised to set up a rival government and vowed to continue his campaign of “peaceful civil resistance”. But his populist movement of opposition to president-elect Felipe Calderón is losing momentum. See article

Brazil‘s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, sacked his campaign chief, Ricardo Berzoini, just 11 days before the presidential election amid ongoing allegations of dirty tricks. Mr Berzoini is president of the governing Workers’ Party. Two other Lula advisers resigned.

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Getty Images

More than 50 heads of state from the 118-strong Non-Aligned Movement gathered in Havana for their three-yearly summit. The shrillest speeches came from the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, who all predictably aligned themselves behind criticism of America, while the leaders of India and Pakistan encouragingly agreed to resume peace talks.

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Politics this week: 9th – 15th September 2006

September 14, 2006 Leave a comment

America commemorated the fifth anniversary of the terrorist strikes of September 11th 2001. In a series of solemn events, George Bush went to Ground Zero in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to honour the almost 3,000 victims of the attacks.

In a nationally televised broadcast, Mr Bush once again made the link between September 11th and the war in Iraq. Democrats rejected it, and a long-awaited Senate report on pre-war intelligence disclosed the CIA‘s conclusion of no links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

In a closely watched race, Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican senator who has often opposed the party line, won his primary election in Rhode Island. Mr Chafee faced a strong challenge from the right, but the national party pulled out all the stops to help him win, conceding it would forfeit the seat in November if he lost. See article

Keith Ellison beat the competition to become the Democratic candidate for the congressional district that includes Minneapolis. If he wins, as expected, in the mid-term elections, Mr Ellison will become the first Muslim to sit in Congress.

Adrian Fenty won the Democratic primary for mayor of Washington, DC, virtually ensuring that he will be elected to the post in November. Anthony Williams, the incumbent, has served the maximum of two terms. See articleE+

A bomb blast in Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish south-eastern region of Turkey, killed 11 people. Turkey has experienced an upsurge of violence by separatist Kurdish guerrilla groups recently.

The deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank, Andrei Kozlov, was shot dead in the grounds of a leading Moscow football club by two gunmen. Mr Kozlov had been revoking licences for banks suspected of involvement in money laundering.

After infighting last week, senior figures in Britain’s Labour Party attempted to dampen further speculation about the date of Tony Blair’s eventual departure from office. The plea seemed to work. Meanwhile, following his confirmation that he would be gone within a year, Mr Blair made his last visit to the annual gathering of Britain’s trade unions. His speech was received with even less grace than usual. See article

The coalition led by Milo Djukanovic, prime minister of Montenegro, easily won the first election held since the country became independent in May. Mr Djukanovic is hoping to restart talks on joining the European Union.


A meeting of NATO at Mons, in Belgium, failed to produce offers of fresh troops to reinforce the security force in Afghanistan. Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state, had given warning that Afghanistan risked becoming a dangerous failed state, a markedly more downbeat assessment than before. Poland later offered to send 1,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, but not until February.

Police in India said they were exploring the possibility of a link between last week’s bomb attacks in the western town of Malegaon, which killed 32 people, and July’s bombings in Mumbai. The latest attacks came before this week’s expected meeting in Havana, Cuba, between India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf. See articleE+

China announced a new, more restrictive system of controls on the reporting of court cases. Leaks from anyone other than authorised spokesmen will be punished.

Ubiratan Guimar��es, Brazil’s former chief of police, who was held responsible for the deaths of 111 prisoners in a riot in a S��o Paulo jail in 1992, was found shot dead at his home. Although the target of frequent death threats, police believe his murder to have been a crime of passion. See articleE+

An American court ruled that Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban former CIA agent, should be released from an immigration centre. He is wanted by Cuba and Venezuela in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane that killed 73 people and a plot to kill Fidel Castro. The Americans refuse to deport him, believing he could be tortured.

Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, and Fatah, which used to, agreed to form a national unity government. Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, is expected to stay on as prime minister. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, will be in charge of negotiations with Israel. It remains unclear whether Western countries will resume aid to the PA. See articleE+

A car-bomb attack on the American embassy in Damascus was thwarted by local security forces. Three of the attackers and one Syrian security man were killed.

Violence in Iraq continued undiminished. The bodies of 60 people were found on one day in Baghdad bound, tortured and shot; car bombs claimed yet more victims. A health ministry report says that 1,536 people were violently killed in Baghdad in August.

