Desert is claiming southeast Spain
FORTUNA, Spain: Lush fields of lettuce and hothouses of tomatoes line the roads. Verdant new developments of plush pastel vacation homes beckon buyers from Britain and Germany. Golf courses - 54 of them, all built in the past decade and most in the past three years - give way to the beach. At last, this hardscrabble corner of southeast Spain is thriving.
There is only one problem with this picture of bounty: This province, Murcia, is running out of water. Spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development, swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert.
This year in Murcia farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting each other over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a burgeoning black market.
"Water will be the environmental issue this year," said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Union's Environment Directorate. "The problem is urgent and immediate."
For Murcia, the water crisis has come already. And its arrival has been accelerated by developers and farmers who have hewed to water-hungry ventures hugely unsuited to a dryer, warmer climate: crops like lettuce that need ample irrigation; resorts that promise a swimming pool in the backyard; acres of freshly sodded golf courses that sop up millions of gallons a day.
The scramble for water has set off scandals. Local officials are in prison for taking payoffs to grant building permits in places where water is inadequate. Chema Gil, a journalist who exposed one such scheme, has been subject to death threats, carries pepper spray and is guarded day and night by the Guardia Civil, Spain's military police force.
"The model of Murcia is completely unsustainable," Gil said. "We consume two and a half times more water than the system can recover. So where do you get it? Import it from elsewhere? Dry up the aquifer? With climate change we're heading into a cul-de-sac. All the water we're using to water lettuce and golf courses will be needed just to drink."
Facing a national crisis, Spain has become something of an unwitting laboratory, sponsoring a European conference on water issues this summer and announcing this year a national action plan to fight desertification. That plan includes a shift to more efficient methods of irrigation and an extensive program of desalinization plants to provide the fresh water than nature does not.
The Spanish Environment Ministry estimates that a third of the country is at risk of turning into desert from a combination of climate change and poor land use.
Still, national officials visibly stiffen when asked about the "Africanization" of Spain's climate - a term now common among scientists.
"We are in much better shape than Africa, but within the EU our situation is serious," said Antonio Serrano Rodríguez, secretary general for land and biodiversity at Spain's Environment Ministry.
Still, Serrano and others acknowledge the broad outlines of the problem. "There will be places that can't be farmed any more, that were marginal and are now useless," Serrano said. "We have parts of the country that are close to the limit." Average surface temperature in Spain has risen 1.5 degrees Celsius (nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with 0.8 degrees globally since 1880, temperature records show. Rainfall here is expected to decrease 20 percent by 2020, and 40 percent by 2070, according to United Nations projections.
The changes on the Almarcha family farm in Abanilla over the past three decades are a testament to that hotter, dryer climate here. Until two decades ago, the farm grew wheat and barley watered only by rain. As rainfall dropped, Carlo Almarcha, now 51, switched to growing almonds.
About 10 years ago, he quit almonds and changed to organic peaches and pears, "since they need less water," he explained. Recently he took up olives and figs, "which resist drought and are less sensitive to weather."
Almarcha participates in an official water trading system, started last year, in which farmers pay three times the normal price - 33 cents instead of 12 per cubic meter, or 35 cubic feet - to get extra water. The black market rate is even higher. Still, his outlook is bleak.
"You used to know this week in spring there will be rain," he said, standing in his work boots on parched soil of an olive grove that was once a wheat field. "Now you never know when or if it will come. Also there's no winter any more and plants need cold to rest. So there's less growth. Sometimes none. Even plants all seem confused."
While Almarcha has gradually moved toward less thirsty crops, many farmers have gone in the opposite direction. Encouraged by the government's previous water transfer schemes, they have shifted to producing a wide range of water-hungry fruits and vegetables that had never been grown in the south. Murcia is traditionally known for figs and date palms.
"You can't grow strawberries naturally in Huelva - it's too hot," said Raquél Montón, a climate specialist at Greenpeace in Madrid, referring to the strawberry capital of Spain. "In Sarragosa, which is a desert, we grow corn, the most water-thirsty crop. It's insane. The only thing that would be more insane is putting up casinos and golf courses."
Which, of course, Murcia has.
UN scolded for allowing Mugabe to attend food crisis conference
ROME: Skirting some restrictions on his international travel, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe arrived in Rome over the weekend to attend a United Nations food conference, raising protests Monday from several participants.
"The fact that Mugabe and other leaders the West may not approve of are attending a UN meeting in Rome is not a scandal," said Nick Parsons, a spokesman for the organization [the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which convened the gathering].
Parsons said that "in the face of the looming, impending food crisis that FAO first warned about a year ago," a high-level meeting between countries "is the serious issue."
