Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Wednesday, 28th May, 2008


The rich get hungrier

Amartya Sen, who teaches economics and philosophy at Harvard, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998 and is the author, most recently, of "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny."

It is a tale of two peoples. In one version of the story, a country with a lot of poor people suddenly experiences fast economic expansion, but only half of the people share in the new prosperity.
The favored ones spend a lot of their new income on food, and unless supply expands very quickly, prices shoot up. The rest of the poor now face higher food prices but no greater income, and begin to starve.

Tragedies like this happen repeatedly in the world.
A stark example is the Bengal famine of 1943, during the last days of the British rule in India. The poor who lived in cities experienced rapidly rising incomes, especially in Calcutta, where huge expenditures for the war against Japan caused a boom that quadrupled food prices. The rural poor faced these skyrocketing prices with little increase in income.
Misdirected government policy worsened the division. The British rulers were determined to prevent urban discontent during the war, so the government bought food in the villages and sold it, heavily subsidized, in the cities, a move that increased rural food prices even further. Low earners in the villages starved. Two million to 3 million people died in that famine and its aftermath.

Much discussion is rightly devoted to the division between haves and have-nots in the global economy, but the world's poor are themselves divided between those who are experiencing high growth and those who are not. The rapid economic expansion in countries like China, India and Vietnam tends to sharply increase the demand for food. This is, of course, an excellent thing in itself, and if these countries could manage to reduce their unequal internal sharing of growth, even those left behind there would eat much better.
But the same growth also puts pressure on global food markets - sometimes through increased imports, but also through restrictions or bans on exports to moderate the rise in food prices at home, as has happened recently in countries like India, China, Vietnam and Argentina.
Those hit particularly hard have been the poor, especially in Africa.
There is also a high-tech version of the tale of two peoples.
Agricultural crops like corn and soybeans can be used for making ethanol for motor fuel. So the stomachs of the hungry must also compete with fuel tanks.
Misdirected government policy plays a part here, too.
In 2005, the U. S. Congress began to require widespread use of ethanol in motor fuels. This law combined with a subsidy for this use has created a flourishing corn market in the United States, but has also diverted agricultural resources from food to fuel. This makes it even harder for the hungry stomachs to compete.
Ethanol use does little to prevent global warming and environmental deterioration, and clear-headed policy reforms could be urgently carried out, if American politics would permit it. Ethanol use could be curtailed, rather than being subsidized and enforced.
The global food problem is not being caused by a falling trend in world production, or for that matter in food output per person (this is often asserted without much evidence). It is the result of accelerating demand. However, a demand-induced problem also calls for rapid expansion in food production, which can be achieved through more global cooperation.
While population growth accounts for only a modest part of the growing demand for food, it can contribute to global warming, and long-term climate change can threaten agriculture.
Happily, population growth is already slowing and there is overwhelming evidence that women's empowerment (including expansion of schooling for girls) can rapidly reduce it even further.
What is most challenging is to find effective policies to deal with the consequences of extremely asymmetric expansion of the global economy. Domestic economic reforms are badly needed in many slow-growth countries, but there is also a big need for more global cooperation and assistance.

Increase in carbon dioxide to have dramatic effects in U.S., report says

The rise in concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities is influencing climate patterns and vegetation across the United States and will significantly disrupt water supplies, agriculture, forestry and ecosystems for decades, a new U.S. government report says.

From 2040 to 2060, anticipated water flows from rainfall in much of the U.S. West are likely to approach a 20 percent decrease from the average from 1901 to 1970, and are likely to be much lower in places like the fast-growing Southwest. In contrast, runoff in much of the Midwest and East is expected to increase that much or more.
Farmers, foresters and ranchers nationwide will face a complicated blend of changes, driven not only by shifting weather patterns but also by the spread of non-native plant and insect pests.
Some invasive grasses, vines and weeds, for example, do better in higher temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations than do crops and preferred livestock forage plants.
Corn and soybean plants are likely to grow and mature faster but will be more subject to crop failures from spikes in summer temperatures that can prevent pollination, said one of the authors, Jerry Hatfield, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, during a conference call with reporters.



