UN blames rich nations for food shortages
Jacques Diouf, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and host of the summit, sharply criticized wealthy nations that he said were cutting spending on agriculture programs for the world's poor while spending billions on carbon markets, subsidies for their own farmers and biofuel production.
"The developing countries did, in fact, forge policies, strategies and programs that, if they had received appropriate funding, would have given us world food security," Diouf said, adding that the international community finally mobilized to help only after images of food riots and hunger emerged in the media.
He said there had been plenty of meetings on the need for anti-hunger programs and agricultural development in poor nations in the last decade, but not enough money to make them a reality.
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said his goal for the conference was to come away with specific proposals for action, rather than its simply being "a talkfest." He emphasized three immediate priorities: helping the 20 most vulnerable countries feed its hungry; providing seeds and fertilizer to small farmers before the upcoming planting season; and scrapping export bans and restrictions.
Some food experts emphasized that high prices reflected global changes that are likely to be longstanding.
"As high as food prices are, I think over time the overall trend will be to get higher," said Cary Fowler, executive secretary of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
Global trade talks at risk of failing before deadline
BRUSSELS: The halt in discussions to reduce industrial tariffs could block a crucial stage of negotiations with a goal of striking an agreement between opening markets in agriculture and in manufactured products.
"The progress made in nonagricultural market access to date is not sufficient for an accord," said Keith Rockwell, a spokesman for the WTO's director general, Pascal Lamy, "and it will be for the members to negotiate the compromises that are needed if we are to get the breakthrough we need."
"Certainly the next few weeks will be extremely important in terms of the objective of getting this done by the end of the year," he added.
Until now most of the attention had been focused on agriculture, with the United States under pressure to reduce farm subsidies and the EU to cut tariffs on agricultural products.
But the United States and the European Union have sought to increase pressure on emerging economies to compromise over industrial tariffs.
Attention will shift now to a meeting in Paris on Thursday, hosted by Australia, which will be attended by negotiators from Brazil, China, India, the EU and the United States.
Peter Power, European Commission spokesman for trade, called on developing countries to make concessions to secure the so-called Doha Development Agenda, or DDA.
"The developing countries need to recognize that the DDA does not stand for 'don't do anything,"' he said. "They need to provide some access to their markets in industrial goods in the way that we have over agriculture."
Inflation spurs U.S. and EU to go after speculators
As U.S. regulators introduced tougher rules for commodity traders, European finance ministers said Tuesday that they would examine ways to curb speculators who drove food and oil prices higher in commodity markets, in a bid to rein in costs that have lifted inflation in Europe and around the world.
"We have to be more vigilant on this aspect of the problem and we have to act," said Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, who heads the group of European finance ministers.
The ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, also agreed to seek a coordinated response by the world's eight richest economies to lower fuel prices, rejecting proposals to cut lucrative fuel taxes that make up nearly half the price per liter of fuel at European gasoline pumps.
Prices of many staples have doubled in the last two years and are likely to remain high for the next decade, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
U.S. moves to toughen regulation of commodity markets
NEW YORK: Regulators of the nation's commodity markets on Tuesday announced steps to demand more information about investors to determine whether they are evading market limits on speculation and artificially driving up world food prices.
The regulatory agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said it was also initiating talks with bank regulators to ensure that adequate credit was available for the farm economy.
In addition, the commission is strengthening a program aimed at lowering the cost for farmers of hedging crop prices, which has grown more expensive with the increasing volatility in the markets, according to a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
Finally, in an unusual departure from the secrecy that usually cloaks its enforcement actions, the commission confirmed that it was investigating the price spike that hit the cotton futures market in late February, a step demanded by cotton industry executives at a commission hearing on April 22.
The commodity futures markets play a crucial role in establishing worldwide prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and other foodstuffs, as well as energy products like crude oil and natural gas.
But in recent years, these markets have also become an attractive haven for investors seeking both profits from rising prices and protection against inflation and a withering dollar. As a result, billions of dollars have poured into the commodity futures market — from pension funds, endowments and a host of other institutional investors — through the new conduit of commodity index funds.
Billions more have come in from investment banks that are hedging the risk of complex bets, called swaps, that these same investors have made in the unregulated international swaps market, which dwarfs the regulated markets supervised by the CFTC.
The commission has come under fire, most recently at a hearing on May 20 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, for not doing enough to monitor the impact of these investors on markets that have such influence on family budgets nationwide.
Report: NASA press office 'mischaracterized' warming in 'inappropriate poltical posturing'
WASHINGTON: NASA's press office "marginalized or mischaracterized" studies on global warming between 2004 and 2006, the agency's own internal watchdog concluded.
In a report released Monday, NASA's inspector general office called it "inappropriate political interference" by political appointees in the press office. It said that the agency's top management was not part of the censorship, nor were career officials.
NASA downplayed the report as old news on a problem that has since been fixed. NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said the space agency's new policies have now been hailed for openness by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The report found credence in allegations that National Public Radio was denied access to top global warming scientist James Hansen. It also found evidence that NASA headquarters press officials canceled a press conference on a mission monitoring ozone pollution and global warming because it was too close to the 2004 presidential election.
In addition, the report detailed more than a dozen other actions in which it said the NASA public affairs office unilaterally edited or downgraded press releases having to do with global warming or denied access to scientists.
UN blames rich nations for food shortages
Another major debate at the conference [a U.N/F.A.O hosted three-day conference devoted to food security at a time when food prices are at their highest in more than three decades and food stores are at perilous lows] centered on the role of biofuels in producing food shortages. The U.S. delegation here, headed by Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, maintains that only 2 to 3 percent of the increases in food prices are attributable to the biofuel boom. But UN officials said the contribution was much higher.
Biofuel production affects food prices because farmers in many countries have switched from growing crops for food to growing crops for fuel.
Diouf criticized policies like those in the United States that subsidize growing crops for energy. He said that billion-dollar subsidies and protective tariff policies "have the effect of diverting 100 million tons of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy the thirst for fuel for vehicles."
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil argued that some biofuels could provide a solution to world hunger if properly deployed. In Brazil, where biofuel is made from sugar cane, the industry has provided jobs for poor people as well as sustainable fuel, he said.
The idea that biofuels have caused the world hunger crisis is "an oversimplification" and "an affront that does not stand up to serious discussion," da Silva said. He instead blamed high fuel prices for the high cost of food.
"It offends me to see fingers pointed at biofuels, when the fingers are coated in oil and coal," he said.
High oil prices hit low-cost carriers especially hard
"The good times are over," Stephen Ridgeway, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways, said during an interview on Tuesday. "There will be no more hen parties in Latvia," he said, referring to the kind of group excursions to inexpensive locales that low-cost airlines popularized.
"There is demand for no-frills services, especially for the short haul," said Pearce of IATA, which is holding its annual meeting in Istanbul. "It is not the end of the low cost model, but it may be the end of low fares for a while."
Globally, the major areas of weakness have been the United States, Britain and trans-Atlantic markets, Morgan Stanley analysts said in a recent research report on European airlines.
"However, we are seeing signs of this weakness spreading into Continental Europe and parts of Asia, " according to the report. "For now demand appears to be holding up well to Latin America, Africa and the Middle East."
EasyJet declined to comment Tuesday on its outlook beyond the statement it made last month when it issued half-year results showing its loss widened.
Andy Harrison, chief executive of EasyJet, said at the time: "Oil remains the biggest challenge and uncertainty."
In the meantime, it is not just shareholders who will suffer as the low-cost carriers adapt.
Britons, for example, who bought second homes in Poitiers, in western France, hoping to visit cheaply year-round, were left disappointed last autumn, when Ryanair suspended service to the city for its winter schedule.
