California becomes first state to ban trans fats
SACRAMENTO: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed a bill banning trans fats in restaurant food, making California the first U.S. state to ban the use of the cooking oils linked to artery-clogging cholesterol.
The new law, modeled after a ban implemented in New York City, prohibits the use of partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fats, by the state's 87,000 restaurants beginning in 2010 and in all baked goods sold in the state starting in 2011.
Trans fats, found in processed and fried food, candies and cookies, are vegetable oils that are treated with hydrogen to extend the shelf life of products. The oils have been linked to LDL cholesterol that clogs the arteries. New York began a ban on trans fats in all restaurants in December 2006.
"Consuming trans fat is linked to coronary heart disease, and today we are taking a strong step toward creating a healthier future for California," Schwarzenegger said in a statement
Troubled world trade talks show signs of progress
GENEVA: Global trade talks showed signs of progress Friday after crunch negotiations among seven crucial countries and regions, ministers and officials said.
In a sudden turnaround suggesting that a week of deadlock was finally breaking, ministers began to talk of a possible success at the World Trade Organization talks.
"There has been progress made, yes," the EU trade chief, Peter Mandelson, told reporters. He said progress had been made in most areas of the talks, which are focusing on moves to open up trade in agriculture and industrial goods. Asked whether a final deal was in reach, Mandelson replied: "It's possible, it's possible."
A WTO spokesman, Keith Rockwell, said new ideas to narrow gaps between rich and poor countries had emerged in five hours of talks on Friday among the seven ministers and would be passed along to a meeting of ministers from 35 countries.
Earlier, the WTO director general, Pascal Lamy, had warned that the talks risked collapsing Friday if members failed to narrow their differences, following a day of intransigence Thursday.
WTO asks U.S. to lower farm subsidy ceiling
GENEVA: A compromise proposal to break a deadlock in talks on a global trade deal would require the United States to lower its ceiling on farm subsidies to about $14.5 billion (7.28 billion pounds), sources familiar with the talks said on Friday.
The United States said on Tuesday it was ready to cut its ceiling for trade-distorting farm subsidies to $15 billion (7.5 billion pounds) a year to help unblock the World Trade Organisation talks.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. offer still stood at $15 billion, compared to its current ceiling of $48.2 billion under WTO rules.
"We have always signalled that additional flexibility is contingent on an entire package containing additional market access," the U.S. official said.
Under the compromise proposal, the EU would be required to lower its ceiling for trade-distorting farm subsidies by 80 percent to 24 billion euros ($37.7 billion) although that figure was within the scope of reforms already approved by the EU.
Oil spill on nearly 100 miles of Mississippi River
NEW ORLEANS: A sheen of oil coated the Mississippi River for nearly 100 miles from the center of this city to the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday following the worst oil spill here in nearly a decade. The fuel-laden barge that collided with a heavy tanker on Wednesday was still leaking.
The thick industrial fuel pouring from the barge could be smelled for miles in city neighborhoods up and down the river, even as hundreds of cleanup workers struggled to contain the hundreds of thousands of gallons. Some environmentalists worried about reports of fish and bird kills in sensitive marsh areas downstream, though officials said they had so far heard of only a handful of oil-covered birds. Booms to protect areas richest in wildlife, at the river's mouth, were being deployed, officials said.
The Mississippi remained closed to all boat traffic, stranding about 65 vessels. The effect on the area's economy was thought to be significant, with this city's port estimating a loss of at least $100,000 a day and probably more as the river remained closed, and petrochemical facilities dependent on it for shipping were threatened with a bottleneck, the Coast Guard said. Some suburbs stopped drawing drinking water from the river.
"We've had a number of large spills in the New Orleans area, but this is a heavy, nasty product, problematic in the cleanup," said Lieutenant Commander Cheri Ben-Iesau of the Coast Guard, adding that it is of the sort normally used to fire up boilers at power plants.
"It's a significant spill, if for nothing else because of its impact on the water supply," Ben-Iesau said. "We've got a lot of commerce dependent on this water supply, so we're scrambling to get it cleaned up."
At Ford, end of a big-vehicle era takes a toll
DETROIT: Ford Motor tallied the financial impact on Thursday of falling sales of its big pickups and sport utility vehicles, which contributed to the worst quarterly loss in its 105-year history.
While Ford's auto operations lost $1 billion in the second quarter, the bulk of the company's $8.7 billion loss came from write-downs in the value of its truck factories and lease portfolios.
The huge charges reflect the diminishing value of both the plants and the vehicles they produce.
"These write-downs are another result of the tremendous movement in the marketplace away from trucks and SUV's," Ford's chief executive, Alan Mulally, said in an interview.
Backlash brewing against ethanol in United States
OKLAHOMA CITY: "Why Do You Put Alcohol in Your Tank?" demands a large sign outside a gasoline service station here, which reassures drivers that it sells only "100% Gas."
"No Corn in Our Gas," advertises another station nearby.
Along the highways of this city, and elsewhere in the United States, a mutiny is growing against energy policies that heavily support and subsidize the blending of ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, generally made from corn, into gasoline.
Many consumers complain that ethanol, which constitutes as much as 10 percent of the fuel they buy in most states, hurts the efficiency of their cars and chokes the engines of their boats and motorcycles.