Tony Blair went to Lebanon for talks with his Lebanese counterpart, Fouad Siniora, about aid for the country. Leading Shia politicians accused him of supporting Israel during its recent conflict with Hizbullah and some 2,000 pro-Hizbullah protesters took to the streets of Beirut.

Experts from the World Health Organisation flew to C��te d’Ivoire after deadly toxic waste was dumped last month in residential areas of Abidjan, the country’s biggest city. At least six people have died from the pollution and some 10,000 have suffered illness. A public backlash forced the government to resign last week. See articleE+


Unions called a day of protest in Zimbabwe, complaining about miserable living conditions, a lack of AIDS treatment for the poor and the fast-collapsing economy. Police detained union leaders before they could march and chased away protesters.

The African Union approved a plan for the deployment of 8,000 peacekeepers to Somalia. The deployment is supposed to take place within weeks, but member countries have yet to stump up the soldiers and money required for the mission.

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Business this week: 9th – 15th September 2006

September 14, 2006 Leave a comment

In an effort to take some of the heat out of a boardroom spying scandal at Hewlett-Packard, Patricia Dunn announced she would step down as chairman in January (in favour of the company’s chief executive Mark Hurd). Ms Dunn, who will remain on the board, has been criticised for her handling of the affair, which revolves around the dubious methods used by outside investigators in uncovering the source of a series of boardroom leaks. California’s attorney-general said he now has enough information to bring charges in the case. See article

Dell revealed that the Justice Department has joined a widening investigation into the company’s accounting. Michael Dell, the computer-maker’s chairman, threw his support behind Kevin Rollins, the chief executive.

It emerged that a Russian state-owned bank has taken a 5% stake in EADS, making it the biggest investor in Airbus’s parent company outside its “core” group of shareholders. It is thought the holding was bought on behalf of a state company set up to co-ordinate strategy in Russia’s aerospace industry. An aide to President Vladimir Putin fuelled speculation about how deep a partnership Russia is seeking with EADS by implying that the bank might raise its holding to acquire a blocking stake.

Meanwhile, Mike Turner, the chief executive of BAE Systems, which is selling its 20% stake in Airbus to EADS, said he would be “surprised” if there were no more delays to the A-380 super-jumbo. Airbus is assessing the project after a series of hold-ups.

Bristol-Myers Squibb dismissed both its chief executive and general counsel for their conduct in negotiations with Apotex, a Canadian maker of generic drugs, in a patent lawsuit. The decision to sack the pair was made on the recommendation of a federal judge who is monitoring corporate governance at Bristol-Myers as part of a deferred prosecution deal, struck with investigators last year, over a separate accounting scandal.

The Internal Revenue Service settled the largest-ever tax dispute in its history. America’s taxman reached an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline, a British drugs company, in which it will pay $3.4 billion to resolve charges that it tried to minimise its tax bill by underreporting its American profits through a system of transfer pricing. GSK will also drop its claim that it is owed $1.8 billion by the IRS.

Two big Wall Street banks cheered investors by reporting better-than-expected quarterly earnings. Goldman Sachs recorded a net profit of $1.6 billion for the three months ending August 25th, down slightly from a year ago (and reversing a trend of stellar increases in earnings), but the bank beat estimates thanks to its investment-banking operations. Lehman Brothers said its net income for the quarter ending August 31st had risen by 4% to $916m.

Nationwide agreed to take over Portman, the biggest merger yet among Britain’s mutually owned building societies, creating the country’s second-largest mortgage lender after HBOS.

Gold Fields struck a $2.5 billion deal to take control of the South Deep mine near Johannesburg, one of the world’s biggest and deepest gold mines. The South African miner’s gold reserves will increase by half as a result, taking it closer in size to rivals such as Newmont Mining.

Telecom Italia caused a political storm when it unveiled a plan to spin off its fixed-line and mobile arms in two separate enterprises, hinting that both are up for sale. TI completed the merger of its mobile-phone unit only last year, but now wants to direct its attention to broadband and media services. Any potential sale would help reduce the company’s euro41 billion ($52 billion) debt, which almost exceeds its market value. See article

Apple Computer unveiled its latest service, films which can be downloaded from its iTunes website. Only Disney titles are available. Amazon introduced a similar service last week, Unbox, which offers films from seven Hollywood studios. See article

News Corporation agreed to buy 51% of Jamba, which specialises in ringtones for mobile phones, for $188m. The deal gives Rupert Murdoch control of a firm that last year recorded sales of $500m, having unleashed the “Crazy Frog” ringtone on the world.

