Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Twitter Service Blocked in China, Users Say

Twitter Inc. users across China reported that the popular networking service appeared to be blocked Tuesday, two days ahead of the sensitive 20th anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square.

If the site is being blocked by government censors, as many users suspect, it would mark the first time that Twitter has been widely inaccessible to users in China.

The so-called microblogging service, which garnered attention domestically during the immediate aftermath of last year's earthquake in Sichuan, hasn't previously been subject to restrictions in China. As a result, a number of prominent Chinese activists use Twitter regularly, either under their own names or using aliases.

Still, it's often difficult to tell whether a Web site has been purposely blocked by Chinese authorities, if other technical problems are to blame, or if services are blocked only in certain areas.

Officials at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China's main media regulator, couldn't be reached late Tuesday, when word of the outages first spread. Chinese regulators in the past have declined to comment on potential stoppages.

A Twitter spokeswoman didn't have an immediate comment and couldn't confirm whether the service was blocked in China.

Sites that include large amounts of user-generated content are intermittently unavailable to users in China, especially around important government meetings or anniversaries. YouTube, Google Inc.'s video-sharing site, has been blocked for several weeks in China and remains so, a Google spokesman said Tuesday.

Some users said it was still possible to use Twitter through certain software applications, such as Seesmic, that allow users to send and receive messages without directly using the Web site. But users trying to access their Twitter accounts through other programs said they encountered problems., a popular domestic site that is similar to Twitter, appeared to be functioning normally on Tuesday.

Twitter has given the Internet-savvy in China another new platform to voice complaints and race ahead of state-controlled news media platforms. The development of Internet channels has pressured the government to respond to news faster.

Also Tuesday, a magazine published by the official Xinhua news service called on local governments to respond more quickly and develop a greater online presence to respond to popular online movements.

The Chinese government considers the 1989 pro-democracy protests to have been a counterrevolutionary riot, and further discussion of them remains taboo. The police presence around Tiananmen Square has increased, and on Tuesday the Foreign Correspondents Club of China issued a statement protesting restrictions on journalists attempting to cover the anniversary.

In recent weeks, activist groups have reported a tightening of security in China, linking it to the coming anniversary. Human Rights in China, based in New York, said that authorities detained Wu Gaoxing, a free-lance writer from Taizhou in Zhejiang province, who co-wrote an open letter to China's top leaders recently asking for equal rights and social security for ex-Tiananmen Square prisoners. China's Ministry of Public Security deferred requests for comment to Taizhou's local public security bureau, which declined to answer any questions.

Word of Twitter's outage became a popular subject on the service's site Tuesday. A number of users adopted an obscene variant of a hash tag derived from the acronym for the Great Firewall, the nickname for China's Internet censorship efforts. Hash tags are used on Twitter to mark and link to similar posts.

—Loretta Chao in Beijing contributed to this article.

California will run out of cash in 14 days

The state wallet is empty. The bank closed. Credit has dried up, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told lawmakers in a special Tuesday morning address at the Capitol.

“California’s day of reckoning is here,” he said. With no action, the state will run out of cash in 14 days. Three months after the state budget was approved, California faces a $24 billion deficit.

Schwarzenegger has already proposed massive cuts to education, health care and prisons. Now he’s looking for structural reform to make government more efficient and stretch taxpayer dollars.

He’s asked the State Board of Education, for example, to make textbooks available in digital formats — a move that could save millions.

In 2004, the governor talked about blowing up boxes and consolidating agencies, but the initiatives never gained traction.

They’re back.

Schwarzenegger is proposing once again to eliminate and consolidate more than a dozen state departments, boards and commissions. This includes the Waste Management Board, the Court Reporters Board, the Department of Boating and Waterways and the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee.

Earlier this year, the state began consolidating information technology departments.

Now Schwarzenegger wants to consolidate departments that oversee financial institutions and merge tax collection operations. In July, state leaders will receive recommendations on how to modernize the tax code.

“This will be a tremendous opportunity to make our revenues more reliable and less volatile and help the state avoid the boom and bust budgets that have brought us here today,” Schwarzenegger told lawmakers.

It’s not going to happen in 14 days, he said. But it could happen before the Legislature adjourns for summer recess on July 17.

Kathy Robertson of the Sacramento Business Journal, an affiliated publication, compiled this report.

U.S. bankruptcy filings up 37% last month

U.S. consumer bankruptcy filings soared 37 percent in May compared with the same period last year, according to figures released Tuesday by the American Bankruptcy Institute.

The figures, using data compiled by the National Bankruptcy Research Center, show total filings in May were 124,838, up from 91,214 recorded in May 2008

Last year’s figure was a jump of nearly 30 percent from 2007.

At that pace, the ABI expects more than 1 million will seek bankruptcy protection by December.

The trend is being fueled by the economy as companies shed employees, who in turn fall into financial straits, unable to pay their bills.

“As consumers continue to face increasing levels of unemployment and rising foreclosure rates, bankruptcy filings will continue to accelerate as families seek financial relief from the tough economic climate,” Samuel J. Gerdano, the ABI’s executive director, said in a statement. “We predict more than 1.4 million new bankruptcies by year end.”

A large chunk of filings this past May — 27 percent — were Chapter 13s. That type of filing allows a consumer with regular income to budget some of his or her future earnings to repay unsecured creditors either partially or completely.

But the percentage of Chapter 13s was lower than last year’s figure of 31.9 percent, reflecting the tight economy as the national unemployment rate has edged higher to 8.9 percent. (In Georgia, the rate is 9.3 percent.)

State by state figures for May aren’t expected to be released for an additional two weeks, but in the first quarter, total filings — which include businesses and consumers — rose 36 percent in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s Northern District of Georgia, which includes Atlanta.

The court expects total filings for the year to exceed those in 2008.

Reported out on June 02, 2009

Petronas inks agreement with Exxon Mobil

PETALING JAYA: Petronas Nasional Bhd (Petronas) on Wednesday signed a production sharing agreement with Exxon Mobil Corp to develop seven existing oil fields off Peninsular Malaysia.

According to newswire reports, the two companies agreed to spend at least US$2.1 billion to increase production and drilling activities.

The two companies would also rejuvenate the facilities as part of further development of the Seligi, Guntong, Tapis, Semangkok, Irong Barat, Tabu and Palas fields.

“The key objective of the production sharing contract is to meet Petronas and its partners’ aspiration to extract more from matured fields through enhanced oil recovery and to sustain the current production of the Tapis crude blend,” the national oil company said in a statement.