As ethanol has spread around the country to reduce the consumption of petroleum, gas station owners and wholesalers are catering to concerns about ethanol that are often exaggerated but not entirely unfounded. High gas prices seem to be helping them plant seeds of doubt in customers' minds.
Gazprom works to let business partners be its European lobbyists
MOSCOW: Gazprom is working to turn its Western partners into a lobbying network to try to overcome the European Union's worries about its aggressive expansion plans.
Companies working with Gazprom in its Siberian fields may be happy to oblige, analysts say, eager to strengthen their positions in Russia and in turn help the company, the world's largest gas producer, gain assets in Europe to achieve its dream of becoming a trillion-dollar company.
Chris Weafer, chief strategist at the UralSib bank in Moscow, said: "Gazprom is creating a lot of lobby groups in the form of its partners. Instead of Gazprom having to knock on the door of the European Parliament, Total and BASF will do it on their behalf."
Gazprom and BASF, the German chemical company, recently started production at their joint pas project in Siberia called Achimgaz, which will ultimately produce 7.5 billion cubic meters, or 265 billion cubic feet, per year. That is equal to almost a tenth of the gas consumption in Germany.
Eni, the giant Italian energy company, recently signed an agreement with a Russian power generator to sell gas it will produce from Arctigas, its future venture with Gazprom.
British Energy agrees to EDF bid
LONDON: Nuclear operator British Energy has agreed to be taken over by French utility EDF for around 12.4 billion pounds, a source briefed on the matter said on Friday.
ExxonMobil and BHP approve $1.4 billion energy project in Australia
PERTH: ExxonMobil and BHP Billiton approved their 1.4 billion Australian dollar, or $1.35 billion, Turrum oil and gas joint project off Australia's southeast coast to meet rising domestic demand.
Turrum has reserves of about 1 trillion cubic feet of gas and about 110 million barrels of oil and condensate, Mark Nolan, ExxonMobil's Australian chairman, said in a statement on Friday.
Exxon said oil production from Turrum was expected to begin in 2011, while gas sales would commence from 2015.
The Turrum project is part of the Gippsland Basin joint venture in which BHP and ExxonMobil's subsidiary, Esso Australia Resources Pty, each have a 50 percent stake.
BHP said in a separate statement that it has approved an expenditure of $625 million for its share of development for Turrum.
The Turrum project, located in the Bass Strait off the southern coast of Australia, is the second oil and gas project committed to by the Exxon-BHP partnership in the past eight months, following the decision last December to proceed with the 1.4 billion dollar Kipper gas project.
Gunmen kidnap eight oil workers in Nigeria
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria: Gunmen have kidnapped eight oil workers in three separate incidents in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta in the past 24 hours, security sources said on Friday.
The first attack happened late on Thursday when 11 Russians and a Ukrainian were seized onboard a vessel off the island of Bonny. Some were released on Friday but five are still being held, according to a top security chief in the delta.
"We have not heard any more from the kidnappers since then," a private security contractor working in the oil industry said.
He said the vessel was working for Italian oilfield services company Saipem SpA.
The second attack happened early on Friday in the main oil industry hub of Port Harcourt, when more than a dozen men in speedboats kidnapped two oil engineers, one from the Philippines and one Nigerian, the security contractor said.
Evans and Sastre in time-trial remake
MONTLUCON, France: The Tour de France has been very different to last year's but the last weekend will look oddly familiar with an Australian and a Spaniard battling it out for final victory in a time-trial.
Cadel Evans, among the potential victors for the second year in a row, missed becoming the first Australian to win the Tour by 23 seconds in 2007.
He has a different Spanish rival, though.
In the absence of title-holder Alberto Contador, whose Astana team was rejected for its past doping record, Evans will this time tackle Carlos Sastre, an experienced Tour climber wearing the leader's yellow jersey for the first time.
"I seem to have a knack for this at the Tour, eh," said Evans about this remake of last year's script.
Taliban exploit sectarian rift in Pakistan siege
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: It was once known as the Parrot's Beak, a strategic jut of Pakistan that the American-backed mujahedeen used to carry out raids on the Russians just over the border into Afghanistan. That was during the cold war.
Now the area, around the town of Parachinar, is near the center of the new kind of struggle. The Taliban has inflamed and exploited a long-running sectarian conflict that has left the town under siege.
The Taliban, which have solidified control across Pakistan's tribal zone and are seeking new staging grounds to attack American soldiers in Afghanistan, have sided with fellow Sunni Muslims against an enclave of Shiites settled in Parachinar for centuries. The population of about 55,000 is short of food. The fruit crop is rotting, residents say, and the cost of a 66-pound bag of flour has skyrocketed to $100.
And, in a mini-conflict that yet again demonstrates the growing influence of the Taliban and the Pakistan government's lack of control over this highly sensitive border area, young and old, wounded and able-bodied, have become refugees in their own land.
Thousands of displaced Shiites from Parachinar are scattered among relatives in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province, which abuts the tribal areas, and in hotels and shelters where images of Iranian religious leaders decorate the halls.
