Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Monday, 21st July 2008


Mideast facing choice between crops and water

CAIRO: Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.
For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom. But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.
Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.
The population of the region has more than quadrupled since 1950, to 364 million, and is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2050. By that time, the amount of fresh water available for each person, already scarce, will be cut in half, and declining resources could inflame political tensions further.
"The countries of the region are caught between the hammer of rising food prices and the anvil of steadily declining water availability per capita," Alan Richards, a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via e-mail. "There is no simple solution."
Losing confidence in world markets, these nations are turning anew to expensive schemes to maintain their food supply.
Djibouti is growing rice in solar-powered greenhouses, fed by groundwater and cooled with seawater, in a project that produces what the World Bank economist Ruslan Yemtsov calls "probably the most expensive rice on earth."
Several oil-rich nations, including Saudi Arabia, have started searching for farmland in fertile but politically unstable countries like Pakistan and Sudan, with the goal of growing crops to be shipped home.
"These countries have the land and the water," said Hassan Sharaf Al Hussaini, an official in Bahrain's agriculture ministry. "We have the money."
In Egypt, where a shortage of subsidized bread led to rioting in April, government officials say they are looking into growing wheat on two million acres straddling the border with Sudan.
Economists and development experts say that nutritional self-sufficiency in this part of the world presents challenges that are not easily overcome. Saudi Arabia tapped aquifers to become self-sufficient in wheat production in the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the kingdom had become a major exporter. This year, however, the Saudis said they would phase out the program because it used too much water.
"You can bring in money and water and you can make the desert green until either the water runs out or the money," said Elie Elhadj, a Syrian-born author who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the topic.
Egypt, too, has for decades dreamed of converting huge swaths of desert into lush farmland. The most ambitious of these projects is in Toshka, a Sahara Desert oasis in a scorched lunar landscape of sand and rock outcroppings.
When the Toshka farm was started in 1997, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, compared its ambitions to building the pyramids, involving roughly 500,000 acres of farmland and tens of thousands of residents. But no one has moved there, and only 30,000 acres or so have been planted.
The farm's manager, Mohamed Nagi Mohamed, says the Sahara is perfect for farming, as long as there is plenty of fertilizer and water. For one thing, the bugs cannot handle the summer heat, so pesticides are not needed.
"You can grow anything on this land," he said, showing off fields of alfalfa and rows of tomatoes and grapes, shielded from the sun by gauzy white netting. "It's a very nice project, but it needs a lot of money."
Mubarak calls his country's growing population an "urgent" problem that has exacerbated the food crisis. The population grows about 1.7 percent annually, considerably slower than a generation ago but still fast enough that it is on pace to double by 2050.
Adding 1.3 million Egyptians each year to the 77 million squeezed into an inhabited area roughly the size of Taiwan is a daunting prospect for a country in which 20 percent of citizens already live in poverty.
One recent morning in the Cairo slum of Imbaba, people crammed in front of a weathered green bakery shack for their daily rations of subsidized bread, a pita-like loaf called baladi that sells for less than a penny, so cheap that some Egyptians feed it to their livestock.
The bakery shares the end of a dead-end street with a mountain of garbage, 25 feet by 5 feet, that looks as if it is moving because so many flies swarm over it.
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EU to slash farm tariffs to help global trade talks
GENEVA: The European Union began crucial global trade talks on Monday with an offer of reducing its farm tariffs by 60 percent - the highest figure it has yet offered - in a challenge to developing countries to make concessions.
The offer from the European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, aimed to kick-start several days of vital discussions on the stalled Doha trade round, which was started seven years ago.
Until now, the EU has offered a maximum of 54 percent tariff reductions, but Mandelson's spokesman, Peter Power, said the higher figure could be achieved by including a range of tropical products.
It remained unclear whether the EU's intervention would break the overall stalemate in the talks because the basic shape of the European offer remains the same.
The talks this week in Geneva are seen as the last chance to achieve a global deal to liberalize trade in the near future. With presidential elections looming in the United States and the EU due to change its trade negotiator next year, a breakthrough this week is seen as essential to any hopes of a swift agreement.