No other option
Alex Beam ("Eskimos, whales and luaus ... Oh my!" Meanwhile, May 27) uses the type of polarizing and unproductive sarcasm that has stunted the environmental movement's progress during the past 20 years.Beam's final point - it is not only big energy companies that are to blame for the impending environmental crisis, but also consumers who use oil - is somewhat valid.But Beam fails to point out that the Eskimo village of Kivalina, Alaska, is trying to force action through the judicial system because the U.S. Congress has failed to enact any effective legislative remedies.After all, citizens do not have more alternative energy choices because the "fossil-fuel baddies" spent years and billions of dollars denying the existence of global warming and their companies' role in damaging the environment.I would like to see Beam poke fun at the citizens of, say, New York when one day water levels rise and hundreds of thousands find themselves on the verge of homelessness.
Elettra Wiedemann, New York

U.K. leader warns of need for global strategy on skyrocketing oil prices
"The global economy is facing the third great oil shock of recent decades," Brown wrote in an article published in The Guardian newspaper and on his Web site (
The challenge, he wrote, demanded "global solutions" that should top the agenda of the forthcoming Group of 8 summit of industrialized nations in Japan.
"There is no easy answer to the global oil problem without a comprehensive international strategy," Brown wrote.
"As continuing high oil prices present us all with an immense challenge," he said in the article, "the way we confront these issues will define our era."
Friedman: Truth or consequences
Imagine for a minute, just a minute, that someone running for U.S. president was able to actually tell the truth, the real truth, to the American people about what would be the best - I mean really the best - energy policy for the long-term economic health and security of the country. I realize this is a fantasy, but play along with me for a minute. What would this mythical, totally imaginary, truth-telling candidate say?
Cynical ideas, like the McCain-Clinton summertime gas-tax holiday, would only make the problem worse, and reckless initiatives like the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep offer to subsidize gasoline for three years for people who buy its gas guzzlers are the moral equivalent of tobacco companies offering discounted cigarettes to teenagers.
I can't say it better than my friend Tim Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics, did in a recent essay in The Washington Post: "So Dodge wants to sell you a car you don't really want to buy, that is not fuel-efficient, will further damage our environment, and will further subsidize oil states, some of which are on the other side of the wars we're currently fighting. ... The planet be damned, the troops be forgotten, the economy be ignored: Buy a Dodge."

Forget planes, take the train
Regarding the article "Flying the chaotic skies? Get used to it." (May 28): There is an alternative to relying on expensive U.S. airlines: increase funding for Amtrak, America's national rail network, so that most trips of under 500 miles can be done efficiently via passenger rail.Air travel may be best for longer flights and intercontinental journeys, but for shorter flights, the best solution is the most energy efficient solution: passenger rail.Aviation has long been subsidized in the United States, yet the airlines are still in trouble. Let's re-allocate some of those resources to rail travel. Let the airlines deal with economic realities without increased federal, state and municipal subsidies.
Susan Hogg, Newport, Oregon

U.K. authorizes two new North Sea oil fields in effort to curb rising
The Associated Press

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday granted licenses for two new North Sea oil fields in an attempt to encourage major oil producers to help stabilize the world's energy markets.
John Hutton, Britain's business and enterprise secretary, authorized two new oil field developments and said he planned to help companies extract reserves from previously unprofitable parts of around 30 existing fields.
Indonesia withdraws from OPEC because it is no longer a net oil exporter
JAKARTA, Indonesia: Declining oil reserves and investment have forced Indonesia to quit the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries even as other members cash in on soaring global prices, the energy minister said.
Clean, green and bubbling over?
By Carolyn Y. Johnson The Boston Globe
Amid concerns that the planet is warming, the market for clean, green technology is beginning to show signs of overheating, too.
"I call it the global warming bubble," said Robert Metcalfe, who knows something about bubbles. An inventor of the Ethernet networking standard and the founder of 3Com, whose stock plummeted when the technology bubble burst in 2000, Metcalfe now serves as chief executive of a biofuel start-up, GreenFuel Technologies.
But while the flurry and investment that comes with a bubble creates a froth that inevitably results in some big losses, Metcalfe and others argue, it also creates an environment where disruptive ideas can emerge and change the world.
"What bubbles do is they're an accelerator in technological investments to be made; they cause the status quo to be questioned," Metcalfe said.
"The trick, of course," he said, is "to have a chair when the music stops."