Videoconferencing gains as travel costs rise
NEW YORK: The airlines' pain is videoconferencing's gain.
As companies cut travel budgets because of higher costs and a softer U.S. economy, they are increasingly adopting technology that allows employees to collaborate face-to-face without boarding a plane.
The businesses that make such technology, like Polycom, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard, are seeing profits from videoconferencing soar alongside the price of jet fuel and gasoline.
With oil prices hitting an all-time high of $135.09 per barrel in May, Cisco has been hearing customers talk more in recent weeks about using video conferencing to avoid travel, said Erica Schroeder, who heads marketing for Cisco's advanced videoconferencing product, TelePresence.
"Travel is the topic of conversation from customers to us," said Polycom's chief financial officer, Michael Kourey. "We're not having to pitch this."
Allan McKisson, a vice president for human resources at the staffing services company Manpower, said that as part of an effort to cut travel costs by 10 percent, it had increased the use of videoconferencing equipment in the last several months.
"It used to be, when you can videoconference, do it," he said. "Now it's do videoconference first, or maybe don't have the meeting."
In companywide e-mail messages, the office furniture maker Herman Miller has encouraged employees to use video conferencing in addition to conference calls and car-pooling to cut operating costs, said a spokeswoman, Susan Koole.
"Herman Miller is really encouraging its employees to ask if their travel is truly necessary," Koole said.
One Polycom client, a News Corp. subsidiary, EasyNet, found that videoconferencing had allowed it to cut travel spending by 35 percent after it compared the three months before and the three months after its introduction, said Mike Ayres, an EasyNet business development director.
Cisco has saved about $150 million on travel by using its technology to conduct meetings in the past year and a half, Schroeder said. The company hopes to cut air travel by 20 percent.
But for customers who must buy the equipment, such savings do not come cheap. News Corp. has bought some of Polycom's priciest systems, which cost $299,000 to $700,000.
The accounting firm Deloitte, which has also bought Polycom's high-end product, has found that the quality of the latest systems induces employees to actually use them, said Larry Quinlan, the Deloitte's chief information officer.
"People say it's lifelike; it's almost like being there," he said. "The clarity of the high-definition image is like watching football at home."
Demonstrations in Paris and London over fuel prices
PARIS: Truckers and taxi drivers slowed traffic around a Paris business district to a crawl Tuesday in a protest over rising fuel prices, and hundreds of fishermen demonstrated in London to demand government help.
Dozens of trucks and taxis in Paris drove slowly toward and around the headquarters of the oil giant Total in La Défense, site of the main financial district on the western edge of the city, to protest a new tax on heavily polluting vehicles.
The authorities said the operation snarled traffic on several highways.
Farmers elsewhere in France blocked ports and oil terminals as part of protests started by fishermen last month demanding government aid to help mitigate high fuel costs.
Fishermen from throughout Britain demonstrated in central London on Tuesday to demand their government's help in coping with soaring fuel prices.
Obama, awaiting a new title, carefully hones his partisan image
It was this familiar Obama who could be found on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Mitchell, South Dakota, standing on a riser by the Corn Palace, which with soaring onion domes and corn-stalk walls suggested a hallucinatory Kremlin rendered in maize. He had those shirt sleeves rolled up, and told a few well-received old chestnuts.
All standard operating procedure, and as the applause washed over, Obama mentioned a fellow senator who was a war hero. Except, well, it turned out this hero supported suspending the federal gasoline tax for three months, and that is just pandering.
"That's a gimmick, O.K.?" Obama said. "It's to get a politician through the next election." And so it goes as Obama gallops off into the general election.
Nevada nuclear dump application filed Tuesday
WASHINGTON: Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Tuesday he's confident the government's license application to build a nuclear waste dump in Nevada will "stand up to any challenge anywhere."
Bodman spoke at a news conference hours after the Bush administration submitted the formal application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build the underground storage facility at Yucca Mountain more than 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Nevada officials, who have fought the waste dump for years, vowed to launch hundreds of specific challenges to the proposed design of the facility, arguing the Energy Department has not proven it will protect public health, safety and the environment from radiation up to a million years.
Responding to the filing, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons reiterated his promise to fight the waste dump which he said "threatens the life and safety of the people of Nevada."
"As long as I am governor, the state will continue to do everything it can to stop Yucca Mountain from becoming reality," he said in a statement. Bodman called the application submission "a big day" for moving the stalled project forward and said he's confident the scientific assessments demonstrate the 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste from the country's nuclear power plants can be stored there safely.
GM closes 4 truck plants in shift toward cars
DETROIT: Responding to a consumer shift toward more fuel-efficient vehicles, General Motors said Tuesday that it would stop making pickup trucks and big sport utility vehicles at four North American assembly plants and would consider selling its Hummer brand.
The moves, announced Tuesday by the company chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner, will slash 500,000 units from the automaker's overall production, and pave the way for increased investment in smaller cars and passenger vehicles.
Wagoner said that rising gasoline prices had forced a "structural shift" by U.S. consumers away from truck-based vehicles built by GM.
"These prices are changing consumer behavior and changing it rapidly," Wagoner said at a briefing before GM's annual meeting in Wilmington, Delaware. "We don't believe it's a spike or a temporary shift; we believe it is, by and large, permanent."
The automaker also set a firm schedule for production of the extended-range, electric-powered Chevrolet Volt. Wagoner said the Volt, which is powered by batteries augmented by a small gasoline engine, will be available for sale no later than the end of 2010.
"In other words, the Chevy Volt is a go," he said. "We believe this is the biggest step yet in our industry's move away from our historic, virtually complete, reliance on petroleum to power vehicles."
"From the start of our North American turnaround plan in 2005, I've said that our goal is not just to return GM to profitability, but to structure GM globally for sustained profitability and growth," Wagoner said in a statement.
The announcement Tuesday came after GM said that 19,000 hourly workers - a quarter of a unionized work force that already has been drastically pared down - had accepted buyouts.
IN OUR PAGES: 50 YEARS AGO
1958: De Gaulle Answers Eisenhower
PARIS: French Premier Charles de Gaulle replied warmly yesterday to a congratularoty letter from President Eisenhower. "Dear Mr. President," Gen. de Gaulle's letter said, "I was very moved by the good wishes you expressed to me. Your message awakens in me the memory of the great hours when France and the United States joined efforts in the alliance for the service of liberty. and why you so gloriously took command of the allied armies. I can assure you that for the friendship that the United States bears for France there is a correspondingly warm friendship of the French nation for the American people." In another message, Gen. de Gaulle paid homage yesterday [June 2] to the "courageous Israeli nation" and pinted out that France has the same "spiritual ideal."
French toast: 'We've Always had Paris... and Provence'
WE'VE ALWAYS HAD PARIS ... AND PROVENCE A Scrapbook of Our Life in France. By Patricia and Walter Wells. Illustrated. 317 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.95.