5 killed in sectarian fighting in northern Lebanese city
BEIRUT, Lebanon: Sectarian clashes broke out Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, killing six people, including a 10 year-old-boy and a policeman, and wounding at least 15, police officials said.
The clashes between Sunni Muslim gunmen and Alawites, an offshoot Shiite sect, broke out at dawn after a hand grenade was thrown toward a Sunni area, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Friday's clashes occurred as the government was struggling to draft a document outlining plans for its term in office amid disagreements with Hezbollah.
Gazan bombers target Hamas gunmen
GAZA: A bomb exploded next to a car used by the armed wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing three gunmen and a girl, the ruling Palestinian Islamist group and medical officials said.
The attack was the third of its kind in a day, making for one of the biggest flare-ups in internal violence since Hamas routed the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction to seize control of Gaza a year ago.
Cordial mood awaits Karadzic in Hague detention unit
THE HAGUE: Radovan Karadzic can expect an ensuite cell, home-cooked Balkan cuisine and a convivial atmosphere where former enemies play table football if he is transferred to the detention unit of the Hague Tribunal.
Karadzic would join 37 other suspects held by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and housed in a purpose-built detention unit within a Dutch prison on the blustery North Sea coast, close to the resort of Scheveningen.
Four deaths at the tribunal, including that of former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2006, shocked and distressed the detainees, but it is also a place where former inmates say ethnic differences are forgotten and there is mutual support.
"You are not a Serb, Bosnian or Croat anymore -- you are just a detainee," a former court employee told Reuters.
His new home will be a 15 square metre cell identical to the one in which Milosevic spent the last five years of his life listening to Frank Sinatra music and planning his defence.
The court says the cells exceed international standards for space, lighting and facilities. They resemble college dormitory rooms with a toilet, washbasin, shelves, television and table. Some detainees have spread quilts over their beds.
ETHNIC RIVALRIES FADE
The tribunal stresses its detention unit is a remand centre, not a prison. If inmates are awaiting trial they must be treated as innocent.
Released inmates say the ethnic rivalries that drove them to fratricide in the bloody wars that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia have faded within the walls of the prison.
Now the detainees, who in 2006 had an average age of around 52, enjoy their common language, cook Balkan food together in the corridor kitchens, watch television and play board games.
Most are Serbs but there are also Croats and Muslims.
They can attend religious services together, take English lessons and pursue arts and crafts. But the Internet is not allowed and cells are locked in the early evening.
Detainees take an hour's fresh air in the exercise yard but there is no mingling with Dutch prisoners. The more sporting can play volleyball, football or tennis, while the more elderly favour darts and table tennis.
Former Bosnian Muslim general Naser Oric, who was released this month, said in a media interview the atmosphere in the detention unit was cordial, with no hostility between inmates.
"We invited each other," he said. "We Muslims from Bosnia and Kosovo celebrated our religious holidays with the Serbs and Croats, the Croats invited Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians for Catholic holidays and the Serbs invited everyone for Serb Christmas."
Serb nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj and Bosnian Croat paramilitary leader Mladen Naletilic were the unit's biggest jokers, Oric said.
But some detainees have suffered major depression, and the four deaths -- two of them suicides -- profoundly affected the mood.
The unit came under intense scrutiny after the ICTY said security breaches had allowed witnesses to smuggle in non-prescribed drugs to Milosevic.
At site of massacre, arrest brings little solace
SREBRENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Fadila Efendik had little time to rejoice this week over the capture of Radovan Karadzic, the man she blames for the death of her only son: She was too busy looking for his missing and scattered body parts.
The arrest Monday of Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs accused of masterminding the worst massacre in Europe since World War II, brought her cold comfort, Efendik said.
She nervously played with her head scarf and sobbed as she scanned the endless rows of white gravestones in the area where Serbian paramilitary forces under the command of Karadzic separated the men and boys who would later be killed in a frenzy that claimed 8,000 lives.
"I am bitter because it took so long to find Karadzic," she said. "My son was two weeks shy of his 20th birthday. I still can't find his body. I found some of my husband's bones, but not enough to bury him whole. Karadzic may have been found, but now I am alone in the world."
When news of Karadzic's arrest on war crimes charges broke Monday, hundreds of Muslims poured onto the rainy streets of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. The city still bears the scars of a brutal three-and-a-half-year siege during which Karadzic is accused of authorizing the shooting of civilians.
Some danced and chanted, "This is Bosnia!" - a defiant answer to Karadzic's wartime aim of the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims from the country and making it part of a greater Serbia. More than 10,000 Bosnians died in Sarajevo during the war.
But here in Srebrenica, where the massacre took place in 1995, people said they had little faith in a legal process undertaken by the United Nations tribunal in The Hague 13 years after the hunt for Karadzic began. Some feared the tragedy he is accused of helping to orchestrate was being overshadowed by the lurid soap opera, played out on front pages across the world, detailing his evasion as an alternative medicine specialist, with a mistress, a fake family living in America and an elaborate disguise.
Karadzic has been indicted, along with the Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladic, on charges of genocide in connection with the killings during the siege at Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica, where unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys were lined up, killed and buried in mass graves.
Efendik said residual anger for the West's inaction remained.
