Thursday, 10 April 2008

Wednesday, 9th April 2008



The police in Haiti struggled Wednesday to control looting and rioting over high food prices as President René Préval issued a sharp call for an end to the chaos.
"The solution is not to go around destroying stores," Préval said in a national address. "I'm giving you orders to stop."
In the speech, his first public comments on the issue since protests began last week, he urged Haiti's Congress to cut taxes on imported food. Meanwhile, looters emptied stores, warehouses and government offices and burned tires in Port-au-Prince, the capital.
Most Haitians survive on less than $2 a day, and rioters say the prices of staples have spiraled so high that most people are going hungry.



In 2005, the U.S. authorities concluded that a Monsanto consultant had visited the home of an Indonesian official and, with the approval of a senior company executive, handed over an envelope stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. The money was meant as a bribe to win looser environmental regulations for Monsanto's cotton crops, according to a court document. Monsanto was also caught concealing the bribe with fake invoices.
A few years earlier, in the age of Enron, these kinds of charges would probably have resulted in a criminal indictment. Instead, Monsanto was allowed to pay $1 million and avoid criminal prosecution by entering into a monitoring agreement with the Justice Department.
In a major shift of policy, the Justice Department, once known for taking down giant corporations, including the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, has put off prosecuting more than 50 companies suspected of wrongdoing over the last three years.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico:

A noted hurricane researcher predicted Wednesday that rising water temperatures in the Atlantic would bring a storm season "well above average" this year, including four major storms.

The director of the National Hurricane Center, Bill Read, who is in his first year on the job, has said he would prefer to characterize the season in general terms - as above average, average or below average - instead of trying to forecast a precise number of storms.
"It doesn't matter what the numbers are," a spokesman for the center, Dennis Feltgen, said Wednesday, repeating a center mantra that it takes only one powerful storm to make it a bad season.

Gazprom of Russia, the world's largest producer of natural gas, and Eni of Italy are preparing to join forces to pipe natural gas from Libya across the Mediterranean to Southern Europe. The ambitious deal would enable Russia to diversify its energy sources but also further increase Europe's dependence on Gazprom, which is state-controlled.
Some analysts describe Gazprom's moves in North Africa as a "pincer" attack on Europe. They say if Gazprom succeeds in Libya and in Algeria, where it is already competing for contracts, it could end up dominating the supply routes to Southern Europe. That would be in addition to its current ambitions in southeastern Europe and parts of Northern Europe, where Gazprom is planning to build an elaborate network of new natural gas pipelines.



The goal is innovation on a local scale, developing clean energy sources and reducing energy demand in a 4-square-kilometer, or 1.5-square-mile, site called a Sustainable Energy Zone. The project is part of a European Union program to encourage pilot projects that can be scaled up to regional or national levels.
Dundalk is working with two other towns, in Austria and Switzerland, on a total budget of about €25.5 million, or $40 million, said Aideen O'Hora, the project manager for Sustainable Energy Ireland, the government agency in charge. But the biggest changes are taking place in Dundalk.
The zone has a bit of everything - an industrial park, a college campus, a high school, a hospital, a hotel, other businesses and two housing developments - in a town of about 30,000 people.
The five-year project will be a year old in June, but other initiatives got a head start, and the town of Dundalk is already seeking money for an energy-conscious expansion that could double its size.


The line between memory and memorialization is never easy to draw, especially in France. In no other country, Thomas agrees, could the simple little cake called a madeleine have the resonance it acquired with Proust. As A.J. Liebling, the American journalist and famously hearty eater, remarked some years ago, the madeleine is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton's apple. He went on to wonder how anyone could be inspired by so small a cake:
"In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world's loss that he did not have a heartier appetite," he wrote. "On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed softshelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece."

Experts say that as many as 100,000 gang members rule the streets of Central America, most of them in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The gangs have affiliated groups in Mexico and the United States, creating an international net of lawlessness. How many are girls is not clear, though a recent study said that as many as 40 percent of the region's gang members may be females, showing off their sexuality even as they learn to strut and throw a fierce punch.
"There are a lot more women and girls than anyone imagined," said Ewa Werner Dahlin, the Swedish ambassador to Guatemala, whose government helped finance a Central American-wide study that included interviews with more than 1,000 past and present, as well as male and female, gang members. "It's a surprise to the experts, and it shows that the authorities have been reacting to gangs without really understanding them."