The price of oil continued to retreat from recent highs, falling to the level it reached in early spring. One factor that affected trading was OPEC‘s decision not to lower its production quotas (for the time being). However, the head of the IMF warned that oil prices would remain high by comparison with recent years. See article

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Federer vs Roddick – From – US Open Final

September 11, 2006 Leave a comment
Federer Roddick
1st Serve Percentage 61 66
Aces 17 7
Double Faults 0 1
1st Serve Winning Pct. 84 65
2nd Serve Winning Pct. 50 39
Winners 69 33
Unforced Errors 19 23
Break Points 6-16 2-8
Net Points 26-38 26-49
Total Points Won 126 99
Time of Match: 2:27
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Six Apart Buys Rojo; Tech Froth; Apple iPhone

September 8, 2006 1 comment

op Stories for the Week of September 4 – September 8

 Word of the week: frothy. The tech industry is spewing companies and Web doohickeys and blog amalgamizers and Internet contraptions like video social-networking wiki cooking sites says Kevin Maney. Translation: It’s out of control. The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee tried putting some brakes on the hype, calling Web 2.0 “a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means.” Blogger reaction was not what you’d call subdued: Web 2.0 launched a lengthy defense of Web 2.0’s architectures of participation. Um right. Dead 2.0 agreed with Berners-Lee that hype has outstripped 2.0 technology, while Scobleizer says of course it’s a bubble-a froth bubble-and here’s how to step outside it.

 Back inside the reality distortion field, Apple announced an event September 12 to showcase what’s rumored to be the iTunes Movie Store, (via CrunchGear) although Cult of Mac said don’t count on it; the timing’s all wrong and where are the invitations, anyway? Oh, here they are-it’s real, alright. But blogs that there’s no demand for full-length video downloads anyway. Gizmodo thinks a long-awaited iPhone intro will happen soon, to the point where brokers are recommending an AAPL “buy” before the phone’s release.

 Facebook launched its redesign but it’s visibly tracking users’ movements-and telling their friends what some of them are, reports Mashable! Plenty of users are creeped out. Meanwhile, SiliconBeat blogged that YouTube is now on Facebook’s turf with YouTube Colleges, while ProHipHop is upbeat about MySpace selling indie music through Snocap’s back end. This is no iTunes competitor since the songs are unrestricted MP3s, writes Go Big Blog Network, but NetFamily News says it’s yet more bad news for Tower Records.

 And Rojo (that’s this service, folks) was bought by Six Apart this week blogs TechCrunch and calls it one of his favorite web sites (thanks, Mike!). There are getting to be fewer and fewer feed readers say GigaOm (note on that link: Rojo is not being rolled into Vox) as feed reading becomes a feature on other sites. Instead Six Apart will continue to focus on its core business while and its newsreader will be spun off with the goal of selling a majority interest (see for more). We’re going to see lots of these kind of deals blogs Mark Evans as Web 2.0 start-ups scramble into the arms of well-financed Web 2.0 players.

In other major media news, the Audit Bureau of Circulation will start combining print and online audience numbers to determine readership, blogs BuzzMachine, but the model’s flawed since it only takes a one-day snapshot and doesn’t count people who read both the online and paper versions of a publication. It may not matter, writes Don Dodge, since newspapers and magazines are dying off anyway.

 In entertainment news, Rosie O’Donnell is about to join Barbara Walters on The View, but not before blogging her complaints bout the show’s promotion. Walters asked her to stop, according to Micro Persuasion, but that’s not the week’s only rocky beginning. Katie Couric finally tried her hand at journalism, with mixed results, writes Gothamist: decent Afghanistan coverage but a bit Entertainment Tonight with the Suri Cruise “coverage.” Of course Suri is beautiful, writes Blogging Baby, but that’s what you get from a super-secret Annie Liebovitz photo shoot. Suri aside, TV Squad liked the Free Speech segment where well-known personalities like Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher will get to say what’s on their minds, and recommended that Katie sign off by saying “I’m Katie Couric, and I like asparagus.” The show generated big ratings for Katie and CBS, giving the network its highest ratings in that time slot since 1998.

Finally and sadly, bloggers mourned the death of TV’s Crocodile Hunter and famed conservationist Steve Irwin after he was stabbed through the heart by a stingray in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Crikey! The whole thing was caught on film but the tape will likely be destroyed writes Gothamist. Animal Planet plans an all-day tribute September 10, and Irwin’s father will take over his son’s conservation work reports Blogcritics. A video tribute to Irwin is here.

