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Politics this week: 13th – 19th January 2007

January 18, 2007 Leave a comment

The American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, toured the Middle East to promote George Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq; she also sounded out the Palestinians and Israelis over the possibility of reviving a peace process, and proposed a three-way meeting soon. As well as Israel and the Palestinian territories, she visited Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. See article

Israel’s top general, Dan Halutz, resigned over the handling of last summer’s war in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the justice ministry announced a criminal investigation into corruption allegations against the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, whose government looks increasingly fragile.

Reuters
Reuters

Sectarian carnage in Iraq persisted. A bomb attack on a university in Baghdad killed at least 70 people, many of them female students, while attacks elsewhere in Baghdad and in the disputed city of Kirkuk killed at least another 100. The government, meanwhile, said it had agreed to a new law to distribute oil revenue fairly among Iraq‘s people.

Tunisia‘s interior minister said that an armed group that was broken up by security forces in a recent shoot-out were radical Islamists who had infiltrated from Algeria. This raised fears that groups linked to al-Qaeda were trying to build a north African front.

On a tour of Latin American countries with anti-American governments, Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he would put $1 billion into an Iranian-Venezuelan fund to help poor countries throw off the “yoke of American imperialism”. But back home, powerful figures criticised him for his bellicose foreign policy and extravagant economics. See article

The African Union continued its effort to raise an 8,000-strong peacekeeping force for Somalia to replace the Ethiopian army which, with American backing, has swept the Islamists from power in the past few weeks. See article

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s socialist prime minister, said he had made a “mistake” in predicting improved relations with ETA, the Basque terrorist group. His prediction had been made one day before ETA broke a ceasefire on December 30th with a bomb at Madrid’s airport that killed two people. See article

Breaking a seven-month political stalemate, a centre-right coalition under Mirek Topolanek formed a government in the Czech Republic. It relies on two defectors from the opposition for its majority in the deadlocked parliament.

A vote in Ukraine‘s parliament diminished the power of the presidency. The measure was another blow to President Viktor Yushchenko, and a victory for Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister. Yulia Tymoshenko, the president’s former ally, sided with Mr Yanukovich for the vote.

Reuters
Reuters

Security was increased in the Moscow metro and at transport and infrastructure facilities across Russia following warnings of an impending terrorist attack. The security services said they were acting on a tip-off from foreign colleagues.

Fidel Castro has had three operations for diverticulitis— an inflamed colon—and is now suffering from peritonitis, and other complications, according to a detailed account in El País, a Spanish newspaper. Cuban officials have refused to discuss their president’s condition, except to deny American claims that he has cancer.

In the first confession by a senior paramilitary leader in Colombia under a controversial peace process, Salvatore Mancuso gave details of the killing of more than 300 people in 87 different militia operations. See article

Evo Morales, Bolivia‘s president, sent the army to patrol the country’s third city, Cochabamba, after two people were killed and dozens wounded in clashes between his supporters and those of the local governor, who supports regional autonomy.

Meeting in Cebu, the Philippines, leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to accelerate their move toward a regional free-trade area, and signed an agreement on migrant labour. An accord was also reached with China on liberalising trade in services. See article

China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution put forward by America condemning the junta in Myanmar and demanding political reform. Indonesia, its ASEAN partner, abstained.

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan met in Islamabad. There was no breakthrough, but both sides spoke positively of a peace process that had appeared in jeopardy after last July’s bombings in Mumbai. See article

Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former World Bank economist and central-bank governor, was appointed the new head of Bangladesh‘s caretaker administration. With the country in a state of emergency enforced by the army, Mr Ahmed promised to arrange credible elections. See article

In important steps towards cementing peace in Nepal, Maoist rebels took seats in an interim parliament, and promised to dissolve their parallel government. They also began to register and lock up their weapons.