He added: "The rest is irrelevant to the overall significance of what this meeting is about."
In Sydney, Smith [Australian foreign minister, Stephen Smith] said: "This is the person who has presided over the starvation of his people. This is the person who has used food aid in a politically motivated way. So Robert Mugabe turning up to a conference dealing with food security or food issues is, in my view, frankly obscene."
Despite free land, no cry of northward ho in Japan
Desperate to stanch a decline in population, this town and another on Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan, are trying to lure newcomers with free land. It was a back-to-the-future policy since Hokkaido was settled by Japanese drawn here by the promise of free land in the late 19th century, a time when Japan was growing and modernizing rapidly.
Since 1998, Hokkaido, like the rest of rural Japan, has been losing its residents to cities and old age. Significantly, just as Hokkaido's earlier development resulted from Japan's expansion, the decline in its population presaged the new era of a shrinking Japan, whose overall population started sliding in 2005.
In the United States, depopulated communities in the Great Plains have been giving away land in recent years. But in Japan, where a population more than 40 percent the size of the United States' is squeezed into a country the size of California, offering free land seemed like an extreme measure.
"Land is cheap in Hokkaido," said Akira Kanazawa, the mayor of Shibetsu, adding that many communities on the island were trying to attract new residents by offering rebates on land. "But free? That's highly unusual."
For centuries, the island was inhabited only by Ainu, an indigenous group, and was too cold to grow rice. But in the decades following Japan's forced opening by the United States in the mid-19th century, Tokyo pressed to expand north, especially to counter growing Russian influence in the region.
The Hokkaido Colonization Board was established in 1869, guiding the migration of Japanese who displaced the Ainu and leading to the island's acquisition by Japan. That migration was the first step in a movement that would send Japanese migrants to Hawaii, North and South America, and, with the growth of Japanese militarism, to Manchuria and other corners of Asia. As land grew scarce on the other Japanese islands, mostly second- or third-born sons who would not inherit any land back home arrived on Hokkaido with a frontier spirit, heeding the government's call to develop the new land.
Rise in food prices means bounty for farmers
WILLMAR, Minnesota: The steep rise in food prices may be hurting grocery shoppers in the developed world and threatening the world's poor with malnutrition, but they are making others rich.
Some of the biggest profit in the U.S. food chain is closest to the land. Farmers saw their average household income climb about 7 percent last year to more than $83,000. But in grain-rich states, the results were dramatically higher. In Minnesota alone, the median income for crop farmers rose 80 percent to $95,000.
Chad Willis is one of those Minnesota farmers. He raises corn and soybeans on 550 acres, or 220 hectares, near Willmar, some of the best corn-growing land in the United States.
He sells his grain to an ethanol plant he invested in just up the road. His family cars are powered by an 85 percent blend of that corn-based fuel. His black and gold-trimmed cap reads "E85 Everywhere." And he knows that people jolted by higher food prices think they are a result of ethanol, which consumed 20 percent of the corn crop last year.
Food price "catastrophe" feared on eve of summit
ROME: Soaring food prices could trigger a global catastrophe and the world's poor need action, not words, from this week's U.N. food security summit, human rights activists and the World Bank said on Monday.
The warning came as world leaders arrived in Rome for a global conference to tackle a food crisis that is pushing 100 million people into hunger, provoking food protests and could aggravate violence in war zones.
"The current food crisis amounts to a gross violation of human rights and could fuel a global catastrophe, as many of the world's poorest countries, particularly those forced into import dependency, struggle to feed their people," said Johannesburg-based poverty campaign group ActionAid.
"It is an outrage that poor people are paying for decades of policy mistakes such as the lack of investment in agriculture and the dismantling of support for smallholder farmers," said ActionAid analyst Magdalena Kropiwnicka.
Poor harvests, low stocks and rising demand, especially from India and China, caused huge food price spikes over the last two years, stoking protests, strikes and violence in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that increased hunger caused by the price spikes will exacerbate conflict in war zones and experts say food riots could worsen if nothing is done.
"Our estimate is that higher food prices are pushing 30 million Africans into hunger," World Bank chief Robert Zoellick told Reuters in Rome, adding that the message he had received from Africans is that they were tired of talk and wanted action.
"We have got a lot of world leaders here, let's try to focus on what we can do in real time to make a difference," said Zoellick, who last week announced $1.2 billion in loans and grants to help poor countries cope with food and fuel costs.
Food Prices climb 7% accross European Union
BRUSSELS: Food prices in the European Union rose by more than 7 percent over the last year, almost double the rate of inflation, the EU said Monday.
