The races for France's municipal elections in March have not even started, but nearly two-thirds of the 33 members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet have already transformed themselves into part-time politicians, declaring that they deserve to be the next mayors and deputy mayors of France...
"It's a way for a minister to stay in contact with the soil," said Xavier Bertrand, the labor minister, who wants to be deputy mayor of St.-Quentin, a town in northeast France...
It is also a way to keep power at the top. "You have to understand that France is still a sort of elected monarchy," said André Santini, a junior minister who is running for re-election in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux, where he has been mayor for 28 years.
Critics call the minister-mayor practice an undemocratic, outdated power-grabbing ploy that raises conflicts of interest and smacks of carpetbagging. And for city halls around France, it would encourage already problematic absenteeism, as cabinet positions are supposed to be full-time jobs...
Most surprising is the government's decision to promote Justice Minister Rachida Dati in the chic, staunchly conservative Seventh Arrondissement. There, the incumbent, Michel Dumont, is a beloved fixture of the neighborhood - and a member of the governing party.
Dati has been much criticized for her plan to revamp the country's judicial structure - and for posing for a recent photo spread in Paris-Match in Dior black fishnet stockings and stiletto-heeled black boots. To many residents, she does not seem like a natural fit for such a buttoned-down neighborhood.
At the invitation-only, post-New Year's party at the city hall of the Seventh on Thursday night, long-time residents lined up in a gilt-ceilinged ballroom to drink free Champagne and assure their mayor he could count on their votes.
"Our mayor has been here for decades, he knows all of us, he visits the small shopkeepers, and even used to sing at the 11:00 Mass at church," said Patrice Bardin, a businessman who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years.
"We are a village here, where families stay forever and hand down their apartments to their children, not a place for nouveaux riches. Rachida has never been here before."
WASHINGTON (Albert R. Hunt)
She [Clinton] is superb in debates, yet has offered little inspiration outside those argumentative forums. Words matter. Where's the narrative?
The government says there are 3,837 domesticate elephants in Thailand. Only a tiny fraction come into Bangkok - usually no more than half a dozen an evening - but they are hard to miss. Many Thais say they serve as a reminder of the inequalities in Thailand, the gap between provincial poverty and urban wealth.
For John Leahy, the peripatetic chief salesman of Airbus, one of the busiest years of his career ended with a quiet evening at home with family.
After a grueling 2007 travel schedule that took him to see airline customers in "more countries than there are members of the United Nations," Leahy, 57, said he spent much of the final two weeks of the year sleeping. On New Year's Eve, he said, he was in bed by 10 p.m.
"People always secretly hate the rich and beautiful," said Long Nguyen, the editor of Flaunt magazine, which in August ran a pictorial spread of Bruni that made it look as if, at 40, she may even have managed to give age the slip.
"A has-been or a junkie would have been much easier for people to accept," Nguyen said. "It's not a matter of whether ex-model is a career path for a first lady. It's that nobody can stand a person who has it all."
"It's no coincidence that the Spanish national anthem doesn't have any words," Ramoneda said. "Nationalism in Spain is tainted by Franco's legacy and you can't wash that away overnight."...
Critics said any attempt to craft lyrics that would appease the prickly political sensibilities of Spaniards was doomed to be insipid. The jury, composed of a musicologist, a historian, a sailing champion, a lawyer, a composer and a literary expert, confessed to selecting the winning entry on the strength of its political neutrality.
Town by town across the United States, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Washington: "Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife." Pierre, South Dakota: "Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress." Colorado Springs: "Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring."
Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in the United States, or were charged with one, after their return from war...
In some of the cases involving veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed or to the prosecution and punishment. But in many of the cases, the deployment of the service member invariably becomes a factor of some sort as the legal system, families and communities grapple to make sense of the crimes.
This is especially stark where a previously law-abiding young man - there is one woman among the 121 - appears to have committed a random act of violence. And The Times's analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of these young men, unlike most civilian homicide offenders, had no criminal history.