Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye to a disastrous 2011

2011 has not been an especially good year for many people. A worsening economic crisis in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, and a host of natural disasters has left a significant proportion of the globe somewhat battered and worn.

There have been some causes for celebration. A Royal Wedding brought some cheer to people's lives, though there were others who probably thought such a lavish spectacle was somewhat out of place given the current economic climate [tvnewswatch: millions watch royal wedding].

Some of the biggest cheers came after America's most wanted was declared killed in Pakistan, when US troops stormed Osama bin Laden's secret hideaway [tvnewswatch: Osama bin Laden killed by US troops]. There were some who remained sceptical of the whole affair, with suggestions that bin Laden had been dead for some time and that the declaration of a successful operation in May merely helped to bolster the waning War on Terror [tvnewswatch: World reacts to death of bin Laden].

The year was perhaps most notable for a sweeping wave of protests around the globe. In the west many came together to bemoan the effects of capitalism. Occupy Wall Street protests were repeated in many cities across the US and in other cities around the world. But while the protests were loud, their voices mainly fell on deaf ears.

Protests that did have some effect were those seen across the Middle East. In Egypt thousands demonstrated against the Mubarak regime and ousted the leader, though a year on many feel that they have only changed one corrupt leader with another as the military maintain a firm grip on power.

The so-called Arab Spring saw revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and a civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of its government and the death of Muammar Gaddafi [tvnewswatch].

The wave of protests spread to other Middle Eastern dictatorships and autocracies but most were severely stamped out by authorities. There were civil uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen, the latter resulting in the resignation of the Yemeni prime minister. The Syrian uprising which began as a series of protests continues still with signs that like Libya it too may develop into a full scale civil war. Unlike Libya it is unlikely to receive any help from NATO due to the difficult political and geographical factors involved.

There were also major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. Minor protests were also seen in Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. And clashes at the borders of Israel in May 2011 and the Palestine 194 movement were also said to have been inspired by the regional Arab Spring.

China too has seen a number of protests. The Arab Spring inspired a so-called Jasmine Revolution, though the authorities quickly moved in against organisers and rounded up hundreds of activists, dissidents, artists and lawyers [tvnewswatch: China's Jasmine revolution quickly crushed]. Renowned artist Ai Weiwei was secretly detained for weeks before authorities charged him with tax evasion. Others found themselves jailed for years on charges of subversion. The protests seen in China were not all inspired by the Arab Spring. There have been a number of demonstrations complaining about corruption and illegal land seizures, especially in the south of the country.

2011 was also marked by a series of natural disasters. New Zealand was struck by a devastating earthquake which left at least 180 dead and up to 2,000 injured [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch]. But it was Japan which suffered the worst after a magnitude 9.0 quake caused a massive tsunami and wrought widespread destruction [tvnewswatch: 8.9 earthquake hits Japan]. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and caused the worst nuclear disaster in Japan's history and the largest since Chernobyl in 1986 [tvnewswatch: Rising fears of Fukushima impact]. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster may not be over with many fearing the effects will be felt for many years to come.

It was also a year of extreme weather with floods engulfing large regions around the world. Australia saw widespread flooding and in Thailand floods killed more than 790 people and cost the economy more than $45 billion. September's Sindh floods in Pakistan killed over 400 people and devastated a wide area of arable land, though the event failed to gain as much attention as Thailand because of the knock on effects. Thailand is the world's 2nd largest producer of hard disk drives accounting for approximately 25% of the world's production. As such there were fears the world might even see a shortage in supplies of hard disks.

For people in the west, 2011 will probably be most remembered for the crisis in the Eurozone. Estonia officially adopted the Euro on the 1st of January, and may have had second thoughts about becoming the seventeenth Eurozone country to use the Euro. The Eurozone debt crisis had become a major concern since 2009, but by mid-2011 the situation had become critical with some fearing the sovereign debt crisis could result in the collapse of the single currency.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy tried to formulate a plan to save the Euro and the Eurozone from collapse there were several casualties [tvnewswatch: Why Euro must not be allowed to fail / tvnewswatch: European debt crisis deepens / tvnewswatch: Fears of contagion loom despite EU deal / tvnewswatch: Britain in danger of joining PIGS]. Greece and Italy both saw a change of leadership and Britain found itself isolated from the Euro-club, with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron being snubbed by the French in particular [tvnewswatch: Britain becomes lonely man in Europe].

The fallout from the crisis in Europe is far from over, and markets around the world reeled as uncertainty prevailed. Even strong economies were seeing signs of weakness with China showing a drop in exports. A much predicted bubble burst in China's property market, though compared to many other countries, the Chinese economy remains relatively strong [tvnewswatch: Will China's bubble burst? / tvnewswatch: Risks ahead after China's credit bubble bursts].

2011 saw the passing of many notable people from musicians to dictators. Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty, well known for his hit Baker Street, died in January. Gary Moore, a rock guitarist, famous for his roll with rock band Thin Lizzy, departed a month later. Perhaps the most iconic and ironic departure was that of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron who is perhaps most well known for his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised [YouTube].

Revolution across the Middle East was only partly televised, with authorities clamping down on social media too. And the uprisings brought about the death of at least one dictator, that of Colonel Gaddafi. Other dictators fell because of ill health. As 2011 drew to a close North Korean leader Kim Jong-il passed away and passed the reins to his son Kim Jong-un, though there was no change to the way the country is ruled [tvnewswatch: Nutty tyrant Kim Jong-il dies at 69].

The passing of Václav Havel gained less attention but was notable given that he had been instrumental in bringing about the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia and precipitating the Velvet Revolution.

As the clocks tick into 2012 few will mourn the passing of 2011. Many will, instead, hope for a brighter future, that the economy improves, political situations calm and that the damage wrought by nature can heal.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Man stabbed to death over a pair of trainers

A man has been stabbed to death in the centre of London during the busiest shopping day of the year, reportedly over a pair of trainers. Amidst crowds of Boxing Day bargain hunters the young victim was chased by his attackers and stabbed in broad daylight [Sky / BBC].

According to The Sun the 18-year-old was reportedly killed after a fight erupted between rival gangs over which trainers to steal from a sportswear shop in Oxford Street. One witness told the paper how a feral gang shoved parents and children aside as they chased the terrified victim before murdering him in broad daylight.

"I hope that one day I will forget his eyes and the monsters who were chasing him," the female witness, who had been with her husband and young child told The Sun.

Armed police were the first on the scene and tried to resuscitate the man, while their colleagues struggled to keep back the crowds and bystanders filmed the spectacle on mobile phones [YouTube]. Police battled with youths determined to break through the cordon and one officer unholstered his taser, though the Metropolitan Police say he did not deploy the weapon, contrary to earlier reports [Daily Mail]. Efforts to save the man's life failed and he was pronounced dead at around 14:30 in the afternoon [Telegraph / Daily Mail].

In what appeared to be another incident connected to an argument over trainers, a 21 year old man was stabbed in the thigh by three attackers nearly five hours after the Foot Locker murder outside the nearby Nike Town store.

Trainer wars

Battle's have erupted at stores in the US over Nike's new Air Jordan basketball-style trainers. though many of the limited edition style have yet to become available in the UK.

There have been virtual riots as teenagers battle to obtain the prized footwear [YouTube]. In Seattle, police used pepper spray on about 20 customers who started fighting at one store.

A man was stabbed when a fight broke out between several people waiting in line at a New Jersey store to buy the new shoes, though the 20-year-old man was expected to recover from his injuries.

Meanwhile there was panic in Richmond, California, when a gunshot rang out as crowds waited to buy the Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords at the Hilltop Mall. No injuries were reported after the firearm was discharged, apparently by accident, and a 24-year-old suspect was taken into custody.

The frenzy over Air Jordans has been dangerous in the past. Some people were mugged or even killed for early versions of the shoe, created by Nike Inc. in 1984.

