Thursday, 27 March 2008

Wednesday, 27 March 2008


Argentina's striking farmers have blocked 1.5 million tons of cereals and oilseeds from being loaded onto ships in the past two weeks, a group representing the country's grain exporters said.
Ships awaiting loading would not get any grain Wednesday as farmers kept up picket lines at crushing mills and Parana River ports....
The halt in exports may deepen global food shortages just as Argentina , a leading corn exporter amd soyabean producer, begins to harvest this year's crops. The strike stems from a tax increase on agricultural exports. (Bloomberg IHT 27/03/08)

Romania, which has been one of the most receptive markets on a skeptical Continent for genetically modified crops, is moving toward a reversal of its stance, in what would be another setback for the beleaguered biotechnology industry in Europe.
Attila Korodi, Romania's environment minister, said he would ask a committee of experts Thursday to revaluate a gene-altered version of corn, MON810, the only modified crop that has been approved for commercial planting in the European Union.
During an interview, Korodi said not enough studies had been done to gauge the effects of the corn on ecological systems in Romania, including in the Black Sea area.
In addition, he said, banning biotech crops could increase rural prosperity by allowing farmers to take advantage of a growing global demand for organic feed and foodstuffs, which, in addition to being unaltered, are grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Such products can command higher prices - although experts question whether farming practices in much of Eastern Europe are developed enough for such a specialized market.

"I think becoming an organic country is a good thing," Korodi said. "We have to analyze the true costs of growing GMOs," he added, since the technology was potentially harmful to the environment and had become widely unpopular in Romania.
An actual ban would still be some ways off and could require parliamentary support, he said.

A virus called infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, is killing millions of salmon destined for export to Japan, Europe and the United States. The spreading plague has sent shivers through Chile's third-largest industry, which has left local people embittered by laying off more than 1,000 workers.
It has also opened the companies to fresh charges from biologists and environmentalists who say that the breeding of salmon in crowded underwater pens is contaminating once-pristine waters and producing potentially unhealthy fish.
Some say the industry is raising its fish in ways that court disaster, and producers are coming under new pressure to change their methods to preserve southern Chile's cobalt blue waters for tourists and other marine life.
"All these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls," said Felipe Cabello, a microbiologist at New York Medical College in Valhalla that has studied Chile's fishing industry. "Parasitic infections, viral infections, fungal infections are all disseminated when the fish are stressed and the centers are too close together."

"It is simply not possible to produce fish on an industrial scale in a sustainable way," said Wolfram Heise, director of the marine conservation program at the Pumalin Project, a private conservation initiative in Chile. "You will never get it into ecological balance."
When companies began breeding non-native Atlantic salmon here some two decades ago, salmon farming was seen as a godsend for this sparsely populated area of sleepy fishing towns and campgrounds.

The industry has grown eight-fold since 1990. Today it employs some 53,000 people either directly or indirectly. Marine Harvest currently operates the world's largest "closed system" fish-farming facility at Rio Blanco, near Puerto Montt, where 35 million fish a year are raised until they weigh about 10 grams.
As the industry now abandons the region in search of uncontaminated waters elsewhere, local people are angry and worried about their future.
The salmon companies "are robbing us of our wealth," said Victor Gutierrez, a fisherman from a town on the Gulf of Reloncavi, which is dotted with salmon farms. "They bring illnesses and then leave us with the problems."

Cigarette company paid for lung cancer study in U.S.
In October 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College jolted the cancer world with a study saying that 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans.
Small print at the end of the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, noted that it had been financed in part by a little-known charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment. But a review of tax records by The New York Times shows that the foundation was underwritten almost entirely by $3.6 million in grants from the parent company of the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands.
The foundation got four grants from the Vector Group, Liggett's parent, from 2000 to 2003.

Death of large numbers of U.S. bats puzzles experts

In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.
Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control.

Researchers have yet to determine whether the bats are being killed by a virus, bacteria, toxin, environmental hazard, metabolic disorder or fungus. Some have been found with pneumonia, but that and the fungus are believed to be secondary symptoms.
"This is probably one of the strangest and most puzzling problems we have had with bats," said Paul Cryan, a bat ecologist with the United States Geological Survey. "It's really startling that we've not come up with a smoking gun yet."


