Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Korean Star’s Suicide Reignites Debate on Web Regulation

Choi Jin-sil, a movie star, was the closest thing South Korea had to a national sweetheart.

So when Ms. Choi, 39, was found dead in her apartment on Oct. 2 in what the police concluded was a suicide, her grief-stricken homeland sought an answer to why the actress had chosen to end her life.

The police, the media and members of Parliament immediately pointed fingers at the Internet. Malicious online rumors led to Ms. Choi’s suicide, the police said, after studying memos found at her home and interviewing friends and relatives.

Those online accusations claimed that Ms. Choi, who once won a government medal for her savings habits, was a loan shark. They asserted that a fellow actor, Ahn Jae-hwan, was driven to suicide because Ms. Choi had relentlessly pressed him to repay a $2 million debt.

Public outrage over Ms. Choi’s suicide gave ammunition to the government of President Lee Myung-bak, which has long sought to regulate cyberspace, a major avenue for antigovernment protests in South Korea.

Earlier this year, the Lee government was reeling after weeks of protests against beef imports from the United States. Vicious antigovernment postings and online rumors on the dangers of lifting the ban on American beef fueled the political upheaval, which forced the entire cabinet to resign.

In a monthlong crackdown on online defamation, 900 agents from the government’s Cyber Terror Response Center are scouring blogs and online discussion boards to identify and arrest those who “habitually post slander and instigate cyber bullying.”

Hong Joon-pyo, floor leader of the governing Grand National Party, commented, “Internet space in our country has become the wall of a public toilet.”

In the National Assembly, Ms. Choi’s suicide set the country’s rival parties on a collision course over how to regulate the Web. The governing party is promoting a law to punish online insults; the opposition parties accuse the government of trying to “rule cyberspace with martial law.”

The opposition says that cyberspace violence is already dealt with under existing laws against slander and public insults. But the government says that a tougher, separate law is necessary to punish online abuse, which inflicts quicker and wider damage on victims.

To battle online harassment, the government’s Communications Commission last year ordered Web portals with more than 300,000 visitors a day to require its users to submit their names and matching Social Security numbers before posting comments.

The police reported 10,028 cases of online libel last year, up from 3,667 reported in 2004.

Harassment in cyberspace has been blamed for a string of highly publicized suicides. Ms. Choi made headlines when she married a baseball player, Cho Sung Min, in 2000. But tabloids and Web bloggers were relentless in criticizing her when the marriage soured and she fought for custody of her two children.

TV producers and commercial sponsors dropped her. The general sentiment was that her career was over.

But in 2005, she made a comeback with a hugely popular soap opera called “My Rosy Life.” In it, she dropped her cute-girl image and played a jilted wife who throws a kick at her errant husband, but reconciles with him when she learns she has terminal cancer.

This year, she broke another taboo by successfully petitioning a court to change the surname of her two children to her own.

But in an interview with MBC-TV in July, which was broadcast after her death, she said she “dreaded” the Internet, where posters had insulted her for being a single, divorced mother. The police said she had been taking antidepressants since her divorce.

In South Korea, volunteer counselors troll the Internet to discourage people from using the Web to trade tips on how to commit suicide and, in some cases, how to form suicide pacts.

“We have seen a sudden rise in copycat suicides following a celebrity death,” said Jeon Jun-hee, an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Mental Health Center, which runs a suicide prevention hot line. Mr. Jeon said the hot line had received 60 calls a day, or twice the usual number, since Ms. Choi’s suicide

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Of Idi Amin’s son, Journalism and Journalists

If Milton Obote was known as the ‘ Blood Sucker’ of Uganda, Idi Amin was the ‘Biggest Clown’. Idi Amin also earned other names,-’Big Dada’ and ‘Butcher’, the former for the huge physique he possessed as an African, and the other for slaughtering human beings. But, it was no secret that his brain was too small for his body. Amin was a self proclaimed ‘Master of all Arts and Economies’, who would even disturb Presidents’ of the West, over the telephone to teach them how to run those countries.

Among those who were inconvenienced by Idi Amin’s knowledge at midnight, when Amin was in fine ‘spirits’, were the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Britain and, those who were in power at that time in Germany and France. Idi Amin was a telephone maniac, who always carried a few portable phones with him, whereever he went. Idi Amin once claimed he was a well read man, with a huge collection of books in his library, a comment he made at Universities as the self proclaimed Chancellor of all Universities in Uganda.