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Politics this week: 2nd – 8th September 2006

September 7, 2006 Leave a comment

Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, suffered his worst week since taking power in 1997. He was plunged into a leadership crisis when some of his Labour Party MPs pushed him to set a timetable for his departure from office. Britain’s political class has talked of little else but the date of Mr Blair’s leaving since he announced his intention to quit in good time before the next general election. See article

A survey of European public opinion revealed rising disapproval of George Bush’s handling of international affairs. The survey, conducted by the German Marshall Fund, found that 77% of European Union citizens disapproved of the American president, up from 56% four years ago.

After a controversial debate, Turkey’s parliament voted by a substantial majority to send troops to join the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The foreign ministry said the Turkish contingent was likely to be made up of fewer than 1,000 soldiers.

A report from the European Parliament was critical of Turkey’s progress in membership negotiations with the EU. The report said that Turkey was failing to fulfil promises on human rights and on relations with Cyprus.

At a youth rally for the centre-right UMP party, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, emerged as the clear candidate for the party in France’s presidential election next spring. His most popular Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal, is still being challenged by heavyweight contenders within her party. See article

Catching some of his critics off guard, George Bush confirmed the existence of a secret CIA programme for interrogating suspected terrorists in foreign prisons. He announced that 14 of the prisoners, including the alleged mastermind behind September 11th, were to be transferred to Guantánamo Bay where they may be tried by revamped military tribunals awaiting Congress’s approval. See articleE+

Campaigning for November’s mid-term elections began in earnest as congressmen returned to Washington from their August break. Republicans stuck to their familiar theme of national security (see above). The Democrats focused their attacks on Donald Rumsfeld, calling for a change in the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. The party said America had been made less secure by following a “stay-the-course strategy” in Iraq. See articleE+

The former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail for his part in a corruption scandal that convulsed the state Republican Party for years. Mr Ryan made world headlines when he commuted the capital sentences of prisoners on Illinois’s death row shortly before he left office in 2003.

Columnists mulled over last week’s (downplayed) allegation that Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, was the original source that leaked Valerie Plame’s name to the press. For months, journalists had focused on Karl Rove, Mr Bush’s top adviser, as the source.

In separate visits to Kabul, Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, and NATO‘s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, pledged more co-operation with Afghanistan in fighting the Taliban. NATO‘s top commander called for troop reinforcements to fight a stronger than expected insurgency in Afghanistan’s south. See articleE+

Meanwhile, Pakistan insisted its army spokesman had been misquoted in an interview for American television in which the official said that Osama bin Laden would not be taken into custody if he was in Pakistan as a “peaceful citizen”.


Protests calling for electoral reform ahead of January’s election in Bangladesh turned violent in the capital, Dhaka. The main opposition party alleged that one of its politicians was beaten by police.

Fighting continued in Sri Lanka’s north-east between the government and Tamil rebels. The army claimed it had won control of a strategic area near the port city of Trincomalee, an important industrial and naval centre.

Israel said it would lift its air-and-sea blockade of Lebanon, as UN peacekeeping forces began to move into the south of the country; nearly 10,000 troops have been pledged, but the UN wants 15,000. Earlier, at a conference in Sweden, governments of rich countries promised to provide nearly $1 billion towards rebuilding Lebanon after its 34-day war.

At a preliminary hearing, a state prosecutor asked for Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s former deputy president, whose supporters still want him to be the next president, to be tried next month for corruption.

More than 60 international HIV scientists, calling the South African government’s policy on the virus “disastrous and pseudo-scientific”, sent a letter to President Thabo Mbeki to demand the resignation of his health minister.

The governments of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda said they were ready, in principle, to send peacekeepers to Somalia to stop the conflict between the UN-backed transitional government and the Council of Islamic Courts. Islamists in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, protested against foreign intervention.

Police in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, fired tear gas at demonstrators protesting against higher fuel prices. Opposition to the Islamist regime is getting bolder as the government faces pressure from the UN to let a peacekeeping force into Darfur, where troops are threatening to launch an all-out assault on rebels. See articleE+


Two months after Mexico’s presidential election, the country’s electoral tribunal delivered its final verdict: Felipe Calderón, the candidate of President Vicente Fox’s ruling party, had won. But Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the loser, continued to dispute the result and threatened to declare himself president. See article

A 25-day strike at Chile’s Escondida mine, the world’s biggest privately owned copper mine, ended after workers accepted a new contract. See articleE+

Cuba’s ailing president, Fidel Castro, who temporarily ceded power to his brother after undergoing intestinal surgery, said that “the most critical moment” was behind him and that he was on the road to recovery.

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