A memoir is intrinsically self-centered, at best offering a fresh vision of the world through other eyes, at worst reading like an overlong Christmas letter. Patricia Wells's recipes, which follow every chapter, are indeed delicious and unusual, some so evocative that you can practically smell the lavender fields outside the kitchen window and feel the chill of the mistral. Appearances of Robuchon, Julia Child and a Provençal truffle hunter are frothy peaks in the story. But when the Wellses focus on themselves the cream curdles. The book is overloaded with pictures of them separately and together, beaming out at us with politicians' pasted-on smiles, perfectly outfitted for a night on the town or a morning in the garden, always looking just right and manically happy. It is not just the canned pictures that make it difficult to relate to our omnipresent bibliohosts the way it is so easy to do in such disarming memoirs as Peter Mayle's "Year in Provence" and Adam Gopnik's "From Paris to the Moon." They write like ad men trying to sell readers on the excellence of their self-proclaimed fantasy lives, from the distinctive wines they make to Patricia's triumphs as a long-distance runner. Without irony, Walter quotes the cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli observing their shopping habits in France: "You originated the Dean & DeLuca lifestyle." He then sincerely boasts that their lifestyle is even better than that, because the excellent butcher delivers their leg of lamb to Patricia's car, "parked far away." What might have been a delicious invitation to a banquet winds up reading like a brochure for an expensive gated community.
Do we need to know that Patricia's personal maintenance routine consists of "weekly visits to the hairdresser for upkeep and a manicure, twice a week to the massage therapist, a weekly facial, a monthly pedicure"? She reveals, "I even multitask when I have a facial, having facial hair removed and putting my eyelashes up on rollers so they have an even curl." The payoff for her beauty routine comes "when Walter and I passed a woman who clearly did not subscribe to the maintenance theory. Her hair was a mess, and dirty as well. She walked with difficulty, overburdened by excess weight. Her clothes were rumpled and too tight. She wore no makeup and the deep wrinkles on her face suggested she was a lifelong smoker. Walter turned to me and said quietly, 'Thank you for taking care of yourself.'" L'addition, s'il vous plaît!
Jane and Michael Stern are the authors of "Roadfood."
Mugabe shuts down CARE in crackdown on aid groups
JOHANNESBURG: The Zimbabwean government has suspended all the humanitarian work of CARE, one of the largest nonprofit groups working in the country, because of allegations that the group has sided with the opposition in the current election season.
CARE provides assistance to 500,000 of the most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe, including orphans, the sick and the elderly. This month, it would have fed more than 110,000 people in schools, orphanages, old age homes and through other programs.
Speaking at a United Nations food conference in Rome, President Robert Mugabe attacked the activities of nongovernmental organizations and accused the West of conspiring "to cripple Zimbabwe's economy" and bring about "illegal regime change."
Medvedev replaces chief of Russia's armed forces
Medvedev announced the removal of General Yuri Baluyevsky, who was loyal to the Kremlin but had become an obstacle to a campaign launched by former President Vladimir Putin to tighten control over military spending.
Baluyevsky and other top brass have clashed with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, a onetime furniture store manager appointed by Putin early last year with a mandate to clean up the military's finances.
While supporters said Putin appointed Serdyukov to cut waste and corruption in a military that mixes Communist-era management with acquisitive post-Soviet capitalism, critics said his brief is to ensure that the Kremlin controls the flow of money.
NATO calls on Russia to withdraw railway troops from Georgia
"This deployment is clearly in contravention of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, which NATO strongly supports," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement. "These forces should be withdrawn."
Chávez decree tightens hold on intelligence
Under the new intelligence law, which took effect last week, Venezuela's two main intelligence services, the DISIP secret police and the DIM military intelligence agency, will be replaced with new agencies, the General Intelligence Office and General Counterintelligence Office, under the control of Chávez.
The new law requires people in the country to comply with requests to assist the agencies, secret police or community activist groups loyal to Chávez. Refusal can result in prison terms of two to four years for most people and four to six years for government employees.
"We are before a set of measures that are a threat to all of us," said Blanca Rosa Mármol de León, a justice on Venezuela's top court, in a rare public judicial dissent. "I have an obligation to say this, as a citizen and a judge. This is a step toward the creation of a society of informers."
On Sunday, Chávez referred to critics of the intelligence law as de facto supporters of the Bush administration and of the Patriot Act, the American antiterrorism law that enhances the ability of security agencies to monitor personal telephone and e-mail communications.
Chávez's new intelligence law has similar flourishes. For instance, it authorizes his new intelligence agencies to use "any special or technically designed method" to intercept and obtain information.
Chinese police harass grieving parents
DUJIANGYAN, China: Police officers surrounded more than 100 parents protesting Tuesday against shoddy school construction that they say resulted in the deaths of thousands of children during the recent earthquake here.
The police dragged away several crying mothers and harassed journalists trying to report on the event, according to witnesses and photos of the protest.
The standoff between the parents, many carrying framed photos of their children, and the officers, dressed in black uniforms, lasted for several hours and ended with the parents walking off feeling both intimidated and frustrated, said those involved in the protest.
"Because so many police surrounded us, we couldn't do anything, so we went home," said one woman, identified only as Li.
Several Chinese journalists have said in recent days that officials from the central government have told their news organizations not to continue reporting on the issue of schools.
About 10,000 schoolchildren are estimated to have been killed in the earthquake, whose confirmed death toll rose to more than 69,107 on Tuesday. The government lists 18,230 people as missing.
The protest Tuesday took place outside a five-story courthouse in the center of Dujiangyan and was organized by parents who lost their children in the collapse of Juyuan Middle School, in a suburb of this town.
Most of the 900 students in the school were killed May 12 in a deluge of bricks and concrete, even though buildings around the schools remained largely intact. Rescue workers and soldiers scoured the rubble for days afterward, but few survivors were pulled out.
The Southern Metropolis News quoted a rescuer as saying that rubble from the school showed that no steel reinforcing bars had been used in construction, only iron wire, The Associated Press reported.
ANOTHER CHANCE FOR CHINA
Amnesty and the Olympics
Wang Dan, a leading student organizer of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement, spent nearly seven years in a prison in Liaoning Province. In 1998, he was exiled to the United States. This Global Viewpoint article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.
As China's moment on the world stage arrives in the wake of devastating natural disaster, the time has come for China's leaders to let go of old wounds and offer an Olympic amnesty to all political prisoners and those of us who were forced into exile for peacefully speaking our minds. Then the Chinese people can work together to build a new China out of the ruins of national tragedy and to engage the world as a rights-respecting nation at home and abroad.
In 1993, I was one of 20 high-profile dissidents released from prison as part of China's first charm offensive to secure the Olympics. I was released one month before the International Olympic Committee came to Beijing for an inspection tour. Obviously, I was glad to be free, but I also recognized that I was being used as a bargaining chip. I was released, but many others remained in prison for expressing their beliefs.
I publicly supported China's Olympic bids in 1993 and again in 2001, because I believe the Games can be a boost to China, and a chance for Chinese people to be in touch with the world. I am convinced that China must develop a strong civil society, and one way to do that would be to have the international community come to China and engage with our people.
As my own case shows, the Olympics provide a rare opportunity to secure the release of the many Chinese dissidents still under detention. But after China's first Olympic bid failed, I was arrested again and sentenced to return to prison on charges of "subversion." The evidence against me included the fact that I had enrolled in a history correspondence course offered by the University of California.
In 1998, I was finally exiled to the United States along with a fellow dissident, Wang Juntao, in another bid to manipulate public opinion before President Bill Clinton's visit to China for a major summit meeting.
The Chinese people are not their government. Since 1989, my country, China, and its people have changed much. But the government has changed remarkably little. The many dissidents still behind bars today represent a national tragedy as well as a political humiliation.
I fear that the generation that came of age during the Cultural Revolution has lost the ability to understand what it truly means to be patriotic and to "love the country." Nationalist fervor is no substitute for an open, transparent and democratic system of government.
There are many people in China today serving long prison terms for activities that are normal political engagement in most of the rest of the world. China's prison system still holds thousands of political prisoners, though the exact number is not known because the government will not provide official figures. An estimated 300,000 Chinese citizens have been sent to "re-education through labor" camps across the country, often for political activities.
