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Politics this week: 26th August – 1st September 2006

September 1, 2006 Leave a comment

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, visited Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Syria and the West Bank in an effort to bolster the fragile peace in Lebanon. But Hizbullah refused to release its Israeli prisoners and Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, rejected Mr Annan’s call to lift an air-and-sea blockade, saying he would wait until all terms of the ceasefire were implemented.

The senior American general in Iraq said that an American-led security drive in Baghdad was reducing the sectarian bloodshed and that Iraqi forces could be running most of the country in 12 to 18 months. But nearly 50 Iraqis were killed on August 30th, mostly in Baghdad. See article

The Ugandan government signed a truce with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, which has terrorised much of northern Uganda for the past 20 years. The rebels now have until September 12th to gather their forces at two designated camps in neighbouring southern Sudan before reaching a final peace settlement. See article

Thomas Lubanga, who led the Union of Congolese Patriots militia in the war-ravaged Ituri region of eastern Congo, was formally charged at the International Criminal Court in The Hague with recruiting child soldiers, a war crime. He is the first person to appear before the court, set up in 2002 to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudanese ministers told American officials that their government would not allow the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region of the country, where the mandate of the current (and inadequate) African Union force runs out at the end of this month.

Officials from Somalia’s UN-backed transitional government and its rival, the Council of Islamic Courts, which has conquered most of Somalia, met for peace talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

In Chad, President Idriss Déby proclaimed the start of a “revolution” by demanding the expulsion of two foreign oil companies, though he later revised his decision, demanding instead that they should pay $500m in taxes. See articleE+

EPA
EPA

George Bush went to New Orleans to commemorate the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and urged people to return to the city, which is making a patchy recovery from the flooding that followed the storm. See article

In a possible curtain-raiser to campaigning for November’s mid-term elections, Donald Rumsfeld attacked critics of the administration’s policies on Iraq and terrorism. The defence secretary accused them of appeasing a “new type of fascism” that they did not fully understand. See article

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, defying opposition from business lobbies and some fellow Republicans, agreed with Democrats who control the California legislature to cap the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 25% by 2020. California will be the first American state to impose such limits, which have been opposed by the Bush administration.

The Census Bureau reported that America’s poverty rate had basically remained unchanged in 2005 at 12.6% of the population, marking the first time the rate has not increased since Mr Bush became president. However, the good news was tempered by a rise in the number of people without health insurance: 46.6m in 2005 compared with 45.3m in 2004. See articleE+

A DNA test on John Mark Karr cleared him of the killing of JonBenet Ramsey in Colorado ten years ago. Mr Karr was extradited from Thailand after apparently confessing that he had killed the six-year-old beauty queen. See article

International peace monitors in Sri Lanka accused the army of killing 17 mostly Tamil employees of a French charity. The bodies of the aid workers were discovered last month near Muttur in the north-east of the country, where there has been heavy fighting between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels. The government vigorously denied the claim.

A series of small bomb-blasts hit at least 21 banks in southern Thailand. One person was reported killed in the blasts and dozens were injured. Islamist militants and criminal gangs have carried out similar attacks in the area.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, survived a vote of no-confidence filed by opposition politicians who accuse him of corruption. The vote came against the backdrop of an outbreak of violence in the province of Baluchistan following the killing of a rebellious tribal leader by the Pakistani army. See articleE+

Alfredo Reinado, a former military officer in Timor-Leste who is blamed for last spring’s unrest in the country, escaped from jail.

Felipe Calderón, a conservative, saw his narrow victory in Mexico’s presidential election all but confirmed by the federal electoral tribunal. The tribunal released the results of a partial recount, which reduced Mr Calderón’s margin of victory by just 4,000 votes. It has still to rule on other claims by the loser, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, that the election was unfair. See articleE+

An election in Guyana passed off peacefully, despite fears of a recurrence of violence that marred previous votes. A partial count gave victory to the president, Bharrat Jagdeo, and his People’s Progressive Party, on a reduced turnout. The opposition cried fraud. See articleE+

In another setback to the efforts of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s socialist president, to nationalise his country’s gas industry, the head of YPFB, the state oil and gas firm, was forced to resign over allegations of mismanagement.