Cuba to grant private farmers access to land

MEXICO CITY: President Raúl Castro continued his rollout of changes in Cuba on Friday with the start of a plan to boost the island's sluggish food production by granting private farmers access to up to 99 acres of unused government land.
Cuba seized land from most large-scale farmers after the 1959 revolution; the latest announcement in the Communist Party newspaper Granma stopped well short of a return to pre-revolution private enterprise.
Under the new system, private farmers, who have continued to exist under Cuba's socialist system, would have access to the plots for up to a decade, with leases renewable if conditions were met and taxes paid. Cooperatives and state farms would also qualify for more land, for up to 25 years. But the fields would stay in the hands of the government, which controls an estimated 90 percent of the island's economy.
The new plan, mentioned several months ago but formally announced Friday, is intended to jump-start food production at a time when Cuba is feeling the effects of the global rise in food prices. Last year, Cuba spent nearly $1.5 billion for food imports, much of that from producers in the United States that were granted a special exemption from Washington's trade embargo on Cuba. This year, the island's bill for food imports is expected to rise by another $1 billion, officials have said, calling the issue one of national security.
Cuba's government released statistics last month showing that fallow or underused agricultural land had increased to 55 percent in 2007, up from 46 percent five years earlier, The Associated Press reported.


U.K. network rebuked over global warming film

The British television watchdog agency has rebuked the country's Channel 4 for "unfair treatment" of several scientists and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in "The Great Global Warming Swindle," a controversial documentary that aired last year and had been seen around the world on the Internet and DVD.
But the agency, the Office of Communication, concluded in a report issued Monday that the program, while containing "intemperate" characterizations of the dominant scientific view that humans are the main force warming the planet, "did not materially mislead the audience so as to cause harm or offense."
The 72-minute documentary, written and directed by an independent filmmaker, Martin Durkin, focuses on a small group of scientists who hold widely varying views on the causes and consequences of recent global warming, but who all reject the idea that human-caused warming poses big dangers.
Since its release, the program has been widely circulated by opponents of restrictions on greenhouse gases and sharply attacked by scientific groups.
Criticism has been particularly sharp over the film's assertions that the depiction of consensus on human-caused warming is a willful deception. One particularly jarring line of narration is: "Everywhere you are told that man-made climate change is proved beyond doubt. But you are being told lies."

This conclusion was welcomed by the television channel but sharply criticized by several scientists, including Carl Wunsch, an ocean and climate expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wunsch appeared in the documentary and later said his comments were taken out of context and made him appear to question the seriousness of human-driven warming.
While the report upheld Wunsch's complaint that he was treated unfairly, he said the program clearly misled the public in harmful ways. "'Swindle' raises the noise level and politicizes an extremely complicated science problem without enlightening anyone," he said in an e-mail message. "A film claiming to be a science documentary that is really a nonscientific political tract is poisonous."
Executives at Channel 4 embraced the findings and defended their right to show the film.
Hamish Mykura, head of documentaries for the station, said, using the acronym for the watchdog, "Ofcom's ruling explicitly recognizes Channel 4's right to show the program and the paramount importance of broadcasters being able to challenge orthodoxies and explore controversial subject matter."

Let oil flow to Czechs, Putin says http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/21/europe/czech.php

Russia says TNK-BP chief can't work until visa sorted out

Volkswagen hits record sales thanks to India and Russia
FRANKFURT: Volkswagen said Monday that it achieved record global sales in the first half of the year on strong demand in India, Russia and China, delivering nearly 3.3 million vehicles.
In the January to June period, Volkswagen saw the biggest increases in India with a 69 percent increase; Russia with 63 percent more deliveries; and Ukraine with nearly 50 percent more deliveries.
Volkswagen said Monday that Chinese deliveries also saw a 23 percent increase, while Brazil saw nearly 22 percent more vehicles delivered.


Nigerian people seeing little benefit from record oil revenues

LAGOS: With oil prices at record highs, the government coffers of Nigeria, one of the world's biggest oil exporters, are swollen to unprecedented levels.
Yet the vast majority of Nigeria's 140 million people live in no better conditions than their neighbors in West Africa, the least developed region of the world's poorest continent.
The same is true of many of Africa's major oil producers - including Angola, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Chad - but Nigeria's sheer size and two-million-barrel-per-day output make the contrasts between poverty and wealth more striking.
Nigeria has earned the equivalent, in today's terms, of nearly $1.2 trillion from oil production over the past four decades, the sort of money that enabled oil-producing Gulf states like Qatar to develop some of the strongest economies in the Arab world.
But its four state-owned refineries are not fully operational, largely due to mismanagement and vandalism; its distribution network is chaotic; and it relies heavily on fuel imports, which cost around $4 billion each year, analysts say.