Assisting her [an ex-member in finding work] was the fact that she never got any tattoos to identify herself as a gang girl. That is becoming more and more common as Central American governments crack down on gangs with their "mano dura," or firm hand, policies. Gang experts say that the new generation of gang members eschew tattoos and dress more like any other urban youngsters.
"The gang member of today looks just like you or me," said Marco Antonio Castillo, whose Grupo Ceiba organization is trying to provide former gangsters with the education and job training they missed while rampaging on the streets.

Here's an arresting allegation: More slaves are now imported (though the current word for this is trafficked) into the United States annually than were imported in an average year during the American colonial era.
That is one of the talking points used lately by the author of an arresting new book on global slavery, "A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery," by E. Benjamin Skinner.
In fact, of course, at the height of the legal slave trade in the 19th century, many more African slaves were "trafficked" to the United States than are arriving now, but globally there may be more people in slavery than ever. Still, it comes as a shock to read Skinner's accounts of the people - the U.S. State Department estimates 600,000 to 800,000 brought across international borders each year - forced to work around the world under threat of violence for no pay.
In the United States, the best estimates indicate that 40,000 to 50,000 people are held in slavery at any given time, with about 17,000 people brought into the country and forced to work for nothing every year. The largest single category of them are forced to work as prostitutes, but a majority are domestic servants or some other form of forced labor.
What is remarkable about Skinner's account is its geographical depth and immediacy. He negotiates with one Benavil, a slave trader in Haiti, and arranges to buy a 9-year-old girl, who will do unpaid housework for him and also serve as what Benavil delicately calls a "partner." Skinner does not proceed with the transaction.

In Bucharest, a pimp offers to sell him a young girl in exchange for a used car. He meets a 46-year-old man in India, and sees the gravel pit where his master has forced him to work 14-plus hours a day virtually all his life.
And in Florida, he meets Williathe Narcisse, trafficked into the country from Haiti at the age of 9 and held in domestic bondage until she was freed three years later. She was regularly beaten and repeatedly raped by a member of the family that "owned" her.



Money from drug trafficking in Bulgaria has been used to fund terrorist groups, a parliamentary commission report said Wednesday.
"Bulgarian crime groups engaged in trafficking ... drugs sometimes work together with Arab citizens linked to terrorist organizations," the report said. A copy of the document was obtained by the Associated Press.
It said that part of the profit from trafficking in drugs such as amphetamines has been "used to finance terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Christian militias (in Lebanon)."
Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.7 million people, lies on a major drug trafficking route linking Western Europe, the Middle East and Southwestern Asia.
The U.S. State Department said in its 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that Bulgaria continues to be a source of drug production, part of which is being smuggled into Turkey and the Middle East.

The parliamentary report was issued amid revelations of illegal links between senior police officers and criminals.



Immigration policy, outsourced to Sheriff Joe

To see how unhinged things have become, it pays to zero in on the squalid doings in Maricopa County, Arizona. It is home to Phoenix, the country's fifth largest city, and the largest 287(g) program anywhere.
It is run by the county sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who has built a national reputation for toughness through years of cruelty to prison inmates and an insatiable appetite for publicity. Where most departments have only handfuls of officers trained to enforce federal immigration laws, Sheriff Joe, as he is known, has 160. Their efforts are supplemented by what the sheriff says is a 3,000-member "posse."

"Do you think I'm going to report to the federal government?" he said. "I don't report to them. If they don't like the contract, they can close it up. That's all."
"By the way," he said, "we do have a 3,000-person posse - and about 500 have guns. They have their own airplanes, jeeps, motorcycles, everything. They can only operate under the sheriff. I swear 'em in. I can put up 30 airplanes tomorrow if I wanted."


Sotheby's Hong Kong auction of Chinese contemporary art got off to a blazing start Wednesday afternoon by selling nearly $18 million worth of works, defying fears that the global economic slowdown would weaken auction prices.

"This is an historic day," said Matthew Weigman, worldwide director of sales publicity for Sotheby's, in a telephone interview during the auction. "Things are going for two, three, four times estimates."

The biggest sale of the session was a 1995 work by Zhang Xiaogang, one of China's most prominent painters, which sold for just over $6 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a Chinese contemporary artist.
The oil-on-canvas portrait, "Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3," depicts a family of three set during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution, when children were occasionally forced to denounce their parents.