The introduction of the Uganda’s ‘Biggest Clown’ was done at the start of this column, to pen an interesting story about Idi Amin’s son, Taban, also known as the ‘Junior Clown’, who forced himself to become the ‘Editor’ of the popular, ‘The Nation’, an English weekly in Kampala, the Capital of Uganda. Like father, like son, Taban had nothing ‘upstairs’. The ‘Big Clown’ decorated himself with many top positions.

More details at : http://www.dailynews.lk/2008/10/11/fea01.asp

Nature loss 'dwarfs the bank crisis'

The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study.

It puts the annual cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion.

The figure comes from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.

The study, headed by a Deutsche Bank economist, parallels the Stern Review into the economics of climate change.

More details at :

Friday, October 10, 2008

Darling blamed as Iceland’s bank troubles spiral

Iceland today turned on Britain's Chancellor Alistair Darling as a third bank was nationalised.

Kaupthing, which owned City investment bank Singer & Friedlander and UK internet bank Kaupthing Edge, said its board had resigned and handed control to the Icelandic Government.

The declaration came as the London stock market gave a half-hearted welcome to the Government's £500 billion bail-out plan for High Street banks and yesterday's emergency half-point cut in interest rates.

The FTSE 100 index of leading shares rose 67.62 points to 4434.31.

But in Iceland the crisis continued to spiral. Landsbanki was put into receivership earlier this week and Glitnir followed yesterday. Kaupthing had been offered a €500 million (£390.7 million) loan by the government, led by Prime Minister Geir Haarde.

Hays warns recruitment slump is the worst ever

A 20% slide in City recruitment is like nothing that has been seen before, the boss of one of the Square Mile's top recruitment firms admitted today.

And yesterday's attempted rescue of the economy through a banking bailout and interest rate cut will not help either, Hays chief executive Paul Venables warned.

“It is unprecedented,” said Venables, whose agency specialises in filling middle and lower ranking professional jobs in London's banks, financial services companies and accountancy and legal firms.

“It is not like the downturn of five or six years ago [post-9/11 and the bursting of the dot-com bubble], which reversed pretty quickly. And it is very different to the employment slump we saw at the beginning of the 1990s,” he added.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Iceland teeters on the brink of bankruptcy

This volcanic island near the Arctic Circle is on the brink of becoming the first "national bankruptcy" of the global financial meltdown.

Home to just 320,000 people on a territory the size of Kentucky, Iceland has formidable international reach because of an outsized banking sector that set out with Viking confidence to conquer swaths of the British economy — from fashion retailers to top soccer teams.

The strategy gave Icelanders one of the world's highest per capita incomes. But now they are watching helplessly as their economy implodes — their currency losing almost half its value, and their heavily exposed banks collapsing under the weight of debts incurred by lending in the boom times.

"Everything is closed. We couldn't sell our stock or take money from the bank," said Johann Sigurdsson as he left a branch of Landsbanki in downtown Reykjavik.

The government had earlier announced it had nationalized the bank under emergency laws enacted to deal with the crisis.

"We have been forced to take decisive action to save the country," Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde said of those sweeping new powers that allow the government to take over companies, limit the authority of boards, and call shareholder meetings.

A full-blown collapse of Iceland's financial system would send shock waves across Europe, given the heavy investment by Icelandic banks and companies across the continent.

One of Iceland's biggest companies, retailing investment group Baugur, owns or has stakes in dozens of major European retailers — including enough to make it the largest private company in Britain, where it owns a handful of stores such as the famous toy store Hamley's.

Kaupthing, Iceland's largest bank and one of those whose share trading was suspended last week to stop a huge sell-off, has also invested in European retail groups.

Thousands of Britons have accounts with Icesave, the online arm of Landsbanki that regulators said was likely to file for bankruptcy after it stopped permitting customers to withdraw money from their accounts Tuesday.

To try to wrest control of the spiraling situation, the government also loaned $680 million to Kaupthing to tide it over and said it was negotiating a $5.4 billion loan from Russia to shore up the nation's finances.

The speed of Iceland's downfall in the week since it announced it was nationalizing Glitnir bank, the country's third largest, caught many by surprise despite warnings that it was the "canary in the coal mine" of the global credit squeeze.

Famous for its cod fishing industry, geysers, moonscape and the Blue Lagoon, Iceland was the site of the Cold War showdown in which Bobby Fischer of the United States defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in 1972 for the world chess championship. Last year, Iceland won the U.N.'s "best country to live in" poll, with its residents deemed the most contented in the world.

No more.

Despite sunny skies Tuesday after three days of unseasonably cold weather, Reykjavik's mood remained grim — cafes were half-empty, real estate agents sat idle, and retailers reported few sales.