Beijing should fulfill its human rights promises and potential if the Chinese people are to emerge as the true winners of the 2008 Summer Games.
Trial in Singapore
The article "Power and tenacity collide in Singapore" (May 30) portrays Chee Soon Juan as a principled man who has been victimized for pursuing a noble mission. There is nothing noble or principled about lying, cheating and behaving like a thug.
Chee and his sister falsely accused Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of corruption and criminal conduct. Despite being advised by a Queen's Counsel, they failed to produce any credible defense or evidence to back up their claims.
In the hearing to assess damages, Chee shouted down the judge and ignored her orders, thereby bringing contempt of court charges upon himself. Chee has a history of dishonesty. He was sacked by his employer, a university, for fraud and was later found to have lied to Parliament. Chee falsely accused then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew of dishonesty. When sued, he publicly apologized and agreed to pay damages. He then reneged, resulting in his bankruptcy.
This is why Lee Kuan Yew told the court that Chee is a liar and a cheat, and almost a psychopath. Transparency International's Malaysia head has called him a "fruitcake."
Yeong Yoon Ying, Singapore Press secretary to minister mentor
Lawyers who volunteered to defend Tibetans lose licenses
BEIJING: Two prominent human rights lawyers have lost their licenses after volunteering to defend Tibetans charged in violent March protests. The move came as the Beijing authorities heightened the scrutiny of dissidents before the Olympics in August.
The two lawyers, Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong, are known for taking on politically contentious cases, including those alleging official abuses of human rights. Reached Tuesday night, Teng said he had learned last week that the judicial authorities had renewed the licenses of every lawyer in his firm, except his.
"Obviously, it is because of the Tibetan letter that I signed and also other sensitive cases I handled," Teng said.
Russia sees revival in film making
SUZDAL, Russia: A gang of black-clad horsemen gallop past a line of gallows, splattering tufts of snow against frozen corpses.
They are the "oprichniki," loyal henchmen of the 16th century Russian czar, Ivan the Terrible. Severed dogs' heads dangle from their saddles, a warning to the motherland's internal enemies.
The set belongs to a new film, "Ivan the Terrible and Metropolitan Philip," due out next year, which explores the relationship between the tyrant Ivan and his friend and fiercest critic, Philip.
Meanwhile, the post-apocalyptic "Inhabited Island," a two-part sci-fi film directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk with a running time of four and a half hours, has a budget of $36.5 million, possibly the largest budget ever for a movie made in Russia.
The producer, Alexander Rodnyansky, said "Inhabited Island," based on a book by the Strugatsky brothers, would have special effects to rival the Hollywood blockbuster "The Matrix."
Rodnyansky said he wanted "to try to make the viewers understand that at least some Russian producers are able to produce the high-quality product, exactly the same quality as all the great international movies."
But while movies about Soviet-era wars, the ongoing conflict in Chechnya and much earlier periods of Russian history are successful here, they have not done well abroad, where many are wary of the country's expanding power.
"The highly patriotic element in many big-budget Russian films that makes them so popular at home is to some extent a turn-off for foreign viewers, who may well take a different geopolitical stance," said Julian Graffy, professor of Russian film and literature at University College London. "There is a new, slightly anxious, national pride, and that is reflected in the new films of 'aggressive masculinity' that are so popular."
Among the dozen or so international releases of the last few years was "9th Rota," or "9th Company," an action movie directed by Bondarchuk detailing the lives of conscripts in the Afghanistan war of the 1980s. A blockbuster in Russia, it was poorly received when it was distributed abroad in 2005.
Conversely, internationally acclaimed art house films fare less well at home.
The film by the Oscar-winning director Nikita Milkhalkov, "12," where 12 jurors decide the fate of a young Chechen accused of murdering his adoptive father, picked up an Oscar nomination in February but failed at home.
"An Oscar is no guarantee for success in Russia," said Michael Schlicht, head of production house 20th Century Fox in former Soviet states and a native of eastern Germany. "Rather, the opposite is the case. They like shallow stuff."
Google tries to balance censorship and access
MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: When Thailand blocked YouTube last year, Google, which owns the video-sharing Web site, sent its deputy general counsel, Nicole Wong, to help restore access. In Bangkok, a sea of yellow shirts stunned her.
It was a Monday, when Thais wear yellow to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Seeing their reverence, Wong said she grasped why officials reacted so strongly to a video blending a picture of Bhumibol with graffiti - an image that violated a law against insulting the king. Google agreed to block the clip in Thailand while leaving it available elsewhere, and YouTube returned to Thai computers.
Along with other American Internet companies, Google, which owns the world's most popular online search and video sites, is learning to live with countries that "don't share the same baseline" about the Web, Wong, 39, said in an interview at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Google's corporate diplomacy is establishing far-reaching practices to keep online content, and advertising dollars, flowing across borders. Google's ambassadors, a collection of lobbyists and lawyers, are traveling the globe to gauge what governments will tolerate - and showing a readiness to bend the American belief in free expression.
"The notion that companies chartered in the United States do things in other countries they would never dream of doing in the United States is discomforting, obviously," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. "I think, though, this is the reality of doing business in a multinational environment, joined by a common technological network, which is the Internet."
At a congressional hearing in 2007, Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs at the time, told Yahoo executives, including its chief executive, Jerry Yang, "While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies."
Yahoo, which is based in Sunnyvale, California, apologized, provided financial support to the prisoners' families and asked the U.S. government to discuss their plight with China.
In response to the Yahoo fiasco, Google decided not to offer Gmail, its popular e-mail service, in mainland China to avoid government demands for messages. To prevent disruptions to its Chinese operations, the company maintains regular contact with officials through its office in Beijing.
Some say Google is in a unique position. "Google may be the first entity humankind has ever known with the global economic power and social influence to take the ethical high road and to treat free and open expression like a moral absolute," said Jonathan Askin, a Brooklyn Law School professor. "If Google doesn't have the wherewithal to exert its influence for the good of humanity, I don't know who will have the courage going forward."
LETTER FROM EUROPE
Turkish judicial dispute to test the EU's limits
This summer the Turkish Constitutional Court will deliver a verdict in the so-called closure case after the top prosecutor in the nation accused the governing Justice and Development Party, which has roots in Islam, of violating elements of the Constitution that protect secularism. He wants the party disbanded and 71 people, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, barred from politics for five years.
"The prevailing view among informed observers is that the Constitutional Court will close down the AKP and ban leading figures in the party," Ian Lesser, senior trans-Atlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said in a policy paper, referring to the governing party by its Turkish initials.
"Turks may adjust to what some observers are calling an impending 'judicial coup,"' he said. "But Turkey's EU candidacy may be irreparably damaged, nationalist tendencies reinforced and relations with the United States, already troubled, could be further compromised."
"The reaction in the EU to this court case was one of disbelief," said Olli Rehn, the European enlargement commissioner, in a recent speech, "since court cases to close political parties are not normal in EU democracies."
The dilemma for Rehn is acute. If the court rules as expected, it will be impossible to ignore a verdict that raises questions about whether Turkey's brand of democracy is compatible with EU membership.
But if the EU suspends negotiations, they are unlikely to resume, because that would require the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states.
So the commission is likely to propose the same policy it adopted toward Serbia in May 2006, when Belgrade was seeking an agreement paving the way to membership negotiations, a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement.
The Commission is likely to make reform of the Constitution a condition of moving ahead with membership talks.
Ulgen believes such an ultimatum could work because it would give "objective criteria in front of Turkey, the condition being that Turkey fulfills these criteria and then the negotiations on EU membership will go on - without asking for unanimity of the member states."