Some of the EU's poorest members in Eastern Europe have been hardest hit. Several experienced increases in food prices that were in double digits. In Bulgaria the cost of food increased 25.4 percent in the 12 months ending April.
(AP; IHT Tuesday, 3rd June 2008)
Environment bill forces tough choices on lawmakers
WASHINGTON: Despite support from all three presidential candidates, an effort to push through climate change legislation this year is putting its supporters on the spot, essentially forcing them to come out in favor of higher energy costs at a time when American consumers are already facing record fuel prices.
The debate will force senators to take a stand on some of the most difficult, expensive and potentially life-altering questions that will face the world in coming decades. Proponents say the nation cannot afford to wait until fuel prices fall to begin to deal with these problems. Opponents argue that the bill would direct the largest changes in the American economy since the 1930s and should not be rushed through Congress without painstaking debate.
The bill is a revision of a plan proposed last year by Senators Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, and John Warner, Republican of Virginia.
The measure would reduce American production of climate-altering gases by nearly 70 percent from current levels by 2050.
It would provide billions of dollars in subsidies for energy conservation and new environmentally clean technologies, creating millions of new jobs, its proponents say.
The sale of the permits would raise more than $5 trillion for the government in the coming decades, money that the bill proposes to distribute to affected industries, consumers and local governments in one of the biggest programs of redistribution of American wealth in history.
The bill's proponents say the money would help pay for a technological leap that would create millions of new jobs while cleaning the atmosphere.
Discovery starts 'green' cable channel
Can the environment make for entertaining TV? Discovery Communications is about to find out.
On Wednesday in the United States, Discovery will introduce Planet Green, a new cable brand promoted as the first 24-hour channel dedicated to eco-friendly living. It is the highest-profile cable channel introduction of the year, and an equally risky one. By wrapping itself in the planet, Discovery is betting that "eco-tainment" will appeal to viewers.
Planet Green will replace the Discovery Home Channel in more than 50 million homes. Focusing on the public's increased interest in environmental issues, Discovery says it is confident that it can attract more viewers with green-themed programming.
"This is an eco-tainment channel," said Eileen O'Neill, the general manager of Planet Green. "It's a lifestyle and entertainment channel that's designed to activate people in the green space."
It is also intended to engage advertisers, many of whom have green-themed marketing messages to share with viewers.
How to face today's threats
Mark Brzezinski, an international lawyer at McGuireWoods LLP, served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration.
President George W. Bush travels to Europe this month to participate in the U.S.-European Union Summit and to visit key partners, including France, Germany, Italy and Britain.
But the dialogue must also address the energy challenge, conspicuously absent from the U.S.-EU Summit agenda at this point. As energy expert Daniel Yergin asked in the Financial Times, "Oil prices at this level take us into a new world - 'break point' - where the question is not only 'how high can the price go?' but also 'what will be the response?"'
While Europeans pay more, Americans and Europeans are experiencing sticker shock at the pump. Now is the time for greater collaboration and coordination on the renewable research agenda, both at a U.S.-EU level and among companies to speed up development of the next generation of biofuels. The United States should discuss with the Europeans the possibility of merging efforts on biofuels or the development of cellulosic ethanol.
Energy creates the potential for competition and conflict, but also for collaboration.
Krugman: A return of that 70s show?
But where are the unions demanding 11-percent-a-year wage increases? (Where are the unions, period?) Consumers are worried about inflation, but you have to search far and wide to find workers demanding compensation in the form of higher wages, let alone employers willing to accept those demands. In fact, wage growth actually seems to be slowing, thanks to the weakness of the job market.
And since there isn't a wage-price spiral, we don't need higher interest rates to get inflation under control. When the surge in commodity prices levels off - and it will; the laws of supply and demand haven't been repealed - inflation will subside on its own.
Asia grapples with specter of inflation
SEOUL: Inflation hit a seven-year high in South Korea in May, neared a decade peak in Thailand and crossed into double digits in Indonesia as policy makers in Asia grappled with their toughest test since the 1997 financial crisis.
Across the region central banks are under growing pressure to tighten monetary policy to prevent $130-a-barrel oil and soaring commodity prices from seeping into wages and other costs. Governments fear rate increases could choke off slowing growth.
Airlines seek a helping hand from regulators
If the price of oil, which is now just below $130 a barrel, averages $107 in 2008, the aviation industry would lose $2.3 billion for the year, Bisignani said. Should it hold at $135 a barrel for the rest of this year, the industry would lose $6.1 billion.
"The key short-term question is who is best hedged against the oil rise," said Hartmut Moers, an analyst at the bank Sal. Oppenheim in Frankfurt. "And then further out, you look for the airlines with robust operations, the flexibility to adjust and the ones that are best capitalized."