Reuters
Reuters

A group calling itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for a wave of bomb attacks on tourist areas in Turkey that claimed the lives of three Turks and injured scores of other people. America appointed a former NATO general to help tackle Kurdish rebels based in Iraq. See article

The centre-left coalition that has governed the Czech Republic since a general election in June fell apart. A centre-right coalition now looks set to form a government, but as it lacks a majority in parliament another election seems likely.

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Business this week: 26th August – 1st September 2006

September 1, 2006 Leave a comment

Banca Intesa and Sanpaolo IMI, Italy’s second- and third-largest banks, confirmed they were to merge and so create one of Europe’s biggest financial institutions. The speed at which the banks’ boards decided to combine is seen as evidence that the new regime at the Bank of Italy is encouraging consolidation in the banking industry. See article

There was further embarrassment for BP as it emerged that it was being investigated for allegedly manipulating crude-oil and gasoline markets (a similar inquiry is under way into BP‘s influence on propane prices). A series of accidents and probes over the past 18 months has harmed the company’s reputation and put it in the crosshairs of America’s congressmen, who will grill executives next week.

Prudential Financial’s brokerage unit settled charges that it had been involved in the improper trading of mutual funds between 1999 and 2003. Several firms have been investigated by American authorities over their mutual-fund trading, but the broker, which will pay $600m to regulators, is the first to admit to “criminal wrongdoing” as part of a settlement.

Schering-Plough resolved an inquiry into its past drug-marketing practices in America by agreeing to pay $435m and admitting that it had tried to mislead the government.

In a challenge to the dominance of Apple’s iTunes in the market for music downloads, Universal Music said it would make its catalogue of ditties available free on a new start-up site, SpiralFrog. At first available in North America, the service will require consumers to watch 90-second advertisements before downloading a tune, which can then be stored for up to six months on a computer (but can’t be burned to a CD).

Another big online deal was sealed when eBay announced that advertising on its websites outside the United States would be handled by Google. The decision enables eBay to increase revenue from its internet-calling service, Skype. Google will incorporate “click to call” features on eBay’s sites so that consumers can talk directly to advertisers.

The mining industry saw another blockbuster deal. Goldcorp, a Canadian gold-miner, agreed to acquire Glamis Gold, based in Nevada, for which it will pay approximately $8.6 billion.

In one of the biggest-ever leveraged buy-outs, Kinder Morgan, an energy distributor and pipeline operator based in Houston, accepted a sweetened $15 billion offer from a consortium of private-equity groups and investors led by its chief executive and co-founder, Richard Kinder. The company had been considering an offer since May.

Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch consumer-goods company, sold most of its European frozen-foods activities to Permira, a private-equity group, for euro1.73 billion ($2.21 billion). The sale contains several brands, including Birds Eye, but Unilever will retain its ice-cream-making businesses, such as Ben & Jerry’s.

The president of Oji Paper admitted that his firm’s attempt to take over Hokuetsu Paper had failed. Oji’s was the first hostile bid from a Japanese blue-chip company for a domestic rival and observers had hoped a deal would spur Japan’s corporate culture to open up to Western business practices. However, Hokuetsu kept its shareholders on board by tactics that included the sale of a stake to Mitsubishi Corporation.

Telstra’s share price was turbulent after Australia’s government announced a scaled- down sale of its stake in the country’s biggest telecoms company. Around a third of the 51.8% stake will now be floated in the autumn in an A$8 billion ($6 billion) offering (the rest of the holding will be placed in a fund that will help pay for pensions). The decision not to sell the entire stake comes after a bad year for Telstra, which has seen its share price decline amid a regulatory imbroglio over network-access fees for its rivals.

It was reported that RUSAL had struck a deal to merge with SUAL, a Russian compatriot, and take over the aluminium assets of Glencore, a Swiss commodities group, thereby creating the world’s biggest aluminium producer. An official announcement is not expected for some weeks.

The price of oil dipped briefly below $70 a barrel for the first time in over two months.