By comparison with Turkey, even the Byzantine politics of Serbia look straightforward.
Greek mayor performs same-sex marriage
The civil ceremonies, held at sunrise in the nondescript town hall of Tilos, a tiny island in the eastern Aegean, defied statements by a senior Greek prosecutor last week that such unions were illegal."It's done now," the mayor, Anastassios Aliferis, said in an interview by telephone. "The unions have been registered and the licenses have been issued. It's a historic moment."
Public displays of affection are widely frowned upon. The Greek military bars gays from joining its ranks, and in 1993 a private Greek television network, Mega Channel, was fined $116,000 by the National Radio and Television Council for showing men kissing in a weekly drama. The powerful Orthodox Church has also denounced homosexuality as a sin and "defect of human nature."
About two dozen people attended the no-frills ceremony, held under the watchful eyes of police officers and dumfounded locals."I couldn't believe it," said Sofia Kamma, a resident contacted by phone. "I know they're people too, but couldn't they have gone on doing what they were doing without getting our community involved?"
"It's ludicrous for Greece, the cradle of democracy and human rights, to defy homosexuals equal rights and privileges," Aliferis said. "Officials should take the time and reassess their views."
Croatian crime journalist beaten and injured; newspaper blames mafia
Jutarnji List [a Croation newspaper] says Dusan Miljus was beaten with bats in an alleyway Monday and is in hospital with a broken arm, concussion and facial injuries. Miljus says he cannot remember how many people attacked him.
The newspaper said Tuesday Miljus was a "victim of mafia and ineffective police."
Miljus has investigated Croatian mafia activities for years and reportedly received several threats. In December, another daily erroneously printed a fake obituary for Miljus in its deaths column sent in by the family of a slain alleged gang member.
In Croatia, the press is relatively free, but crime reporters are often threatened.
Defendant cleared in journalist's death
Russian investigators cleared another defendant Tuesday of the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Poliykovskaya and said their overall investigation should be wrapped up by June 20, prosecutors said.
Source: Reuters (IHT, Wednesday, June 4th 2008)
Recruiters for top women's colleges in U.S. see a bounty in the Middle East
Women's colleges are a dwindling breed in the United States.
So this spring the admissions deans of the five leading women's colleges — Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Wellesley and Smith — went recruiting to a place where single-sex education is more than a niche product: the Middle East.
For three weeks they visited schools in Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, describing what a liberal-arts women's college can offer academically ambitious students. (They skipped Saudi Arabia, where, their trip coordinator warned, they might need a male escort.)
"We still prepare a disproportionate number of women scientists," Jenny Rickard, dean of admissions at Bryn Mawr, said in describing the presentations. "We're really about the empowerment of women and enabling women to get a top-notch education."
Pasangi Perera Weerasingag, who attended a coeducational British-model high school in Dubai, said that when she arrived at Mount Holyoke last year, she was shocked by the presence of so many lesbians among the students. But she adjusted, she says, and now loves the environment, with the widespread willingness to discuss race and class ("so refreshing") and her classmates' engagement in politics.
In the 1960s, there were some 300 women's colleges in the United States; now there are fewer than 60. But Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Wellesley and Smith — known as the Sisters, those of the storied Seven Sisters left after Radcliffe merged with Harvard and Vassar began admitting men — are thriving, attracting record numbers of high-achieving applicants, who are drawn by their history of academic prominence.
Weerasingag, who is Sri Lankan but grew up in Dubai, said that when she told friends she was going to Mount Holyoke, "they all said, 'Why, why would you go to a women's college?' and immediately began to make jokes about homosexuality."
She said the number of lesbian students on campus " was the only part that came as a culture shock to me."
"It was very open — there were open displays of affection," she added. "At the beginning, there were times when I'd have to close my eyes and say, 'O.K., I'm at Mount Holyoke, and it's different.' But that lasted only a week or so, and now I have so many friends who are openly gay, and it makes no difference."
Weerasingag, 20, finds other aspects of Mount Holyoke life invigorating. "We didn't have a political atmosphere in Dubai," she said. "At Mount Holyoke, during the primaries I couldn't even sleep, because everyone around me was so involved."
Greenway: Education for peace
Fulbright, a former Rhodes Scholar and University of Arkansas president, was elected to the Senate the following year . He would go on to become the only senator to vote against the appropriation for Senator Joseph McCarthy's Un-American Activities Committee, and, afterward, as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which so ably illuminated the absurdities of the Vietnam War.
Flowing from his early internationalist resolution came the creation of the Fulbright Scholar Program, signed into law by Harry Truman in 1946. It promoted educational exchanges between foreign students and Americans to facilitate "mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world." It is a program I have been involved with over the years.
Today more than a quarter of a million participants, chosen for academic merit and leadership potential, have studied in the U.S. and abroad, with funds allocated by the State Department and participating countries. Seldom has the taxpayers' money been put to better use. It is generally accepted now that exchanges of this sort helped to undermine the Soviet Union's appeal and strengthened support for - if you want to be hard-nosed - the furtherance of America's foreign policy goals. In an era of Islamic extremism the United States faces a similar task.
Obama, awaiting a new title, carefully hones his partisan image
"He is an intensely serious guy whose identity and behavior and tone is pretty rigid, and that's fine," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant who once worked for former President Bill Clinton and is now unaffiliated with either Democratic candidate. "The first rule of politics is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Some months back in Ohio, he sat at a round table of six late-middle-aged women who were struggling with the indignities of poor heath and ailing finances. Afterward, Obama confided that one woman, with her humor and hopeful manner, reminded him of his mother, who died of cancer at age 53. As she spoke, he said he despaired that he could not help her immediately.
But while his manner was attentive at that round table, Obama gave little hint of his fierce emotional undercurrents. His rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, tends to excel in this province of the private. He does not.
But Obama is an agile student of politics. At a town-hall-style meeting last week in Rapid City, South Dakota, he wandered into the crowd to talk with a middle school student who had inquired about Obama's views on immigration.
"You seem like a pretty sharp guy," Obama told him.
"Thank you," the boy replied.
"You want to go into politics?"
The boy shook his head. "I want to do film."
Obama broke into a broad smile. "Film? Excuuuse me!"
Soon they were bantering about the comparative merits of "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now."
In style of dress, Obama ends as he started: a studiously formal fellow. When he bowled in Pennsylvania, he did so in a white shirt and tie. (This added to the derision over his low bowling score.) When he visited Mount Rushmore last Saturday evening, no reporter was much surprised to see him strolling through the inky darkness in his suit jacket with his tie knotted just so.
When it comes to Obama, a certain comic aspect attends to these fashion deconstructions. He is like a minimalist musician hitting a new note; the slightest change in his look excites speculation. Are you sure he undid his tie?! What depths of emotion must roil beneath that cotton dress shirt!
Bill Clinton vents as he winds down stint as a campaigner
After a weekend in which his aides sought to discredit an article in Vanity Fair that, relying primarily on anonymous sources, raised questions about his judgment, the company he keeps and whether he was spending time with other women, Clinton unleashed a tirade against the story's author, Todd Purdum, a former New York Times reporter.
According to the Huffington Post Web site, Clinton, as he worked the rope line at an event here, called Purdum "sleazy," "slimy" and "dishonest." Speaking to a reporter for the Web site, Clinton said the article was part of a pattern of media bias against Hillary Clinton and in favor of her rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton's campaign aides responded vigorously, turning the full force of their "war room" - a term defined by Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign - against the journalist and his magazine.