Senior Afghan and American officials continued to accuse Pakistan of harbouring Taliban militants active in Afghanistan. Pakistan denied the charges and mounted air strikes on a militant camp in South Waziristan, a tribal area bordering Afghanistan. See article

The Philippines army claimed to have killed Abu Sulaiman, a leading member of the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, in a gun battle. The group has been linked with al-Qaeda.

Reuters
Reuters

Barack Obama took his first formal step towards running for president by forming an exploratory committee. The senator from Illinois, who has held his seat for two years, is considered a front-runner for the Democratic nomination along with a certain senator from New York who is expected to make her intentions known (officially) soon. See article

Jury selection began in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The former chief of staff for the vice-president, Dick Cheney, is accused of perjury in an investigation into the leaking of a former CIA officer’s name to the press. The Plame affair was a headache for George Bush prior to the 2004 election.

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Hello iPhone, Best of CES; Political Tiptoeing

January 18, 2007 Leave a comment

Top Stories For the Week of January 8 – January 12

 Hello, iPhone. You’ve waited for it, longed for it, dreamed about it-now start saving for the Apple iPhone, which is an iPod, a cell and an Internet mobile communicator in one sleek device (via Read/Write Web). Apple exceeded expectations with the iPhone’s sleek design, touch screen and ability to run OS X, blogs Monkey Bites. Sure, you have to cough up $499 for the 4GB or $599 for the 8GB, but Mark Evans will happily dump his Palm, BlackBerry and iPod for a single device with great design. For one thing, the iPhone’s got just one button-everything else is on the touch screen, blogs Don Dodge. The markets were as pumped as Mac devotees, with AAPL jumping more than 3 percent during Steve Jobs’s keynote address (via Nik Cubrilovic) and 7 percent for the day-while sellers punished Research in Motion (BlackBerry) and Palm (Treo) with 6 percent hits on each (via TechCrunch).

 It’s a big risk for Jobs and Business 2.0 details some gripes-the case may scratch, Cingular’s weak cell coverage may cause even Jobs to throw his pricey paperweight at the wall, data transmission may be subpar, and 8GB isn’t exactly huge capacity for an iPod. But GigaOM captures overall reaction with a simple graphic where Apple replaces a fistful of other devices, while Gizmodo links to Apple’s gorgeous video of an iPhone making a phone call.

Cisco owns the iPhone name and Apple has been negotiating for the rights, blogs Paul Kedrosky, but in the end Apple just went ahead and used it anyway. This could end with either a signed agreement between Apple and Cisco, or big fights between their lawyers. Oh wait – Cisco just sued Apple.

 Nearly forgotten in the iPhone roar is AppleTV, which lets you transfer content from multiple PCs, outside sources or even Apple.com to your TV. It’s got a 40GB hard drive and will sell for $299, blogs VentureBeat, while Techmeme points out it follows all the right standards. Basically, PVRblog writes, Apple now owns pay-per-view in your living room. And let’s not forget the AirPort Extreme, five times faster than its predecessor with WAN, Ethernet and USB ports, and finally doesn’t look like a boob says Gizmodo.

San Francisco wasn’t the only city inundated with hype. At CES Las Vegas, Disney CEO Bob Iger introduced the new Disney.com, which will be heavy on widgets, video and personalization (via Micro Persuasion). Bill Gates introduced the Windows Home Server and why you need it-but don’t need a computer-science degree to run it, while TiVo finally announced the long-awaited TivoToGo Mac client and the incorporation of Rhapsody’s unlimited music service (via PVRblog).

 Elsewhere in the blogosphere, political candidates continue tiptoeing around the 2008 presidential race, with Rudolph Giuliani trademarking his name to protect against slander, according to Huffington Post, and acting cagey when asked his position on the president’s ���troop surge��� request (via Eschaton). On the Democratic side, Taegan Goddard sees hopefuls Obama and Clinton rushing to poach the fundraising network of Evan Bayh, who has dropped out.