The Air Jordan has since been a consistent hit with fans of training shoes, spawning a subculture of collectors willing to wait hours to buy the latest pair. Some collectors save the shoes for special occasions, while others never even remove them from the box [WSJ].

Grim statistics

The death on Monday in London's Oxford Street adds to a grim set of statistics. It was the 15th young person to be killed on London's streets this year.

Twitter has been awash with comments concerning the stabbing. The victim was named as a Muslim youth from Somalia called Seydou Diarrassouba, from Mitcham in south London, who had the nickname "Nutz".

One friend wrote on Twitter, "Naaa man! I cant believe Seydou got stabbed down Oxford st! Only this mornin he was sayin how everythin happens by the will of Allah."

A special Facebook page has already been set up with a picture of the young murder victim and countless messages of condolence.

One of the pictures circulating shows the man making an apparent gun symbol with his hand, which will undoubtedly raise debate as to whether he was involved in a gang. One report in the Daily Mail claimed he was a member of a gang called ABM [All 'Bout Money] which had been in a long running feud with rival gang 031 Bloods.

In another unconnected incident a 23-year-old student was shot dead in Salford near Manchester. A man has been arrested, police have said [BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chen Wei jailed amid crackdown on human rights

Chinese writer Chen Wei has been sentenced to nine years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power". The sentencing comes almost exactly two years after Liu Xiaobo was handed an 11 year jail term for the same charge. Like Liu, Chen had published several essays online calling for freedom of speech and reform of China's one-party system.

Chen is a veteran pro-democracy campaigner, having been jailed for his part in the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Just as those demonstrations were crushed by authorities, so too are any efforts to bring about change to China's one party state.

Law is "unconstitutional"

Liu Xiaobo found himself on the wrong side of the law when he launched Charter 08 which called for reform. Shang Baojun, Liu's lawyer, has condemned the law used against his client and others like him. "I personally think that this charge is itself unconstitutional. The so-called law of "inciting subversion of state power" is used against those who use rumor, slander [or other means to encourage subversion.]"

"The definition of this offence is very blurred," Shang says, "It should be said that enforcing this law is harmful. Many Chinese people have been charged for this offence and imprisoned mostly because of their comments and opinions."

Just before Liu was sentenced on Christmas Day 2009, he wrote, "I do not feel guilty for following my constitutional right to freedom of expression, for fulfilling my social responsibility as a Chinese citizen. Even if accused of it, I would have no complaints." [tvnewswatch]

Chen was far more vocal and forceful when judgement was passed on Thursday. "Dictatorship will fail, democracy will prevail," Chen proclaimed. His wife, Wang Xiaoyan, echoed the opinions of Liu Xiaobo's lawyer concerning the interpretation of Article 105 of China's Criminal Law.

"He is a very patriotic man. He did criticise the Communist Party, but that's stating the facts. That is not subversion," Wang told the BBC. She described the trial as "a show" and a performance. "The verdict had been decided in advance. They don't allow people to speak. There is no freedom of speech."

Protests & arrests

There are many others like Chen and Liu, who receive far less attention. China has rounded up hundreds of so-called dissidents in the wake of online calls for protests in China at the beginning of the year.

What are widely believed to be trumped-up charges of tax evasion were made against the outspoken artist Ai Weiwei who himself was detained for a considerable time this year.

He like many others were rounded up after the failed so-called Jasmine Revolution, seen by some as an attempt to replicate the Arab Spring uprising in China [BBC].

Those protests were arguably more politically motivated, and were quickly stamped out. But there has been a wave of other protests across China in recent months, inspired not by political dogma, but by very real social problems.

Of particular note are the mass protests in Wukan, in China's Guangdong province. Tens of thousands have taken part and battled with authorities over illegal land seizures. The very scale of the protest has forced the authorities to back down and to give in to some of the key demands of the villagers [Sky News / CNN].

But Wukan is not an isolated case. Inspired by their triumph, other protests are being seen. Haimen saw four days of protests concerning the building of a power plant which locals saw as a further threat to their health [Guardian]. There have been clashes with police firing teargas at the crowds. But here again the authorities have made concessions, saying they will suspend the project [Bloomberg].

There are however concerns that despite the back down by the authorities, a backlash may come later. The recent protests could bring about changes in the leadership of the communist party at a local or even national level, which in turn could become more forceful in the way it deals with dissent [Washington Post].

Lawyers also victimised

Even those who try to defend the dissidents are victimised. Lawyers who stand up to protect members of Falun Gong, political dissidents or others can often find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Those try to help victims of injustice, often become victims themselves. One such man is Chen Guangcheng. A blind civil rights activist and lawyer he has drawn international attention to human rights issues in rural areas. But that has in turn attracted the attention of the authorities. He was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006 after talking to Time magazine about the alleged forced abortion cases he investigated in Linyi Prefecture, Shandong Province.

Authorities formally arrested him in June 2006 for destruction of property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. During his trial, Chen's lawyers were even forbidden access to the court. On August 24th, 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for "damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic".

Chen was released from prison on September 8th, 2010 after serving his full sentence, but remains under "ruanjin" or soft detention at his home in Dongshigu Village.

There he remains, cut off from the outside world. Even visitors are prevented from approaching, and journalists are particularly discouraged. Those who do attempt to visit the blind activist are greeted by burly hired hands who make it clear that you cannot pass. Many villagers and supporters have tried to visit Chen, but are often beaten. Media organisations too have attempted, with varying levels of success, to see Chen.

The BBC made an attempt to visit the man in November but were immediately swooped upon by three men who "yanked open the car door, barked a few orders and then snatched equipment from out of our hands: cameras, mobile phones and recording devices."

CNN also embarked on an expedition to visit the human rights activist. They too failed to get anywhere near the man. They also drew criticism from some for 'making the news' rather than reporting it [BBC]. 

'Shameful' reporting

CNN had been approached by Batman actor Christian Bale who had expressed the desire to visit Chen and show his support. However, CNN's involvement was described by Forbes columnist Shaun Rein as shameful and "a complete failure of journalistic integrity."

His criticism of CNN has also prompted a lively debate in the blogosphere about the ethics of journalism [Peking Duck / Chinageeks / Chinageeks]. In a predictable response from the Chinese government, both Bale and CNN were criticised for fabricating the news. "He [Bale] was not invited to fabricate news or shoot film in a certain village," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin. "I think if you want to make up news in China, you will not be welcome here." [Telegraph]

Asked whether the Chinese government should be embarrassed after Bale was manhandled by thugs guarding the human rights activist's home, Liu said that the actor should feel embarrassed, not China.

Whether, CNN crossed the line of journalistic integrity is debatable. Bale may well have tried to visit Chen, with or without CNN's help. CNN merely followed what appeared to be a good story, much in the same way many news organisation respond to tip-offs that something is about to happen at a particular location. It certainly was not the kind of Yellow Journalism some have asserted, though it could be borderline Tabloid Journalism or Tabloid Television.

The BBC did not receive a request from a Hollywood actor, but they too could be accused of 'inventing the news', given there was and is no specific event occurring at Chen Guangcheng's home.

China has very different news values to those in the west. Investigative journalism is rare, and the reporting of sensitive issues is to be discouraged. Ambush journalism and similar set ups, while questionable, are commonplace in the west. Hidden cameras are frequently used to get the story. And while the use of a Hollywood star in a piece is perhaps ill-advised, it was a scoop for CNN. Arguments over the type of reporting also detract from a very real issue, that of human rights in China. The CNN report, while perhaps sensationalist and exploitative, has served to highlight the appalling lack of human rights in China and the way the country attempts to cover up its dirty secrets by employing thugs to hide them.

tvnewswatch,  London, UK

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Police officer held over alleged payments from journalists

A serving police officer has been arrested on suspicion of receiving illegal payments from journalists it has been reported.