New problems assault EADS
Noël Forgeard, the former co-chief executive of European Aeronautic Defense and Space, was detained by the French police on Wednesday for questioning about insider trading accusations linked to delays in the A380 program.
"He was called for questioning this morning with regard to his probable placement in detention," a spokeswoman for Xavière Simeoni, the judge overseeing the case, said Wednesday.

Hunt narrows for lost WWI burial site of Australian, British soldiers in France
PARIS: Archeologists say they have found human remains in northern France in their hunt for a mystery burial site of about 400 British and Australian soldiers killed in a bloody World War I battle.
Australian Gen. Mike O'Brien is leading the excavation. He said Wednesday that the discovery could offer clues in the search for a mass grave following the Fromelles battle of 1916.Opposing German forces buried the British and Australian dead afterward. The site near a pockmarked battlefield was covered over time and the bodies were never found.
The Fromelles battle was one of the first major battles for Australian troops in continental Europe, and involved an assault on the German fort called the Sugar Loaf. It was one of Australia's worst battles in the war.

Wrapping up Cannes, and reminiscing
CANNES, France:

Monday is the "Day of the Cannois," and as a gesture to the residents, who rarely venture out during the festival unless they work in service industries, the Palais shows the prize-winning film on Monday to people who can prove, with their electricity bills, that they live here.
By Tuesday, the judgments were in. There was pride that a French film had won the Palme d'Or for the first time in 21 years. But there was concern that the market was soft, and that "Entre les murs," or "Within the Walls," a documentary-like film of a class year in a tough, mixed Parisian neighborhood, would not travel very far.
More important, business was off - at least 10 percent this year for local shops and restaurants, which depend more on visitors than on the stars. One reason, everyone agreed, was the uncertain global economy and the sorry state of the U.S. dollar, which meant that fewer Americans had come to Cannes, throwing fewer lavish parties. But the other main reason was less a question of seasonal or fiscal trends - it was the rings of security that seal the town.
"It's sad, but security has taken over the festival, and it's becoming antiseptic," said Noël di Giovanni, 49, who heads the local association of 500 restaurants and brasseries. "The richness of the festival is in the people, and the people of 'la France profonde,"' the real France of the heartland, "want to see the stars, to get a photo and maybe an autograph. And because they can't, fewer people come."
Now the celebrities "go from the hotel to the car to the private party," di Giovanni said. "The stars fail us in Cannes."

France to open early to eastern EU workers
"All restrictions will be lifted from July 1 this year, in other words one year earlier than planned," Sarkozy said during a news conference with his Polish counterpart, Lech Kaczynski, in Warsaw.
"I cannot be committed to Europe and not make decisions that are consistent with that political commitment," he added in comments that were confirmed by his office.

The experience dispelled fears of an invasion of inexpensive labor from the east: from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2007, only 30,000 seasonal workers and 4,850 regular workers came to France from eastern Europe, according to government statistics.
"The Polish plumbers never came to France," Vladimir Spidla

Cohen: The year that changed the world

"It's forbidden to forbid," proclaimed Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the French-born German Jew who led the May '68 Paris uprising. His slogan, silly-looking now, was less important than his border-crossing identity, a rebuke to countless European silences, prejudices, taboos and lies.

The uprisings were distinct. As Milan Kundera has noted, "The Parisian May was an explosion of revolutionary lyricism. The Prague Spring was the explosion of post-revolutionary skepticism."
If French students and workers were appalled by the European bourgeois order, Czech students wanted nothing more than a return to European civilization. They perceived it as salvation from what Kundera calls "the anti-Western Messianism of Soviet totalitarianism."