In particular, she pointed to the 300 Dutch peacekeepers at the United Nations-protected enclave where 40,000 people had sought refuge before the killings. She said the peacekeepers should have done more to protect Bosnian Muslims from the raiding Serbian forces, some of whom stole the helmets and vehicles of peacekeepers to trick and capture victims trying to flee.
Past Dutch governments have said responsibility for the massacre lay with the killers, not with the United Nations troops.
"The UN couldn't save us then. What is it going to do now?" Efendik said.
She recalled the day the killings began, when Serbian paramilitary forces separated the men from the women, putting the women on open trucks that would carry them to Muslim-controlled territory. She said the truck she was traveling on had been stopped along the route, where the women were forced to watch and give the three-finger Serbian nationalist salute as Serbian forces mowed down their fathers, brothers and sons before their eyes.
Only a handful of the 8,000 men and boys survived, some by pretending to be dead and hiding under corpses. Witnesses said those who remained were herded to nearby wooded areas, soccer grounds, warehouses or barren meadows, where they were killed. Many bodies were later found in mass graves with their hands tied behind their backs.
Hatidza Mehmedovic, president of Srebrenica Mothers, a victims support group, who lost two young sons, her husband, her father and two brothers during the massacre, said she would be able to rest only when the West had brought Mladic to justice. For now, he remains at large.
"Karadzic gave the orders for Srebrenica, but it was Mladic who executed it," she said. "I have some satisfaction from Karadzic's arrest, but it doesn't change the fact that Srebrenica remains a mirror to the shame of the world and its inaction. All those who could have prevented this should see the graves so that this will never happen again."
Mehmedovic said all that she had left of her two sons, Almir and Azmir, 19 and 21 when they were killed, was a tree Almir had planted in her front yard and a school notebook Azmir had left on his desk. "We were awaiting the wedding of our children, the birth of our grandchildren," she said. "Now all we have are empty graves."
She said Karadzic's arrest was little solace for thousands of families like hers that had not been able to bury their loved ones because forensic experts had recovered only part of their remains. Last year, she said, she found the mangled body of one of her sons, but was unable to identify which one. She also found the bones of her husband, but not enough to give him a proper burial.
Karadzic reportedly escaped arrest in Austria last year
VIENNA: Radovan Karadzic evaded capture last year when Austrian police raided a Vienna apartment where he was staying but did not recognise the disguised war crimes suspect, an Austrian newspaper reported on Friday.
The Kronen Zeitung said in a report that police found the bearded, white-haired man when they raided the apartment of the girlfriend of a Serb man suspected of having shot dead another Serb in a Vienna cafe in May 2007.
When the police asked him to identify himself, the report said that he showed a Croat passport under the name Petar Glumac and added he was in Vienna for training. It said that he
appeared calm and readily answered police questions about the suspect.
The Austrian Interior Ministry confirmed the raid, which took place on May 4, 2007, and said policemen who took part in recognised Karadzic as the man they saw in the apartment when they saw his pictures after his capture.
"When the pictures of Karadzic emerged after his arrest in Serbia, policemen who participated in the raid have reported that the man they have encountered there was probably Karadzic," Interior Ministry spokesman Wolfgang Gollia told Austrian television.
Putin's comments drive a company's stock down
Speaking at an industry conference this week, Putin, Russia's former president and now prime minister, spoke five sentences critical of one of his country's big steel companies, Mechel, and its billionaire chief executive, Igor Zyuzin.
In a sign of Putin's enduring power in Russia and around the world, that criticism came with a price: about $1.2 billion per sentence in lost shareholder value.
Putin's speech began simply enough.
"We have a respected company, Mechel," Putin said in introducing his subject.
"By the way, we invited the owner and director of the company, Igor Vladimirovich Zyusin, to today's meeting, but he suddenly got sick. Meanwhile, it is known that in the first quarter this year the company exported raw materials abroad at half the domestic, and world, price. And what about the margin tax for the government?"
He added: "Of course, sickness is sickness, but I think Igor Vladimirovich should get better as quick as possible, otherwise we'll have to send him a doctor."
Greeks and Turkish Cypriots agree to talks
The division of the island has cast a shadow over Turkey's ambitions to join the European Union, of which the Greek-controlled, internationally recognized Cypriot government is a member. Part of Turkey's EU membership negotiations have been suspended because of its unwillingness to recognize Cyprus.
LETTER FROM EUROPE
The Harare handshake: Soft power, Africa style
PARIS: When Zimbabwe's political rivals posed for the cameras in a remarkable handshake in Harare a few days ago, the message resonated far beyond Africa.
Was it the culmination of Western and African pressures on Mugabe and threats of deeper sanctions in a land so beset with hyperinflation that a newly introduced 100 billion Zimbabwe dollar bill was not enough to buy a loaf of bread? Or was it, as some Africans and their supporters preferred to see it, a result of the cautious, painstaking backroom negotiations conducted for more than a year by Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa?
On a wider canvas, the handshake seemed to reinforce a lesson in diplomacy that bound a strife-bound nation in Africa to a onetime war zone in Europe.
On the same day that Mugabe and Tsvangirai shook hands, the Serbian secret police finally arrested Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs wanted on war crimes charges.