Scotland Yard confirmed a 52-year-old woman had been arrested at her home in Essex under Operation Elveden and was being detained at an undisclosed Essex police station.

She is the first police officer to be arrested as part of Operation Elveden, which is investigating illegal payments to officers. The inquiry is running alongside the Operation Weeting investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World.

It has been reported that she is a member of the Metropolitan Police's specialist operations branch, but she has yet to be named. The branch has three functions including protecting the Royal Family and public officials, investigating terrorism and providing protection to major landmarks such as Houses of Parliament and airports including Heathrow.

Her arrest comes less than a week after Lucy Panton, the former crime editor at the now defunct News Of The World newspaper, was questioned over alleged payments to officers.

Panton, 37, who is married to a Scotland Yard detective, was visited by officers at her Surrey home. She has been bailed until early next year. She became crime editor in October 2005 and remained at the paper until it was shut down at the height of the hacking scandal in July.

Clive Goodman, the former Royal editor of the News of the World who was jailed for Phone Hacking, has also been arrested by Operation Elveden detectives. Jamie Pyatt, a reporter from The Sun, who was the tabloid's Thames Valley reporter was arrested in November. Pyatt, 48, was the first Sun employee to be implicated in the scandal.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the former Met commissioner, said in July that evidence from the publisher suggested a small number of officers were involved in the scandal involving the News of the World. However the woman currently detained marks the first arrest of a police officer [BBC / Sky / Guardian / Telegraph]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Metal theft becomes a threat to Britain’s heritage

A 40 year-old bronze sculpture by the artist Barbara Hepworth has been stolen from a south London park in what is believed to be the latest target of scrap metal thieves [BBC].

"Two Forms (Divided Circle)" is considered one of Britain's most recognisable works and may be irreplaceable. Authorities believe the 2 metre high sculpture, one of only six casts made by the late artist, was targeted because of the value of its metal. Yet they will likely get a fraction of the value of the sculpture itself which was insured for more than £500,000.

It is not the first time priceless sculptures have been stolen by metal thieves. Prices make sculptures such as Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure" desirable as a source of scrap metal. The well known figure was stolen in 2005 by thieves who used a crane and a stolen truck to remove the sculpture from the Henry Moore Foundation grounds in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. The sculpture was worth around £3 million, but police believe that the internationally known sculpture was cut up and melted down for around £1,500 in scrap metal, discounting their original theory that the figure was stolen for its value on the art market.

Less prestigious, but nonetheless reputed artists, have also had their sculptures stolen. In 200 Lynn Chadwick's The Watchers was stolen, Elisabeth Frink's bronze horse was stolen in 2009 and 3 sculptures by Robert Mileham were stolen. The sheer size of some of the stolen sculptures has spawned a new breed of metal thieves with the knowledge and the means of shifting large and heavy objects.

The growing demand for copper by countries like China, seeking a cheaper source of this raw material, fueled by the booming electronics industries, has created an unprecedented market for recycled copper.

And the thieves do not seem to care who they target. As well as stripping Britain's parks of priceless sculptures, churches, railways and even hospitals have been targeted.

In the last few months tonnes of copper wires have been stolen from railways, leaving trains without power and stranding thousands of commuters [BBC / Express / Ev Standard]. It is not only confined to Britain either. French thieves struck the Eurostar line in April delaying hundreds of passengers [Daily Mail].

Hospitals have also been struck putting lives at risk. Earlier this month a hospital in south Wales was forced to cancel more than a hundred operations after metal thieves stole generator cables [Daily Mail].

The rise in thefts and the effect on people's lives has prompted calls by MPs for new legislation and harsher penalties for those convicted. Labour MP for Streatham Chuka Umunna has spoken out about the problem of metal theft which he says is blighting the lives and livelihoods of many people in his London constituency.

The rising levels of metal theft have seen Church roofs stolen and even instances of war memorials being vandalized so that plaques could be sold for scrap. And Umunna wants to transform legislation concerning scrap metal dealers by replacing the current requirement to register with a Local Authority and replace it with a licensing system [Chuka.org].

Shadow Home Office Minister David Hanson MP has also called for action and welcomed the launch of Graham Jones' Private Members' Bill to tackle metal theft, which was put before the House of Commons last month.

Speaking prior to its first reading, Hanson said, "We have called for the Government to change the law to make it easier stop this organised crime at a time when we are seeing the desecration of war memorials, when households face repeated power cuts, commuters face increasing delays and churches and public buildings are being damaged. The theft of electric wires is even putting lives at risk." [davidhanson.org.uk]

While the bill will likely get backing from all sides of the house, the scrap metal industry have not been so welcoming. The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) director general Ian Hetherington has called for regulatory changes that are "proportionate and workable" rather than "ill-conceived legislation" at the organisation's Annual Dinner held last week. Speaking to a sold-out crowd of almost 500 metals recyclers, he pledged that the BMRA would "go onto the front foot" regarding future legislation in 2012.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Nutty tyrant' Kim Jong-il dies at 69

Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea, has passed away after 17 years in power. Kim is reported to have died of a heart attack on Saturday although his passing was only announced early Monday morning.

He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong-Un, though commentators are cautious of any political change in the country. As citizens across the country were seen showing outpourings of grief [Xinhua], further afield there was concern over the future of the dictatorship.

Stocks fall

In South Korea stocks tumbled at the news [Xinhua] and there were heightened concerns after its northerly neighbour test-fired a missile [Sky News].

Asian stocks were particularly hard hit. The Seoul Kopsi saw a 3.5% fall, while the Nikkei fell 1.26% and the Hong Kong Hang Seng dropped 1.18%. The Shanghai Composite also dropped, but by only around 0.3%. Across other markets in the west there was less impact however.

Few condolences

There were few commiserations coming from nations around the world as often seen following the death of other world leaders. Reactions from the international community to the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il were somewhat muted.

China was one of few countries offering its condolences to the 69 year old dictator. As the national flag over the North Korean embassy in Beijing flew at half mast, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ma Zhaoxue, praised Kim's leadership for developing North Korea's "socialist cause".

"Close and intimate friend" of China

"We are shocked to learn that the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK], comrade Kim Jong-il, has passed away. He was a great leader of the people of the DPRK and a close and intimate friend of Chinese people."

"He made significant contribution to the socialism development in the DPRK and to the friendly and co-operative relationship between China and the DPRK," Ma said. "We believe the people in the DPRK can turn their grief into strength, united together to push forward the socialistic development in the DPRK." [Xinhua]

Important opportunity

Other world leaders were not so forthcoming with sympathy. Kevin Rudd, Australia's Foreign Minister, said that Kim's death presented "an important opportunity to the new North Korean leadership to engage fully with the international community, on how to improve their economy in order to properly feed their people and critically on how to deal with the outstanding problem of North Korea's nuclear weapons program."

However many have been cautious as regards any possible change in the region. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said was wasn't "much hope" given North Korea was "a completely closed off regime."

"We are very cautious about the consequences of this succession. We hope that one day the North Korean people will find freedom. There are ongoing talks with North Korea ... and we need to keep on talking with China and other participants to make North Korea abandon its nuclear weapon."

Turning point?

While Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said he understood Kim's death would be difficult for the people of North Korea he said he hoped that the change of administration might bring about change. "This could be a turning point for North Korea. We hope that their new leadership will recognize that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect of improving the lives of ordinary North Korean people."

"We encourage North Korea to work for peace and security in the region and take the steps necessary to allow the resumption of the Six Party Talks on de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula."

For its part the United States were somewhat measured in its response. The White House only said they were "closely monitoring reports" and that President Barack Obama was committed to maintaining the "stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies." [CNN]

"Nutty tyrant"

Some news reports pulled fewer punches when describing the former leader. CNN's John Vause described Kim Jong-il as "every bit the nutty tyrant" with his over-sized glasses and trade-mark jumpsuit. BBC's John Simpson referred to him as "weird" and "distinctly odd".

