Monday, 10 March 2008

Saturday, 8th March 2008


LAWTON, North Dakota
Whatever Dennis Miller decides to plant this year on his farm, the world needs. Wheat prices have doubled in the past six months. Corn is on a tear. Barley, sunflower seeds, canola and soybeans are all up sharply.
"For once, there's great reason to be optimistic," Miller said.
But the prices that have renewed Miller's faith in farming are causing pain far and wide. A tailor in Lagos named Abel Ojuku said recently that he had been forced to cut back on the bread that he and his family love.
"If you wanted to buy three loaves, now you buy one," Ojuku said.
Everywhere, the cost of food is rising sharply. Whether the world is in for a long period of continued increases has become one of the most urgent issues in economics.

Farmers the world over are producing flat-out. American agricultural exports are expected to increase 23 percent this year to $101 billion, a record. The world's grain stockpiles have fallen to the lowest levels in decades.
"Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe," said Daniel Basse of AgResource, a consultancy in Chicago. "But if they do, we're going to need another two or three globes to grow it all."
A similar patter prevailed for a time in the 1990s, but this time investors are betting, as they buy and sell contracts for future delivery of food commodities, that scarcity and high prices will last for years.

The increases that have already occurred are depriving poor people of food, setting off social unrest and even spurring riots in some countries.
In the long run, the food supply could grow. More land may be pulled into production, and dated farming methods in some countries may be improved. Moreover, rising prices could force more people to cut back. The big question is whether such changes will be enough to bring supply and demand into better balance.
"People are trying to figure out - is this a new era?" said Joseph Glauber, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Are prices going to be high forever?"
At a moment when much of the United States is contemplating recession, farmers are flourishing. The U.S. Agriculture Department forecasts that farm income this year will be 50 percent greater than the average for the past 10 years. The flood of money into American agriculture is leading to rising land values and a renewed sense of optimism in rural America.
"All of a sudden farmers are more in control, which is a weird position for them," said Brian Sorenson of the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo, North Dakota. "Everyone's knocking at their door, saying, 'Grow this, grow that.' "

Around the world, wheat is becoming a precious commodity. In Pakistan, thousands of paramilitary troops have been deployed since January to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Malaysia, trying to keep its commodities at home, has made it a crime to export flour and other products without a license. Consumer groups in Italy staged a widely publicized (if also widely disregarded) one-day pasta strike last autumn to protest rising prices.
In the United States, the price of dry pasta has risen 20 percent since October, according to government data. Flour is up 19 percent since last summer.

As the newly urbanized and newly affluent seek more protein and more calories, a phenomenon called "diet globalization" is playing out around the world. Demand is growing for pork in Russia, beef in Indonesia and dairy products in Mexico. Rice is giving way to noodles, home-cooked food to fast food.
Though racked with upheaval for years and with many millions still rooted in poverty, Nigeria has a growing middle class. Median income per person doubled in the first half of this decade, to $560 in 2005. Much of this increase is being spent on food.
Nigeria grows little wheat, but its people have developed a taste for bread, in part because of marketing by American exporters. Between 1995 and 2005, per capita wheat consumption in Nigeria more than tripled, to 45 pounds, a year. Bread has been displacing traditional foods like eba, dumplings made from cassava root.
Nigeria's wheat imports in 2007 were forecast to rise 10 percent more. But demand was also rising in many other places, from Venezuela to India. At the same time, drought and competition from other crops limited supply.
So wheat prices soared, and over the past year, bread prices in Nigeria have jumped about 50 percent. Amid a public outcry, bakers started making smaller loaves, hoping customers who could not afford to pay more would pay about the same to eat less. Sales have dropped for street hawkers selling loaves. With imports shrinking, mills are running at half capacity.

More than 20 inches, or 51 centimeters, of snow fell from Friday through Saturday at Columbus, eclipsing the city's previous record of 15.3 inches, which was set in February 1910, the National Weather Service said.

It does not take much imagination to realize how badly war in space could unfold. An enemy - say, China in a confrontation over Taiwan, or Iran staring down America over the Iranian nuclear program - could knock out the U.S. satellite system in a barrage of antisatellite weapons, instantly paralyzing American troops, planes and ships around the world.
Space itself could be polluted for decades to come, rendered unusable.
The global economic system would probably collapse, along with air travel and communications. Cellphones would not work. Nor would ATMs and dashboard navigational gizmos. And preventing an accidental nuclear exchange could become much more difficult.
"The fallout, if you will, could be tremendous," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
The consequences of war in space are in fact so cataclysmic that arms control advocates like Kimball would like simply to prohibit the use of weapons beyond the earth's atmosphere.

A Chinese passenger jet en route to Beijing from the heavily Muslim Xinjiang region was forced to make an emergency landing Friday after the flight crew prevented at least two passengers from trying to crash the airplane, state media reported Sunday.
Meanwhile, a senior Chinese official said Sunday that a police raid in January against an alleged terrorist group in Xinjiang had uncovered materials that proved the group was plotting an attack on the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

The Serbian president, Boris Tadic, said he would call early elections after the prime minister announced that he was planning to dissolve his governing coalition, which would have effectively toppled the government. The elections could help determine whether Serbia embraces the West or returns to virulent nationalism.
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Saturday that he would ask the government to resign because he could no longer govern in a coalition with Tadic's pro-Western Democratic Party. Kostunica has accused the president of forsaking Serbia's claim to Kosovo. Tadic opposes Kosovo's independence but argues that Belgrade should forge closer ties with the European Union and the United States, regardless of the province's status.