In both cases, proponents of what is called soft power claimed victory. While Western nations had threatened Mugabe, it was Mbeki who presided over the first face-to-face meeting in a decade between Harare's foes as they signed an agreement to open negotiations. And, in Serbia, the force that overcame the region's bloodstained nationalism was the lure of integration with the European Union, which had made clear that Belgrade's future relationship with Brussels hinged on the capture of suspected war criminals.
In a world where U.S. diplomacy is currently associated with "hard" power in Iraq and a threat of the same in Iran, "soft power" claimed an unusual twinning of victories. The carrot triumphed over the stick. Or so it seemed.
A CARICATURE OF DEMOCRACY
Zimbabwe's misguided talks
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is author of "Hurling Words at Consciousness" and a political columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.
As the Zimbabwean ruling and opposition parties finally come to the negotiation table, it looks like the only possible outcome is one that will allow Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai to share power. But a power-sharing agreement that brings about a "Government of National Unity," or a transitional authority, will in fact be undermining the most basic and important principle of democracy: the vote.
Western liberal democracy is based on the social contract, which for theorists such as Jean Jacques Rousseau bound the state to managing and fulfilling the people's general will. Failure was grounds for new leadership.
For modern day Western democracies, the social contract is fulfilled through the vote. Take the vote out of democracy and the contract is nullified. That is what Mugabe did when he used violence to steal the election.
Because a government of national unity elevates the state above the will of the people, it is antithetical to democracy itself. The call by the Bush administration, the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union for a such a government in Zimbabwe is a threat to the growth of democracy in Africa.
Ultimately, it is the societies that have the tradition of respecting democratic institutions that survive terrible leaders, because the institutions serve as guiding posts in the worst of times. Africa needs this tradition so that it can survive its bad leaders and flourish under good leadership. Quick political fixes that take Africa further from this, even with the short term promise of peace, sets up for more Congos and Somalias in the near future.
Playing innocent abroad
Radical optimism is America's contribution to the world. The early settlers thought America's founding would bring God's kingdom to earth. John Adams thought America would emancipate "the slavish part of mankind all over the earth." Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush preached their own gospels of world democracy.Barack Obama is certainly a true American. In the first major foreign policy speech of his campaign, delivered in Chicago last year, he vowed a comprehensive initiative to "ensure that every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy." America, he said, must promote dignity across the world, not just democracy. It must "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good."In Berlin on Thursday, it was more of the same. Speaking before a vast throng (and a surprising number of Yankees hats), he vowed to help "remake the world." He offered hope that a history-drenched European continent could "choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday." He envisioned "a new dawn in the Middle East."Obama's tone was serious. But he pulled out his "this is our moment" rhetoric and offered visions of a world transformed. Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word "wall" 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.The Berlin blockade was thwarted because people came together. Apartheid ended because people came together and walls tumbled. Winning the Cold War was the same: "People of the world," Obama declared, "look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together and history proved there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."
When I first heard this sort of radically optimistic speech in Iowa, I have to confess my American soul was stirred. It seemed like the overture for a new yet quintessentially American campaign.But now it is more than half a year on, and the post-partisanship of Iowa has given way to the post-nationalism of Berlin, and it turns out that the vague overture is the entire symphony. The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more.When John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan went to Berlin, their rhetoric soared, but their optimism was grounded in the reality of politics, conflict and hard choices. Kennedy didn't dream of the universal brotherhood of man. He drew lines that reflected hard realities: "There are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin." Reagan didn't call for a kumbaya moment. He cited tough policies that sparked harsh political disagreements - the deployment of U.S. missiles in response to the Soviet SS-20s - but still worked.In Berlin, Obama made exactly one point with which it was possible to disagree. In the best paragraph of the speech, Obama called on Germans to send more troops to Afghanistan.The argument will probably fall on deaf ears. The vast majority of Germans oppose that policy. But at least Obama made an argument.Much of the rest of the speech fed the illusion that we Americans could solve our problems if only people mystically come together. We should help Israelis and Palestinians unite. We should unite to prevent genocide in Darfur. We should unite so the Iranians won't develop nukes. Or as Obama put it: "The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."The great illusion of the 1990s was that we were entering an era of global convergence in which politics and power didn't matter. What Obama offered in Berlin flowed right out of this mind-set. This was the end of history on acid.Since then, autocracies have arisen, the competition for resources has grown fiercer, Russia has clamped down, Iran is on the march. It will take politics and power to address these challenges, the two factors that dare not speak their name in Obama's lofty peroration.The odd thing is that Obama doesn't really think this way. When he gets down to specific cases, he can be hard-headed. Last year, he spoke about his affinity for Reinhold Niebuhr, and their shared awareness that history is tragic and ironic and every political choice is tainted in some way.But he has grown accustomed to putting on this sort of saccharine show for the rock concert masses, and in Berlin his act jumped the shark. His words drift far from reality, and not only when talking about the Senate Banking Committee. His Berlin Victory Column treacle would have made Niebuhr sick to his stomach.Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn't eloquence. It's just Disney.
TROUBLING SIDE EFFECTS
Turkey's broadening crisis
F. Stephen Larrabee, co-author of "The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey," holds the corporate chair in European Security at the RAND Corporation.