'Green collars' becoming a force in U.S. economy

Everyone knows what blue-collar and white-collar jobs are, but now a job of another hue - green - has entered the lexicon.
U.S. presidential candidates talk about the promise of green-collar jobs - an economy with millions of workers installing solar panels, weatherizing homes, brewing biofuels, building hybrid cars and erecting giant wind turbines. Labor unions view these new jobs as replacements for positions lost to overseas manufacturing and outsourcing. Urban groups view training in green jobs as a route out of poverty. And environmentalists say they are crucial to combating climate change.
No doubt the number of green-collar jobs is growing as homeowners, business and industry shift toward conservation and renewable energy. And the numbers are expected to increase greatly in the next few decades, because state governments have mandated that even more energy come from alternative sources.
But some skeptics argue that the phrase "green jobs" is little more than a trendy term for politicians and others to bandy about. Some say they are not sure that these jobs will have the staying power to help solve the problems of the U.S. job market, and others note that green jobs often pay less than the old manufacturing jobs they are replacing. Such is the novelty of the concept that no one is certain how many such green jobs there are, and even advocates do not always agree on what makes a job green.


For carbon emissions, some businesses aim for less than zero

If the world is going to sharply reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by midcentury, then many businesses will have to go carbon neutral, bringing their net emissions of the greenhouse gas to zero.
But some could go even further by removing more CO2 than they produce. Instead of carbon neutral, how about carbon negative?

BANGKOK, Thailand

Chevron Corp. has found at least 6 trillion cubic feet (170 billion cubic meters) of natural gas in the Malay Basin offshore southwest Vietnam, it said Wednesday.

Yevgeny Primakov, the former prime minister of Russia, said Wednesday that the ethnic partition of Kosovo was the only option to avoid future conflict and that it would entail population movements.
Ninety percent of the population of Kosovo is Albanian, and the province declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17 with Western support. Russia backs Serbia in its firm opposition to the move, which they say is an illegal secession.
About 120,000 Serbs still live in Kosovo. About half of them are in a northern strip bordering Serbia proper and the rest are in scattered and isolated enclaves to the east and south.
"The best solution would be now for Serbs to move out of southern parts to northern parts, which are closer to Serbia, and then to join Serbia," Primakov said in an interview with the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti.

"I still think partition is the only solution," he added. "If not, there will be constant conflicts and innocent people will suffer."
The Albanians, the West and the Serbs have all insisted for their own reasons in the past that partition is not an option, although some Western diplomats suspect it has always been on the Serb agenda as a "Plan B."

Taiwan's voters have given themselves and China a chance for a healthy, new start. Last week, they elected a president who promised to strengthen relations with the mainland - while ensuring the autonomy of Taiwan's vibrant democracy.
That should be a relief for both sides of the strait.
Over the last decade, Taipei's push toward independence and Beijing's rhetorical bullying and real military buildup - including 1,000 missiles pointed at the island - fanned tensions and fears of war.
The two governments must now seize this opportunity to build a productive new relationship.

BEIT SIRA, West Bank
Ali Abu Safia, the mayor of this Palestinian village, steers his car up one potholed road, then another, finding each exit blocked by huge concrete chunks placed there by the Israeli Army. On a sleek highway about 100 meters away, Israeli cars whiz by.
"They took our land to build this road, and now we can't even use it," Abu Safia says bitterly, pointing to the highway with one hand as he drives with the other. "Israel says it is because of security. But it's politics."
The object of Abu Safia's contempt - Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem - has taken on special significance in the rinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, Israel's Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.

Taliban attacks on telecom towers have prompted cell phone companies to shut down service across southern Afghanistan at night, angering a quarter million customers who have no other telephones.
Even some Taliban fighters now regret the disruptions and are demanding that service be restored by the companies.
The communication blackout follows a campaign by the Taliban, which said the U.S. and NATO were using the fighters' cell phone signals to track them at night and launch pinpoint attacks.
About 10 towers have been attacked since the warning late last month — seven of them seriously — causing almost US$2 million (€1.27 million) in damage, the telecom ministry said. Afghanistan's four major mobile phone companies began cutting nighttime service across the south soon after.

U.N. minesweepers started checking a roadblock in Cyprus's ethnically-partitioned capital for booby traps on Wednesday in preparation for opening the crossing to pedestrian traffic for the first time in decades.
An 80 metre (yard) gap buttressed by decaying buildings separating Greek and Turkish Cypriots at the core of medieval Nicosia is to be opened by early April, after a deal between leaders of the estranged communities to resume peace talks.
Six explosives experts in full protective gear entered the area on Wednesday morning with mine detection equipment, Reuters witnesses said.
"Work has started to check the area for mines and we expect to be finished today," a spokesman for the U.N. mission on the island said. "This is the first step towards opening the crossing."