At his news conference with Merkel, Putin again warned that Kosovo's independence would only encourage separatism in Europe, and he said that Russia would only recognize Kosovo in accordance with international law. And Putin accused the West of trying to replace the United Nations with NATO.
"An endless expansion of the military bloc under modern conditions when there is no confrontation between two hostile systems - we can see that it is not only unfeasible but harmful and counterproductive," he said.
Merkel rejected Putin's assertion about the Western alliance.
"NATO does not want to become the second UN," she said. "This is an alliance of absolutely defensive nature that is based on common values."
It is the country that once invented gunpowder, wrought iron, the compass, paper, silk, and the toothbrush. These days it is the world's biggest workshop, making everything from the contents of Wal-Mart's bargain bins to lusciously designed objects like the iPhone.
That country is, of course, China. Given its frenzied growth, the next logical step is for the Chinese to revive their rich history of innovation to ensure that some of their future products are "Designed in China," not just "Made in China." Whether they succeed is one of the most contentious issues in design today, and a thorny challenge to all of the foreign companies that have been manufacturing there so profitably.
"The key challenges do not lie so much in the creativity and aspirations of individual designers (China has those), but in the development of a nurturing infrastructure which will develop its design strengths further," Parker said. "Most importantly China's government needs to invest in the country's designers, creating a supportive environment where design can flourish, and design companies can grow and thrive."

"We have new information that more than $1 billion passed through Taylor's personal bank accounts between 1997 and 2003 when he was president," said Stephen Rapp, the chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying Taylor at an outpost in The Hague. Last year, experts advising the UN Security Council estimated Taylor's fortune at half that amount.
So far, the Liberian dictator, who arrives for court in tinted glasses and impeccable suits, has insisted he has almost no money and cannot even pay for his defense. The governments of Nigeria and Liberia, where Taylor is believed to have considerable investments and real estate, have not cooperated with the court's requests for information and freezing his assets, prosecutors said.
As a result, the court is paying $70,000 per month to his defense team, which includes a dozen people. It pays another $30,000 per month in other expenses such as the team's office rent and salaries for the four investigators assigned to him.
Bush vetoed a bill Saturday that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.
Colombia crisis is settled, but which side wins?
The Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe, apologized to President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who shook his hand and said, "With the commitment of never attacking a brother country again and by asking forgiveness, we can consider this very serious incident resolved."
But we're beyond tribalism, right?
Wrong. The main forces in the world today are the modernizing, barrier-breaking sweep of globalization and the tribal reaction to it, which lies in the assertion of religious, national, linguistic, racial or ethnic identity against the unifying technological tide.
Connection and fragmentation vie. The Internet opens worlds and minds, but also offers opinions to reinforce every prejudice. You're never alone out there; some idiot will always back you. The online world doesn't dissolve tribes. It gives them global reach.

Wales slogs to a trophy and keeps eye on Six Nations title
If the first half was dour in Dublin, it was far, far worse in the second game of the day in Edinburgh.
On an afternoon of rain squalls interrupted by brief spells of sunshine, neither team seemed comfortable running or passing the ball. England, which repeatedly dropped the ball or lost it in the tackle, was worse. Because it made more errors it lost.
Often the two teams seemed to be able to think of nothing better to do than kick the ball away as soon as they got their hands on it. For long periods the ball simply ping-ponged back and forth.
The only points came from penalties. In the first half, Jonny Wilkinson landed one and was short with another. That successful kick was enough to take him to 1,093 points in test matches, breaking a tie with Neil Jenkins, now a coach for Wales, as the top international scorer of all time. Chris Paterson of Scotland may not have as many points, but in recent seasons he has been even more accurate. He took all three his first-half chances to give the home team a 9-3 lead.
Paterson added another penalty in the first minute of the second half to stretch the lead to nine points. He quickly added another. Wilkinson replied with two penalties for England.
With nearly half an hour to go, the game was finely poised. It simply toppled over into the mud. Neither team scored again. Indeed neither ever looked like scoring, which was fine by the Scots, who had lost their first three games.

Yet Mr. Obama was planning for the future. He spent much of his time raising money for other Democrats, which helped him build chits and lists of potential voters. He tended to his image, even upbraiding a reporter for writing that he had smoked a cigarette (a habit he later said he gave up for his presidential bid).
I hadn't yet come to grips with the notion of giving up Popeyes when Obama - slender, chewing Nicorette and perfectly groomed in his crisp white shirt - came upon me.

In what was called a political tsunami here, the National Front won just 51.2 percent of the popular vote, giving it enough seats to remain in power. But the coalition lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since 1969 - and with it, the right to amend the Constitution freely, which it has done 40 times in 50 years.
The governing coalition also lost control of Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Perak, which are among the largest states in the country. With Kelantan, which was the only state in opposition hands before the elections, opposition parties now control 5 out of 13 states, which is unprecedented.
"I don't think Malaysian politics will ever be the same again," said Anwar as he returned to Kuala Lumpur late Saturday night from his native Penang, where Lim, his fellow opposition member, will soon be sworn in as chief minister, or governor.

OBITUARY - Paul Raymond, 82, owner of strip clubs and sex magazines
Jean Seton, official historian of the BBC, said he had been an important force, with feminism, for making sex an acceptable feature of British life. "What feminism did was put sex on the table and say, 'This is part of our lives,' " she said. "But he took it and commercialized it. He made porn mainstream by making men feel less of a failure for needing it."

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