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Archive for September 29, 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

Getty Images
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.

AP
AP

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

AFP
AFP

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 Variety.com). 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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