American consumer confidence fell in August to its lowest level since November 2005, suffering its biggest one-month drop since Hurricane Katrina. A less favourable outlook on jobs, a slowdown in the housing market and high fuel prices all contributed to the decline in optimism. See articleE+

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Google Office; Foo Camp; Slow-Motion Disasters

September 1, 2006 Leave a comment

op Stories for the Week of August 28 – September 1

 Just in time for Burning Man: Google CEO Eric Schmidt got himself voted onto Apple’s board and now sits with luminaries like Al Gore and Steve Jobs. Considering some of the trouble Apple’s been in lately — suppliers suing newspapers over reports of overworked employees in China, a less-than-stellar environmental record, stock option backdating scandals — could this be a way for Google to outsource all the evil they’re supposedly not going to do? asks SFist. Valleywag lists six effects of the Schmidt move–like maybe now Google will stop being so damn ugly. But seriously: Don Dodge thinks Apple-Google cooperation is no big deal until money changes hands, and sometimes not even then. Infinite Loop says Steve Jobs runs the company and board members lack influence; a board seat just means you’re a friend of Steve’s.

 Mountain View hasn’t exactly been sitting still awaiting the Schmidt announcement. On Sunday, Google unveiled Google Apps for Your Domain, a set of Google tools (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and Google Page Creator) aimed at small businesses (via Lifehacker). So what, writes Microsoft Watchwhere’s the Word, the Excel, the PowerPoint? Red flags are going off for Om Malik who’s wary of Web-based stuff since AOL Datagate, but he thinks Mountain View will likely add Writely and Spreadsheets to poke Microsoft in the eye. And when the premium version comes out later this year (more storage, etc.), Paul Kedrosky figures even more money will get sucked out of the small-biz software market. Plus there’s the new eBay deal. Following its May domestic-advertising deal with Yahoo, eBay has struck a deal with Google so it will be the only text-ad provider on the auction giant’s international sites, blogs Download Squad, and will work on click-to-call tools that let customers call advertisers (via Paidcontent.org). eBay’s happy to straddle the fence between Yahoo and Google, blogs Ars Technica, because one handles U.S. ads and the other foreign. This is why Ray Noorda coined the term “coopetition,” blogs BusinessWeek Online.

If you were a FOO (Friend of O’Reilly) you might have been at the invite-only Foo Camp last weekend. It starts with everyone standing to give their name, affiliation and exactly three words, (via JoHo Blog) so Strange Attractor said, “Scaring businesses. Kittens.” Tim O’Reilly wrote about Chumby, a hackable, WiFi-enabled clock radio, while VentureBlog liked the Halfbaked.com; entrepreneurial improv theatre session, where participants turned randomly chosen two-word company names into a VC-ready business plans in just 15 minutes (Bottlecap Porn won.)

  In national news, Floridians exhaled as Ernesto came ashore as a weak tropical storm on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The anniversary mixed good news like the reopening of Mississippi’s Beau Rivage Resort and Casino (via Topix.net) with grim predictions that future disaster aid will only save the rich (via Guardian Unlimited). Mostly it just spurred endless What It Meant for America-style breast-beating, which made Robin Roberts’ simple recollection of a post-Katrina trip to her relatives’ home in Mississippi a breath of fresh air (via TVNewser).

In other slow-motion disasters, the housing bubble may deflate much faster than anyone expects and suck down 73,000 jobs a month (via reddit), and could be more damaging to the world economy than the dotcom crash. Read all about it every day on the Housing Bubble Blog, which runs cheerful headlines like “Housing Market ‘Chill’ Taking Toll.”

 In entertainment, plenty of YouTubers hate Paris Hilton as evidenced by a faux news report showing riots against the star in an Internet neighborhood called YouTube (via Blog Herald). Blog Herald also sights a sneak peek of Idolator, Gawker Media’s new music blog. No one knows why CBS Photoshopped a photo of Katie Couric to make her thinner and her suit darker–but it did (via Gawker). And finally, why did Snakes on a Plane have great blog buzz but flop at the box office? Freakonomics may have found the smoking gun: someone tampered with the movie’s IMDB rankings.

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