Turkey is facing a domestic political crisis that not only threatens the country's internal stability but could weaken its ties to the West and exacerbate instability in the Middle East.
In February, the Turkish public prosecutor forwarded a 161-page indictment to the Constitutional Court that calls for the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to be closed down and for 71 of its leading politicians, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, to be banned from politics for five years. The indictment charges that the party violated secularism, a fundamental principle enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. The Constitutional Court starts final hearings in the case on Monday.
While the evidence is flimsy, most Turks, including leading members of the AKP, expect that the Constitutional Court, a bastion of secularism, will vote to close the party. Indeed, the AKP has already begun to make preparations for its dissolution.
Finally, closure of the AKP is likely to increase strains in Turkey's relations with the European Union. Opponents of Ankara's EU membership will use the closure as a pretext to intensify their opposition, while supporters will find it harder to make the case for Turkish membership.
At the same time, banning the party could undercut efforts to promote reform and democracy in the Middle East. Many moderate Islamists in the Middle East are likely to see the party's closure as proof that it is impossible to achieve their political goals by democratic means and could turn to more radical solutions.
Group threatens Olympics attack and claims bombed buses
WASHINGTON: A group calling itself the Turkistan Islamic Party released a video threatening the Beijing Olympic Games and claiming responsibility for recent deadly explosions on two Chinese buses, a terrorism monitoring firm said on Friday.
Hole in jet forces emergency landing in Manila
SYDNEY: A Qantas airliner en route from Hong Kong to Melbourne made an emergency landing in Manila on Friday, after a hole was ripped in its fuselage, causing the plane to lose cabin pressure.
All 346 passengers and 19 crew members aboard the plane, Qantas Flight 30, which originated in London, left the plane without injury, the airline and Australian investigators said.
There was no immediate explanation for the incident.
Passengers described hearing a loud bang and seeing debris fly into the cabin before the plane, a Boeing 747-400, started a controlled descent to a lower altitude and changed course for Manila. Oxygen masks were deployed when the plane, which had gone into service in 1991, depressurized.
"There was a terrific boom and bits of wood and debris just flew forward" into the first-class area, a passenger, June Kane, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from Manila.
Rice shares shopping, life tips Down Under
PERTH: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a taste of life in the Australian mining boomtown of Perth on Friday, sipping coffee with the foreign minister at his local and chatting with girls about shopping.
Rice told a group of teenage girls that her favourite past-time was shopping -- also a favourite activity for many women in Perth which has just seen luxury jeweller Tiffany's open a store in the isolated Indian Ocean city now awash with money thanks to Australia's outback mining boom.
In fact, Perth's booming economy has attracted a swag of luxury retailers including Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Bally.
Italy declares nationwide state of emergency over illegal immigration
ROME: Italy declared a nationwide state of emergency Friday over the arrival of immigrants as Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government pushes forward with its crackdown on illegal immigration.
Parliament said that the state of emergency, which gives police and local authorities additional powers to tackle the influx, was extended to the entire country to combat the "persistent and exceptional" arrival of illegal immigrants. It did not give further details.
The state of emergency was earlier in effect only for the southern provinces of Sicily, Puglia and Calabria.
Italy's long shoreline and proximity to Africa make it a popular destination and entry point into Europe for thousands of Africans who make hazardous journeys in flimsy boats each year.
The move by Berlusconi's government, which won an April election promising a hard line on illegal immigration, which it blames for crime, was immediately attacked by the opposition.
"This way it ends up only increasing the worries and insecurities of people, exactly the opposite of what should be done," Marco Minniti, a Democratic Party politician, said.
The head of Médicins Sans Frontières in Italy told the Ansa news agency that migrant arrivals on the southern island of Lampedusa in the first seven months of the year were up 30 percent from a year ago but were stable compared to prior years.
Pope discusses plight of refugees with Iraqi prime minister
VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI urged the world to help Iraqis who have fled their country and called for better protection for Christians inside Iraq during talks Friday with Iraq's prime minister, the Vatican said.
The struggle against terrorism and the need for religious freedom also were central issues in the talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.
Norway increases security after attack on refugee camp
OSLO: Norwegian police and immigration authorities have increased security at a refugee center following a mass attack - allegedly involving Chechens armed with steel rods, knives and other weapons - that left more than 20 asylum-seekers injured.
Police Superintendent Per Tore Fremstad called Thursday's episode a "wave attack" in which 40 to 50 armed men climbed a fence around the center in Vaaler, about 30 miles, or 50 kilometers, south of Oslo. He said the attackers, apparently from around the region, swarmed the building at 9:45 p.m. and "began hitting out at people almost randomly." More than 20 refugees were taken to local hospitals, including one with a broken arm and another with a skull fracture.
On Friday morning, the police arrested five Chechen men, aged 23 to 43, on suspicion of taking part in the 15-minute attack, but Fremstad said it was not clear all the attackers were of the same nationality. Online media reports said the dispute may have grown out of a complaint that a Kurdish boy had bothered two Chechen women inside the center. "Whatever the original cause," said Superintendent Fremstad, "it was trivial until somebody's honor got offended."