In a memo that was nearly 2,500 words long and addressed to "Interested Parties," the campaign accused Vanity Fair of showing a "penchant for libel" and listed as among the people Purdum had not called "the 1.4 million people with HIV/AIDS around the world who are benefiting from the Clinton Foundation's successive price reduction."
Purdum issued a statement late Monday saying the article spoke for itself and was "based on interviews with dozens of high-level people who either still work for the Clintons or have worked with them or known them for years, and who continue to admire the former president in many ways."
Facing America's great immigration panic
Someday, the United States will recognize the true cost of its war on illegal immigration. We don't mean dollars, though those are being squandered by the billions. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it.
An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat.
After the largest raid ever last month - at a meat-packing plant in Iowa - hundreds of people were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had been treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so many others, has faced no charges.
Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to impose standards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting.
Barack Obama might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so. The public's moderation on immigration reform, confirmed in poll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courage and a plan. But they have been vague when they should be forceful and unflinching.
The restrictionist message refuses to recognize that illegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended by making reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nation contains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remain forever "Them" and never "Us."
Every time America has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of this century, which hurt countless lives and mocked the nation's most deeply held values.
Brooks: Calling Dr. Doom
Since effectively wrapping up the nomination, Barack Obama lost seven of the last 13 primaries - not including the final contests on Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota. Obama's confidants say that this doesn't matter. In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, primary-election results are no predictor of general-election results.
That's dubious. Though voters now prefer Democratic policy positions on most major issues by between 11 and 25 points, Obama has only a 0.7 percent lead over McCain in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. His favorability ratings among independents has dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent since late February.
Furthermore, Obama has spent the past several months rolling up his sleeves and furiously courting working-class votes. It doesn't seem to be working.
Ron Brownstein of the National Journal calculates that Obama did no better among those voters in a late state like Pennsylvania than he did for 26 out of 29 earlier primary states where he lost the working class.
There is something about his magic that resonates powerfully with the well-educated but doesn't translate with the less-educated. As a result, you get all these odd poll results. Voters agree with Obama's original position on Iraq, but according to the Pew Research Center, they trust McCain more to handle the issue.
We haven't had two presidential candidates as far removed from the mainstream suburban lifestyle. McCain's family has been military for generations. But Obama's path through the university towns is particularly elusive.
Peter Hart did a focus group for the Annenberg Public Policy Center with independent voters in Virginia that captured reactions you hear all the time. These independent voters were intrigued by Obama's "change" message, but they knew almost nothing about him except that he used to go to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's church. It's as if they can't hang Obama's life onto anything from their own immediate experiences and, as a result, he is an abstraction. As Hart points out, people's inability to come up with a clear narrative about Obama could make it easy to label him in the fall.
More fundamentally, McCain's problem is that his party is unfit to govern. As research from the Republican pollster David Winston has shown, any policy becomes less popular when people learn that Republicans are supporting it. If the Republicans sponsored the sunrise, voters would prefer gloom.
Many Republicans are under the illusion that they are in trouble because they've betrayed their core principles. The sad truth is that if they'd been more conservative, they'd be even further behind.
I've spent the past few years trying to find conservative experts to provide remedies for middle-class economic anxiety. Let me tell you, the state of free-market thinking on this subject is pathetic. There are a few creative thinkers (most of them under 30), but for the most part, McCain is forced to run in an intellectual void.
On Tuesday, he is scheduled to give a forceful speech on why "reform" is better than "change." He plans to describe how to remobilize government and address economic anxiety. But McCain's reform message is only being carried by him and a few bloggers. Obama can draw on a coherent body of economic work and 10,000 unified voices.
This election will be asymmetric. Obama has to come up with a personal narrative voters can relate to. McCain needs to come up with a one-sentence description for why he represents a clean break and a compelling future.
Neither campaign has done that. I don't know what they're so happy about.
Suicide bomber suspected in attack outside Danish Embassy
A senior Pakistani policeman close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because not authorized to comment, said that the vehicle used in the attack — a white Toyota Corolla — had a red license plate designed to resemble a diplomatic plate and passed security guards on the road shortly before the car exploded outside the embassy at about 1 p.m. on Monday.
After the cartoons were reprinted, police protection along the road to the Danish Embassy and in the vicinity of the embassy had been reinforced, a European diplomat, who declined to be named because of fear of retaliation, said.
But the special security provisions had been relaxed recently, the diplomat said.
Gates plan for Korea reflects reduced sense of threat
SEOUL: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that he supported extending the tours of thousands of U.S. troops stationed here to three years and allowing their spouses and children to live with them during their assignments.
"I don't think anybody considers the Republic of Korea today a combat zone," Gates said here on the final day of a weeklong trip to Asia, which included stops in Guam, Singapore and Thailand.
The shift of American forces has the added benefit of defusing tensions with South Koreans. Many American bases built decades ago in rural areas have since been swallowed up by the urban sprawl from the South Korean capital, Seoul.
The paradox of Muslim weakness
Sadanand Dhume is the author of "My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian Islamist," about the rise of radicalism in the world's most populous Muslim country. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal.
In the years since 9/11 two broad narratives have emerged in the West to explain the nature of the so-called war on terror.
On the right it has become commonplace to equate Islamism - the ideology that seeks to order 21st century societies by the medieval norms enshrined in Islamic Shariah law - with a long line of totalitarian threats to liberal democracy. Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution, for instance, calls it a "foul apparition that has succeeded fascism, Nazism, and communism as the world's next bane."
The left sees the issue as a product of poverty or flawed policies toward the Middle East. Robert Fisk of The Independent blames Islamist terrorism on "political situations and injustice in various parts of the world."
Both views are flawed. Conservatives rightly emphasize the power of Islamism as an idea and the global ambitions of its adherents, but fail to acknowledge the movement's lack of military and intellectual heft, or its limited global appeal compared to communism in its heyday. Liberals correctly point out that talk of a Muslim takeover of Europe is delusional, or at the very least premature. But they fail to see that in the Muslim-majority societies of Asia and the Middle East Islamism remains a powerful and growing force. Better organized, better motivated, backed by the threat of violence and protected by cultural norms that prohibit any criticism of Islam, Islamists are able to alter the nature of society even where they don't hold formal power.
Nonetheless the danger to liberal democracy that Islamists pose in Muslim countries is of an entirely different order.
Islamists - although almost always a minority - tend to be better motivated and better organized than their opponents. Weak or sympathetic courts and police officials allow them to use violence or the threat of violence to control the public square. Cultural norms - even in relatively open countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia - put any public criticism of Islam out of bounds.
Even where they have not claimed formal power Islamists have led their societies in an illiberal direction. In Egypt, female university students come under greater pressure to wear the head scarf today than they did a generation ago. In parts of Pakistan, Islamists have declared war on music and soap operas. In Indonesia Christians and heterodox Muslims often find their churches and mosques under siege.
In each of these countries those who reject the Islamist message - who believe that gender equity, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are universal values and not merely Western ones - must do so with one hand tied behind their backs.
So while talk of Islam's inroads in Washington, London and Paris may indeed be overblown, the special conditions in the Muslim world ensure that the threat to liberal democracy in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Islamabad is not about to disappear any time soon.
Peace fills a vacuum
Hussein Agha is the author, with Ahmed S. Khalidi, of "A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine." Robert Malley, the director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, was a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001.
In the last few weeks, three long-frozen conflicts in the Middle East have displayed early signs of thawing.
The Gaza deal is being brokered by Egypt. Qatar mediated the Lebanese accord. Turkey is shepherding the Israeli-Syrian contacts.
All three countries are close allies of the United States. Under normal circumstances, they would be loath to act on vital regional matters without America's consent.