Jacques Rupnik, a French political scientist, put it well: "While the 'New Left' in the West wanted to reinvigorate Marxism by removing its Stalinist ravages, the Czechs wanted, on the contrary, to dilute Marxism to the maximum."

Even now, liberty resonates in a more visceral way in Central Europe than in West Europe. The horrors of post-totalitarianism in Bosnia placed me forever in the camp of the absolutists of freedom like Poland's Adam Michnik. But the big battles are over.
They were social as much as political. Joschka Fischer in Berlin taught me what it took to confront the terrible silence of post-war Germany and prize loose secrets and habits. The long German march to normality required both the '68 Paris-Berlin challenge to bourgeois conformity and Prague's to the Soviet order.
A thrice-married French president of immigrant and partly Jewish descent - Nicolas Sarkozy - would have been unthinkable without the legacy of '68, even if he has blamed its heirs for a crisis of "morality." André Malraux saw the death of God in the "events"; certainly the prudish, provincial Gallic God that would have kept Sarko from power was cut down.

French serial killer and wife get life sentences
CHARLEVILLE-MEZIERES, France: Self-confessed killer and rapist Michel Fourniret and his wife Monique Olivier were sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday in one of France's grimmest serial murder cases.
The couple showed no reaction after Fourniret, dubbed the "Ogre of the Ardennes" by the media, was found guilty in a packed courtroom of killing seven women and girls aged between 12 and 22 after raping or attempting to rape them.
Some victims were first drugged and bound. Fourniret, who has admitted a fascination for virgins, was arrested in 2003 after a 13-year-old girl escaped from his van and called the police.

Some parents of the victims, six of whom were French and one Belgian, broke down in tears after the verdict was read, one day after the jury retired to deliberate.
"We will start a new life. It is a relief but there can never be an end," said Jean-Pierre Saison, father of one of the victims. "I cannot look into the future. We need to put things into perspective without Celine."

West takes softer stance toward Uzbekistan
ANDIJON, Uzbekistan:

"Saying everything is O.K. in Uzbekistan is like saying it's peaceful in Baghdad," said Vasila Innoyatova, a human rights worker in Tashkent, the capital.

Even with access, distributing aid in Myanmar is difficult

By government count, the storm left 134,000 people dead or missing, and the United Nations estimates that 2.4 million survivors face hunger and homelessness. Yet as the number of aid workers increases, Myanmar's capacity and willingness to accommodate their needs are likely to be stretched.
"I assume we will be running out of quite a lot of things when the influx comes," said Hakan Tongul, deputy country director in Yangon of the World Food Program, a UN agency delivering supplies to the victims of the storm. "There will be logistical problems for sure."
In the days after the storm, the World Food Program asked for permission to import six vehicles, Tongul said. "We haven't heard anything from the government."
To the outside world, the government's torpor in reacting to the cyclone has come across as callous indifference. But dysfunction has also been a factor. When a domestic Myanmar Airways passenger plane crashed in 1999 only five kilometers, or three miles, from the airport in Tachileik, near the border with Laos and Thailand, it took the authorities five days to locate the wreckage.
"Passengers who might have been saved all perished," said a frustrated Myanmar government official who requested that his name be withheld because talking to a foreign reporter could cause him to lose his job or worse.
"The same thing is happening now," the official said, referring to the cyclone. "We don't have the infrastructure for the kind of rescue work we need in times like this. In this country, where everything moves through the military chain of command, no government official takes the initiative."

A 1986 Toyota Chaser, a model the company stopped selling eight years ago, sells here for $16,000. Those vehicles allowed for import are parceled out among high-ranking military officers and civil servants. The richest residents of Yangon have been seen driving Hummers and Italian sports cars.

Business people in Yangon say it is impossible to do business without connections to generals or their children.
"Do you see the car out there?" the Myanmar official said, pointing to a used Japanese sport-utility vehicle parked outside a restaurant. "It will probably cost $50,000 to import that car. But it's sold here for $250,000. The $200,000 balance is for all kinds of government permits."

