Sunday, 23 March 2008

Friday, 21st March 2008


Makers of Italy's prized buffalo mozzarella took out full-page ads in Italian newspapers assuring consumers the cheese was safe after high levels of dioxin were found in some samples of buffalo milk.
The tainted products came from a few buffalo dairies in the southern Campania region, whose reputation as a top agricultural producer already has been tarnished by the months-old garbage crisis that has fueled fears of food contamination.
Dioxin, a chemical environmental pollutant, can be hazardous even in small amounts. When it accumulates in the body, it can be linked to cancer, birth defects and organ failure.
Over the past week, Italian authorities have searched dozens of buffalo dairies and seized milk samples for tests after higher-than-permitted levels of dioxin were discovered in products from 29 mozzarella makers, news reports said.
Prosecutors in Naples have placed 109 people under investigation in connection with the probe, on suspicion of fraud and food poisoning, the ANSA news agency reported.

Every 20 seconds, a child dies from diseases associated with a lack of clean water. That adds up to an unconscionable 1.5 million young lives cut short each year.
More than two and a half billion people in the world live in the most abysmal standards of hygiene and sanitation. Helping them would do more than reduce the death toll; it would serve to protect the environment, alleviate poverty and promote development. That's because water underpins so much of the work we do in these areas.
Water is essential to survival. Unlike oil, there are no substitutes. But today, fresh water resources are stretched thin. Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst.
As with oil, problems that grow from the scarcity of a vital resource tend to spill over borders. International Alert has identified 46 countries, home to 2.7 billion people, where climate change and water-related crises create a high risk of violent conflict. A further 56 countries, representing another 1.2 billion people, are at high risk of political instability. That's more than half the world.
This is not an issue of rich or poor, north or south. China is diverting hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water to drought-prone Beijing ahead of the Olympics, but shortages are expected to persist for years to come. In North America, the mighty Colorado River seldom reaches the sea. Water stress affects one third of the United States and one fifth of Spain.

The water system of Lake Chad, in central Africa, supports some 30 million people. Yet over the past 30 years, it has shrunk to one-tenth of its former size, thanks to drought, climate change, mismanagement and over-use. Visiting Brazil this fall, I had to cancel a trip down a major tributary of the Amazon. It had dried up.

Travelling through the Arctic Sea recently on an ice breaker, courtesy of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, with the Norwegian and German foreign ministers and a salad bowl of other nationalities, I listened to the multinational chatter among the experts and would-be explorers. The talk of hard commercial prospects had turned definitely positive
One German participant (not the minister) went so far in demonstrating commitment as to bathe in the icy Arctic waters. The rest of us could not help noticing that he did this entirely naked.

And the winner for best music video: "Chocolate Rain." Tay Zonday morphed from an unknown musician to an Internet superstar who got booked on national TV shows after his song "Chocolate Rain" - an amateur clip of his baritone crooning - went viral last year. Now he's among the 12 winners of the second annual YouTube Video Awards, recognizing the top user-created videos of 2007. YouTube users voted on six nominees for each of 12 categories, including music, comedy, and politics. Zonday, 25, said of the awards, "It's the new Emmys." His competition included the singer-songwriter Mia Rose and "the vegetable orchestra," featuring a jam session with a carrot flute and squash drum. Neil Cicierega's video featuring "Harry Potter" hand puppets (and Professor Dumbledore without any clothes on) won for best comedy video. Guillaume Reymond's "Human Tetris" won most creative video. Chris Crocker, who shot to stardom in his video freak-out over Britney Spears's public meltdown, was beat in the commentary category by a clip from Michael Buckley of the popular online show "What the Buck?" slamming his fellow YouTube celebrity Lonelygirl15. The Obama Girl, aka Amber Lee Ettinger, whose "I Got A Crush On Obama" clip has been seen more than 7 million times, did not win in the politics category. The honor went to a serious-minded video, "Stop the Clash of Civilizations," by the global organization

Brian d'Arcy James will play the title role in "Shrek the Musical," DreamWorks Theatricals and Neal Street Productions announced. The Broadway show, to begin previews in November, will also star Chester Gregory 2nd as Donkey, John Tartaglia as Pinocchio, Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona, Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad, and Kecia Lewis-Evans as the Dragon.

COMMENTARY: Partying like it's 1929
How did we get here?
Why does the financial system need salvation?
Why do mild-mannered economists have to become superheroes?
The answer, at a fundamental level, is that we're paying the price for willful amnesia. We chose to forget what happened in the 1930s - and having refused to learn from history, we're repeating it.