By acting as they did, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey gave the true measure of America's dwindling credibility and leverage after American debacles in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. They are willing to take matters into their own hands and overlook American ambivalence about their doing so.
Intent on isolating its foes, the United States has instead ended up marginalizing itself. In one case after another, the Bush administration has wagered on the losing party or on a lost cause.
Israel wants to deal with Hamas because it - not America's Palestinian partners - possesses what Israel most wants: the ability to end the violence and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas. Israel has come around to dealing with Syria because Damascus - not America's so-called moderate Arab allies - holds the crucial cards: Syria has a clear strategy of alliance with Iran; it supports the more powerful forces on the ground in Lebanon; and it provides refuge to opposition and Islamist forces in Palestine.
Likewise, America's Lebanese friends had to give in to Hezbollah's demands once it became clear that the support of the United States could not undo their country's balance of power.
Meanwhile, the process President George W. Bush seems to care about most - that elusive Israeli-Palestinian track - is also the least likely to go anywhere.
The United States has cut itself off from the region on the dubious assumption that it can somehow maximize pressure on its foes by withholding contact, choosing to flaunt its might in the most primitive and costly of ways. It has pushed its local allies toward civil wars - arming Fatah against Hamas; financing some Lebanese forces against Hezbollah - they could not and did not win. And it has failed to understand that its partners could achieve more in alliance than in conflict with their opposition.
A bell tolls for Ahmadinejad
U.S. State department officials commonly complain that without an embassy in Iran, the United States cannot decipher the opaque workings of the Islamic Republic.
This may be true in a general way, but no classified intelligence sources are needed to grasp the importance of the lopsided election last week of Ali Larijani to the powerful position of Parliament speaker.
The pragmatic Larijani, a former chief of Iran's National Security Council and lead nuclear negotiator, has been an outspoken foe of the country's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His ascension spells a promising power shift within Iran's faction-ridden political system.
Larijani is very much a devotee of that system, but one who makes no secret of his belief that dialogue and deal-making with the West offer the surest means to secure Iran's national interests.
Larijani is known as a favorite of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His smashing victory in the parliamentary vote suggests that the legislators knew they were doing the will of Khamenei, the ultimate decider in Iran's theocratic republic.
This tilt toward Larijani suggests that the supreme leader has begun to respond to popular disenchantment with Ahmadinejad. The public's anger at Ahmadinejad for his disastrous economic policies has now found expression in the upper reaches of Iran's power elite.
Larijani can be expected to castigate Ahmadinejad not only for measures that drive up inflation and unemployment but also for making truculent public statements that increase Iran's isolation and subject it to crippling banking sanctions.
The best news is that Larijani's elevation may foreshadow Ahmadinejad's defeat in the presidential election scheduled for June 2009. If he is replaced by Larijani or another pragmatist - and if the United States, too, has a pragmatic president by then - a bargain may be struck to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.
It will take deal-makers to make such a deal.
Rice calls dialogue with Iran pointless
"We would be willing to meet with them but not while they continue to inch toward nuclear weapons under the cover of talks," she told the group, a pro-Israel lobby known by its acronym, Aipac. "The real question isn't why won't the Bush administration talk to Iran. The real question is why won't Iran talk to us."
"We will continue to improve the security capability of our friends, including their missile defense," she said.
New U.S. airport designs specialize in 'security that you can't see'
Blast analysis, which looks at how a building withstands an explosion, has become a routine part of airport design, said Tom Darmody, senior vice president of aviation and transportation for the design company HOK.
"For the most part, people weren't even thinking about this 'til after 9/11," said Andy Bell, vice president of planning at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
Planners generally use bollards or cement piers to keep possible bomb-laden cars at least 20 feet to 30 feet from a building's support beams, said Dick Marchi, a senior adviser with Airports Council International-North America.
"The real fear is that somebody will bring a building down," Marchi said. "Turns out, with blast protection, a relatively small distance away does an awful lot of good."
Airports have spread out the cost of these upgrades using bond revenue, rent hikes and parking garage money, among other sources of income. Still, some of the expense filters down in the form of higher prices for a cup of coffee or a parking space.
"The passenger ultimately pays for everything," Marchi said.
Construction started on that airport's new international terminal shortly before the 2001 attacks. Planners adjusted their design to add $47 million in security upgrades.
They fortified walls with more steel and concrete, and set up a separate road for deliveries, which must pass a security checkpoint to get near the terminal. Shipments are then dropped at a central location and screened.
"This is really the trend of the future," Bell said. "Everybody would be basically prearranging this so there wouldn't be any strange beer truck that comes out of nowhere."
Uganda's costly export
Donald MacGillis is assistant editorial page editor of the Boston Globe.
KAMPALA, Uganda: Last month, medical students at Makerere University here organized a series of workshops on the brain drain of Uganda's professionals to the West. The focus was on finding ways to slow this hemorrhaging, but it quickly became evident to me that for many of the aspiring physicians, nurses and medical technicians crowding the lecture hall, the brain drain looked more like an opportunity than a problem.
Two students slipped notes to me asking if I could help them find positions in particular specialties in the West. When a workshop organizer invited audience comments, one student praised the remittance money that professionals abroad send back to Uganda, which amounts to almost 9 percent of its GNP.
One problem is that the country cannot offer enough jobs to all its graduates. The physicians it does hire earn less than $400 a month. President Yoweri Museveni, during a press conference with visiting journalists brought to Uganda by the International Reporting Project, said his first priority was not stanching the brain drain but building Uganda's industrial base and collecting the taxes this would generate. "There is really no shortcut, you can't solve all these problems at the same time," he said.
If Uganda now lacks the resources to hold onto its highly trained, English-speaking professionals, the West can take steps to address the problem. The United States already funds high-tech research facilities in Uganda that provide its doctors with the chance to work with state-of-the art equipment. Bills reauthorizing President Bush's global AIDS program include provisions for improving conditions of health workers in developing countries.
At the workshop, a student proposed getting the Western employers of Ugandan health workers to repay Uganda for the investment their home country made in their training.
No one is talking about limiting the professional freedom of Ugandans. But the West has a responsibility to ensure that its need for Uganda's doctors and nurses does not place an unconscionable burden on the Ugandans left behind.
Drugs for developing countries
Benedetto Della Vedova argues that the World Health Assembly (WHA) should advance policies that are based on evidence when it comes to increasing access to essential medicines for people in developing countries. We could not agree more.
In 2003, the WHA created a commission that was tasked to look into ways to improve the current pharmaceutical research and development system so that desperately needed medical innovation takes place, and patients can access the fruit of this innovation.
Three years later, the commission concluded that the current patent system fails to deliver on both these points, and that there is no evidence stronger patent protection in developing countries will help.
These findings form the basis for the new WHO Strategy on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, which governments agreed to at the recent WHA meeting.
Every day, medical staff members of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) witness first hand the failures of a market-driven pharmaceutical system, which caters to those who can pay large sums for their drugs, but leaves those who can't out in the dark. Tuberculosis is the poster child for these failures, where the newest drugs available were developed in the 1960s, and the most-commonly-used method to diagnose this curable disease - which continues to kill 1.7 million people each year - was developed nearly 130 years ago.
Changing the rules of the game will mean separating the cost of research and development from the price of products. MSF, other NGOs and some pharmaceutical companies have made proposals to improve the situation. We could establish prizes, a fund for neglected diseases, patent pools and not-for-profit drug development organizations. But Della Vedova's proposal to award innovation by giving marketing monopolies using the Orphan Drug Act - which allows the company to charge high prices - is absurd. How is increasing the price of new medicines for neglected diseases going to help the people that cannot afford to pay?
