Friday, 28 March 2008

Thursday, 27th March 2008



Economists note there should not be two prices for one thing at the same place and time. Could a drug store sell two identical tubes of toothpaste, and charge 50 cents more for one of them? Of course not.
But, in effect, exactly that has been happening - repeatedly and mysteriously - in markets that set prices in the United States for corn, soybeans and wheat. And even economists who have been studying this phenomenon say they are at a loss to explain it.
Whatever the reason, the price for a bushel of grain established in the public derivatives markets has been substantially higher than the price of the same bushel of the same grain at the same moment in the cash market.
When that happens, no one can be exactly sure which price accurately reflects supply and demand in these crucial commodity markets, an uncertainty that can influence food prices and production decisions around the world. Prices set in the U.S. markets are used as benchmarks for grain prices globally.
These disparities also raise the question of whether farmers, who rely almost exclusively on the cash market, are being shortchanged by cash prices that are lower than the derivatives market says they should be.


Madison Avenue has always been a place for sun worshipers, whether it was naming brands like Sun, Sunlight, Sunbird, Sunbeam and Sol; coining slogans like "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine"; or sending the Coppertone girl and her dog out on the beach to urge, "Don't be a paleface."
The newest demonstration of solar power (figuratively) is coming from the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo, which is using the sun to help transform its SunChips line of multigrain snack chips into a "green" brand. The initiative is centered on the addition of solar power to the Frito-Lay plant in Modesto, California, that makes SunChips. A farm of solar collectors is being added to provide up to 75 percent of the energy needed to produce the product.
The plant, one of seven in the United States that make SunChips, is scheduled to start using solar power on Earth Day, April 22, as part of ambitious efforts by PepsiCo to convince consumers that it cares about the environment.
Those measures include buying renewable energy credits, a move that is being promoted on packages of SunChips. The company is also rethinking manufacturing processes to use less water and power and is installing fuel-efficient ovens.
PepsiCo does not intend to hide its light under a bushel. A campaign to inform shoppers about the ecologically friendly changes is getting under way, composed of television commercials, print advertisements, billboards, information on the SunChips Web site and a presence on the social-networking site Facebook.

Environmental themes are enjoying a boom and are changing how marketers and agencies talk to consumers. Companies like Coca-Cola, General Electric, General Motors, Macy's, E.W. Scripps, Toyota and Wal-Mart are clambering aboard a bandwagon painted green, festooned with flowers and powered by an engine that runs on biodiesel fuel.

A fierce debate, with equal parts art, environmentalism and economics, has erupted over a plan by the state to allow oil drilling about five miles across the lake. The owner of "Spiral Jetty," the Dia Art Foundation in New York, in an alliance with a conservation group called Friends of Great Salt Lake, says the oil rigs would harm the work's aesthetic experience.


Among columnists, royal-watchers and exponents of hyperbole, it was a race for the most cloying of verbal cotton candy. "Were we looking at a new Jackie O or more of an Audrey Hepburn or perhaps, even, a touch of Diana," Robert Hardman wrote in The Daily Mail.
Another of the same newspaper's writers, Amanda Platell, struck a more skeptical note, reaching for the history books to describe Bruni's curtsy to the queen as the most calculated act of homage to a British monarch since Anne Boleyn bowed to Henry VIII to become his second wife in 1533.
"She has mastered the transformation from rock chick to chic - and she pulled it off before the most unforgiving audience in the world," Platell wrote.

Gallegos, 48, is a traditional warlock, one of dozens who work in this idyllic town, nestled near the Gulf of Mexico by Lake Catemaco in the state of Veracruz. Like most witches here, he melds European and native traditions in his work, a special brew of occultism he learned from his uncle.

His cramped cement workroom holds an image of the Virgin Mary and a large crucifix with a bloodied Jesus. A six-pointed star is painted on the floor, with a horseshoe to one side and a St. Andrew's cross on the other. Candles dedicated to various saints crowd his table, most with photographs lashed to them. Some are photos of men and women whom the client wants to ensnare in love. Others are of barren women who want children. Others are of people with maladies from asthma to cancer.
Beneath the table Gallegos keeps ragged boxes full of herbs, bark and roots that have been used in these parts for medicinal purposes since before Hernán Cortés was a gleam in his great-great-grandfather's eye.
He has dead bats, used in certain love charms, and ground-up rattlesnake, for curing illnesses. He uses oils extracted from lizards and turtles, the dried tongues of certain fish, coyote skin, eggs, chickens, holy water from the church and less-than-holy water from the lake. He knows dozens of local plants and their attributes. And he wields the tooth of a venomous snake.
"This goes back to ancient times," he said. "There were witches here before the Spanish. Here there is a mix of everything, even of God."