The center in Vaaler houses some 250 asylum seekers from Russia, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Eritrea, among other nations, and is one of 70 such facilities in Norway.
Agnar Kaarboe, communications director of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, said a meeting would be held Friday night at the Vaaler center to try to calm tempers.
U.S. expands visa program for Iraqi allies
BAGHDAD: The American Embassy in Baghdad announced Thursday that it had expanded tenfold its program to help Iraqi employees of the American government here, who faced threats for their work, to obtain visas and ultimately citizenship in the United States.
Although the program was established by law in January, it has become a practical reality just in the last two to three weeks as guidelines have been finalized and the embassy has brought in staff members and started processing applications.
Israel moves closer to building more settler homes
JERUSALEM: An Israeli military committee has approved the construction of 22 homes in a barely populated West Bank settlement, Defense Ministry officials said Thursday. The move appeared to catch some Israeli officials off guard, angered Palestinians and was likely to prompt criticism from the international community as it tried to push forward a long-faltering peace process.
Israeli officials who confirmed the details on condition of anonymity in the absence of any official statement suggested that the approval came in the context of a quiet deal with settler leaders who had agreed to remove some illegal West Bank outposts in return. The officials noted that the building plans were subject to final approval by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
From the erotic domain, an aerobic trend in China
BEIJING: Clad in knee-high leather boots, spandex shorts and a sports bra, Xiao Yan struck a pose two feet off the ground, her head glistening with sweat and her arms straining as she suspended herself from a vertical pole.
"Keeping your grip is the hardest part," she said. "It's really easy to slide downward."
Xiao, 26, who works as a supermarket manager, is one of a growing number of women experimenting with China's newest, and most controversial, fitness activity: pole dancing.
"I used to take a normal aerobics class, but it was boring and monotonous," Xiao said. "So I tried out pole dancing. It's a really social activity. I've met a lot of girls here who I'm now close friends with. And I like that it makes me feel sexy."
China says Web use surpasses that in U.S.
SHANGHAI: China said the number of Internet users in the country reached about 253 million last month, helping China overtake the United States as the world's biggest Internet market.
The estimate, released by the China Internet Network Information Center in Beijing, shows a powerful surge in Internet adoption in this country over the past few years, particularly among teenagers.
The estimate, based on a national survey, shows that the number of Internet users jumped more than 50 percent, or by about 90 million, during the past year, suggesting that China could soon have more than 300 million people using the Internet for everything from news to online shopping.
By contrast, the United States is estimated to have about 220 million Internet users, or about 70 percent of its population, according to the Nielsen Company, with similarly high percentages in Japan and South Korea.
Obama drops visit to wounded U.S. troops in Germany
BERLIN: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama dropped a plan to visit wounded U.S. troops in Germany on Friday after the Pentagon said such venues should not be used for political campaigns.
The Pentagon in a statement cited longstanding Defence Department policy that prohibits military personnel or facilities from association with partisan political campaigns and elections.
"We told him he could visit Landstuhl (Regional Medical Centre in western Germany) with his Senate staff, but not with his campaign staff," said Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner.
The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, add details to the picture of the exchanges between the CIA and the Justice Department over the legal status of the CIA's methods. For decades before 2002, the United States had considered several of the methods to be illegal torture.
The rule requiring interrogation logs is from a three-page memorandum signed on Jan. 28, 2003, by George J. Tenet, then the CIA director, that appears to lay out rules for harsh interrogations. A one-page attachment has a space for CIA officers in the program to sign, stating, "I have read and understand and will comply with" the rules.
The document says that "unless otherwise approved by headquarters," CIA officers "may use only Permissible Interrogation Techniques," which include "(a) Standard Techniques and (b) Enhanced Techniques."
"In each interrogation session in which an Enhanced Technique is employed," the documents say, "a contemporaneous record shall be created setting forth the nature and duration of each such technique employed, the identities of those present," and, apparently, other requirements
Another document is one dated Aug. 1, 2002, from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department that is believed to describe in detail the methods the CIA was using on Abu Zubaydah, a Qaeda logistics specialist captured in Pakistan in 2002. A memorandum released earlier, signed on the same date by the head of the counsel's office, Jay S. Bybee, is already public and said that no method was torture unless it produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death.
Most of the newly released memorandum, also signed by Bybee, is blacked out. But one section describes a loophole stating that an interrogator would not violate the law against torture unless he has a "specific intent" to cause severe pain.
"Based on the information you have provided us, we believe that those carrying out these procedures would not have the specific intent to inflict severe physical pain or suffering," the August 2002 memorandum says, apparently to CIA officials.
The third document, a one-page memorandum from Aug. 4, 2004, appears to reflect growing legal concerns about the continued use of harsh methods as Congress and the Supreme Court began to intervene in Bush administration detention practices. "The interrogation of [redacted] should proceed," it says, "only with a clear understanding [redacted] of all the legal and policy matters involved with the interrogation techniques."
The memorandums are available at www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/36104res20080724.html.
Jaffer, of the ACLU, said the documents "supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody." He said the redactions appeared designed to "protect senior officials."
A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said the redactions were to prevent terrorists from learning about the agency's interrogation methods, which he called "safe, lawful and effective."