An avid movie buff, James Bond films were said to be amongst the leader's favourite, though he was often unhappy over he and his country's portrayal on the big screen.

Kim was famously depicted in the puppet film Team America World Police as a mastermind behind a violent terrorist plot. And with particularly comic satire the 'dear leader' was shown singing "I'm So Ronery" ["I'm so lonely"], a pointed comment on North Korea's isolation [YouTube].

Nutty or weird, Kim Jong-il also posed a serious threat to the region. South Korea was attacked several times over the past few years, the most provocative of which occurred last year when North Korean forces bombed Yeonpyeong Island [tvnewswatch].

The country has tested several long range missile and there are significant concerns that North Korea has already developed nuclear weapons

Media reaction

The demise of the North Korean leader was the top story across all the news stations, though some gave the story more dominance than others.

CNN provided almost saturation coverage throughout the day. Coverage on Sky News and the BBC was also significant, though by midday both channels drifted back to domestic and other international news.

While France 24, and Al Jazeera all led with the death of Kim Jong-il, reports were relatively short and soon gave way to other news.

Press TV and Russia Today meanwhile focused on other issues. Press TV led with continuing turmoil in Egypt and across Bahrain, only briefly mentioning Kim's death. Russia Today began with a report on the sinking of a Russian oil rig with Kim's death dropping in as it's second item.

Chinese television could hardly ignore the death of what it called a "close and intimate friend". CCTV News and CNC both headlined with the death of the North Korean leader with Xinhua's CNC providing greater coverage. While CCTV News ran with a 5 minute report, CNC broadcast a series or reports lasting some 15 minutes, hinging on North Korea's development since the Korean war.

In North Korea itself propaganda also filled the airwaves. Following this morning's announcement of the death of the "Dear Leader" and scenes of uncontrollable grieving, state television broadcast patriotic music with images of mountains for much of the day. Bizarrely the North Korean official website was down, though the reason for the outage was not immediately clear. The Korean Central News Agency website was accessible although it had not been update for several days.

As Kim Jong-Un takes the reins the country will remain in mourning for the next ten days. As for Kim Jong-Il, he is set to be buried on December 28th in what will likely be a lavish state funeral.

Further reports: BBC / Sky / CNN / Al Jazeera / Press TV / France 24 / RT

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Risks ahead after China's credit bubble bursts

China may be seeing the effects of the global economic turmoil that has already enveloped Europe and the US. While China's politicians have been generally upbeat about the economy, new data released recently suggests the property bubble has burst [something tvnewswatch predicted might happen back in September], and that the country faces difficult challenges ahead. And how it reacts may have far reaching implications for the rest of the world.

No bail-outs

Earlier this month China had already indicated that it was unlikely to help out Europe as it struggles to pull itself out of deficit. Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying, said that Europe could not expect China to use its $3.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves to help rescue indebted nations.

While she did not explicitly rule out using part of China's reserves for more targeted measures, Fu Ying implied China was not going to step in by using its "savings" to bail out the crisis-stricken Europe.

"We cannot use this money domestically to alleviate poverty," Fu said. "We also can't take this money abroad for development support." [Reuters / Business Week / Xinhua / China Daily]

Although China has said it fully supports Europe in overcoming its debt crisis, it seems clear that Fu was reacting to growing economic problems at home. Support is likely to come in ways other than direct financial help. According to the China Daily, such aid would only come through a continuing "foreign policy of promoting peace, development and cooperation." This would not include financial tools, Fu Ying reiterated a few days later.

It appears that China has its own economic problems, and is now less willing or unable to help bail out other struggling countries.

Lack of transparency

Reliable financial data is difficult to come by in China. Just as the state controls the flow of news, financial information is also stifled. For example a French business website found itself blocked in 2007 after it suggested censorship went beyond restricting political content, and could affect the flow of economic and business data.

The Observatoire International des Crises website (www.communication-sensible.com) had posted an article, titled "Shanghai, mon amour," (Shanghai, my love) which warned companies about the risks of trading with China. But the report did not go down well with Chinese censors who blocked the website.

Such blocks raised concern both for those doing business with China as well as press freedom organisations. "Internet filtering is not just a problem for political activists, it also affects those who do business with China," an article published by Reporters Sans Frontières asserted. "How do you assess an investment opportunity if no reliable information about social tension, corruption or local trade unions is available? This case of censorship, affecting a very specialised site with solely French-language content, shows the government attaches as much importance to the censorship of economic data as political content."

"The free flow of information online is not only a human rights issue, it is essential to lasting economic growth and the creation of solid trade relations with other countries."

The Observatoire International des Crises (OIC) is a French organisation that produces a magazine on crisis management methods for businesses. The article that prompted China's censorship, written by Didier Heiderich, said: "The Middle Kingdom has managed to divert international investments for its benefit, obtain technologies without anything in return other that the promises arising from our own imagination, gag its dissidents - including those abroad - and ensnare the west in its golden clutches (...) Perhaps it is time to realise this before we are closed in the Chinese trap for good." [PDF]

The OIC later issued a release condemning the censorship of their website, saying it showed "the extreme fragility of freedoms" in China. "It seems to us to be more evident than ever that companies setting up, relocating or buying in China should be discerning and vigilant, acting with industrial rigour and social and environmental responsibility," the release said.

Little change

Little has changed over the past four years despite a greater influx of foreign business into China. In November 2009 the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) released a report saying that censorship was a inhibitor of trade. "Censorship is the most important non-tariff barrier to the provision of online services, and a case might clarify the circumstances in which different forms of censorship are WTO-consistent," said the study by Brian Hindley and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama [Australian].

In respect to possible US involvement the Trade Representative's office consulted with industry groups about China's Internet policies, spokeswoman Carol Guthrie said at the time. Two groups with links to Google, the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the First Amendment Coalition, told the trade office that China's restrictions on Internet access and content discriminate against US Internet companies and online commerce.

"Cold War"

"There is a little bit of a Cold War going on here," said Michael DeGolyer, a professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. "This is a way of putting pressure on China in a way that is going to be popular with many countries."

But it isn't just the Internet which is restricted in China. Technology companies are "feeling less welcome and finding it increasingly difficult to do business in China", according to John Neuffer, vice-president for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, a lobby group. An evolving regulatory regime, targeting information technology-related products, is the chief cause of this sentiment. "Once every bit of the organisational infrastructure falls into place and every rule is implemented, there will not be much of a China market left for us," the regional head of a foreign semiconductor company claimed.

It started in 1999 when Beijing declared that all providers of encryption-related software would be required to disclose their source code. But fears were allayed the next year when the government issued a "clarification", saying the rule would only apply to products whose "core function" was encryption. Since 2006 Beijing has put in place the Office of Security Commercial Code Administration (OSCCA), responsible for supervising and certifying encryption-related products and their suppliers. This has placed Chinese institutions and companies under pressure to buy information security products only if they have domestic certification. It is a requirement that foreign suppliers often cannot satisfy.

"The stuff the Chinese government is asking for is stuff we don't give to governments," says a US executive. "If we were to comply and it became known that we disclosed our source codes to Chinese labs, it would damage our standing in other markets." [FT / tvnewswatch]

Protectionism

Such policy is as much to do with protectionism and self interest, as well as control and censorship. There is also a tit-for-tat approach by China's legislators which continually change the rules. After a long running battle between the US and China over trade tariffs [Guardian] this week saw Beijing impose additional duties on cars imported from the United States [Guardian].

Such plans will do little to build confidence in an already strained relationship between China and the US. It may also damage China's economy which is beginning to show signs of cracking.

Signs of cracks

A report on the country's Homelink property website suggests that new home prices in Beijing fell 35% in November from the month before. If true, the calibrated soft-landing intended by Chinese authorities has gone badly wrong and risks spinning out of control, the Daily Telegraph reports .