Clinton details premium cap in health plan
The average cost of a family policy bought by an individual in 2006 and 2007 was $5,799, or 10 percent of the median family income of $58,526, according to America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. Some policies cost up to $9,201, or 16 percent of median income.
The average out-of-pocket cost for workers who buy family policies through their employers is lower, $3,281, or 6 percent of median income, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health research group.


The Miami police could soon use cutting-edge flying drones to help fight crime.
A small pilotless vehicle manufactured by Honeywell International, capable of hovering and "staring" using electro-optic or infrared sensors, is expected to be introduced soon in the skies over the Florida Everglades.
If use of the drone wins U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval after tests, the Miami-Dade Police Department will start flying the 14 pound, or 6.35 kilogram, drone over urban areas with an eye toward full-fledged employment in crime fighting.
"Our intentions are to use it only in tactical situations as an extra set of eyes," said Detective Juan Villalba, a police department spokesman.


It is with much relief that I write, as an Englishman, that the Beckham phenomenon has reached its logical end and can now be confined to history. The man who has made himself an icon of global marketing reached the milestone of wearing England's colors for the 100th time. He wore golden boots specially crafted by his shoe sponsor; his shirt, and all the other English shirts, were specially embroidered to mark the occasion.
But it was an appearance rather than a performance. Beckham, at 32, is no longer in the mainstream of European soccer; he has a role in California as a kind of traveling salesman for a game that refuses to take wing in the United States.


"We should be ready for the worst possible scenario," he [Afghanistan's defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak] said. More than 200 foreign soldiers and even more Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed last year. The year's combat was the heaviest since 2001, when American-led forces ousted the country's Taliban rulers.
A Danish soldier was killed Thursday in southern Afghanistan, and three German soldiers were wounded in the north in separate attacks.
With the arrival of spring's warmer weather, the Taliban have already announced that they are preparing a new offensive. Mark Laity, a NATO spokesman in Kabul, dismissed that as Taliban propaganda. "It's the same old story, same old nonsense," he said. "They're saying they will do more destruction, more unhappiness and more misery."

But Wardak said he was preparing for the worst "so we do not go wrong."
"We had a very intense 2007, and as usual during winter the level of activity declined, and now we are expecting an increase in activities," he said. He also said that the insurgents had changed tactics since fielding large numbers of fighters in conventional battles in 2006, and that they were now fighting in smaller groups over a larger area.
While the center of gravity of the insurgency remained in the south and east of the country, where a majority of NATO forces are deployed, he said he expected the Taliban to try more attacks in the western and northern parts of Afghanistan.


Like other foreign laborers, Indians in the Gulf work largely in construction, sending home more than $20 billion every year. In February, India's ambassador to Bahrain, Balkrishna Shetty, sought a minimum monthly wage of $265 for all unskilled Indian workers, who are paid $160 to $225 a month there.
The increase was scheduled to begin on March 1, but companies in Bahrain resisted the proposed higher wages, provoking thousands of Indian workers to strike for more than a month.
Bahrain's labor minister, Majeed al-Alawi, said India had no authority to enforce such a measure in the Gulf. Instead, he encouraged India to try to bar Gulf-bound workers who did not receive a minimum wage contract.
"It is in their jurisdiction to do it in their country," Alawi said. "All we say is that he cannot apply it in Bahrain or any other Gulf state."
India abandoned its minimum-wage proposal early this month, Shetty said, but companies in Bahrain ultimately agreed to raise salaries of Indian workers to about $265 a month with improved work conditions, said Salman al-Mahfoudh, deputy head of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions.
Since then, though, companies have begun to look to workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, Alawi said.