"They squeeze you for money," said a retired teacher in Yangon who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. "You know the Abraham Lincoln speech about government of the people, by the people, for the people?" the teacher asked. "The people get nothing here, and the military takes everything."

Nepal poised for rebirth as a republic
The government has urged the king, a businessman with interests in tobacco and hotels, to move from the pink concrete Narayanhity to his private residence, a high-walled compound in Katmandu, or face eviction by force. "If he does not leave the palace then the government might have to use force to vacate the palace," Ram Chandra Poudel, the peace and reconstruction minister said on Tuesday, according to a Reuters report. "This will not be good for him."
On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that the government would give him 15 days to leave the palace.

All 3 US presidential candidates pledge to seek an end to violence in Darfur if elected
The Associated Press

"We wish to make clear to the Sudanese government that on this moral issue of tremendous importance, there is no divide between us," the statement said in part. "Even as we campaign for the presidency, we will use our standing as senators to press for the steps needed to ensure that the United States honors, in practice and in deed, its commitment to the cause of peace and protection of Darfur's innocent citizenry ... It would be a huge mistake for the Khartoum regime to think that it will benefit by running out the clock on the Bush administration.
"If peace and security for the people of Sudan are not in place when one of us is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009, we pledge that the next administration will pursue these goals with unstinting resolve."

How long must the Burmese wait?

Jared Genser and Meghan Barron are lawyers with Freedom Now in Washington who represent Aung San Suu Kyi.

The secretary general's fundamental error was to focus exclusively on the suffering of the Burmese victims of Cyclone Nargis and to fail to recognize the political situation is equally unconscionable.
How long is the world willing to wait for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Myanmar and for a real, time-limited process of national reconciliation? Until the international community unites to press for this outcome, any relief provided will be only temporary.

Ban promises UN probe of sex abuse by peacekeepers
UNITED NATIONS: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Tuesday the United Nations will investigate allegations by a leading children's charity that U.N. peacekeepers are involved in widespread sexual abuse of children.
The report by Save the Children UK, based on field research in southern Sudan, Ivory Coast and Haiti, describes a litany of sexual crimes committed by peacekeepers and international relief workers against children as young as 6.

George Clooney makes spot praising UN peacekeepers
UNITED NATIONS: Actor George Clooney is commemorating Thursday's 60th anniversary of U.N. peacekeeping with a public service announcement praising the soldiers who wear the U.N.'s distinctive blue helmets for risking their lives for peace.

Europe lagging in effort to train Afghan police


The U.S., which between 2002 and 2006 invested nearly $900 million in police training, at first introduced eight-week courses concentrating on traffic control and highway patrol. Germany, which had taken responsibility for training up to 16,000 officers, introduced a two-year academic course of little relevance. After what security experts considered a miserable performance, Berlin ceded responsibility for the police training last June to the European Union. This should have provided Brussels with a great opportunity to demonstrate the merits of soft power. It has yet to seize this chance.

Germany, which has 266,000 law enforcement officers, has sent a total of 38 personnel to Afghanistan. Britain has sent 11 from a full-time police force of 140,500. France, from its 100,000-strong Gendarmerie Nationale, has sent 4 people. Italy has sent 22, Spain 11, Sweden 9 and the Netherlands 5.

"It is sometimes difficult to understand the EU's attitude," says Eva Gross, defense expert at the EU's Institute for Security Studies in Paris. "If Brussels is so committed to soft power, then there should be much more support for the Afghan mission. When it comes to the EU's security and defense policy, there is always a gap between capabilities and expectations."




An effort is being made here to get Moslem women to unveil as part of the drive to change the anti-French course of recent events. In the opinion of many French Army officers, it will be difficult to absord the 9,000,000 Moslem natives of Algeria into French national life until the women give up their veils and emerge from the closed Eastern world in which they have lived since the French occupation of Algeria early in the last century. According the French, Algerian men become Europeanized as laborers in the French homeland, or as soldiers in France's wars. only to lapse into a primitive Oriental life after marrying one of this country's veiled Moslem women.


