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[BAD NEWS] Twitter Censorship Apocalypse

There are many different systems of information exchange. The most popular are some messengers like: ICQ and Skype, which is already quite a long time allow people to transmit information at different distances, and most importantly - instantly. That is, if you need to report some news to Paris, which occurred in Jerusalem, you can pass through such a messenger it instantly.

Not long ago, the world possesses a regular system, which allows you to send information, but this time in the form of notes, instant - Twitter. At first glance, quite interesting, and most importantly - a simple system, which is convenient to write briefly about the events that happen around it, but on the other side - is a system that somehow does not comply with one of the most important democratic freedoms - freedom of speech.

In early 2010, in the Twitter account has been blocked by defenders in Bahrain, who wrote a Twitter about freedom, politics and the press in their country.

More information about this can be read here: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/3023

In fact, the defenders never allowed to speak the truth and it is a fact. Countries that international human rights organizations recognized as "not free" and this is the territory where the defenders are strongly suppressed.

In particular, in 2009, the same Twitter account of Human rights Defenders from Saudi Arabia has been blocked.

More information about it: http://hrfssaudiarabia.org/?page_id=215

Since 2006, the activities of Iranian human rights defenders also suppressed the Internet.

More information about it here: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/defenders/hrd_iran/hrd_iran_page.aspx?item=57&c=i6

There was no exception and communist China. Human rights Defenders in China is constantly talking about non-compliance in their democratic rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted Dec. 10, 1948 in New York City, US. However, the voice of Chinese human rights activists was also blocked by the authorities - their accounts in various social networks are often blocked or subjected to attack.

More about it: http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2010/05/31/china-social-networking-sites-vibrant-and-thriving-among-activists/

On the same list of countries where block all that had passed censorship, includes Russia. Just recently, a group of Russian human rights activists from the organization "Freedom Russia" announced that their account on Twitter has been blocked after two hours of work! In fact that a few days ago, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev has created an account at Twitter, the same day, activists of the "Freedom Russia" have created an account with a mirror name to attract public attention to the problems of Russia. In accordance with the terms of use Twitter, do not violate human rights, and their first reports were for informational purposes only, however - their account has been blocked.

More about this problem: http://freedomrussia.com/News/26.html

In conclusion we can draw a conclusion: in countries where the rights and freedoms are only a formality, even the latest Western design for communication of people are under the control of government systems, and if you say, write or even think differently than the system - you will be blocked.

Gold Price At New Record High

The price of gold reached a new all time high, Friday, at USD 1249,25.

Take a look at the charts, note the increase in the On-balance Volume Indicator and at the same time the decrease in the Relative Strength Index:

Warnings Agains Hong Kong Financial Fraud

Financial authorities in Europe have issued a warning against 11 Hong Kong based firms who offers financial advice and investment opportunities without proper licenses. In addition two Swedish and one Danish company have been added to the blacklist.

“Finance Authority recommends that anyone who receives such offers to take their precautions. These investment deals have generally been shown to be pure fraud.”

Norwegian Finance Authority

The financial authorities are getting an increasingly number of inquiries from individuals who have been offered shares, fund units and other investment opportunities via phone, email or post, according to the Norwegian Finance Authority. At the moment it seems like most of the scams comes from Hong Kong.

In the last few days, European financial authorities have issued warnings about 11 Hong Kong based firms that operates in the region without the necessary license.

In addition 2 Swedish and 1 Danish company has been added to their blacklist.

“Experiences from both Norway and other countries suggests that some of the enterprises that give unsolicited investment offers, do not have the necessary permissions. These investment deals have generally also been shown to be pure fraud,” the Norwegian Finance Authority writes on their website.

The characteristics of inquiries from such enterprises are often the seller is very aggressive, that investment is portrayed as very profitable and without significant risk, and that it is important that customers take a quick decision.

“Finance Authority recommends that anyone who receives such offers to take their precautions.”

All Norwegian companies authorized to offer this type of service are listed in the Finance Authority’s register.

A survey of enterprises with permission from other EEA countries that have reported to the Finance Authority is on a separate list.

Here are the latest updates on the financial authorities blaclist:

Financial Research Advisors 04.05.2010 Sverige /Global/Markedsadvarsler/2010/Financial_Research_Advisors.doc
Shanghai Mercantile Exchange 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Newton International Limited 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
New Times Capital (HK) Ltd 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Levin Mayer 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
HKOFX 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Hong Kong & New Territories Futures Board 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Future Index 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Faithway Limited 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Crown Wealth International 03.05.2010 Hong Kong http://www.invested.hk/InvestEdAlertList/en/InvestEdFullListServlet
Melqu Invest HB 03.05.2010 Sverige /Global/Markedsadvarsler/2010/Melqu_Invest_HB.doc
Sakura Financial Group 03.05.2010 Danmark /Global/Markedsadvarsler/2010/Sakura_Financial_Group.doc

Full list of warnings by the Norwegian Finance Authority.