Ellen 't Hoen, Paris Policy and Advocacy director Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines Médecins Sans Frontières
UN blames rich nations for food shortages
And at a meeting devoted largely to the economics of food, dominated by talk of biofuels and genetically modified crops, many charitable groups said more basic concerns had been overlooked.
Susan Shepherd of Médecins Sans Frontières said that in Niger, where she works, higher prices meant that families bought less food - or less nutritious food - for their children.
"Even Ban Ki Moon was talking about economics. The only one who really focused on hunger and malnutrition - about the people who go hungry - was the pope," she said, referring to a message from Pope Benedict XVI read at the conference.
New rule lets U.S. banks gain even when they're losing
NEW YORK: Leave it to Wall Street to profit from its own distress.
Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and four other U.S. financial firms have used an accounting rule adopted last year to book almost $12 billion of revenue after a decline in prices of their own bonds. The rule, intended to expand the "mark-to-market" accounting that banks use to record profits or losses on trading assets, allows them to report gains when market prices for their liabilities fall.
Merrill, the third-biggest U.S. securities firm, added $4 billion of revenue during the past three quarters as the market value of its debt deteriorated. The decline was the result of higher yields demanded by investors who were spooked by the company's $37 billion of write-downs from holdings hurt by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.
"They can post substantial gains as a result of a decline in their own creditworthiness," said James Cataldo, a former director of treasury risk management for Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston and now an assistant professor of accounting at Suffolk University in Boston. "It's completely legitimate, but it doesn't make sense by any way we currently have of thinking of net income."
The debate over what is known as Statement 159 adds to the number of accounting techniques called into question as the U.S. debt market unravels. Investors have criticized banks for booking some write-downs in an accounting category called "other comprehensive income" that bypasses their income statements. Accounting regulators are now proposing changes to standards that allow banks to use off-balance sheet vehicles to increase earnings without tying up precious capital.
The rule was enacted after lobbying by New York companies, led by Merrill, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, which wrote letters to the Financial Accounting Standards Board arguing that it was not fair to make them mark their assets to market value if they could not also mark their liabilities.
Companies are allowed to decide for themselves which of their outstanding bonds, loans and other liabilities will get mark-to-market treatment. That is an unprecedented degree of leeway, said Willens, who is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York.
"It's kind of a dumb rule," Willens said. "In the entire panoply of accounting, this is the most flexible and elective and optional rule that we have."
Richard Bove, an analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann, a securities firm, provided an example of how it works. A company designates $100 million of its subordinated bonds as subject to mark-to-market accounting. The price of the bonds drops to 80 cents on the dollar from 100 cents. So the firm books $20 million on the "presumed savings that you have on your liabilities," Bove said.
"In the real world you didn't save a dime," he said. "You still owe the $100 million."
Metered billing is an attempt to deal fairly with Internet usage, which is very uneven among Time Warner Cable's subscribers, said Kevin Leddy, Time Warner Cable's executive vice president of advanced technology.
Just 5 percent of the company's subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines, Leddy said. Other cable Internet service providers report a similar distribution.
India seeks its own path as a manufacturing powerhouse
India cannot grow the same way as China, though, even if it does pursue low-cost manufacturing just as avidly. India is a functioning democracy, where local governments do battle with New Delhi and small constituencies make their voices heard. The central government cannot rule by fiat, and officials are loath to follow a path that has not been tested as a precedent.
That is why India needs easy-to-follow templates for growth, Mahindra [Anand Mahindra, vice chairman of Mahindra Group: His company, which made its name in automobile manufacturing, now has one of the biggest information technology businesses in India, he said. But he still sees manufacturing as the priority: "The second phase of India's growth is now being investment-led. That first wave clearly provoked more reforms, more liberalization. The rise of China has not been lost on us, obviously."] said. To him, the right template is one borrowed from China: the special economic zone, or SEZ, a place where taxes are low, power grids are new, licensing is relaxed and labor is freely hired and fired.
"You have an enclave from which you can work and ignore all the baggage of the old India," he said, like rigid labor laws and lousy infrastructure. "Is that ideal? No, obviously you would want a pan-Indian rule. But you have the template."
Fleming's Bond is not nearly so fussy about what he drinks, as long as there is plenty of it. This Bond is also much more fetishistic about smoking than he is about drinking and makes a point of ordering his cigarettes from Morlands of Grosvenor Street.
He likes fast automobiles but hates gizmos, except for the odd concealed knife.
Fleming's Bond also has a dark streak of world-weariness that we never get to see on screen. He's casually racist and misogynistic (giving women the vote encourages their lesbian tendencies, he believes) in a way that would never be permitted in the movies.
And he's far kinkier sexually than in the movies.
In all these respects, Bond bears a more than passing resemblance to his creator, except that Fleming was a far nastier piece of work.
He was born in London, in 1908, the second son of a well-to-do member of Parliament. Like Bond he was kicked out of Eton, and he dropped out of Sandhurst. He subsequently failed as a journalist and a stockbroker, and the war was his salvation. With few other qualifications than knowing the right people, he became assistant to the director of naval intelligence and rose to the rank of commander (same as Bond).
After the war he returned, half-heartedly, to journalism and more enthusiastically to his main interest: womanizing. In 1952 he married Lady Anne Rothmere. Their relationship was intense but not particularly faithful on either side, and it was based on a shared taste for what the French call le vice anglais. "I am the chosen instrument of the Holy Man to whip some of the devil out of you," he wrote to her once, "and I must do my duty however much pain it causes me. So be prepared to drink your cocktails standing for a few days."
"There are some very silly things, like the plot of 'Goldfinger,' and some of the names of people are just ridiculous," he said. "But on the whole my reservations rather evaporated."
One key to a successful knockoff, he decided, was finding the right story, and eventually he came up with one that involved both the catastrophic Cold War ominousness that Fleming so loved and the kind of specific crime plot that energizes the best of the Bond novels.
"Mostly I just had fun," Faulks said. "I wrote the book the way Fleming did - 2,000 words a day, except I left out the cocktails and the snorkeling."
He added: "I didn't anguish, and I didn't feel Fleming looking over my shoulder. The only difficulty I had was when I wanted to slow the story down, to allow a page or two for something significant to sink in. I thought that I could draw a little on Bond's inner life, but I found that Bond doesn't really have an inner life."
Mosley wins vote of confidence to stay as FIA president
He said that "They're based on the idea that somehow you can't have in your life any sort of sexual activity that's at all eccentric."
Most people, he said, would take the attitude that "if somebody likes doing that, if it's not harming anybody, if it's in private and completely secret and personal, it's nothing to do with me."
The scandal that has enveloped Mosley, and thrown grand prix racing into turmoil, broke two months ago when a British tabloid newspaper, The News of the World, front-paged an account of Mosley's afternoon in a so-called "sex dungeon" in London's fashionable Chelsea district.
Accompanied by a lurid video-recording covertly made by one of the women at the session, the newspaper's account said Mosley had paid £2,500, nearly $5,000, for a session lasting several hours that centered on extended sequences of flagellation, with Mosley and the women involved naked or only scantily clothed.
Adding momentum to the demands for his resignation as the FIA chief, the News of the World asserted that the orgy had strong Nazi connotations, with the women participants wearing German-style World War II uniforms and exchanging commands during the beating sessions with Mosley in German and Mosley's German-accented English - much of it shown on the video the newspaper posted on the Internet. Mosley subsequently acknowledged having taken part in the orgy, but said it was a private matter, "not a moral issue", and that there were no Nazi connotations to what occurred.