Nationalists and Milosevic's allies sign agreement to run Belgrade

The Associated Press

Vucic was an information minister in Milosevic's government in the late 1990s when liberal media outlets were banned and slapped with heavy fines for criticizing the regime. Foreign journalists were expelled from the country under his orders.

German far-right party, in disarray, still could face ban


The party had 7,200 members last year, according to government records. It remains a force in the east, where its representatives sit in two state parliaments, and it continues to draw public financing, as do all political parties in Germany - which particularly galls those who would like to see the National Democratic Party banned as an extremist group.
But its recent run of troubles raises the question of whether it has devolved into a collection of isolated nationalists or can function as a hub for a dangerous rightist scene in Germany.
Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Free University in Berlin who studies rightist extremism, says that the National Democratic Party, or NPD, is certainly a neo-Nazi organization, and that German neo-Nazis, to whom he attributes more than 150 murders and 15,000 violent crimes since reunification in 1990, remain a significant threat.
"This milieu, this scene, is not broken," Funke said. "It's a smoldering fire underground that always breaks out again."

"Some political parties are so dangerous to democracy that we have to pull the emergency brake of a ban," said Ehrhart Körting, a Social Democrat who is Schäuble's counterpart for the city of Berlin, where the National Democrats sit on four local councils but not in the legislature. "We cannot yet say that the NPD is not dangerous, because this weakness is not lasting."

Cellphones were crucial to tracing CIA, Italian official testifies
The Associated Press

Bruno Megale, the head of Milan's anti-terrorism police, identified 17 cellphone numbers in use by U.S. citizens that he said were active and present in the area where the cleric was kidnapped.

He said investigators had been able to initially identify 11 cellphones in close contact with each other during the two hours surrounding Nasr's disappearance. They used software to identify traffic patterns, Megale said.
"We saw strong anomalies. Eleven users were in strong contact with each other," Megale said. "The telephone calls got more intense closer to the time of Abu Omar's kidnapping."
By further analyzing traffic, investigators identified a total of 17 cellphones deployed in the operation in Milan - one group around the area of the kidnapping and another group closer to the highway that appeared to be the transfer unit, Megale said.
"From noon on Feb. 17 we find that there are 17 people who were working in close cooperation," he told the court. "There is no other explanation."
Further analysis enlarged the number to 33 cellphones used also by members of an advance team that organized the abduction and other aspects of the operation, Megale testified.
Megale said investigators believed that U.S. citizens used the 17 cellphones identified in the investigation. He said all were activated between September and October 2002 and all went inactive around the time of the kidnapping. Many had been present around the area of the kidnapping multiple times - with one user showing up 95 times, he said.
"They were used by Americans because some of these telephones called American numbers," Megale said.
Some of the cellphones also called a number that the counterterrorism unit chief said belonged to Robert Seldon Lady, the former Milan CIA station chief who is one of the defendants in the case.


A Web savvy campaign
Regarding Roger Cohen's "Battle of the bandwidth" (Globalist, May 26): In setting up a mock U.S. presidential election for my children's international school, I visited the Web sites of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Ralph Nader looking for campaign posters.
In a perfect example of Cohen's theory of grass-roots "sociability," only Obama's Web site included a downloadable poster, formatted to print very nicely on my home printer.
To give the other candidates equal representation in our debate, I had to piece together screen prints of head shots and slogans. The only way to obtain McCain, Clinton or Nader print publicity was to buy it. How many visitors to a Web site would trouble themselves to get out the credit card and place an order?
These candidates thus missed an easy, no-cost opportunity to provide professionally-produced posters for their supporters to display.
Lynn Yates, Basel, Switzerland

