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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

MySpace For Sale: The Bidding Begins

A handful of venture capital firms and other companies are expected to make News Corp offers for one of its most disappointing properties: MySpace.

News Corp declared it was ready to sell MySpace in an earnings call last February. At that time, in spite of significant layoffs and a massive redesign, the company “recorded a $275 million pre-tax charge for the impairment of goodwill related to the Digital Media Group and an organizational restructuring at MySpace.”

Now, The Wall Street Journal, which shares a parent company with the faltering social network, is reporting that News Corp is attempting to get at least $100 million out of the sale. It names Redscout Ventures, Thomas H. Lee Partners, and Criterion Capital Partners LLC , which also owns Bebo, as potential buyers.

News Corp purchased MySpace in 2005 for $580 million. At that time, the year-and-a-half-old Facebook hadn’t even acquired the URL and recorded a net loss of $3.63 million for the year. Even as late as 2007, Facebook’s traffic was disappointing when compared to traffic on MySpace.

But all that changed quickly. MySpace users began abandoning ship for Facebook, and in late 2009, site traffic took a dive from which it never really recovered. By 2010, even relative upstart Twitter was getting more traffic than MySpace.

Even though the network has pivoted to become an entertainment destination (in a nod to the bands and filmmakers that have clung to the platform out of habit or necessity), MySpace is still losing ground in these creative industries.

We’ll continue to keep an ear to the ground for MySpace news. Do you think News Corp will find a bidder to meet its $100 million asking price?

by Jolie O'Dell for Mashable

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Dramatic / Horrifying New Video of Japan Tsunami (never seen before)

We’ve seen a lot of footage of the tragic Japan tsunami, but this clip is the most horrifying yet. Entitled “South Sanriku Tsunami seen from Shizugawa High School,” it’s shot from high ground, but toward the end of the video you can see panicked residents running for their lives.

Almost as dramatic as the video is its audio track, where even if you don’t speak Japanese, you can tell the people are expressing concern at the beginning, but by the end, their voices have reached a high level of panic and horror as they watch their homes washing away.

Shortly after the tsunami, one survivor called the oncoming deluge “a gigantic pile of garbage coming down the street.” That’s an apt description, as you can see an entire town reduced to a huge pile of watery debris in a matter of minutes. Shocking.

by Charlie White for Mashable 

How a young woman's blog post is changing the Swedish elections

I'm in Sweden this week as part of my ongoing work to help develop a progressive blogosphere outside of the US, and have had the unique opportunity to follow the Swedish national elections, which are taking place this Sunday. While, like much of Europe, Sweden has a flurry of political parties from left to right, the two main contenders in the upcoming election are the conservative Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, and his progressive opponent, Mona Sahlin.

While Sweden was an early contender in using the Net for politics in the late 90s, the Swedish Netroots is a relatively recent phenomenon. And like the states, the left side of the blogosphere seems to be kicking more butt in Sweden than the right. One likely reason is that in Sweden, like the US, the right-wing has long had its own echo chamber, while the left did not. 13 of the nation's newspapers lean left, while 59 lean right. The Swedish left-wing blogosphere fills a very real need, and is already having some early, and significant, successes.

The latest, and possibly most interesting, success of the Swedish Netroots (they use the same term as us, "Netroots") took place just two days ago. A young Swedish woman named Emilie wrote a blog post about her mother losing her health insurance. In Sweden, there's a national health plan that covers your living expenses if you lose your job due to failing health. While Emilie's mom has been certified unable to work by her doctors, the government functionaries running the national plan didn't believe her, and just cut off her benefits. Emilie wrote that she and her mother are now considering selling their home, as it's the only way they can be eligible for any more government benefits.

Up until now, Emilie's blog didn't get a lot of traffic. She'd only written three posts in September, four in August, and seven in July. But this post was different. Within a few hours, it started to travel around the Web, and within a day, it had already been shared over 20,000 times on Facebook. By last night, only a day after Emilie wrote her post, the national evening news in Sweden had Emilie and her mother as their top story (see video upper left). By the next morning, it was a front page story in the largest national paper, is now hitting the radio and the wire services, and is the subject of a Facebook page and a viral video poking fun at the Prime Minister. The media then tried to ask the Prime Minister about the story, and he reportedly fled in order to avoid giving an answer.

All of this because of a relatively small blogger's single post about her mother.

Health care is the number one election issue in Sweden, according to the polls. And the conservative ruling party, until now, has been able to effectively avoid the issue all together in the campaign. Then Emilie struck, and now health care is quickly becoming the top election story in the Swedish news, only 48 hours before the election.

Pretty cool 48 hours for a young girl and her blog.