U.S. forces apparently killed Fazul Abdul Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa (via Instapundit). Moral: Never tangle with an AC-130 gunship (via Power Line). But is he dead? First Draft says like Osama, Fazul is still among the living. And is the bombing right? Jawa Report blogs that spending too much time on this question kept the U.S. from killing Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.R

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Business this week: 13th – 19th January 2007

January 18, 2007 Leave a comment

BP’s management was sternly criticised in a report from a panel investigating safety at its operations in the United States. The panel, led by James Baker, a former secretary of state, was commissioned by BP (on the recommendation of America’s chemical-safety board) after an explosion at its Texan oil refinery in 2005 killed 15 people and injured 170 others. John Browne, BP‘s chief executive, who last week said he was stepping down in July, vowed that the report’s recommendations would be implemented in full. See article

A consortium of private-equity firms offered $37.6 billion for Equity Office Properties, topping Blackstone’s bid for America’s largest real-estate investment trust. The target of the biggest-ever leveraged buy-out, Equity Office owns 20m square feet (1.9m square metres) of office space in Manhattan alone, and is attractive because rents in many of America’s business districts are predicted to rise.

General Electric agreed to buy the aerospace business of Smiths, a British engineering group, for $4.8 billion, boosting GE‘s presence in supplying flight management, landing gear and cockpit systems to civilian and military aircraft makers. GE‘s spending spree looked set to continue with speculation that it was about to buy the diagnostics business of Abbott Laboratories.

Airbus reported 790 net orders for aircraft last year, confirming it had slipped behind Boeing (which took 1,044 orders) for the first time since 2000. But despite the production misery surrounding its A380 super-jumbo, Airbus managed to deliver more aeroplanes than its rival.

The trial of 19 former senior executives at Swissair began in Zurich. The airline, once considered a paragon of Swiss business efficiency and reliability, collapsed in 2001 with debts of SFr17 billion ($10.5 billion). The 19 defendants are accused of neglecting their responsibilities to shareholders when making expansive acquisitions in the 1990s.

The parent company of American Airlines reported net income of $231m for 2006, its first profitable year since 2000. The carrier benefited from a surge in travel.

Eurotunnel’s debt-restructuring plan was approved by a French court (and 33 lawsuits from creditors appealing against the process were thrown out). The operator of the tunnel linking Britain and France has £6.2 billion ($12.2 billion) of debt, which will be cut by half as agreed to by most debt-holders. Shares in Eurotunnel, suspended since last spring, are expected to start trading again next month.

An $8.9 billion offer for Cablevision Systems from the company’s founding Dolan family seemed doomed after it was turned down by a special committee of the board for not offering fair value. Charles and James Dolan, respectively Cablevision’s chairman and chief executive, led the bid.

The share prices of Intel and its arch-rival Advanced Micro Devices came under pressure after indications that the chipmakers’ price war is hurting profits. Intel announced that gross profit margins in 2007 would be lower than expected. AMD said its fourth-quarter earnings (due next week) would show its profit had been squeezed by prices.

Apple surpassed the already giddy forecasts of its quarterly earnings and reported a net profit of $1 billion, a rise of 77% for the quarter ending December 30th compared with a year ago. Some 21m iPod players were shipped in the period, 50% more than last year.

The music industry’s trade group said that worldwide revenue from tunes legally downloaded from the internet almost doubled in 2006, to $2 billion, accounting for 10% of all music sales. Although 795m songs were transferred to music players, burned to blank discs and the like, that was not enough to cover the loss to recording companies of falling CD sales.

A zesty rise in the price of oranges was forecast after a cold snap in California‘s Central Valley damaged a large part of the crop. The frigid weather also hurt other produce, including lemons, lettuces and avocados. Around 20% of America’s oranges are grown in the Golden State, mainly for eating rather than pulping as orange juice.

The annual “index of economic freedom” for 157 countries was released. The index measures ten variables, such as the ability to do business, property rights, corruption and labour freedom. The average score (0 equals repressed, 100 equals free) was 60.6%, down slightly from last year but the second-highest since the survey began. North Korea remained rooted at the bottom (several countries, including Iraq, were not ranked).

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