A few years ago, Sotheby's did not even hold auctions of Chinese contemporary art. But last year, Sotheby's sold nearly $200 million worth of Asian contemporary art, the vast majority of that by Chinese artists.


They wear bright blue tracksuits and Beijing Olympic organizers call them "flame attendants." But a military bearing hints at their true pedigree: paramilitary police sent by Beijing to guard the Olympic flame during its journey around the world.
Torchbearers have criticized the security detail for aggressive behavior, and a top London Olympics official simply called them "thugs."
"They were barking orders at me, like 'Run! Stop! This! That!' and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, who are these people?'" former television host Konnie Huq told British Broadcasting Corp. radio about her encounter with the men in blue during London's leg of the relay Sunday.

Officially, Beijing has said only that the unit's mission was to guard the flame, in keeping with practices of past Olympic games.
Members were picked from special police units of the People's Armed Police, China's internal security force. The requirements for the job: to be "tall, handsome, mighty, in exceptional physical condition similar to that of professional athletes," the state-run China News Service said.
Special police units are the top tier of the paramilitary corps, chosen for skills in martial arts, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat, according to, a British-based Web site specializing in Chinese military affairs.
The training for the Olympic flame detail included daily mountain runs of at least six miles and lessons in protocol. They also learned basic commands such as "go," "step back," "speed up" and "slow down" in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese, the China News Service said.
But as the torch made a stormy procession through London and Paris, the military training rather than the protocol seemed to come to the fore.
At least one torchbearer said she clashed with the squad, and others have criticized their heavy-handed tactics.
Yolaine De La Bigne, a French environmental journalist who was a torchbearer in Paris, told The Associated Press she tried to wear a headband with a Tibetan flag, but the Chinese agents ripped it away from her.
"It was seen and then, after four seconds, all the Chinese security pounced on me. There were at least five or six (of them). They started to get angry" and shouted "No! No! No!" in English, she said.
De La Bigne tried to push several agents away as they grabbed her arm. She said two French athletes who are martial arts experts tried to help her and clashed briefly with the security detail.
The chairman of the London 2012 Games, Sebastian Coe, was even more blunt.
"They tried to push me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English. They were thugs," Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was quoted as saying in British media. A spokeswoman for the London 2012 Olympics committee confirmed that Coe was quoted accurately, but added that he thought he was making private comments.
The Olympic flame wasn't part of the ancient games, and the torch relay didn't become a fixture in the modern Olympics until the 1936 Berlin Games, when it was part of the Nazi pageantry that promoted Hitler's beliefs of Aryan supremacy in the world of sports.
That first 12-day relay from Ancient Olympia to Berlin traversed Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other nations that would later be invaded by the Nazis. And the torch was borne into the Olympic stadium by a blond, blue-eyed runner chosen for his Aryan features.
In years since, security details have been sent out by Olympic hosts to accompany the torch, but until now, they never faced such protests.
In China, paramilitary police are responsible for a wide range of security tasks from fighting forest fires to quelling civil unrest. After deadly riots and protests broke out in Tibet last month, detachments mobilized to reassert government control.
The Olympics squad is composed of two groups: 30 members covering the torch route outside China, and 40 handling the relay inside China, according to China News Service.
The guards work around-the-clock shifts to ensure the Olympic flame never goes out. News photos showed them on an Air China charter jet staring at two lanterns containing the flame.
In London, the guards stopped a protester from wrenching the torch from the hands of Huq, the former TV host, but she was unsure who they were and what their role was.
"The men in blue perplexed everyone," she said. "Nobody actually seemed to know who they were officially or what their title was. They were kind of very robotic, very full on."
Officials with the Beijing Olympic organizing committee and the government had only praise for the flame attendants.
"I think our protection team members have been following regulations and properly carrying out their flame protection work," said an official in the Olympic torch relay center in Beijing, who gave only his surname, Liu, because he is not an official spokesman.
Zhao Shangsen, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in London, said it is "routine practice" for flame attendants to accompany the torch as it travels around the world.
"Their job is to protect the torch," he said.



"There's a Chinese saying: river water and well water don't mix," said Rose Pak, the general consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which supports the relay. "You do your thing, and we do our thing. Why is it you have to disrupt our celebration, when none of us went and disrupted their celebration?"