The growth of the M2 money supply slumped to 12.7% in November, the lowest in 10 years. M2 is a categorisation which represents money and "close substitutes" for money. It is a broader classification of money than M1, which does not include bank reserves. Economists use M2 when looking to quantify the amount of money in circulation and trying to explain different economic monetary conditions. As such M2 is a key economic indicator used to forecast inflation [See Wikipedia].

There are other concerns too. New lending fell 5% on a month-to-month basis and the central bank has begun to reverse its tightening policy as inflation subsides, cutting the reserve requirement for lenders for the first time since 2008 to ease liquidity strains.

The big question is whether the People's Bank of China can do any better than the US Federal Reserve or Bank of Japan at deflating a credit bubble.

Falling stocks

There are warning signs in the Chinese stock market with the Shanghai index having fallen some 30% since May. It is off 60% from its peak in 2008, almost as much in real terms as Wall Street from 1929 to 1933.

Such drops should be concerning both investors and business, some analysts are saying. "Investors are massively underestimating the risk of a hard-landing in China, and indeed other BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China)... a 'Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept' in my view," says Albert Edwards at Societe Generale.

"The BRICs are falling like bricks and the crises are home-blown, caused by their own boom-bust credit cycles. Industrial production is already falling in India, and Brazil will soon follow."

Interconnected world

Production and exports have fallen significantly over the past year in the new industrial power bases as demand in the US and Europe has dropped due to the credit crisis. China's industrial output grew at its slowest pace in more than two years in November and inflation dropped as the global economy weakened further. It was something that even Beijing could not hide. The country's consumer price index, a key gauge of inflation, rose 4.2% year-on-year in November, well below the 5.5% recorded in October and just above the government's 4% target and the slowest pace since September 2010 [Telegraph].

Looming trade wars

The fallout from this could result in further economic turmoil as East and West embark on a massive trade war, Albert Edwards at Societe Generale says.

"There is so much spare capacity that they [China] will start dumping goods, risking a deflation shock for the rest of the world. It no surprise that China has just imposed tariffs on imports of GM cars. I think it is highly likely that China will devalue the yuan next year, risking a trade war," he said.

Of course China is not in the quagmire of economic chaos faced by Europe and the US, but it has become reliant on its export trade to bolster its economy. China's Gross Domestic Product is worth $5,879 billion or 9.48% of the world economy, according to the World Bank. This is significant when compared to its GDP in 1998 when it stood at around $1,000 billion.

Difficult times ahead

In the coming years China will face a difficult time as it attempts to balance its own economy while trying to appease both foreign markets and growing domestic problems. In the past year the country has seen growing social unrest, especially in its industrial power bases such as Guangdong. In an attempt to push forward its rapid industrial development, China has often ridden roughshod over people's land rights. But increasingly those affected have taken to the streets to complain [BBC]. An ever widening gap between rich and poor is another troublesome issue China will face in the coming years.

Some have long predicted China will face great difficulties such as Gordon Chang who published "The Coming Collapse of China" in 2001. While China has yet to fall, Chang maintains that the the country faces some stark problems which may make the country difficult to deal with in the coming years.

But if China is collapsing, why should the West be worrying? Because "China's leaders could get very aggressive in the meantime," Chang says, in an interview with Fox News earlier this year. While he was very much pointing to China's militaristic ambitions, especially as regards Taiwan and the South China Sea, such aggressiveness may also manifest itself in other areas such as business and finance. As China's leadership attempts to protect its own financial interests there will be little room to manoeuvre for western economies who are facing their own domestic problems.

China 'is disintegrating'

"China is disintegrating in terms of its social context. We have all these protests, all these riots , all these murders. It is a really a very tough time now for China's leaders," Chang asserts.

As to whether China's dictators will fall, as seen in other countries around the world in past decades, Chang insists it is only a matter of time.

"It's going to happen in China as well, because you have people who don't agree with what the Communist Party is doing. They really do like the prosperity, but they don't buy into the ideology, and they hate the corruption and many of the other things that have gone along with progress, or what we see as progress. So China's leaders are very insecure with regard to their own people."

But with insecurity comes fear, which could turn to hostility and even war. It cannot be forgotten that World War II was rooted in problems emanating from the economic woes following the Great Depression in the early 1930s. As the world slides deeper into economic chaos, the risks of trade wars may be the least of our concerns.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Britain becomes the 'lonely man in Europe'

Prime Minister David Cameron's veto of a European treaty may further isolate Britain and lead to economic chaos in the future, key members of the coalition government have warned.

Speaking on the political shows that dominate Sunday morning's news channels several politicians were vociferous in their criticism of the Tory party leader. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was particularly critical saying that Britain had become "the lonely man in Europe."

"I'm bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week's summit, precisely because I think now there is a danger that the UK will be isolated and marginalised within the European Union," Clegg told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. "I don't think that's good for jobs, in the City or elsewhere, I don't think it's good for growth, I don't think it's good for families up and down the country." [FT]

Nick Clegg said he had "told the PM this was bad for Britain," but Cameron appears not to have heeded such advice, and instead followed that of his Eurosceptic backbenchers.

Others both inside and outside the party were also airing their concerns. Former Liberal Democratic Party leader Lord Ashdown described Cameron's actions as "a catastrophically bad move." Business Secretary Vince Cable said it had put Britain "in a bad place."

"I am not criticising the Prime Minister personally," Cable told the Sunday Telegraph, but added that, "Our policy was a collective decision by the coalition. We finished in a bad place."

Meanwhile even some members of Cameron's own party seemed worried about Britain's future with pro-European Ken Clarke calling for a meeting with the PM. However, David Cameron had gone to ground over the weekend, taking refuge in his country retreat, surrounded  by Eurosceptic supporters [Independent].

The strongest voices of condemnation came from the opposition with Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander calling the Prime Minister's veto a sign of weakness. "David Cameron's isolation is a sign of weakness not of strength," he said, adding, "I don't believe it makes sense to wander away from Europe."

"Britain this morning is more isolated than at any point in the 35 years of British membership of Europe," Alexander maintained. "It is not in Britain's national interest for decisions to be taken without us even at the table and it's a direct result of David Cameron spending more time negotiating with his own backbenchers than with our European partners."

Speaking on Sky News the Shadow Foreign Secretary said Cameron had "repeatedly burned bridges" over recent weeks, making any agreement between Britain and Europe less likely. But by cutting Britain off from future negotiations would not be in the country's interests, he said. "You can't negotiate Britain's position in an empty room," Alexander insisted, and said that further isolation would be bad for jobs, exports and Britain's economy.

There are fears amongst some commentators that the situation could even break up the coalition, something which Nick Clegg said would spell "economic disaster" for Britain [Daily Mail].

Nonetheless, there remains a broad sense of jubilation amongst eurosceptics. Polls conducted by at least one British newspaper showed significant support for the Prime Minister's actions. The Mail on Sunday published the results of a poll conducted by Survation which indicated that almost two-thirds of voters thought Cameron was right to back out of the EU accord, while 48% said Britain should leave the EU altogether. Survation interviewed 1,020 people online on the evening of December 9th, and on December 10th just after the summit. A poll by ComRes, carried out just before the summit for the Independent on Sunday, showed 52% of Britons thought the euro crisis provided an ideal opportunity for the UK to leave the EU [Business Week].

Many of Britain's newspapers are Eurosceptic, and there was no shortage of support for Cameron and his stance in Europe [Breitbart]. The Daily Mail lauded the Prime Minister with the headline "The Day He Put Britain First", while the Daily Express speculated Britain was "close to EU exit". The Sun was just as brazen in its anti-European stance with its headline "Up Eurs" [Sky - papers]

The international press was more focused on the economic fallout that patriotic jingoism. "Europe united" the International Herald Tribune proclaimed, "minus one" [IHT - PDF].