More layoffs expected at financial firms

From Tokyo to London to New York, financial companies have announced plans to shed more than 83,000 jobs since last July as revenue and compensation pools evaporate, according to Bloomberg estimates. The dismissals range from 90 jobs, or 0.1 percent of the total, at HBOS in London to about 9,160 jobs, or 66 percent of the work force, at Bear Stearns in New York, which is being acquired by JPMorgan Chase.
The cuts add up to 3.3 percent of employees at the 28 firms eliminating positions. That is a significantly smaller portion than was lost during the market slump from 2000 to 2003, when 17 percent of banking and securities jobs in New York were wiped out, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. Given the record-breaking losses of the past year - banks and brokers have taken $383 billion of write-downs and credit losses - some economic forecasters and industry veterans say they expect the number of job losses to increase.
"My guess is there's probably more to come," Sanford Weill, the chairman emeritus of Citigroup who has worked on Wall Street for 53 years, said during a recent interview. "I think this is tougher" than the last market decline, he said.
The retrenchment has affected positions as varied as biotech bankers, compliance officers and Latin America debt traders - not just mortgage salesman and credit traders - as revenue declines spread beyond the fixed-income market. New York and London, the biggest financial centers, are bearing the brunt of the firings, while employment grows in emerging markets like Dubai and China.

After steady climb, childhood obesity in U.S. rates stall

It is not clear if the lull in childhood weight gain is permanent or even if it is the result of public anti-obesity efforts to limit junk food and increase physical activity in schools. Doctors noted that even if the trend held up, 32 percent of American schoolchildren remained overweight or obese, representing an entire generation that will be saddled with weight-related health problems as it ages.
"After 25 years of extraordinarily bad news about childhood obesity, this study provides a glimmer of hope," said David Ludwig, director of the childhood obesity program at Children's Hospital in Boston. "But it's much too soon to know whether this is a true plateau in prevalence or just a temporary lull."

"It doesn't mean we've solved it, but maybe there is some opportunity for some optimism here," said Cynthia Ogden, the lead author of the journal report and an epidemiologist for the National Center for Health Statistics.
The researchers did not give reasons for the leveling off of childhood obesity rates. One concern is that the lull could represent a natural plateau that would have occurred regardless of public health efforts.
"It may be that we've reached some sort of saturation in terms of the proportion of the population who are genetically susceptible to obesity in this environment," Ogden said. "A more optimistic view is that some things are working. We don't really know."

"We still lack anything resembling a national strategy to take this problem seriously," said Ludwig, co-author of an editorial accompanying the obesity report. "The rates of obesity in children are so hugely high that without any further increases, the impact of this epidemic will be felt with increasing severity for many years to come."

Former spokesman bashes Bush in new book

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON: In a shocking turnabout, the press secretary most known for defending President Bush on Iraq, Katrina and a host of other controversial issues produced a memoir damning of his old boss on nearly every level — from too much secrecy to a less-than-honest selling of the war to a lack of personal candor and an unwillingness to admit mistakes.
In the first major insider account of the Bush White House, one-time spokesman Scott McClellan calls the operation "insular, secretive and combative" and says it veered irretrievably off course as a result.

"He signed off on a strategy for selling the war that was less than candid and honest," McClellan writes in "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."

McClellan says Bush's main reason for war always was "an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom." But Bush and his advisers made "a marketing choice" to downplay this rationale in favor of one focused on increasingly trumped-up portrayals of the threat posed by the weapons of mass destruction.
During the "political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people," Bush and his team tried to make the "WMD threat and the Iraqi connection to terrorism appear just a little more certain, a little less questionable than they were." Something else was downplayed as well, McClellan says: any discussion of "the possible unpleasant consequences of war — casualties, economic effects, geopolitical risks, diplomatic repercussions."
In Bush's second term, as news from Iraq grew worse, McClellan says the president was "insulated from the reality of events on the ground and consequently began falling into the trap of believing his own spin."
All of this was a "serious strategic blunder" that sent Bush's presidency "terribly off course."
"The Iraq war was not necessary," McClellan concludes.