An advertising campaign promoted by the Venice industrialists' association comparing the cost of labor in four European countries has been giving local commuters pause.
In this case, numbers speak louder than words: for every €2,400, or $3,800, an employer spends on a worker, net income varies greatly.
An Irish worker will cash a €1,865 paycheck; a Briton €1,582; a Spaniard €1,466, while an Italian worker's take home pay will be €1,298. Taxes and social charges account for the difference. "Are we really in Europe?" the ads on public transportation ask.
"Our message is to politicians" before national elections this weekend, said Massimo Codato, who heads the small and medium-sized enterprises committee within Unindustria Treviso, the group that commissioned the study. "We want to ask them, What will you do for workers should you win, so that they can be closer to rest of Europe?"



It takes a bit of courage, and perhaps a lot of ego, to tell large companies that their ad campaigns have been failing miserably.
But that's exactly what the advertising firm Naked claims to do regularly.
"We get up in front of a group of agencies and tell them, very nicely, that they have wasted tens of millions of dollars," said Ben Richards, senior strategist at Naked New York.
For that advice, of course, Naked hopes to earn a chunk of the supposedly wasted money. The company specializes in helping clients select the right balance of media for its message - shifting, perhaps, away from television and toward the Internet, or maybe in other directions.

Twenty people were killed in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad on Wednesday despite a vehicle ban aimed at preventing unrest from spreading on the fifth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Up to 70 people have died in the Shiite slum since Sunday in battles between militiamen loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr and U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The fighting came as the top U.S. officials in Iraq testified in Washington that they opposed setting a timetable to withdraw troops from the five-year-old war.
"The floor of the hospital is covered with the blood of children," said Qasim al-Mudalla, manager of the Imam Ali Hospital in Sadr City, where he said 4 children and 2 women were among 11 dead bodies brought in Wednesday. "What is the world doing? They have seen the blood of our children and are doing nothing."




The Kurds, protected by an American-sponsored no-fly zone during Saddam Hussein’s last years in power, got a head start on the nation-building process that has convulsed the rest of Iraq. Quietly, and happy to be left alone, they have developed a semi-autonomous enclave that is pro-democracy, pro-American and even pro-Israel. It is Muslim but not theocratic. There is no insurgency, and no American soldiers have been killed there. Almost by accident, Mr. Lawrence writes, Iraqi Kurdistan has turned out to be “one of the most successful nation-building projects in American history.”

What exactly is a Kurd? Much hinges on the reply. For years the Turkish government simply denied the existence of its millions of Kurds, calling them “mountain Turks who have forgotten their language.”
In fact, the Kurds are a distinct, ancient ethnic group with their own non-Arabic language who inhabit parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Like the Palestinians, they are a people without a homeland and are much less likely than the Palestinians to get one. This is the discordant note in Mr. Lawrence’s otherwise upbeat account, a little-engine-that-could story in which courageous, determined Kurds, overcoming repeated betrayals by the Western powers, manage to create from the ruins of Iraq a virtual state that cannot become actual without throwing the entire Middle East into chaos.



An Israeli study says that Hamas, the militant group that now controls Gaza, is engaged in the broadest and most significant military buildup in its history with help from Syria and Iran, restructuring itself more hierarchically and using more and more powerful weapons, especially longer-range rockets against Israel's southern communities.

"This is the first comprehensive analysis of the Hamas buildup," said Reuven Erlich, a retired Israeli colonel in military intelligence who heads The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the institute that produced the study. "It is based on a wide range of sources. And what is very clear is that Hamas, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, is aiming to use rocket fire to draw the Israeli military in."



Petraeus's tone was notably sober, and he acknowledged that "we haven't turned any corners, we haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel," despite the intensified U.S. military campaign over the past 15 months of the surge.

A recurring criticism [during congressional hearings] involved the financial costs of the war at a time when Iraq has built up a budget surplus fueled by high oil prices. Another was that a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces would force the government to shoulder more responsibility for its own fate.



One of the chief concerns of the pragmatists is that McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate.
In a trip to the Middle East last month, McCain made an embarrassing mistake when he said several times that he was concerned that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. (The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, a Sunni insurgent group.) He repeated the mistake on Tuesday at hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.