At the IATA conference, Bisignani [Giovanni Bisignani, the chief executive of IATA] said: "Twenty-four airlines have gone bust in the last six months and $130-per-barrel oil is reshaping the industry even as we speak. In the next 12 months, we could face $99 billion in extra costs from oil.
"Airlines are struggling for survival and massive changes are needed."
Bisignani said governments must "stop crazy taxation, regulate monopolies effectively, ensure that the cost of energy reflects its true value, fix the infrastructure and change the rules of the game."
"Labor must understand that jobs disappear if costs don't come down," he added.
Trouble in U.S. housing markets trickles up
To make matters worse, these outlying suburbs were built on the premise of cheap gasoline, says Keith Debbage, a geography professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who tracks the local economy. With gas at $4 a gallon, he says, "travel costs are now a serious consideration." Oak Ridge and Summerfield are bedroom communities, he notes, and many commuters drive 30 to 45 minutes each way to jobs in Greensboro and Winston-Salem. "People are doing a serious rethinking of where they live," he adds.
Bolivia's Morales announces full nationalization of pipeline company Transedes
LA PAZ, Bolivia: President Evo Morales signed a decree nationalizing all assets of gas pipeline company Transredes on Monday, saying the foreign companies that owned half of it had been too slow in negotiating.
Morales' decree gives the government full ownership of Transredes SA, which transports Bolivia's natural gas to clients in Brazil and Argentina. Terms of the nationalization were not announced.
The company had been half-owned by Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Ashmore Energy International.
Yves Saint Laurent, fashion icon, dies at 71
Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent came a long way from Oran, Algeria, where he was born on Aug. 1, 1936, to Charles and Lucienne Andrée Mathieu-Saint-Laurent. His father was a lawyer and insurance broker, his mother a woman of great personal style. He grew up in a villa by the Mediterranean with his two younger sisters, Michelle and Brigitte.
Young Yves was said to be a quiet and retiring child (and as an adult was often described as quiet and retiring), who avoided all sports but swimming and developed a love for fashion and the theater at an early age. After seeing a production of Molière's "School for Scandal" when he was 11, he recreated the play in miniature, pasting the costumes together. As a teen-ager, he designed clothes for his mother, who had them whipped up by a local seamstress. (His mother became his greatest fan, sitting in the front row at all his shows and wearing no one else's designs.)
Although his parents wanted him to study law, Saint Laurent — lanky and brown-haired, his blue eyes framed by glasses — went to Paris when he was 17 to try his luck in theatrical and fashion design. He briefly studied design at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, leaving because he said he was bored. Shortly thereafter, he won first prize in an International Wool Secretariat design competition for his sketch of a cocktail dress. This led to an interview with Christian Dior, who noted an uncanny resemblance between Saint Laurent's cocktail dress and one he himself was working on. Recognizing the young designer's talent, Dior hired him on the spot as his assistant.
For three years, Saint Laurent worked closely with Dior, who called him "my dauphin" and "my right arm." After Dior died suddenly in 1957, shocking the fashion world, the House of Dior named Saint Laurent its head designer. At 21, he found himself at the head of a $20-million-a-year fashion empire, succeeding a legend, the man who had radically changed the way women dressed in 1947 with the wasp-waisted New Look.
IN OUR PAGES: 50 YEARS AGO
1958: De Gaulle Wins Powers
PARIS: Premier Gen. Charles de Gaulle forced from a hesitant National Assembly early this morning by a vote of 350 to 163 - under threat he would resign immediately - broad powers to rewrite the French Constitution to give the executive more power and to submit the detailed changes to a public referundum in the fall. With a dramatic ultimatum last night - followed by a carefully calculated series of interventions during ensuing debate - the 67-year-old Resistance hero, invested only yesterday to drag France from the brink of civil war, demanded and won a three-fifths majority to make French government more stable than the post-war 25 that the Assembly has tossed out on an average of one every six months. Earlier he had won approval of his request for wide powers to govern France for 6 months by ordinances while parliament took a four-month vacation.
Law and religion clash in France
The discovery last week that a court in the northern city of Lille had annulled the union of two Muslims because the husband said his wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be has set off a highly charged and highly politicized debate in a country where religion is not supposed to interfere with public life.
Fadela Amara, the minister in charge of France's suburbs and herself of Muslim origin, called the ruling "a fatwa against the emancipation of women"; Valérie Létard, the women's minister, said the decision represented a "regression of the status of women"; and scores of feminists and lawyers warned that it could create a precedent increasing the pressure on young Muslim women in Europe to be chaste or to undergo an increasingly popular surgery to reconstitute their hymens before getting married.