Full list by British Authority.

Top 10 Nordic Stocks

The Oslo based technical analysts at Investtech.com has put together a list of the 10 best bets in the Nordic stock market at the moment.

The selection has been made among companies with a revenue of at least one million euro a day.

The reccomendations is based on a one to six months perspective.

Here’s the list:

1) SeaBird Exploration, Norway.

2) Oriola-KD, Finland.

3) Rockwool International, Denmark.

4) Telenor, Norge.

5) Investor, Sweden.

6) Petroleum Geo-Service, Norway.

7) Statoil, Norway.

8 ) Oriflame, Sweden.

9) G4S Plc.  Denmark.

10) Loomis, Sweden.

Madoff investor died after heart attack

A major investor in convicted swindler Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme drowned in his swimming pool in Florida after a heart attack, his attorney said Monday, and the medical examiner’s office confirmed the report.

Jeffry Picower, 67, was found unconscious in his pool shortly after noon Sunday at his Palm Beach, Fla., home by his wife, Palm Beach police said. He was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Picower’s attorney, William Zabel, told CNN that Picower drowned after suffering a massive heart attack. Sue Jaffe, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County medical examiner, confirmed those details.

In September, Forbes Magazine ranked Picower number 371 among the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of $1 billion.

In March, Madoff was convicted of operating a Ponzi scheme and defrauding thousands of investors, and was sentenced to 150 years in prison after pleading guilty to 11 felony counts of fraud, money laundering and perjury. Prosecutors have said it was the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person, totaling billions in losses to investors.

When the Picower Foundation of Palm Beach announced it was shutting down early this year because of Madoff losses, it initially appeared that the prominent philanthropist had been an unfortunate victim of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Picower’s 2007 tax return had valued his foundation’s portfolio at $955 million.

However, in May, court filings by Madoff trustee Irving Picard changed the picture. The trustee’s complaint claimed that Picower had been a key beneficiary of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme for more than 20 years, and "knew or should have known that [he] was profiting from fraud because of the implausibly high rates of return" on his accounts payday advance lender.

Those "anomalous and astronomical rates of return" — as high as 500% in one year and 950% in another year — "were neither credible nor consistent with legitimate trading activity, and should have caused any reasonable investor … to inquire further," the court filings said, referring to Picower as "a sophisticated investor, accountant and lawyer."

Citing backdated account filings and other bogus paperwork, the complaint contends that "Picower and the other defendants also knew or should have known that they were reaping the benefits of manipulated purported returns, false documents and fictitious profit."

The Picowers recently told The New York Times that the publicity and controversy surrounding their connection to Bernie Madoff had been a great source of heartache.

"We always have been private people, and having all this play out in the media has taken a big toll on our health," the couple wrote in response to questions posed by reporters. "We feel stunned, betrayed, angry, sickened, devastated," they said, and were only able to draw strength and consolation "from each other and from the knowledge that we did nothing wrong."

– from CNN’s Mythili Rao
WASHINGTON — The federal government is working on a plan that could help many distressed homeowners escape foreclosure.