"Europe's worst financial crisis in decades is leading to a transformed European Union under German auspices, relying on more federalism and central oversight over national budgets to enforce greater fiscal discipline," the IHT asserted. "Twenty years to the day after European leaders signed the Maastricht Treaty, which formed the basis for the currency union that created the euro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe was finally closing the circle." And outside that circle is Britain... "the lonely man in Europe".

More reports BBC / Sky News / Telegraph / Guardian / PA / Reuters / Reuters / Reuters / Washington Post

tvnewswatch, London, UK

COP17 ends with 'historic deal'

Britain's environment secretary Chris Huhne MP has called the COP17 a success, saying that after last minute negotiations work was being made to reach a global overarching legal deal to cut emissions.

China & India have signed up to the roadmap along with the United States, but in essence nothing is legally binding. The agreement is merely a framework for the establishment of a fund to tackle environmental issues and to set up a treaty by 2020.

Asked whether he trusted China to commit itself and if the the US would play along, Huhne appeared to be non-committal. However Huhne told the BBC that he believed the current involvement by both the US, China and India was a "major step forward". But environmental groups have called the talks a failure and do not go far enough in tackling what they say is an imminent threat.

Some reports have labeled the deal as "historic", but the agreement if far removed from what is needed, environmentalists insist. The new deal means that for the first time every county in the world is committed to cutting carbon. However, the legal wording remains vague and the treaty will not come into force until 2020.

Andy Atkins from the Friends of the Earth said that there was a "massive gap between what's on the table and what needs to be done". Emissions need to be cut sharply before the planet faced "runaway climate change", Atkins claimed. Whether or not there was a legally binding agreement, there needed to be a greater move toward renewables and off of fossil fuels.

Charities also say that the so-called "Durban road map" is too weak to stop temperatures rising above the "danger point" of 2°C because it does not set tough targets for emissions cuts or a rapid enough timetable.

Major polluters will likely walk away smug that they have another eight years before they have to fully commit to cutting back on emissions. While some climate-change sceptics may be happy that the latest round of talks has been a relative failure, some are still concerned that governments will use the climate-change argument to increase taxes. The Daily Mail in suggested that taxpayers in Britain would be looking to payout £6 billion to a £64 billion fund aimed at tackling climate change. And with the world facing economic turmoil, this is a bill that will be hard to swallow [BBC / Guardian / Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, December 09, 2011

Some hail the failure of UN climate talks

The latest jamboree to 'save the planet' and bring together a package of deals to seal a treaty on tackling 'global warming' and 'climate change' looks set to fail, but there are some that are in a mood of celebration.

The COP17 has this year convened in Durban, South Africa bringing together leaders and interested parties to debate environmental policy. But with another looming economic crisis set to affect the globe, the potential effects of global warming seems far from the agenda of many nations.

There are some that look at the whole UNFCCC gatherings as a farce, a gravy train upon which many groups take advantage, swanning from one conference location to another. Last year's gathering was in sunny Mexico's plush resort of Cancún while previous meetings have been held in a wide range of locations including Copenhagen, Milan, Buenos Aires, New Delhi and Milan.

One could easily become sceptical in thinking that many of those involved are far less interested in 'saving the planet' than they are is seeing the world, while being funded by environmental groups, NGOs and government departments.

The carbon footprint of each COP meeting is many thousand tonnes, one that could be easily dispensed by using electronic communication and conference calls over the Internet. Of course that would not be as much fun as drinking champagne cocktails at after speech gatherings, swanning off on safari days out in between debates, or relaxing by the pool at the end of a long day discussing how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Such meetings are frequented not only by the believers, but also the non-believers or climate change sceptics. James Inhofe an Oklohoma republican, is a strong critic of the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring as a result of human activities. Though not actually present in Durban, he delivered an address to a side event at the COP17, by way of a video presentation.

In it Inhofe gave a stark message that the attendees of the COP17 were being brushed aside by the United States. "The message from Washington to the UN delegates in South Africa this week could not be any clearer: You are being ignored," Inhofe said, "And you are being ignored by your biggest allies in the United States, that's President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate."

His assessment was based on the fact that while Obama and several members of Congress travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark to attend the COP15 in 2009, this year the president remained at home, as did all members of Congress and the president's Cabinet, citing busy year-end agendas.

The COP15 failed to yield a new treaty on emissions, but a voluntary agreement on national emission-cutting targets and funding known was brokered. However, as many noted, the Copenhagen Accord was not legally binding. The COP15 was also the scene of much bickering between countries with blame being apportioned to all sides in blocking agreements.

Growing disinterest in the talks became apparent at the COP16 in Mexico as few world leaders attended, with many countries sending only representatives. Coverage of the event was also scant. Blinked and you'd have missed it, as many surely did.

And Durban looks to become yet another farce, with the US paying little interest, while China makes loud noises claiming it is ready to make deal if everyone else plays along. In such a climate it is not surprising that Infohe sees the whole idea of a legally binding treaty going up in a puff of hot air.

Expectations are low that a deal will be reached. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking earlier this week, conceded that an all-encompassing climate deal "may be beyond our reach for now." Some believe such a failure will lead to the death of the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding multilateral treaty on climate change. And of course there will be those who blame either side for such a failure, be it China or the US.

But there are others who will be celebrating the collapse of another expensive round of talks. Infohe, for one, seemed almost ecstatic at the prospect of the talks failing. "Tossing out any remote possibility of a UN global warming treaty is one of the most important things we can do for the economy," the senator said in his video address.

"During the tough economic times people are facing, this victory is especially important today as families around America and around the world continue to face really tough economic times," Inhofe continued.

"You should know that global warming sceptics everywhere wish we could be with you celebrating the final nail in the coffin on location in South Africa," he said. But Inhofe remains angered that Obama's administration is still using the climate change argument to impose regulations which will hit many in their pocket.

"Even though cap and trade regulation is gone done and dead forever, President Obama is going full force to pass these destructive regulations through the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] … so it's not over yet" [Video via LiveLeak / YouTube]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hackers strike at Facebook founder

How safe is your privacy on Facebook? Not very safe at all it appears, given that hackers have managed to acquire and post a series of private pictures of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The images included that of Zuckerberg preparing food with his girlfriend Priscilla Chan, playing with a pet dog, holding a chicken by the leg and meeting US President Barack Obama.

The hackers are believed to have exploited a bug related to tools designed to allow users report inappropriate images. A total of 14 pictures were posted online with the headline "It's time to fix those security flaws Facebook" [BBC].

The glitch was said to have been fixed some hours later [CBS], but the news will further dent the image of Facebook's hold on users' privacy.

The embarrassing incident comes less than a week after the Federal Trade Commission criticized changes made to Facebook's privacy settings two years ago. It accused the social network of deceptive practices and demanded it subject itself to regular audits over the next 20 years, something which Facebook relented.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

UK: Vehicles hit by rocks in copycat attacks

Two vehicles have been struck by objects hurled from bridges in what appear to be copycat attacks. Both vehicles were travelling on the M8 in Scotland and comes only days after two similar incidents in the south of England.

On Saturday at around 19:50, a car travelling along the M8 was struck on the roof after what is described as a large object was thrown from the B792 Blackburn to Bathgate bridge. And on Monday evening at 19:10 a van's windscreen was smashed after it was targeted in the same location.

Police have appealed for witnesses and are warning drivers to be alert when driving under bridges. Insp Simon Bradshaw, of Lothian and Borders Police, described the incidents as "mindless vandalism" which could have resulted in "far more serious consequences."

"The M8 is Scotland's busiest motorway, so these incidents could potentially have caused multiple fatalities," he said [BBC].

The attacks on the M8 come after similar attacks on the A12 in Essex. In those attacks one woman woman was seriously injured while another car driver escaped with minor injuries [BBC]. Essex police say they are treating the incidents as attempted murder and are looking into similar incidents over the past few years [Daily Mail].