"It's a victory for fundamentalists and a victory for those who look at Islam as an archaic religion that treats women badly," said Dounia Bouzar, an anthropologist and the author of several books on Muslims in Europe. "I'm sure the judge wanted to be respectful to Islam. Instead, the decision was respectful to fundamentalists."
In its ruling, which was made on April 1 but only revealed in the French press Thursday, the court in Lille did not cite the religion of the couple. Instead, it based its verdict on the idea of a breach of the marital contract, concluding that the husband had married his wife after "she was presented to him as single and chaste." The fact that the wife eventually agreed to the annulment showed that she herself considered her virginity "as an essential quality decisive for the consent of her husband," the ruling said.
"Married life began with a lie, which is contrary to the reciprocal confidence between the married parties," it said.
According to Article 180 of the French Civil Code, a marriage can be declared void on the basis of "an error about the person or the essential qualities of the person." The law provides no clear definition of what constitutes an "essential quality." Several precedents have made it into jurisprudence over the past two centuries - among them impotence, hiding a previous marriage or past prostitution - but it is the first time that a woman's virginity is cited.
The husband's lawyer, Xavier Labbée, said by telephone Monday that the annulment had "nothing to do with religion," describing the ruling as technical.
6 children die as train hits school bus in France
ALLINGES, France: A train slammed into a bus carrying schoolchildren at a railroad crossing in the French Alps on Monday, killing seven children and injuring 24 people, regional officials said.
The bus was carrying 50 middle-school students, five adults and a driver on a field trip to a historic village on the shores of Lake Geneva, according to the gendarmes service in the Haute-Savoie region. The collision ripped off part of the bus' rear and caused its roof to cave in.
Putin's opponents are made to vanish from TV
MOSCOW: On a talk show last autumn, a prominent political analyst named Mikhail Delyagin offered some tart words about Vladimir Putin. When the program was televised, Delyagin was not.
His remarks were cut and he was digitally erased from the show, like a disgraced comrade airbrushed from an old Soviet photo. (The technicians may have worked a bit hastily; they left his disembodied legs in one shot.)
Merkel to press Medvedev on human rights
BERLIN: The case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned former boss of the Russian energy company Yukos, and other human rights issues will be high on the agenda when Chancellor Angela Merkel meets President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia in Berlin this week, officials confirmed Monday.
"If Medvedev is serious about a state based on the rule of law, then the case of Khodorkovsky provides an opportunity to test that commitment," said Eckart von Klaeden, the foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's conservative bloc in Parliament.
Georgia tells Russia to withdraw soldiers
TBILISI, Georgia: Georgia summoned Russia's ambassador to its Foreign Ministry on Monday to protest against the deployment of about 400 Russian soldiers to repair damaged railroad lines in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
"We demand an immediate withdrawal of the railway detachment and the additional, supposedly peacekeeping, contingent," The Georgian foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, said after a meeting of the Georgian Security Council.
Despite promises, Myanmar limits access for aid agencies
In Geneva, the outgoing United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, said the failure of the world to pressure Myanmar more strongly on human rights issues made it easier for the junta to keep out cyclone relief. "The obstruction to the deployment of such assistance illustrates the invidious effects of long-standing international tolerance for human rights violations," she said.
The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million people were severely affected by the cyclone and said last week that 1.4 million of those remained in desperate need of food, clean water, shelter and medical care. The government says that 134,000 people died or are missing.
Stand Operating Procedure, by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris
Standard Operating Procedure By Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris 286 pages. $25.95. The Penguin Press.
As Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, notes in his new memoir, "Wiser in Battle" (Harper), the 2002 presidential memo concerning Geneva "constituted a watershed event in U.S. military history."
"Essentially, it set aside all of the legal constraints, training guidelines and rules for interrogation that formed the U.S. Army's foundation for the treatment of prisoners on the battlefield since the Geneva Conventions were revised and ratified in 1949," Sanchez writes. "Our current detention and interrogation doctrine had been rendered obsolete and invalid in the war with al-Qaida. According to the president, it was now O.K. to go beyond those standards with regard to Qaida terrorists. And that guidance set America on a path toward torture."
In this volume Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade at Abu Ghraib, is quoted as saying that Miller told the soldiers at the prison: "The first thing I noticed is that you're treating the prisoners too well. You have to take control, and they have to know that you're in control. You have to treat the prisoners like dogs."
"Nobody was ever charged with torture, or war crimes, or any violation of the Geneva Conventions," Gourevitch concludes. "Nobody ever faced charges for keeping prisoners naked, or shackled." Nor did anybody face charges "for arresting thousands of civilians without direct cause and holding them indefinitely, incommunicado, in concentration camp conditions." Nor, he says, was there anything to show for it all - "no great score of useful intelligence, no ends to justify the means."