MINSK, Belarus
The courts on Wednesday sentenced dozens of protesters detained in an illegal protest against President Alexander Lukashenko, who is accused in the West of stifling human rights.



Europe on Wednesday sharpened its tone over China's military actions in Tibet as officials said they were considering sending a fact-finding mission to Beijing and a Chinese diplomat sought to defend the crackdown on protesters.

When asked whether Beijing would accept an international fact-finding mission under the auspices of the EU or the United Nations, China's deputy ambassador in Paris, Qu Xing, said on the radio station Europe 1: "Would you allow a UN mission to see if all is well in Villiers-le-Bel?"



An outspoken Egyptian tabloid news editor has been sentenced to six months in prison for reporting on the president's health problems, causing panic among foreign investors and threatening Egypt's economy in a highly publicized case, a court official said Wednesday.



China said Wednesday that 660 people had surrendered to the authorities in western China, following two weeks of anti-government protests and deadly riots in and around Tibet.



The new, conservative South Korean government signaled a tougher line on North Korea on Wednesday, warning that it will speak out against human rights abuses in the Communist North and that it will not improve economic ties unless the North abandons its nuclear weapons programs.

Since 2003, South Korea has voted only once for a UN resolution criticizing the North's human rights record: after the North conducted a nuclear arms test in October 2006.
Lee, who took office last month, has accused his predecessors of making too many concessions to the North in the name of reconciliation and has vowed not to shy away from criticizing the North on human rights.
"I love North Korean people more than anybody else, and I believe the North Korean people should get to a point where they can enjoy the minimum basic happiness of human beings," Lee said Wednesday during the policy briefing.

DANANG, Vietnam
The road departs from the beach after 15 kilometers or so and ends up in Hoi An, a picturesque town of old wooden houses with courtyards, most of which have been turned into handicraft shops. There are restaurants serving local Vietnamese specialties and lots of cold beer. Hoi An is a Vietnamese version of one of those picture-perfect towns you might see in Tuscany or Provence, a place where real life is giving way to a kind of arts-and-crafts tourism.

Looked at economically and socially, Vietnam has restored a bit of the atmosphere of French colonialism, when wealthy Europeans occupied the seats at the café tables and restaurants and local people served them, except that for many visitors here today Vietnam is an incidental factor. It's more the beaches, the scenery, the cheaper-than-Tuscany prices (and the marvelous cuisine) that attract many foreign visitors, not so much Vietnam as a cultural or historical entity. And the prices aren't always cheaper than Tuscany.
Outside Nha Trang, the beach town and port where my cruise ship is due after Danang, the Ana Mandara Six Senses Spa offers what its Web site calls "the ultimate seclusion," because it is only accessible by boat. The cost for a two-story villa, the only kind of accommodation, is in the neighborhood of $800 a night. My guidebook describes it as a magical place where dirt tracks between buildings give the illusion of a jungle village. But, clearly, it's an ersatz jungle. It's not Vietnam.
Then again, the places where people have been going in Thailand or Indonesia don't afford much contact with Thailand or Indonesia either. Vietnam, which, for obvious reasons, was slow getting into the game, is becoming like them, and, on balance, it's a very good thing.


The U.S. Navy acknowledged Wednesday, and expressed regret, that an Egyptian citizen was killed when a ship working under contract for the navy fired warning shots at an approaching motorboat in the Suez Canal.

Egypt said that Mohammed Fouad was killed by bullets fired from the ship and was buried Tuesday.
"We express our deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased," Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, said in a statement issued to the media. "We are greatly saddened by events that apparently resulted in this accidental death. This situation is tragic and we will do our utmost to help take care of the family of the deceased."

The merchants who ply the canal selling cigarettes and other products to passing ships normally know not to approach military vessels, said the victims brother, Abdallah. But he said that the Global Patriot had looked like a civilian ship.


Courts outside U.S. wary of punitive damages

"The U.S. practice of permitting a lay jury to exercise largely discretionary judgment with limited constraints in awarding punitive damages is regarded almost universally outside the U.S. with a high degree of disfavor," said Gary Born, an American lawyer who works in London.
Foreign lawyers and judges are quick to cite particularly large U.S. awards. Julian Lew, a barrister in London, recalled a Mississippi court's $400 million punitive award against a Canadian company in 1995 with scorn. "It did bring America into total and utter contempt around the world," Lew said.
Yet there are signs that the gap between the United States and the rest of the world is narrowing. American courts and legislatures are starting to limit punitive awards as the rest of the world starts to experiment with them.