"The Bush administration lacked real accountability in large part because Bush himself did not embrace openness or government in the sunshine," he writes.
Three top Bush advisers come in for particularly harsh criticism.
McClellan calls Vice President Dick Cheney "the magic man" who "always seemed to get his way" and sometimes "simply could not contain his deep-seated certitude, even arrogance, to the detriment of the president."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was national security adviser earlier in Bush's presidency, "was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort on helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences" of war. Rice "was somehow able to keep her hands clean, even when the problems related to matters under her direct purview," McClellan says, but he predicts that "history will likely judge her harshly."
And former Bush political guru Karl Rove "always struck me as the kind of person who would be willing, in the heat of battle, to push the envelope to the limit of what is permissible ethically or legally."
The White House was severely damaged by blunders beyond the war, McClellan says.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, for instance, the administration went on autopilot "rather than seizing the initiative and getting in front of what was happening on the ground."
And Bush's drive to remake the Social Security program after his 2004 re-election failed in large part because the White House focused almost exclusively on "selling our sketchily designed plan" instead of doing behind-the-scenes work with lawmakers.
McClellan explains his dramatic shift from defender to critic as a difficult act of personal contrition, a way, to learn from his mistakes, be true to his Christian faith and become a better person. He says he started the book to explain his role in the CIA leak case, in which some of his own words turned out to be what he called "badly misguided," though sincere at the time.
McClellan says Bush loyalists will no doubt continue to think the administration's decisions have been correct and its unpopularity undeserved. "I've become genuinely convinced otherwise," he says.

Tough Times for the American Worker.
By Steven Greenhouse.
365 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95.
Eight years ago, Deborah Shank was seriously injured when a semitrailer rig struck the driver’s side of her minivan. Because Shank, then a shelf stocker at a Wal-Mart store in Cape Girardeau, Mo., had recently qualified for the company’s health plan, most of her immediate hospital expenses were covered. But because the accident left her in a wheelchair, with permanent brain damage, she continues to require full-time nursing care. To help pay for it, a court set up a $417,000 trust, using the proceeds of a lawsuit against the company whose driver caused the accident.

As The Wall Street Journal reported last year, however, a court ordered the family to reimburse Wal-Mart for the $470,000 it had spent for Shank’s medical care. The court’s ruling cited a clause in the company’s health plan that gave it the right to recoup medical expenses if an injured employee collected damage payments in a lawsuit.
This practice of expense recovery, known as subrogation, has been defended on the grounds that it is unfair for someone to be reimbursed twice for the same medical expenses. The proceeds of Shank’s lawsuit, however, were insufficient to cover even her nursing care, much less her original hospital expenses. Until recently, companies rarely filed subrogation suits in such cases. These suits are now widespread.
In this and a host of other ways, the environment confronting American workers has grown nastier in the last three decades. Millions of workers have seen their employers abandon longstanding company pension plans, and even larger numbers have lost their health insurance. Violations of safety regulations and other work rules are increasingly common. The median hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, has scarcely increased at all, even as the risk of being laid off has risen sharply.

As speculation of brewery deal grows, concerns mount in St. Louis
By Christopher Leonard The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS, Missouri: Residents of this Midwestern U.S. city have grown accustomed to seeing local businesses gobbled up by larger companies. But losing Anheuser-Busch could be the cruelest cut of all.
Anheuser-Busch - the largest U.S. brewery, with about half the country's beer market - has long been a point of pride as a hometown attraction.
The company's huge red-brick brewery draws tourists to see the Clydesdale horse stables, brewing vats and Busch family memorabilia dating back generations.
Reports that the company might be purchased by the Belgian brewer InBev have residents worried they might lose a company as closely identified with St. Louis as the Gateway Arch.
"St. Louis has gotten to the point where we have the brewery and the Cardinals - that's it," said John Schute, owner of the Sage restaurant and bar just across the street from the Anheuser-Busch brewery, referring to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Britain drops opposition to cluster bombs ban

The United States has been joined in its outright opposition to the ban - and its boycott of the Dublin conference - by military powers that include China, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and Brazil, which is one of the world's largest exporters of cluster munitions.

Supporters of the cluster weapons ban hailed the British shift as the most important breakthrough in 16 months of negotiation.
"It has had an earth-shattering impact," said Marc Garlasco, a military analyst for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.


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