"Nobody has ever even bothered to pretend otherwise," he says; the horror "was entirely gratuitous."
Blast near Danish Embassy in Pakistan kills 6
Political observers in Denmark said Monday that the bombing would unsettle Danish society, which has found itself under the unwanted spotlight of a perceived culture war between Islam and the West.
"This is almost certain to harden skepticism to radical Islam in the Danish population," said Ralf Pittelkow, author of a book on Islam and a leading commentator at Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that provoked the fury of the Muslim world by publishing the cartoons caricaturing the prophet.
Taliban leader makes show of power in Pakistan
Interviews with former military officials and government officials, local residents and a former Taliban member who worked in close proximity to Mehsud's inner circle portrayed him as a militant leader who is barely educated, attracts more knowledgeable people to his side and is ruthless in his goal of an extreme form of Islamic rule.
He and his main ally, Qari Hussain, whom officials and associates have described as a highly trained and particularly vicious militant, have methodically built up strongholds in North and South Waziristan - killing uncooperative tribal leaders, winning over unemployed young men to their jihad and filling the vacuum left by a lack of government services. Now, they also have lieutenants and allies across the tribal region.
In South Waziristan, they run training camps for suicide bombers, some of them children, according to the former Taliban member. Their realm is so secure that Mehsud's umbrella group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, held a conference in April of thousands of fighters that culminated in a public execution, according to a local resident.
Local Pakistani authorities say they are helpless to deal with Mehsud's group. In a measure of their despair, on Wednesday the authorities in the Mohmand district, where the conference and public execution were held, announced a truce with the Taliban.
Mehsud was once a minor figure in the small Shabikhel branch of the fierce Mehsud tribe that lives in South Waziristan, whose inhospitable territory remained a sliver of imperial India left unconquered by the British.
But he managed to enhance his stature through the ambivalence - or protection, according to some officials - of the Pakistani authorities, say former Pakistani military officials and tribal leaders. His strength grew quickly after February 2005, when the military, then under the control of President Pervez Musharraf, signed a peace deal with him.
"That was when I knew the army was not serious," said a tribal leader who has dealt with Mehsud and would not be identified for safety reasons. "If the army took firm action they could crush him in two months."
Much of Mehsud's strength lies in his alliance with Hussain, a militant groomed in the anti-Shiite group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Hussain, who turned up to greet the journalists, is younger than Mehsud and more confident. He is a member of the more prominent Behlolzi clan of the Mehsud tribe, Shah said.
He [a former Taliban member] described Hussain as a kind of enforcer, a deputy to Mehsud who would order killings of tribesmen and often personally slit a person's throat. Fighters traveling to or from Afghanistan usually consulted with Hussain first, he added.
Hussain ran the school for suicide bombers where he would indoctrinate the boys, some as young as 10, the former Taliban member said. "He called every child by his name, and talked to him about life in the next world," he said.
By the time the army began its assault on the Mehsud forces in South Waziristan in January, the results of which it showed off to journalists on the tour in May, Hussain was one step ahead of them, the former Taliban member said. He had already moved the suicide bombing school to North Waziristan, he said.
There, he said, Mehsud and Hussain enjoyed the protection of Sirajuddin Haqqani, a leader of the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan who has long-standing ties to Al Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The relationship between Mehsud and Al Qaeda was secretive, with Al Qaeda the dominant partner that treated the Taliban like supplicants, the former Taliban member said.
He described Al Qaeda as "the Arabs" who would help the Taliban in South Waziristan.
In recent months, Mehsud's deputies have become entrenched in the tribal areas far from South Waziristan. Another deputy of Mehsud's, Fakir Mohammed, is in control of much of Bajaur Agency, the northernmost point of the tribal region, according to officials in Peshawar.
In the Khyber region, a transit route for NATO fuel convoys bound for Afghanistan from Karachi, Mehsud's allies have organized tribal killings.
The Pakistani Taliban are spreading so fast they threaten even Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province adjacent to the tribal areas, the inspector general of police, Malik Naveed Khan, said.
"They are now on the periphery," Khan said.
Kidnappings and killings are escalating daily, and some better-off families are fleeing to the capital, Islamabad, or planning safety abroad. If nothing is done, it could be "a matter of months" before Peshawar falls, he said.
To woo young men away from the Taliban, he wants to create a broad "conservation corps" to employ 300,000 men - approximately one from every family - to build roads and bridges in the impoverished tribal region. The men would get a stipend to counter the generous 13,000 rupees, or about $200, the Taliban pay some members each month.