PS A funny aside to the story. Emilie's blog is called "KLAMYDIABREVET", or, Chlamydia Letter. A Chlamydia Letter in Sweden is the letter the government sends to inform you that someone you've slept with has an STD, and thus you need to be tested. What's ironic about the story going viral is that the Swedish Prime Minister, in a very real way, just got his own Chlamydia Letter only 48 hours before the most important election of his life.

The one who primaries Obama will be the next Democratic president

During the Seventies, we had two ineffectual presidents unable to deal with the economic and other hard times that confronted them. Both were primaried and both went on to lose the general election. However, their parties had very different fates after those elections.

After Ronald Reagan lost to Gerald Ford, he did not stop campaigning and organizing. Not only did he go on to win the next time, but his 1976 campaign is basis of the Conservative Movement that has dominated American politics ever since. In retrospect, conservatives would surely say that the Regan Revolution and all that followed was worth it to suffer through four years of Carter. Additionally, what most people remember of Gerald Ford is Chevy Chase’s imitation, and no one brands his failures onto the Republican Party.

Even thirty years after Carter’s defeat, we can’t use the word Liberal because the Republicans succeeded in branding him a “Liberal.” Of course, Carter was a moderate at best and actually started the country on the road to de-regulation. But for anyone old enough, his feckless “malaise” is forever mixed up with the word “liberal” and the Democratic Brand.

The question with Obama is, can we afford not to primary him?

If Obama continues on his present course and does not show real strength and leadership, he will lose. In losing, his ineffectualness and lack of spine will become that of the Democratic Party and Progressives. The Left will be redefined in terms of Obama’s positions, as the Republicans try to roll back even those small accomplishments. And we will be out of power for another generation.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, a far-sighted scientist can see that the Galactic Empire is crumbling and is to be followed by a thirty-thousand-year-long dark age, but with the right steps, the darkness can be limited to only a thousand years. There is probably no saving an Obama Presidency that stubbornly refuses to save the country and itself. There may even be no way of preventing the Republicans from taking the White House. But conducted properly, a primary challenge now can result in victory: if not in 2012, then in 2016.

Frankly, a 2012 challenge has a better chance of winning than conventional wisdom gives it. The fight for a nomination is about the base and appealing to its parts. At this point, what part of the base has Obama not disappointed and angered? Challenging Obama may be like pushing on a partially opened door.

We saw in 2008 that organizing a primary campaign apart from the built-in support of the established party can create a national movement for change. A successful campaign has to recruit and organize supporters around the country, it must create its own message machine and rapid response team, and it must create donors and fundraise successfully in order to support all of these efforts. Modern technologies make this even easier than it was in the days of Reagan’s 1976 campaign. But, to really succeed, the movement cannot be discarded at the moment of the Inauguration (just ask the poor folks trapped in the tunnel with the Purple tickets).


The dramatic downfall of the Mubarak clan

Hosni Mubarak is in hospital with a suspected heart attack; when he gets out, he could be hanged, and his sons are currently in prison. Nick Meo charts the dramatic downfall of Egypt's former first family.

Hosni Mubarak: The downfall of the Mubarak clan
Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak Photo: GETTY

The first shock for the sons of Egypt's former president when they arrived at Cairo's notorious Tora prison, looking dazed according to witnesses, was having their mobile phones taken away.

Then guards thrust rough regulation uniforms into their soft, manicured hands, and led them away to their cells.
The nation they had lorded over for decades, and allegedly plundered on an epic scale, could hardly believe it was seeing the humiliation of Gamal and Alaa Mubarak.

Few Egyptians were more surprised than Wael Khalil, a pro-democracy activist who had been thrown into Tora prison by the regime of their father, Hosni Mubarak.

"Their arrest is a symbol of the triumph of the revolution and the undoing of the old regime," said Mr Khalil, who during his stay was given just slops to eat and had to sleep on the floor.

"But for me it brought back all my memories of that prison - the anxieties, the fear, not to mention the awful food, the rough guards and sleepless nights.

"If anyone deserves to be sent there they do. But to tell you the truth I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

The pair, two of Egypt's biggest businessmen, were arrested last week on corruption charges and sent to the high-security prison, a collection of sun-baked, H-shaped blocks in a bleak suburb of the capital. Egyptians had believed the two were untouchable.

Gamal, 47, had been expected to succeed his father Hosni, president for 30 years until he was toppled in February.

In recent years, Gamal was considered the real power behind his ailing father, who is 82 and believed to be dying from cancer.

His brother Alaa had a less prominent rule in running Egypt, but amassed a vast fortune with apparently minimal entrepreneurial ability.

It was delicious twist of irony that the pair were sent to Tora, long notorious as the place where the Mubarak regime dispatched its political enemies to rot.

Many other stalwarts of the fallen regime are aready locked up there, in the wing for political prisoners called El Mazraa (The Farm).

Since February's revolution, so many former ministers and their business cronies have been sent there that they have formed a prison football team – made up of men who were the most powerful political players in Egypt only a few months ago.