While such attacks are rare, the recent spate of attacks will be alarming for those driving under bridges. No driver is immune from such attacks. In 1997 the actor Sean Connery became the victim when his Range Rover was hit by a brick shattering his windscreen. The actor was in a state of shock but otherwise uninjured [Link].

There have been deaths resulting from such incidents. In 1985 two Welsh miners were jailed for murder after they were found guilty of throwing an 18 Kg concrete block from a bridge onto a taxi belonging to David Wilkie. While the attack was likely politically motivated given that Wilkie was driving a strike breaking miner to his workplace, the attack caused widespread revulsion. Dean Hancock and Russell Shankland were found guilty of murder but on appeal this was later reduced to manslaughter and their life sentences were replaced with eight-year prison terms [BBC].

Bricks and concrete are not the only objects that have been aimed at cars. On the 30th September 2000 a 19-year-old female drive narrowly escaped serious injury after a pair of garden shears were thrown from a bridge on the A1089 in Essex and became embedded in her windscreen [pictured] [Link / Link].

tvnewswatch

Scepticism as China kicks of the COP17

China kicked off the proceedings at the COP17 climate change talks in Durban, South Africa on Monday, but there was an air of scepticism and more questions than answers after the claim that China would accept a legally binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

China's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, speaking through a translator, made an apparent dig at the US and other western countries in his opening speech, saying, "It's time for us to see who is acting in a responsible way to deal with the common challenge of human beings."

While China has relatively low CO2 emissions per capita, as a developing nation it is fast becoming the largest biggest emitter of so-called greenhouse gases.

Xie said China would accept a legally binding agreement after 2020 if other countries met five conditions. These conditions reflect existing agreements made under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and include undertaking a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; honouring commitments to the $100-billion-a-year Green Climate Fund, acting on agreements made at COP16 last year; and respecting the notion that countries have different responsibilities depending on their capacity to cut emissions.

He said China had taken domestic action to address climate change and pointed out that the country plans to reduce its emissions by 17% over the next five years through industrial restructuring, changing its energy mix and following a low carbon development plan. It has also set itself the target of reducing its carbon intensity by between 40% and 45% over 2005 levels by 2020.

Xie insisted China was showing that it was ready to work with the rest of the world to address the global challenge of climate change. But there was scepticism from some at the latest gathering of delegates for another round of discussions concerning global climate change.

EU lead negotiator Arthur Runge-Metzger said "the devil is in the detail" and questioned what China meant by "legally binding".

"Legally binding could mean commitments only for one part of the world and not for the other," Runge-Metzger said, adding that China's statement "requires negotiators to drill down and look at what it really means."

Runge-Metzger's concerns were raised partly due to the fact that it is unusual for negotiators to reveal their final position before the end of the conference.

Despite China's apparent positive move, the US delegation said there was nothing significant or new in Xie's statement. Nonetheless, Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change said any future legally binding agreement in future would have to be agreed by all of the major economies, including China, which would have to abide by the stated obligations and commitments.

Currently, only developed nations are required to make emissions cuts while developing nations, including China, India and South Africa, need only take voluntary steps to reduce emissions.

With the US seeing China as a significant emitter, a legally binding agreement seems unlikely. According to Stern, China's emissions from its energy sector are 70% greater than the United States. A large gap between the two major economies.

The US is seen as "obstructionist" by some observers, blocking movement on key decisions concerning long-term finance for developing countries coping with the repercussions of climate change. However, China, too, with a strong economy, and with a large axe to wield, is seen as growing increasingly arrogant and assertive.

Many Chinese NGOs and representatives are present at the COP17 helping to influence other delegates on China's achievements in tackling CO2 emissions.

But while it cannot be denied that China is making efforts in reducing emissions it has to be noted that many of China's cities experience some of the worst levels of pollution seen on the planet.

It may not be lost on some that China's capital, for example, was seeing pollution levels measuring as Hazardous by the air monitoring station on the US Embassy in Beijing [@BeijingAir]. Even China's media acknowledges that the heavy smog experienced in Beijing and other cities may account for rising cancer levels [China Daily].

Twelve heads of state and 130 ministers are set to attend the high level segment of the conference, which begins proper on Tuesday [FT / Independent].

tvnewswatch

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Burning phones and flaming printers

Some consumers often have the burning desire to get the latest device, whether it's the newly released Apple iPhone or a state-of-the-art network printer. But some have found the hottest device on the market is a little too hot, literally.

Network printer fire risk

Researchers in the United States have discovered a security flaw that could enable hackers to take over network connected Hewlett Packard LaserJet printers enabling them to steal data and even issue commands that could cause it to overheat or catch fire.

The findings were first published by MSNBC in a report that claimed millions of businesses, consumers and even government agencies were at risk from a new breed of computer security flaws. According to the report, weaknesses lie in the authentication process for updating the firmware. The system can apparently be fooled to accept modified firmware from anyone with access to the device.

HP have called the reporting as "sensational and inaccurate" but admits it has discovered a flaw. However the company says it has yet to receive any customer complaints regarding their printers being hacked or bursting into flames. In addition HP say their printers have fail-safe mechanism that will prevent extreme overheating of components or a fire [Digital Journal].

Burning smartphones

But there are other reports that confirm owners of some smartphones are having bigger issues. Techradar reported that the owner of a Samsung Galaxy S" received burns after the phone caught fire in his pocket.

The report came just days after an iPhone 4 handset had to be 'extinguished' on an aeroplane. The smartphone handset is said to have glowed red and emitted a "significant amount" of dense smoke after the Regional Express flight from Lismore in Australia landed in Sydney. Flight attendants extinguished the fire according to reports [Mirror].

Brazilian news reports also highlighted another apparent problem with someone's iPhone which is said to have exploded while charging. Apple did not immediately respond to the Brazilian reports, though a Apple spokeswoman said the company was looking forward to working with the investigators concerning the incident aboard the Regional Express flight [SMH / Gadget Helpline].

Advice

High powered Lithium batteries do pose a fire risk if shorted or even overcharged, though internal circuitry should prevent such an occurrence. The NERC [Natural Environment Research Council] has published a document which advises on several dangers posed by Lithium batteries [PDF].

"There are several types of lithium batteries but they are all high energy power sources and all are potentially hazardous," the NERC says. "The risks are not only theoretical; there have been several potentially serious incidents involving these types of batteries."

While acknowledging there was only "a small risk of serious malfunction", the NERC advises that given a number of previous recalls, the risks should not be taken lightly.

It says that as well as following the manufacturer's recommendations when using electrical equipment containing lithium batteries, users should also follow a number of other steps. In particular batteries should not be exposed to high temperatures including direct sunlight and it is advised that rechargeable lithium batteries should not be left unattended while recharging.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Cyber security in headlines again

Cyber security has filled the technology news headlines over the last week. There were heightened concerns after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told smartphone and email users they were "all screwed", and that there were companies openly selling software that allows users to change SMS content, track mobile device locations and steal email contacts of targeted individuals [AP / ZDNet / Register].

The revelations were published on The Spyfiles a relaunch of the Wikileaks website which shut down last month over funding issues. While some people may not be unduly concerned by the claims, it may ring alarm bells in some quarters where privacy and secrecy is an issue.

IP threat

"International surveillance companies are based in the more technologically sophisticated countries, and they sell their technology on to every country of the world. This industry is, in practice, unregulated," Wikileaks said in a statement.

Governments have been spying on its citizens and other countries for years, but the open availability of such technology may open a bigger can of worms. Companies arre finding it increasingly difficult to retain their grip on intellectual property, or IP.

For years some countries have churned out fake copies of Gucci handbags, Adidas clothing and other name-brand products. Despite continued protests by the companies concerned, the practices continue. At the Silk Market department store in Beijing fake brand labels are openly on display despite claims by authorities they are cleaning up the practice. Items of clothing, such as Abercrombe, Adidas, North Face and Columbia, are often available at a tenth of the price the real item would cost. And given such items are made in China anyway, many suspect they are coming from the same factory but are passing out the backdoor.