"The economic effect will be immediate," said Khan, who says he is impatient with a slow-moving $750 million five-year U.S. aid program that began a few months ago. He recites his ideas to the many U.S. development experts who come through his door offering to help.
The Americans all say about his employment plan, which is modeled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s: "'We are thinking about it,"' he said. "I say: 'Don't think about it, do it."'
AID TO AFGHANISTAN
Sending the wrong message
Anna Husarska is senior policy adviser at the International Rescue Committee.
In March an alliance of 94 international aid agencies, reported that since 2001 the international donors have pledged $25 billion but have delivered only $15 billion.
Fifty billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but the alliance stresses the relative paucity of that amount: In the two years following international intervention, Afghanistan received $57 per capita, while Bosnia and East Timor received $679 and $233 per capita respectively.
And $50 billion for five years is peanuts when compared with the $36 billion per year that the U.S. military is spending on Afghanistan - with mixed results - especially since Afghans intend to use $14 billion of the entire $50 billion to improve security.
But security and development are two distinct objectives that require different approaches. To give priority to the political-military objectives of a security agenda over development and humanitarian concerns is dangerous.
Syria agrees to admit UN nuclear investigators
In April, the Bush administration made public detailed photographic images to support its assertion that a building on the site, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, 145 kilometers, or 90 miles, north of the Iraqi border, was being used for a nuclear reactor. The administration said it had withheld the pictures for seven months out of fear that Syria could retaliate against Israel and start a broader war in the Middle East.
After the attack, the Syrians wiped the area clean, satellite photographs showed, and some analysts called the speed of the cleanup a tacit admission of guilt.
Bo Diddley, rock 'n' roll pioneer, dies at 79
Bo Diddley, a singer and guitarist who invented his own name, his own guitars, his own beat and, with a handful of other musical pioneers, rock 'n' roll itself, died Monday at his home in Archer, Fla . He was 79.
Diddley was born Otha Ellas Bates in McComb, Mississippi, a small city about 15 miles from the Louisiana border. He was reared primarily by his mother's first cousin, Gussie McDaniel, who had three children of her own. After the death of her husband, McDaniel took the family to Chicago, where young Otha's name was changed to Ellas McDaniel. Gussie McDaniel became his legal guardian and sent him to school.
He was 6 when the family resettled on Chicago's South Side. He described his youth as one of school, church, trouble with street toughs and playing the violin for both band and orchestra, under the tutelage of Prof. O.W. Frederick, a prominent music teacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Gussie McDaniel taught Sunday school there. Ellas studied classical violin from the age of 7 to 15 and started on guitar at 12, when his sister gave him an acoustic model.
He then enrolled at Foster Vocational School, where he built a guitar as well as a violin and an upright bass. But he dropped out before graduating. Instead, with guitar in hand, he began performing in a duo with his friend Roosevelt Jackson, who played the washtub bass. The group became a trio when they added another guitarist, Joseph Leon (Jody) Williams, and later a quartet when they added a harmonica player, Billy Boy Arnold.
The band — first called the Hipsters, then the Langley Avenue Jive Cats — started playing at an open-air market on Maxwell Street. They were sometimes joined by another friend, Samuel Daniel, who was known as Sandman because of the shuffling rhythms he made with his feet in sand sprinkled on a wooden board.
For Shyamalan, reputation rides on new film
M. Night Shyamalan says he knows exactly when his relationship with Hollywood started to sour.
In 2000, he was on a conference call with executives from Walt Disney Studios discussing "Unbreakable," the follow-up to his phenomenally successful movie "The Sixth Sense." He wanted to market "Unbreakable" as a comic-book movie - the tale of an unlikely superhero - but Disney executives insisted on portraying it as a spooky thriller, like "The Sixth Sense."
"I remember the moment that it happened, exactly where I was sitting at the table, the speakerphone," he recalled in an interview from his office in a converted farmhouse near Philadelphia. "That moment may have been the biggest mistake that I have to undo over 10 years so the little old lady doesn't go, 'Oh, he's the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist."'
Eight years later, movie audiences still know Shyamalan as the guy who makes scary movies with a twist.
He also has not been able to undo his reputation in Hollywood as a talented filmmaker who will not play by studio rules. After the success of "The Sixth Sense," he criticized Disney executives, dared to compare his talent to Steven Spielberg's and Alfred Hitchcock's and has steadfastly asserted his reputation as an outsider by refusing to move from Philadelphia to Hollywood.
Progress in fighting HIV/AIDS, but still far to go
JOHANNESBURG: The good news on AIDS: Nearly a million people began life-prolonging drug treatment in developing countries last year. The bad news: 2.5 million people were newly infected with the HIV virus.