The prospect of a pending Supreme Court case that could sweep away many lawsuits against drug companies loomed over Alaska's decision to settle the state's suit against Eli Lilly over the schizophrenia drug Zyprexa, lawyers for Lilly and the state said Wednesday.
Alaska had sued to recoup medical bills it said were generated by patients in Medicaid, a government health services program, who developed diabetes while taking Zyprexa. But on Wednesday it agreed to settle for $15 million — a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars in damages that Ed Sniffen, Alaska's senior assistant attorney general, had said the state was seeking when the trial opened three weeks ago.
On Wednesday, though, Sniffen said he was satisfied with the deal, in which Lilly did not admit wrongdoing.
"It's a good settlement".



Citigroup Inc. agreed Wednesday to pay $1.66 billion (€1.06 billion) to creditors of Enron Corp. who lost money when the energy trader collapsed in 2001.
Citigroup was the last remaining defendant in what was known as the "Mega Claims" lawsuit, filed in 2003 against 11 banks and brokerages. The filer, called Enron Creditors Recovery Corp., alleges that with the help of banks like Citigroup, Enron kept creditors in the dark about the company's financial troubles by using shady accounting.
Wednesday's settlement — plus previous bank settlements and Enron's subsequent release of $1.7 billion (€1.08 billion) held in reserves — gives those creditors more than $5 billion (€3.18 billion), Enron said. That amounts to 37.4 cents on each dollar the creditors had tied up in Enron, according to Enron.
Citi, which denies any wrongdoing, had been trying to get the Enron suit tossed out. Enron's creditors — which include individual employees and small companies who lent Enron money — had filed claims against Citi that could have potentially totaled about $21 billion (€13.37 billion).
Now, a month ahead of the scheduled April trial, Wednesday's settlement has resolved the two largest remaining claims against Citi, the bank said.

Press corps is stepping off the campaign bus
To some, the pullback was overdue. S. Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, said the confluence of a long, expensive campaign with the tightening of editors' wallets had forced a welcome development: the receding of the one-story-suits-all pack journalism depicted in "The Boys on the Bus" and since criticized in other quarters.
"I'm not sure too much is lost," Lichter said. "There used to be a self-defined cadre of campaign reporters. Now the news comes from everywhere - from bloggers, maybe some guy with a video camera. Anyone can generate news, and everyone can generate news. What's the advantage of being the 50th guy on the bus?"

A U.S. congressman said Wednesday during a visit to the Afghan capital that the war in Afghanistan was not a top issue in the U.S. presidential race because of a lack of interest among the American public and the media, The Associated Press reported from Kabul.Keith Ellison, a Democrat from the state of Minnesota, said he believed that the three leading presidential candidates were paying attention to the conflict in Afghanistan but that the issue was not getting wider interest."Either because of the public interest or the press, it's not a hot debate item, but I think it should be," Ellison said. "It's clear the focus in the presidential debate is on Iraq policy, but I wish the press would ask more questions about Afghanistan, what could or should be done to make sure Afghanistan's future is secure."



It is certainly no secret that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a darling of the news media. Reporters routinely attach "maverick," "straight talker" and "patriot" to him like Homeric epithets. Chris Matthews of MSNBC has even called the press "McCain's base" - a comment that McCain himself has jokingly reiterated. The mainstream news media by and large don't cover McCain; they canonize him. Hence the moniker on liberal blogs: St. McCain.
What is less obvious, however, is exactly why the press swoons for him. The answer, which says a great deal about both the political press and McCain, may be that he is something political reporters really haven't seen in quite a while, perhaps since John F. Kennedy.
Seeming to view himself and the whole political process with a mix of amusement and bemusement, McCain is an ironist wooing a group of individuals who regard ironic detachment more highly than sincerity or seriousness. He may be the first real postmodernist candidate for the presidency - the first to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy.



Foreign policy debate in this election campaign has been paltry. I'd like to hear something about GWOT - the "Global War on Terror" - the heart of U.S. national security strategy. It amounts to war without end because "terror" is a tactic and tactics don't surrender. GWOT should be abandoned: It's externally divisive and internally treacherous. Al Qaeda can be beaten sans GWOT.