Contrary to popular belief, the stock market crash of 1929 wasn't the defining moment of the Great Depression. What turned an ordinary recession into a civilization-threatening slump was the wave of bank runs that swept across America in 1930 and 1931.
This banking crisis of the 1930s showed that unregulated, unsupervised financial markets can all too easily suffer catastrophic failure.

To grasp the problem, you need to understand what banks do.
Banks exist because they help reconcile the conflicting desires of savers and borrowers. Savers want freedom - access to their money on short notice. Borrowers want commitment: They don't want to risk facing sudden demands for repayment.
Normally, banks satisfy both desires: Depositors have access to their funds whenever they want, yet most of the money placed in a bank's care is used to make long-term loans. The reason this works is that withdrawals are usually more or less matched by new deposits, so that a bank only needs a modest cash reserve to make good on its promises.
But sometimes - often based on nothing more than a rumor - banks face runs, in which many people try to withdraw their money at the same time. And a bank that faces a run by depositors, lacking the cash to meet their demands, may go bust even if the rumor was false.
Worse yet, bank runs can be contagious. If depositors at one bank lose their money, depositors at other banks are likely to get nervous, too, setting off a chain reaction. And there can be wider economic effects: As the surviving banks try to raise cash by calling in loans, there can be a vicious circle in which bank runs cause a credit crunch, which leads to more business failures, which leads to more financial troubles at banks, and so on.
That, in brief, is what happened in 1930-1931, making the Great Depression the disaster it was.

Faced with a sharp escalation of suicide bombings in urban areas, the leaders of Pakistan's new coalition government say they will negotiate with the militants believed to be orchestrating the attacks, and would use the military only as a last resort.
That talk has alarmed American officials, who fear it will mean a softening stance against the militants just as President Pervez Musharraf, an ally in the battle against terrorism, has given the Bush administration a freer hand to strike at them using unmanned Predator drones.
Many Pakistanis, however, are convinced the surge in suicide bombings - 17 in the first 10 weeks of 2008 - is in direct retaliation for three such Predator strikes since the beginning of the year. The spike in attacks, combined with Musharraf's crushing defeat in February elections, has brought a new mood in Pakistan: that there should be a change from his American-backed policies.

"We are dealing with our own people," said Sharif, who was twice prime minister of Pakistan in the 1990s. "We will deal with them very sensibly. And when you have a problem in your own family, you don't kill your own family."
"You sit and talk," he added. "After all, Britain also got the solution of the problem of Ireland. So what's the harm in conducting negotiations?"
For his part, Zardari said: "Obviously what they have been doing for the last eight years has not been working. Even a fool knows that."
The war against the insurgents had to be redefined, he said, as "Pakistan's war" for a public that has come to resent the conflict as being pushed on the country as part of an American agenda. It should be dealt with by talks and the use of a beefed-up police force rather than the army, he said.

How can one feel sorry for James Cayne? The potential losses of the chairman and former chief executive of Bear Stearns must rank up there with the biggest in modern history. The value of his stake in Bear Stearns collapsed from about $1 billion a year ago to as little as $14 million at the price JPMorgan Chase offered for the teetering bank on Sunday. Still, Mr. Cayne was paid some $40 million in cash between 2004 and 2006, the last year on record, as well as stocks and options. In the past few years, he has sold shares worth millions more. There should be financial accountability for the man who led Bear Stearns as it gorged on dubious subprime securities to boost its profits and share price, helping to set up one of the biggest financial collapses since the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s. Some might argue that he should have lost it all.

But that's not how it works.

Their equity might become worthless — or not, if the Fed feels it must step in. But as a rule, they won't have to return the money they made in the good days when they were making all the crazy bets that eventually took their banks down.



We Americans are particularly preoccupied with honesty. We're the only country that peddles the idea that "It's not the sex, it's the lying." (In France, it's not the lying, it's the sex.) America is also the only place I found that has a one-strike rule on fidelity: If someone cheats, the marriage is kaput.

They also reveal an unmistakable shift in the appetites and aspirations of an elite group of New Yorkers for whom an apartment’s architectural pedigree has become a new form of status symbol. Rather than disappear behind the shielding bulwark of Park Avenue apartment houses or into anonymous loft buildings as previous generations of wealthy New Yorkers did, these residents want to live in structures that telegraph their wealth and uniqueness.

Worlds at War The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West By Anthony Pagden 625 pages. $35. Random House.
The real value of "Worlds at War" may lie in a secondary theme: the West's long, tragicomic history of trying to civilize and modernize the East. In the first century B.C., Octavian's defeat of Antony and Egypt was portrayed by the Romans as the triumph of "a free and virtuous West" over "a tyrannical and corrupt East." And then there was Napoleon. The most ambitious of Western conquerors in that region, he set about to impress the Egyptians with a demonstration of French technology: an elaborate launching of his hot air balloon, painted in red, white and blue. Unfortunately, it crashed and burst into flames. The Egyptians, no doubt, were shocked and awed.