When Chen Xiangwen first moved to Beijing eight years ago, she expected to be able to drink the tap water. After all, she was living in a city about to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
But like millions of Beijingers, Chen soon discovered the tap water was unfit to drink and was a possible health hazard.
"The tap water had a funny smell, and it seemed like there were all sorts of particles in it," said the 30-year-old consultant. "Once I found a convenient place to buy bottled water, I never looked back."
More than half of the water in China - the world's fourth-largest economy after the United States, Japan and Germany - is unfit to drink. Last year, around 48 million people living there lacked sufficient drinking water.
Well aware of its shoddy environmental image, China has declared cleaner water to be one of its major policy goals, and it has thrown open the doors to foreign firms eager to grab a piece of the fast-growing $14.2 billion market.


After months of public discussion, a film critical of the Koran produced by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders was released on the Internet on Thursday night despite warnings that it could spark violence.
Entitled "Fitna," the short film intersperses footage of acts of terrorism with sayings from the Koran and begins with one of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad whose publication in Denmark provoked large and violent protests in several countries.


The British military admitted Thursday that some of its troops breached the human rights of an Iraqi man who died in custody and of eight other detained Iraqis.
The Ministry of Defense said it expects to negotiate compensation for the survivors of the dead man, Baha Mousa, and with the eight former detainees.
The nine were taken into custody as suspected insurgents, then were held in stress positions and deprived of sleep for about two days in extreme heat at a British army barracks near the southern Iraqi city of Basra in September 2003, prosecutors told a British military court.
Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, died from asphyxia after soldiers restrained him following an escape attempt.
One soldier, Cpl. Donald Payne, 35, was convicted of inhumane treatment in that case, making him the first British soldier to plead guilty to a war crime under international law.



President George W. Bush apologized to the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, on Thursday for the killing of an Egyptian vendor when a cargo ship chartered by the United States opened fire on his small boat near the Suez Canal on Monday in an incident that has enraged Egyptians.
"President Bush expressed his deep regret and sympathies for the incident in the Suez Canal," the White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said Thursday morning aboard Air Force One, adding that, in his telephone conversation with Mubarak, Bush promised that the United States "would fully investigate."

The vendor, 28-year-old Muhammad Fouad Afifi, was a licensed trader selling cigarettes and antiques to ships passing through the Suez Canal.

Afifi left behind his 23-year-old wife, a 5-year-old daughter and a 9-month-old son. On Thursday, a relative said they had not received any form of compensation.
"There is no possible compensation for his life," said Heba Moustafa, Afifi's 21-year-old niece, in a telephone interview. "But we want to feel like someone is standing up for us."



American-trained Iraqi security forces failed for a third straight day to oust Shiite militias from the southern city of Basra on Thursday, even as President George W. Bush hailed the operation as a sign of the growing strength of Iraq's federal government.
The fighting in Basra with the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of the political movement led by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, set off violent clashes in cities throughout the country and major demonstrations in Sadr City, the huge Baghdad slum that is Sadr's base of power, and other Shiite neighborhoods in the capital.

On Thursday, violence also broke out in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kirkuk, Baquba and other cities. In Baghdad, where explosions shook the city throughout the day, American officials said 11 rockets struck the fortified Green Zone, killing an unidentified American government worker, the second this week.

The Iraqi government imposed a citywide curfew until Sunday morning.

Medical officials in Basra said that the toll in the fighting there had risen to about 100 dead and 500 wounded, including civilians, militiamen and security forces. An Iraqi employee of The New York Times, driving on the main road between Basra and Nasiriya, observed numerous civilian cars with coffins strapped to the roofs, apparently heading to sacred Shiite cemeteries to the north.


The opening of the £4.3 billion Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 ended in chaos Thursday, with its new baggage handling system suspended and dozens of flights canceled.

What was supposed to be a day of glory for British Airways, sole occupant of the mammoth terminal, built at a cost of $8.6 billion, turned into a shambles as problems worsened. The airline was finally forced to restrict passengers at the terminal to hand luggage only.
Problems developed in the first hours of the terminal's operation, when many passengers had to wait more than an hour to receive their bags, and deepened in the afternoon, when many flights were canceled.
At one point, a British Airways flight left for Paris without any of its checked baggage in the hold, embarrassed airline officials conceded, making a mockery of the earlier claim that the new state-of-the-art baggage system would work well from Day 1.


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