"The agency's goal in questioning terrorists has been to acquire solid, actionable information that would help disrupt plots and save lives," Gimigliano said. "That's one of the many reasons why the caricatures of this program out there make no sense."
Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 81, was commander of the regional Third Army Corps in Cordoba for five years during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship and controlled one of the regime's most notorious torture centers.
Hours before the sentencing, an unrepentant Menendez read a statement in front of television cameras in the courtroom saying the regime's repression had been justified in the face of a leftist militant threat.
"We had to take appropriate measures," he said, enraging activists one of whom screamed "genocide" and had to be removed from the courtroom.
Menendez, who was already under house arrest for previous "dirty war" convictions, will be transferred to a prison following Thursday's conviction and sentencing.
Many convicted former military officers are serving their sentences under house arrest, as allowed by an Argentine law that applies to those over 70 years old or of poor health. A court can choose to send them to prison anyway, however, as was the case with Menendez.
Six other former military officers and one civilian were also convicted Thursday in connection with the killings of the activists and given sentences ranging from life in prison to 18 years. The trial lasted less than two months.
The four victims, Hilda Palacios, Humberto Brandalisis, Carlos Lajas and Raul Cardozo, were kidnapped in 1977. They were members of the Revolutionary Workers Party.
According to prosecutors, the four were taken to the prison and torture center known as La Perla, which was run by the Third Army Corps, and killed within a month. Their bodies were then dropped in the street to make it seem as if they had been killed in a shootout, before being picked up by authorities.
Palacios' body was found in 2004 in a local cemetery. The bodies of the others have not been found.
Menendez's is the latest conviction of a "dirty war" suspect. Seven ex-military officers and a former police official were convicted of human rights abuses in December. Also, a top ex-navy chief was charged earlier this month in the 1977 kidnapping and murder of a prominent journalist.
President Cristina Fernandez has made advancing human rights trials a priority since taking office. In 2005, the Supreme Court struck down amnesty laws from the 1980s that had protected suspects from the dictatorship.
About 13,000 people were killed during the dictatorship, according to official numbers, but human rights groups claim the number is closer to 30,000.
"Forty-five bodies have been recovered so far. The 112 people missing are river fishermen," said Mathieu Bela, district commissioner for North Ubangi in the far north of Congo, on the border with Central African Republic.
Another 25 passengers survived the accident but Bela said local authorities had not received any help from either government due to the lack of information and inaccessibility.
"The accident happened on Tuesday night when the boat struck a rock in the dark. There are no signs or signals, which does nothing to help navigation," he said.
The boat sank on the Ubangi river, which forms part of the frontier between Congo and Central African Republic.
The military said Arkan Ali Taha was caught in the crossfire after soldiers came under heavy gunfire from a passing taxi. The boy's father said his son had hired the taxi to bring a set of keys he had forgotten to the newspaper.
The soldiers were attacked while they were trying to recover a disabled vehicle, according to the military statement. One soldier was wounded by the gunfire, it said.
"The soldiers returned fire, killing a young Iraqi man in the taxi," the military said in a statement, adding that the taxi driver was later taken into custody by Iraqi police.
Auction-rate securities are preferred shares or debt instruments with rates that reset regularly, usually every week, in auctions overseen by the brokerage firms that originally sold them. But the $300 billion market for these instruments collapsed in February, trapping investors who had been told that they were safe and easy to cash in
Defeat in Scotland rattles Labour and Brown
The defeat, announced Friday, was in a Glasgow constituency and came at the hands of the Scottish National Party, which supports independence for Scotland. Brown himself is Scottish and the Labour Party, which has long viewed Scotland as a fief, has counted heavily on its Scottish seats to cement its majority in general elections.
Labour is enduring one of the biggest slumps in postwar political history, with a range of national opinion polls showing a lead of 20 points and more for the opposition Conservatives and Labour at risk of falling into third place behind the Liberal Democrats.
If the swing in the Glasgow vote were repeated in a general election, with about 20 percent of voters abandoning their support for Labour, many members of government, including the prime minister himself, who holds a Scottish seat, would be at risk of being ousted from Parliament, and Labour would be routed nationally.
"It is truly a dreadful result for Labour and for Gordon Brown," Cameron said in Oxford. "What I wonder is whether we can really put up with this for another 18 months. I think the prime minister should take his holiday, but then we should have an election."
The Office for National Statistics said gross domestic product rose 0.2 percent in the quarter ended June 30, bringing the annual rate down to 1.6 percent from 2.3 percent in the first quarter.
The risk of the first recession since the early 1990s is growing, but living costs are also surging, making it hard for policy makers at the Bank of England to cut rates and stoking public dissatisfaction with the Labour government's handling of the economy.
"The credit crunch, coupled with falling house prices and rising food and energy costs are continuing to constrain activity, yet fiscal and monetary policy can do nothing to ease the pain," said James Knightley, an economist at ING.
"There is no question that the Rolling Stones are one of the most important bands in music history," Universal Music's chief executive, Doug Morris, said in the statement.
Hands said in January that EMI would cut as many as 2,000 of its 5,500 jobs as the music industry struggled with falling music sales, because of piracy and illegal downloading.
A tedious return to 'Brideshead Revisited'