As new infections continue to far outstrip efforts to treat the sick, the United Nations released a progress report Monday that highlighted both the notable gains in combating the AIDS epidemic and the daunting scale of what remains to be done.
More than a year after clinical trials in Africa found that male circumcision reduced the risk of heterosexual men contracting HIV by about 60 percent, "many high burden countries are exploring how and whether to scale up male circumcision programs," the report said.
Experts estimate that male circumcision, if widely applied in Africa, could avert two million infections and prevent 300,000 deaths over the next decade.
Flexibility and security as job policy in the EU
The rise of the concept coincides with a period of falling unemployment across EU countries after two years of healthy economic growth, a trend that Spidla attributed partly to flexicurity steps in countries like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
But the euro-zone countries have a long way to go. Germany and France retain stubbornly high long-term and youth unemployment, while Italy has the zone's youngest retirement age and the lowest proportion of adults in work in Western Europe.
By contrast, Denmark has achieved virtual full employment, with a jobless rate of 2.7 percent in April and the highest rate of labor market participation for men and women in the EU. These results have made Denmark a model that has drawn the attention of such countries as France and Portugal.
"Flexicurity is kind of a swear-word in parts of the European trade union movement," said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation. "It's high tax, high investment in people who fall out of work. That's the side of it we like."
Monks, who supports the concept, added, "The side the employers like is that in Denmark in particular the costs of ending an employment contract, of firing somebody, are not as high as in most other countries."
How transferable the Nordic model is remains to be seen.
Joaquín Almunia, the European economic affairs commissioner, extols flexicurity but acknowledges that few other European countries are likely to accept the high direct taxes that sustain the system in Denmark and Sweden.
Danes who lose their job receive up to 90 percent of their previous wages in unemployment benefits for as long as four years, capped at monthly payment of €1,950, or about $3,000, and Denmark finances a temporary income supplement if they take a lower-paying job.
Robert Kuttner, an American analyst, has written in Foreign Affairs that "the Copenhagen consensus" may work only in a homogeneous country with a national commitment to maintaining a highly egalitarian society.
Perhaps the biggest test of flexicurity is in France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to loosen up a heavily regulated labor market with costly job protection while cutting taxes.
"We can regard what is happening in France as progress in flexicurity because we see social dialogue in France on making the labor market more flexible," said Spidla, the EU employment commissioner.
Beijing Olympic organizers offer apology over language in volunteer manual
A section dedicated to the disabled said that "paralympic athletes and disabled spectators are a special group. They have unique personalities and ways of thinking."
To handle the "Optically Disabled," the guide said: "Often the optically disabled are introverted. They have deep and implicit feelings and seldom show strong emotions. ... Remember, when you communicate with optically disabled people, try not to use the world 'blind' when you meet for the first time."
On the "Physically Disabled," the guide said: "Physically disabled people are often mentally healthy. They show no differences in sensation, reaction, memorization and thinking mechanisms from other people, but they might have unusual personalities because of disfigurement and disability.
"For example, some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially when they are called 'crippled' or 'paralyzed'."
The guide said volunteers should "not fuss or show unusual curiosity, and never stare at their disfigurement." It also advised volunteer to steer away from words like "cripple or lame, even if you are just joking."
Madame Tussauds, which is due to open its Berlin museum next month, argues Hitler is part of German history and deserves a place in the exhibition near the Brandenburg Gate.
Hitler would be featured as a broken man in a dark, bunker-like setting, with panels providing explanations on the dictator, Ruoss said, adding a figure of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would be shown in the same room.
Opponents of the Hitler waxwork say the man who led Germany into World War Two and ordered the extermination of Europe's Jews should not be shown in the same style as popstars, statesmen and famous soccer players.
Tuchel said Germany had many historical museums which informed citizens about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, adding a waxworks exhibition could hardly provide the necessary explanation and context to treat this chapter of history.
"It's embarrassing that this part of German history should be exhibited like this," he said. "There's also the danger that young people could try to take pictures with Hitler."
British lender's troubles hint at tough times ahead
Moody's stress-tested the loan portfolios of the mortgage lenders it rated, examining how they would fare under either a 20 percent or 50 percent decline in property prices. Under the milder scenario, all were able to absorb the shock, but in the case of deeper falls, a number would be facing "financial distress."
Now, a 20 percent fall in housing prices over a couple of years does not look altogether unlikely.
One other point makes me slightly less reassured by Moody's analysis. As we saw in the United States, our assumptions about how house borrowers behave has been conditioned by how they behaved when markets were rising.
British house prices have risen even more steeply than those in the United States, and Britain's mortgage situation is more dire, which could lead to uncomfortable surprises.