The plan may follow a method already in use by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that is helping some mortgage borrowers save money and their houses.
Officials from the FDIC and the Treasury Department told Congress Thursday that both agencies are working to prevent foreclosures.
"We are passionate about doing everything we can to avoid preventable foreclosures," Neel Kashkari, the assistant secretary of the Treasury who is overseeing the government’s $700 billion financial rescue effort, told the Senate Banking Committee.
Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the FDIC, told the same Senate panel that the government needs to do more to help tens of thousands of borrowers avert foreclosure, including setting standards for modifying mortgages into more affordable loans and providing loan guarantees to banks and other mortgage services that meet them.
"Loan guarantees could be used as an incentive for servicers to modify loans," Bair said. "By doing so, unaffordable loans could be converted into loans that are sustainable over the long term."
The homeowner assistance plan could follow a model being used by California’s IndyMac Federal Bank, which is operating under FDIC receivership.
About 4,000 IndyMac borrowers have had their mortgage loan terms modified, lowering their monthly payments. By this weekend, the bank expected to have sent out more than 15,000 additional modification offers to borrowers that are expected to lower the monthly mortgage payments by $430 a month on average.
IndyMac’s efforts, which also are designed to save the FDIC money by curbing losses on foreclosed houses, are being closely watched Long Beach mortgage. Bank of America Corp. is taking a similar approach with newly acquired Countrywide Financial Corp. as part of an $8.4 billion, 12-state legal settlement reached this month.
With house prices off 18 percent nationally from their peak in mid-2006, aggressive loan modifications now make more financial sense for lenders, said Steve Bailey, a former Countrywide executive who heads Bank of America’s loan administration division.
Some in Congress say the FDIC’s approach should be replicated as the Treasury Department buys billions in troubled mortgage debt as part of a $700 billion financial industry bailout.
Reps. Barney Frank, D.-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., both have urged President George W. Bush to appoint Bair to lead a government-wide effort to assist homeowners.
Doing so, they wrote, would "improve the effectiveness of the efforts of the federal government at a time when prompt and efficient action is most urgently needed."
The FDIC says modifying many of those loans — which include lowering interest rates to as little as 3 percent for the initial five-year period — must make economic sense, especially because the agency is soliciting offers from other banks to purchase all or part of IndyMac.
"This is not a social program," said Michael Krimminger, a senior FDIC adviser to Bair. "It’s designed to recover the maximum amount of money."

Lehman Brothers products in Hong Kong

This only happens in Hong Kong. Many Hong Kong normal residents are losing their fortunes (for some, their life fortunes) with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

Apparently many consumer banks were offering products arranged or guaranteed by Lehman to normal retail investors in Hong Kong. The products include mini bonds (bonds with smaller denomination that can suit normal people’s appetite) that offer higher yields than normal time deposits, structured products such as equity linked notes (ELN) whose performance are linked to the performance of a basket of shares. But as these products are structured and guaranteed by Lehman, they have become more or less worthless paper by now.

Retail investors were questioning at the ways these products were sold to them. Many of them didn’t even know that the products they bought were backed by Lehman when the banks sold the products to them. There have been demonstrations and protests outside the consumer banks that have been offering these products (ABN Amro, Bank of China, Dah Sing, to name a few). Protesters were getting emotional and the protests were often ended in a sour note.

Who’s at fault this time? Many question the selling tactics used by most sales agents in the consumer banks. What do the salespersons care most? Of course the commission / revenue that they would bring in when selling to their clients. Do they really care whether the products are suitable to their clients? I don’t think so. An old man in the protest is a big victim – originally he had put all his savings in time deposits, but then the salesperson told him he could get a higher yield with no additional risk with some bonds guaranteed by Lehman, he put HK$ 10 million out of his HK$13 million saving in Lehman mini bonds. Now the old man has lost $10 million but then the salesperson does not need to bear any responsibility at all!

The government should bear some responsibility as well. All these mini bonds and structured bonds were in popular demand during the bull market last year. Did the HKMA or SFC talk to the general population about the riskiness of these products? Not even a word!

Sadly a financial crisis has happened and there are no more investment banks in the US as of today. I guess if everything was hunky-dory, everyone was making money, and no investment banks had failed, no one would be questioning how consumer banks were selling these products to normal population who are not too sophisticated. But then the unusual has happened and now retail investors believe that they have been cheated and are angrily demanding their money back.

3M profit falls 28%

3M Co., maker of Scotch tape and Post-It notes, said Thursday its first-quarter earnings dropped compared to a year ago when it had a big gain on the sale of one of its businesses. But the results topped analyst expectations.

3M said its profit fell 28% to $988 million, or $1.38 per share, from $1.37 billion, or $1.85 per share, during the same period a year ago. Prior-year results included a one-time gain of $422 million, or 57 cents per share, from the sale of 3M’s branded pharmaceutical business in Europe.
Sales rose 9% to $6.46 billion from $5.94 billion a year earlier.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial, who generally exclude one-time items, forecast earnings of $1.35 per share on revenue of $6.34 billion.
3M said international sales were solid and that profits increased in four of its units. Profit declined in its consumer and office and display and graphics businesses.
The Maplewood-based company affirmed its full-year guidance of about $5.48 per share.
Two-thirds of 3M sales came from international subsidiaries, "and growth in many developing economies enabled us to overcome economic challenges in the U.S.," Chairman and Chief Executive George Buckley said.
Operating profits in 3M’s largest division, Industrial and Transportation, rose 15% to $472 million. Profits dropped 37% in Display and Graphics, to $187 million. Price competition has become more intense for 3M’s coatings for LCD screens.
3M (MMM, Fortune 500) shares rose 62 cents to $81.25 in premarket trading.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that 3M missed profit estimates. CNNMoney.com regrets the error.  