"I'm really starting to get worried now. Everything is bad news. I don't know what's happening," said retiree Helga Jonsdottir as she headed to a supermarket.

Icelanders are also beginning to question how a relative few were able to generate the disproportionate wealth — and associated debt — that Haarde has warned puts the entire country at risk of bankruptcy.

Iceland's reinvention from the poor cousin in Europe to one of the region's wealthiest countries dates to the deregulation of the banking industry and the creation of the domestic stock market in the mid-1990s.

Those free market reforms turned Iceland from a conservative, inward-looking country to one of a new generation of internationally educated young businessmen and women who were determined to give Iceland a modern profile far beyond its fishing base.

Entrepreneurs become its greatest export, as banks and companies marched across Europe and their acquisition wallets were filled by a stock market boom and a well-funded pension system. Among the purchases were the iconic Hamley's toy store and the West Ham soccer team.

Back home, the average family's wealth soared 45 percent in half a decade and gross domestic product rose at around 5 percent a year.

But the whole system was built on a shaky foundation of foreign debt.

The country's top four banks now hold foreign liabilities in excess of $100 billion, debts that dwarf Iceland's gross domestic product of $14 billion.

Those external liabilities mean the private sector has had great difficulty financing its debts, such as the more than $5.25 billion racked up by Kaupthing in five years to help fund British deals.

Iceland is unique "because the sheer size of its financial sector puts it in a vulnerable situation, and its currency has always been seen as a high risk and high yield," said Venla Sipila, a senior economist at Global Insight in London.

The krona is suffering in part from a withdrawal by a falloff in what are called carry trades — where investors borrow cheaply in a country with low rates, such as Japan, and invest in a country where returns, and often risks, are higher.

After watching the free-fall for several days, the Central Bank of Iceland stepped in Tuesday to fix the exchange rate of the currency at 175 — a level equal to 131 krona against the euro.

Haarde said he believed the measures had renewed confidence in the system. He also was critical of the lack of an Europe-wide response to the crisis, saying Iceland had been forced to adopt an "every-country-for-itself" mentality.

He acknowledged that Iceland's financial reputation was likely to suffer from both the crisis and the response despite strong fundamentals such as the fishing industry and clean and renewable energy resources.

As regular Icelanders begin to blame the government and market regulators, Haarde said the banks had been "victims of external circumstances."

Richard Portes of the London Business School agreed, noting the banks were well-capitalized and had not bought any of the toxic debt that has brought down banks elsewhere.

Article Courtesy : JANE WARDELL, AP Business Writer Tue Oct 7, 3:40 PM ET

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mohammed book attack: trio in court

Three men are due to appear in court charged with conspiring to damage the home of a man who published a controversial novel about the prophet Mohammed.

The Metropolitan Police charged Ali Beheshti, 40, of Tavistock Gardens, Ilford, Abrar Mirza, 22, of Eastfield Road, London, and Abbas Taj, 30, of Forest Gate, London, on Thursday night.

The charges follow a suspected petrol bomb attack at 47 Lonsdale Square, Islington, north London, in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The men are charged with conspiring without lawful excuse to damage the premises between September 8 and 27, intending to destroy or damage property with intent to endanger life, and "being reckless as to whether the life of another would thereby be endangered".

Beheshti was further charged with "possession of a weapon designed or adapted for the discharge of a noxious liquid or gas contrary to the Firearms Act", police said.

The men were remanded in custody and will appear at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.

The property in question is the home and office of Martin Rynja, the director of Gibson Square, an independent publishing house which announced earlier this month it was planning to release the novel The Jewel of the Medina in the UK.

The novel, by American author Sherry Jones, was pulled by publishers in the US over fears it would anger Muslims, while a publisher in Serbia withdrew it from the shelves after protests from local Islamic leaders, who said it insulted Mohammed and his family.

Announcing the publication of the novel last month, 44-year-old Mr Rynja said he felt such books were an important part of a liberal democracy.

Croatia loses Davis Cup points

Madrid (AP): Croatia was penalised points and handed an undisclosed fine because the court used for Davis Cup matches against Brazil failed to meet international standards.

Croatia will lose 2,000 points as part of the Davis Cup Committee's ruling reached in Madrid on September 23, the International Tennis Federation said Thursday. Croatia's victory over Brazil will stand, however.

Croatia returned to the elite World Group with a 4-1 playoff victory over Brazil in the September 19-21 series on an indoor hard court at the Sportski Centar Visnjik stadium at Zadar.

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