Hosni Mubarak only stayed out of jail because of a minor heart attack suffered as the prosecutor questioned him.

Not only was he charged with corruption on an epic, multi-billion dollar scale, he is accused of involvement in the deaths of protesters, an estimated 800 of whom were killed as his thugs attacked them during the 18 days of protests which toppled his regime.

As the scale of the killing during the protests has become clearer, public opinion has shifted overwhelmingly against him. He could now even face the hangman's noose, said prosecutors last week.

It is also something of a shock for the young protesters who filled Tahrir Square in February to campaign for his downfall.

Most had assumed that their former president would spend a quiet retirement at his villa in the seaside resort of Sharm El Sheikh, and his sons would be allowed to enjoy their money.

Few ever really expected to see Mr Mubarak and his family under arrest, let alone facing serious charges, which could carry 25 year prison sentences for the corruption allegations alone.

"Hosni Mubarak was a thief, he ruined all our lives, killed our friends and stole our money," said a protester in the square on Friday, where a hard-core of activists still gather every week. "I want to see him hanged."

Even Egyptians who once admired Mr Mubarak have been appalled at the claims about the family's epic corruption that have come out in the new atmosphere of openness since their downfall.

The family allegedly had lucrative interests in Egypt's oil and gas sector, demanded giant bribes to allow companies to make deals in the nation's growing economy, and even made millions out of insider share dealing.

Hossam Isa, a lawyer who is head of a committee trying to track down the Mubarak fortune, said: "His sons are bandits and their place is in prison. One big businessman told me that Alaa was paid six per cent to give his approval for deals."

Mr Isa's committee believes the Mubarak family sent billions abroad, and he fears that they have used the weeks since their downfall to move much of it from accounts in Europe and Britain to Saudi Arabia, where it cannot be recovered. "Egypt needs this money to rebuild the country," he said.

Some Egyptian commentators believe another reason why the prosecutor moved against the family is that they broke a secret deal they had with the army, Egypt's new rulers. When President Mubarak left office, he agreed to stay out of politics and spend a quiet retirement at his villa in Sharm El-Sheikh, according to this theory.

But instead, amid reports that his sons had again been paying thugs to attack protesters, he could not help interfering in politics again - in particular with an ill-timed audio broadcast he made exactly a week ago on the Saudi Al-Arabiya satellite channel.

The former president sealed his own fate by issuing a video recording insisting that he was completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Its tone was self-justifying and defiant, and he threatened to sue his accusers.

But it was a terrible misjudgement of the mood of the Egyptian public, who had been gathering again in Tahrir Square to demand that he face prosecution.

Half an hour after the broadcast, they got their wish, as Egypt's new authorities - anxious to head off further unrest - announced that Mr Mubarak would be questioned.

Dr Emad Gad, a political expert from the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said: "When he stepped down the Supreme Military Council gave him guarantees that they would protect him and his family and not allow them to be investigated, if he stayed out of politics.

"I think Gamal broke that understanding and started to meddle again. They were planning a counter-revolution and trying to cause chaos."

Dr Gad believes Gamal made most of the disastrous decisions that hastened his father's downfall. "Since January 25th they have made one mistake after another," he said.

Now Egyptians expect even more shocking revelations about the family who ruled them for decades.
Nobody is quite sure exactly how much illicit money Hosni Mubarak really has, but as investigators gather more information estimates keep rising all the time.

A fortune of about $5 billion seems widely accepted, but one claim puts it as high as $700 billion. Ordinary Egyptians, two out of five of whom live off $2 a day, are furious. They blame the Mubaraks for the poor state of infrastructure and the growing divisions between rich and poor.

The family's role in maintaining the vicious police state under which thousands were unfairly imprisoned and tortured is also coming under fresh scrutiny, as is the question of whether they played any part in episodes like the bombing of a church in January which left dozens dead. The Mubarak regime is widely believed to have tried to foment strife between Christians and Muslims in order to divide and rule.

The future for the once-mighty family now looks bleak. The two brothers will appear before a Cairo court on Tuesday, and Gamal's wife has reportedly left him.

Their father may eventually appear in the dock alongside them, if his health recovers. Last week thousands of protesters gathered to chant slogans against him as he lay in hospital in Sharm El-Sheikh, recovering from his mild heart attack - which many regarded as suspiciously convenient.

He is likely to die in a military hospital before justice catches up with him. Getting him to trial may take a couple of years, and so hanging looks unlikely even if he is convicted on a capital offence.

It may fall to his sons to bear the brunt of Egyptian anger at years of corruption and misrule. Even with the best lawyers money can buy, they are expected to spend ten to 15 years in the prisons where they once sent their political enemies.

Additional reporting by Alistair Beach in Cairo

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