Online sales to rise 17%, survey says

Online spending is expected to rise a robust 17% this year, despite a sluggish economy that has bruised many brick-based retailers, according to an annual survey to be released Tuesday.

Retail sales online, excluding travel purchases, are set to grow to $204 billion in 2008 from $174.5 billion last year, fueled by sales of apparel, computers and autos, according to a survey conducted by Internet analysis firm Forrester Research for Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation trade group.

That projection is below the 21% increase seen in the prior year, but industry officials attribute it to the maturing of the business, not the sluggish economy.

E-commerce "is clearly the bright spot in retailing," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.

The upbeat report contrasts with the outlook for many traditional retailers, which have been paring down store growth and closing shops as they struggle with consumers who don’t feel like spending amid higher gas and food costs, a housing slump and a weaker job market. The exceptions are discounters and wholesale clubs, as shoppers turn to less expensive stores.

On Thursday, the nation’s retailers are expected to report at best flat sales growth in March, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Same-stores sales are sales at stores opened at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.

Two kinds of shoppers. Online retailers are not immune to the same economic challenges, but what has spearheaded e-commerce growth is a "tale of two shoppers that visit the Web for different reasons," according to Sucharita Mulpuru, a "Web Design NY" analyst and lead author of the report.

There are the price-sensitive shoppers who appear to be buying more items online as they look for better prices. And then there are the more affluent customers, who have been increasing their online spending because of the convenience and vast offerings.

But those shoppers looking for a bevy of free online shipping deals may not find them as plentiful as they did last year. The study, which surveyed 125 online retailers in February and March, showed that merchants are less interested in using such promotions this year. While 85% of online retailers said they used some shipping incentive in the past year, just 35% said they would focus more on these types of deals in 2008.

Instead, retailers said they plan to invest more in advertising on social networking sites like News Corp.’s (NWS, Fortune 500) myspace.com and facebook.com, according to the survey.

That may not be the best strategy, according to Mulpuru.

"It’s great for brand-building and for buzz, but it’s still unproven how social networking drives direct revenue" for retailers, said Mulpuru.

Despite 2007 having been one of the worst real estate years in recent memory, some economic forecasters predict improvement in the local financial landscape in 2008.

“Over the next couple of years, the Vallejo area will have one of the largest rates of income growth in Northern California, second only to San Jose,” said University of the Pacific’s business school’s dean, Chuck Williams. “We’re predicting a 5.7 percent income growth rate for your area.”

Most of the income growth will be among business professionals in the education and health sectors, and in transportation and utilities, he said.

The Vallejo area’s wage level ranks seventh of Northern California’s 11 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and eighth in terms of income level, but is “growing very fast,” Williams said.

The Solano area ranks fourth for employment growth and eighth in population growth, he added.

“It’s a good sign,” Williams said.

Though new home construction continued to fall in Solano County and statewide in 2007, the drop locally was less steep than in some other areas, according to California Building Industry Association data. And Williams said he predicts increased housing starts in the next two years which could be good news if exiting inventory decreases, he said.

“We predict the Vallejo area will have the third biggest growth in housing starts, with a 25.8 percent increase between 2008 and 2010,” he said. “We will eventually dig ourselves out of this housing mess.”

Even if these predictions materialize, they don’t address falling real estate values, but even these can be positive, Williams said.

“It’s an opportunity for developers to buy land at lower costs, and the savings passed on to buyers,” he said.

Though severely impacted by the national subprime mortgage crisis, the Vallejo area’s real estate market may begin to turn around next year, said Solano Association of Realtors president Jeff Dennis.

“Economists are sending mixed messages, but I expect continued high inventory for the first part of the year, keeping prices from going up,” Dennis said no fax payday loans. “But I expect a moderate increase in transactions by the middle of ‘08.”

Dennis said he doesn’t see a full recovery until 2009 and not without federal help. The kind of federal help Alan Schwartzman of Benicia’s Advanced Mortgage Services says has already begun.

Congress extended the mortgage insurance deductibility and eliminated the taxability of proceeds from the sale of homes that sold for less than what’s owed,” eliminating the double or triple whammy,” such transactions had meant to sellers, he said.

“If Congress can make FHA reforms to stem foreclosures and help more Californians qualify for federally insured mortgages, this will slow the downturn,” Schwartzman said.

There likely will be fewer real estate and mortgage lending businesses in Solano County next year, but those that survive will be stronger, Schwartzman said. And if history is any indication, those in real estate for the long term should be OK, Dennis said.

“In the past, whenever prices have done down, they eventually come back up,” Dennis said.