More than 100 heavily armed insurgents briefly seized control of a major agricultural town in southern Somalia on Wednesday in a surprise attack that killed at least seven people, residents and officials said.

In most other areas of the economy, this combination of plummeting sales and stable prices would not happen. When demand for airline tickets drops, the airlines cut their prices until they have sold their seats. When stocks become less appealing, share prices fall, sometimes sharply.
Just try to imagine stock prices staying roughly flat over a three-year period while sales volumes sank because investors considered the market overvalued.
Bear Stearns is still worth $150 a share, and I’m not selling until someone pays me $150!
Real estate, though, is different. For both economic and psychological reasons, there is no asset more conducive to hopeful overvaluation.
That means real estate slumps tend to grind on for years, until sellers submit to reality and reduce their prices.

Until house prices stop falling, it won’t be clear how many more people will default on their mortgages. Even homeowners who stay current on their mortgage payments will be affected. With the value of their largest asset dropping, many will decide to spend less and save more, aggravating the economic slowdown.

In many ways, it would be better if the housing correction would happen more swiftly and sharply. The pain might be worse, but it would be over quickly. We seem to understand this principle when we’re removing a bandage. Why, then, is it so much harder with housing?
Because houses are almost perfectly engineered to trick owners into overvaluing them.
For starters, people have an obvious emotional connection to their house. After you have raised a family or enjoyed long meals with friends there, you are naturally going to place a higher value on it than a dispassionate buyer would. It’s your home.
In normal times, buyers and sellers can still come to an agreement because inflation allows sellers to feel that they have made a nice return on their house. People don’t sell houses frequently, so the sale price of a house is almost always higher than it was when the current owner bought it, just as the price of food, haircuts and everything else tends to rise over a five- or 10-year span. Because of leverage — the fact that people buy houses mostly on credit — these inflation-driven price increases turn into true investment gains.

David Laibson, a leading behavioral economist, categorizes this sort of behavior under the heading of “the principle of the matter.” His point is that people often go to great lengths to avoid taking a loss — or simply having to acknowledge one. “Even a small loss evokes a sense of frustration,” said Mr. Laibson, a professor at Harvard. “There’s something magical about ‘at least breaking even.’ ”
Often, this hurts no one so much as it hurts the would-be sellers. They stay in homes where they no longer want to live, rather than accepting their loss and moving on. Or they move but endure the hassle of renting out their old home, waiting, usually in vain, for the mythical buyer who understands its charms. All the while, their money is tied up in the house, and inflation is eating away at its real value.

Botswana, one of Africa's wealthiest countries per capita thanks to diamonds, tourism and sensible management, has enjoyed more than four decades of honest, practical government under three popular presidents. On Monday, Mogae will give way to Vice President Ian Khama.
Guided by Mogae and two other democratic presidents, the small country has flourished and become the envy of all of Africa. Despite high HIV numbers, its hospitals and clinics provide retroviral drugs to all sufferers. Its schools and universities provide increasing numbers of local and neighboring peoples with instruction.
Rule of law is observed and corruption hardly exists. Botswana's secret is high quality leadership, broad levels of political participation, and extensive accountability.
Across the Shashe River, Botswana's border with Zimbabwe, all is tragedy. Where Botswana's presidents made their desert bloom, Mugabe - president since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 - has turned his once lush, prosperous nation into a desperate, desiccated despotism, with hunger and bitterness everywhere.

Zimbabwe's hospitals have no medicines or sutures, its schools no textbooks or teachers. Life expectancy is the lowest in the world, age 34 for women. Electricity and water are available only occasionally. The difference again is leadership.

Somebody should tell the current rulers of the Middle Kingdom that their imperial mandate of heaven does not extend to the pure mountain air of Tibet.


Amid the chaos, half a dozen human skulls are neatly arranged on a worktable. Pasqua, his standard issue army fatigues and red sneakers covered in paint, said: "I only use real human skulls. They come from a medical lab in New York. All the import papers are in order."
Next to the skulls, iridescent dried butterflies await a final metamorphosis. "The skulls are first painted, then covered in gold leaf or smothered in encre de chine," Pasqua said. "Then I add the butterflies."
This process results in an exquisitely fragile and striking illustration of man's ability to create beauty transcending death. "The idea to work with skulls originally came from my painting," Pasqua said. "I wanted to go beyond the flesh, to reach deeper than the surface.


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