Government funds promise to avoid 'geopolitical goals'
The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is estimated to have holdings of as much as $900 billion, making it the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. This fund, which was set up more than 30 years ago to invest the emirate's oil wealth, invested $7.5 billion in Citigroup last year, giving it a 4.9 percent stake in the biggest U.S. bank

A Russian company run by one of the world's richest men announced Friday that it will buy the Sparrows Point steel mill from a rival billionaire for hundreds of millions of dollars less than once sought.
Russian steelmaker OAO Severstal, run by Alexei Modashov, said it has agreed to buy the plant from ArcelorMittal, run by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, for $810 million (€525 million). ArcelorMittal was formed by a merger of Mittal Steel and Arcelor SA of Luxembourg, which Severstal had also sought to acquire, and the newly merged company had agreed to sell the massive plant to resolve U.S. Department of Justice antitrust concerns, but a $1.35 billion (€0.88 billion) deal fell through in December.

A spokeswoman for the ministry of natural resources characterized the inspection announced on Friday as routine, and noted that other fields and other companies would also be inspected.
Still, it was the same Russian environmental agency that threatened the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell in 2006 with multibillion-dollar fines in a long campaign that led to Shell selling a controlling stake of its Sakhalin Island oil and gas development to Gazprom of Russia.
After Gazprom bought the share, the agency dropped its environmental complaints and work continued.
Furthermore, the same inspector who hounded Shell before the sale to Gazprom, Oleg Mitvol, the agency's deputy director, was appointed to lead the investigation at TNK-BP's Samotlor field, according to the statement.

Starbucks is ordered to pay $105 million in back tips
A court in California has awarded baristas at Starbucks cafés in California $105 million, ruling that the company wrongly allowed supervisors to share in tips.
Starbucks said it would appeal the decision, which it described as "fundamentally unfair and beyond all common sense and reason."

The Bosnian police have arrested five people suspected of terrorism, and seized anti-tank mines, laser sights, maps and manuals describing how to build bombs, officials said Friday.
The raids on the suspects' homes in Sarajevo and the central town of Bugojno on Thursday turned up what officials described as a significant amount of weapons, electronic equipment, maps and other items that they said could be used for acts of terrorism, a police statement said.
The police did not identify those arrested by name, but said they were suspected of "having prepared a terrorism act as an organized group." Local media reports said they were members of a radical Muslim movement and were Bosnian citizens.
Mr. Wilders, 44, is in the news here these days for a 10-to-15-minute film he says he has made depicting the Koran as the inspiration for terrorist attacks and other violence. Having failed to persuade a single Dutch television network to broadcast the film in its entirety, he said he planned to release it on the Internet by the end of this month.
He routinely equates the Koran with
Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” saying it should be banned in the Netherlands, and he declared in an interview that the Prophet Muhammad could be compared to the German dictator.
“In his Medina time, if he would be alive today, Muhammad would be treated as a war criminal, being sent out of the country, being sent to jail,” he said.
Mr. Wilders said he made the film to show that “Islam and the Koran are part of a fascist ideology that wants to kill everything we stand for in a modern Western democracy.”
SOME here see Mr. Wilders’s film — titled “Fitna,” Arabic for civil strife — as a potential hate crime and have already filed police complaints in various Dutch cities, concerned that his past statements and the film will polarize religious groups and foster discrimination.
His supporters say he protects traditional Dutch values. His critics, and there are many, say he is an out-of-control, right-wing extremist risking his country’s good name for his own political gain. Others are even harsher; one former trade union leader called Mr. Wilders “evil.”

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Cheney was met at King Khaled International Airport by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. The two shared tea inside the airport before heading to the king's horse farm, a posh retreat on the outskirts of Riyadh.
The vice president, his wife, Lynne Cheney, and daughter, Liz, were greeted at the farm by the fragrant smell and smoke of burning oil, which is used for special events. Cheney and the king shared more tea and the vice president was given a King Abdul-Aziz green sash and certificate, the highest honor awarded to a deputy head of state.
Later, the Cheneys were taken to the stables on the working farm to see some the king's 500-some Arabians and thoroughbreds, both of which are bred for show and racing. The three sat in bright red chairs with gold trim and sipped drinks under chandeliers as the well-groomed horses were paraded by. When one Arabian filly wouldn't be led, Cheney quipped: "She doesn't like the press."


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