Counterfeiting

It is possible that while security might be tight at the many factories manufacturing items such as the Apple iPhone, here too backdoors might exist where key components slip out.

The fake electronics market has grown significantly in China and across Asia as a whole in the last few years. Shanzhai [山寨] products as they are known in China, are very easily available and some are so well made there is often concern amongst consumers who opt to purchasing the real thing.

In fact of the 1.15 billion cell phones sold worldwide in 2007, according to data provided by the Chinese government, 150 million "Shanzhai" cell phones were sold in the same year, accounting for more than one tenth of global sales.

With China now the largest smartphone market, the number of Shanzhai phones is likely to rise [Mashable]. At Zhongguancun, a technology market in Beijing, retailers are far from shy in offering customers counterfeit products. On enquiring about the price of a Samsung Galaxy tablet one retailer gave tvnewswatch two prices. "What one do you want, the real or the fake?" he asked. The real Samsung Galaxy Tablet retailed at 3,750 RMB [£350 / $577] the fake at 2,750 RMB [£257 / $423]. In the UK the device retails at £399, though it can be obtained for free on a 24 month contract [giving 2GB data p/m] of £32 with some mobile carriers. 

With the very real prospect that company data is less secure, the theft of intellectual property is likely to rise and with it the manufacture of more counterfeit products.

Personal privacy

The risks to personal privacy may also concern some individuals too. Criminal networks are just as likely to be interested in building up a database of individuals as states and governments.

Such a data base of information can be used for identity theft, which may lead in turn to financial implications for the individuals concerned.

But it isn't just hackers and unscrupulous organisation that are responsible for delving into people's data and passing it on. This week Facebook was once again in the news for breaking promises over privacy.

The world's largest social network this week settled a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission over its privacy policies. Facebook, which has more than 800 million users, agreed to change the way it uses and shares personal information with the public and advertisers.

Facebook failed users

A change in privacy settings in 2009 allowed the company to publicize user data such as age, gender, picture and location. This caused a wave of complaints that resulted in the FTC settlement claiming that Facebook failed to keep its privacy promises.

Facebook had also claimed that once an account was deactivated the content, information, pictures and video within it would not be accessible when in fact it was. It also claimed to have a "verified apps" policy to ensure third-party applications were secure when it did not, and it told users that their data would not be shared with advertisers when that too was false. In fact it is claimed such information was usually shared without the consent of the customer.

Under the proposed settlement, Facebook would not be allowed to make changes to its policies regarding the use of personal data without seeking approval from its members, something it promised to do from the start. The company must also obtain periodic reviews of its privacy policies by independent auditors for the next 20 years.

This week's settlement is part of a broader US government push to hold companies more accountable and increase transparency over the collection of personal information [FT].

For Facebook it is part of an effort to resolve legal issues before its long-awaited initial public offering in the first half of 2012. The company is considering valuing itself at $100 billion and raising $10 billion from the IPO. The public offering would be the largest by any technology or Internet company. Google's 2004 IPO of $1.9 billion valued the company at $23 billion when it passed 500 shareholders [FT].

Google also criticized

Google too has worried privacy advocates. When it launched Google Buzz in February 2010 the company faced much criticism over its failure to address certain privacy concerns. Buzz enabled users to choose to share links, photos, videos, status messages and comments publicly with the world or privately to a group of friends, The posts would be displayed in a timeline accessible via a users Gmail account.

One feature in particular that was widely criticized as a severe privacy flaw was that by default Google Buzz publicly disclosed, on a user's Google profile, a list of the names of Gmail contacts that the user had most frequently emailed or chatted with. Users who failed to disable this feature, or failed to realize that they had to, could have revealed sensitive information about themselves and their contacts. This was later adjusted so that users had to explicitly add information that they wanted to be public. But a little over 18 months later Google Buzz was retired as the search giant attempted to entice people into its new social media venture, Google+.

Risks of sharing

While all these social media tools are undoubtedly fun to use, and bring many benefits, there are growing concerns over how much people are revealing about themselves.

And while a user may reveal only a little about themselves on one social network such as Twitter, they may divulge much more in Facebook or LinkedIn which are seen as more private, secure or selective, in terms of whom data is shared.

As people use the Internet increasing to search for employment the amount of data which a job seeker might post online could be extensive. Of course data can be secured and hidden from public search, but in so doing it may also be hidden from potential employers. A LinkedIn profile can be reduced to just a few lines in a public search if desired, making only the full profile available to linked users. But in so doing, an employer may simply browse past the otherwise qualified candidate.

'Friends' or not

Facebook is of course a different type of network, which may contain information which one would likely only share with friends rather than potential or actual employers. But casual accepting of so-called friends on Facebook can lead to awkward issues concerning privacy. After all some 'Friends' are indeed real friends, perhaps people one has known for many years. There are others who are merely acquaintances, people one may have just met in the past or even via other social networking sites.

Accepting a certain 'Friend request' can be a difficult choice sometimes. Twitter is relatively anonymous, the only data given away is perhaps the profiling which might be gleaned through what is posted. But accepting someone as a friend in LinkedIn, Facebook or Foursquare could open the door to many problems.

Facebook has recently rolled out a way of sharing data with only certain friends, a response to the way in which Google+ works through its organising of contacts as Circles. Diaspora which recently launched by invitation only, also follows a similar framework as Google+, though due to its late arrival on the social networking scene it may fade away as the Google and Facebook do battle.

Users also to blame

It is a minefield for the average Internet user however, and many users get it wrong. While Facebook has admitted it has it has "made a bunch of mistakes", so too have its customers.

It may be a statement of the obvious, but Facebook is on the Internet, and the Internet's main function is to distribute information, and as such Facebook, nor anything else on the Internet can be considered truly private. Secure vaults of data in the cloud are private, though even those could be hacked.

Sharing on Facebook amongst friends, can go much further. A photo shared with "friends only" is stored on dozens of Facebook servers around the globe, and may also lodged itself into each of those friends' browser caches. Furthermore, any of those "friends" is able to grab a screenshot of that image and spread it to the wider world, should they so choose. At best, the "privacy controls" on Facebook, or even Google+, should be regarded as aspirational, the most optimistic scenario for shared data [Slate]. 

With or without Facebook...

There are some who do not use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+, MySpace and the dozens of other social networking platforms. For the millions that don't blog or tweet there are millions of others that do. It is relatively easy to cut off the shackles of Facebook and other such tools, but for some it is a lifeline and a connection between friends.

As with so many other things, data, like house keys, passport and money, need to be kept safe. Some things might be shared, relatively safely, though it amounts to trust. A shared photo may not be passed on, as might be the case of a car shared with a good friend. But there is the risk it may be shared with a great many more people than was intended.

In fact some sharing may even land a person in jail. This year saw two people imprisoned after they attempted to encourage people to riot in England by setting up a Facebook page. And in Thailand simply hitting the 'Like' button may bring down the full force of the law. Minister of Information and Communication Technology Anudith Nakornthap said Tuesday that  Facebook users who "share" or "like" content that insults the Thai monarchy are committing a crime, and could face up to 15 years behind bars [Washington Post].

Different countries apply different restrictions on what individuals may post online and even what social networks may be accessed. China has some of the tightest regulations with many of the familiar networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ blocked, though it does have a growing number of its own homegrown sites which are heavily censored.

But the trend to censor content is going beyond the borders of totalitarian states. In Europe, lawmakers are also looking as setting the rules on how social networks are governed across the 27 member states [NYT].

There was irony too as Wikileaks revealed security risks in cyberspace and social networks were criticized over privacy. This week saw Britain's security agency use social networks to attract new talent. The GCHQ used Twitter and other platforms to launch a recruitment campaign by way of a special test [BBC].

Social networking and cyber security is about to become more complicated than ever before.

tvnewswatch, London, UK