The way forward, Petraeus said, should be "conditions-based."
Even in a place as prosaic as the Senate, this news spurred existential angst.
Senator Evan Bayh summed up the Dada nature of America's plan in Iraq: "We'll know when we get there, and we don't know when we're going to get there."
A confused Senator Chuck Hagel asked the pair: "So, where's the surge? What are we doing? I don't see Secretary Rice doing any Kissingeresque flying around. Where is the diplomatic surge? So, where is the surge? What are you talking about?"


If IRA leaders are appointed to high office, what good reason is there for pursuing Ratko Mladic? This is not said frivolously. The Belfast journalist John O'Farrell has reviewed McGuinness's career, culminating in his appointment as, of all things, minister of education (or "Minister For Surviving Children," as someone sarcastically put it), and observed that "the children of Northern Ireland will have their futures in the hands of a man who, if he were Serb, would be indicted at The Hague."
But then he isn't a Serb, and one should remember that one of the gravest of all Serbian crimes is that there aren't enough Serbian Americans.

Another possible comparison is with the conflict in the Holy Land. Since Zion Evrony became Israeli ambassador in Dublin, he has been told "that Israel should talk to Hamas, as Britain and Ireland spoke to the IRA." But he rejects the advice, and the comparison ("Hamas is not the IRA," Views, Sept. 1, 2007).
It will not have occurred to him that the Irish republican cause in fact compares unfavorably with the Palestinian national cause at every single point. This is written by someone who detests terrorism and has little affection for any kind of extreme nationalism.

The Palestinians have never known democracy, but Ireland has been democratically governed since the 19th century. The lot of the Ulster Catholics was sometimes bleak 60 years ago - until compared with, let's say, the lot of black Americans at the same time.
No Palestinian state exists to this day, but there has been an autonomous Irish state since 1922. Most people now believe that there should be a two-state settlement in the Holy Land, but a two-state settlement is what Ireland achieved more than 80 years ago.
The equivalent of the IRA's demand for a United Ireland, only put aside for the moment, is the one by Hamas for a United Palestine. As Ahmed Yousef, a Palestinian adviser, has said, Hamas is endlessly told that it must recognize Israel's right to exist but, "Irish republicans continue to aspire to a united Ireland . . . Why should more be demanded of the Palestinians?"
Yes, there is peace of a kind in Northern Ireland, although many working-class districts are in the hands of "republican" or "loyalist" mobs. The latest reports from Iraq, where Baghdad is much more segregated between Sunni and Shiite than before the war, will remind anyone who knows Ulster that Belfast is also far more segregated than 20 years ago.
Looking back, maybe the most generous thing to say is that the Belfast Agreement of 1998 was, like the Munich Agreement of 1938, at best a tactical concession to force. And at best it could be greeted, as Leon Blum, the French socialist leader, said he greeted Munich, with a mixture of shame and relief.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of "The Controversy of Zion" and "Yo, Blair!"


THE HAGUE, The Netherlands

A former Serb security chief is fit to stand trial even though he is suffering from kidney stones and depression, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal ruled Wednesday.
The panel of three judges said Jovica Stanisic can watch the trial via video from jail and talk to his lawyers by phone.
The U.N. court set a new trial date of April 14.

The trial has been delayed three times because of Stanisic's illnesses. In a written ruling judges said his "health condition is a factor that persistently interferes with the right to a fair and expeditious trial," entitling him to be absent from the courtroom until he recovers.
Stanisic is charged along with his former deputy, Franko Simatovic, with five counts of murder, persecution, forced deportations and inhuman acts during the 1991-95 Balkan wars.

Prosecutors say the two created, trained and directed paramilitary armies responsible for atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia. Both men have pleaded not guilty. They face maximum life sentences if convicted.
A Dutch psychiatrist who examined Stanisic said last week he is suffering from "major depression with psychotic features and is clearly unfit to stand trial on psychiatric grounds."


The torch relay was introduced in 1936 and the first torch, constructed by the Krupp steel and munitions company, critical to Adolf Hitler's war preparations, used soild fuel skewered on a needle inside the torch to burn the flame after it was lit from the sun's rays via a parabolic mirro in Olympia.

(Reuters IHT Europe Edition 10/04/08)


Once the cow [a cow preserved in formaldehyde, one of the British artist Damien Hirst's most famous works] cleared customs, however, the formaldehyde was found to be a problem. The original cow and calf had started to rot. The museum will be showing a new version.


The suit says "My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem" has sold 100,000 copies since its release in Britain last year.


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