In Lagos, a megacity of more than 10 million people, the elite sip Champagne on exclusive islands - albeit to the incessant drone of diesel generators - while the masses live in mainland slums without water or electricity.
Health care is virtually nonexistent, the roads are potholed, unemployment and crime are on the rise and Nigeria is suffering from rising food prices.
"Nigeria is making more money from oil now, but look at the street we are living on," said Efe Oyingbo, a mother of two, pointing to a dirt road where passers-by waddled through muddy waters and motorists tried to navigate cavernous, submerged potholes.


France to change Constitution
PARIS: In a major political victory, President Nicolas Sarkozy narrowly won the backing of lawmakers Monday for a package of sweeping constitutional changes handing more power to Parliament.
The 905 lawmakers of France's two houses of Parliament approved the bill by a single vote more than the absolute three-fifths majority required, highlighting the controversy that it had caused even in Sarkozy's own center-right camp. The vote was 539 to 357, with several abstentions.
An overhaul of the political system ranked prominently among Sarkozy's campaign pledges last year, and he and Prime Minster François Fillon lobbied hard to win the support of both sides.
Speaking during a visit Monday to Ireland, Sarkozy welcomed the vote
"It's not one camp that has won against another this evening, it is French democracy that has won," he said at a news conference in Dublin.


In Alps, the 'real' Tour de France to begin

CUNEO, Italy: One day after taking the yellow jersey off the back of Cadel Evans on the tough uphill finish to Prato Nevoso, the CSC-Saxo Bank team promised that the war is not over.
"Yesterday was not a real mountain stage," Bjarne Riis, the manager of the CSC team and the winner of the 1996 Tour de France, said Monday, during the Tour de France's second rest day. "The next two stages are much more mountainous. So we'll attack in a very different way."
"More mountainous" is a bit of an understatement. On Tuesday, the 16th stage, which begins here and travels back across the border into France measures just 157 kilometers, or 97.5 miles, in length, but it includes 3,350 meters, or 11,000 feet, of climbing with barely a flat spot on it.
After creeping uphill for 50 kilometers, riders will embark on the climb of La Lombarde pass, a 21.5-kilometer climb with an average slope of 7 percent. Rated "beyond category" in steepness and in length, the lower half of La Lombarde pitches upward at 13 percent in some sections, while the top is a series of narrow switchbacks.
After a fast descent through the Isola ski area, the riders start back upward, headed toward La Bonette-Restefond Pass, the highest mountain pass in France and the summit of this year's Tour. It is, in a word, relentless, lasting 25.5 kilometers with an average slope of 6.5 percent.

Bosnian serb arrested on war crimes charges
BELGRADE: Bosnian Serb wartime president Radovan Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men for his part in civilian massacres, has been arrested in Serbia, President Boris Tadic's office said on Monday.
The arrest of Karadzic and other indicted war criminals and their delivery to the Hague war crimes tribunal, is one of the main conditions of Serbian progress towards European Union (EU) membership.
It came on the eve of a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers which is scheduled to discuss closer relations with serbia following the formation of a new pro-western government. A war crimes prosecutor was due to visit Belgrade on Tuesday.
Karadzic's place of hiding has been a constant subject of international speculation since he went underground in 1997. Sources close to the government said Karadzic, distinguished by his characteristic long, grey hair, was arrested in Belgrade.
He was currently undergoing a formal identification rocess, inccluding DNA testing, and would be meeting with investigators overnight.


Obituaries: Dinko Sakic, 87, commanded concentration

ZAGREB, Croatia: Dinko Sakic, the last known living commander of a World War II concentration camp, died overnight in a Croatian prison hospital while serving a 20-year sentence for war crimes, prison officials said Monday. He was 87.
Sakic - a former chief of Croatia's infamous Jasenovac camp - had heart problems and was recently transferred to the prison hospital.
He fled Croatia at the end of the war, when the country's pro-Nazi regime was crushed. He had lived in Argentina for decades until 1998, when he was extradited to Croatia for a trial.
In 1999, Zagreb district court sentenced him to 20 years in prison - the maximum penalty at the time - for carrying out or condoning the torture and slayings of inmates while in charge of the Jasenovac camp in 1944.
Tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats were killed in Jasenovac, the worst of about 40 camps in Croatia.


New legal plan for Guantánamo detainees
WASHINGTON: As the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II opened Monday in Guantánamo Bay, the Bush administration urged Congress to work out a plan for allowing detainees there to contest their incarcerations before federal judges - but without ever letting them set foot in the United States because of the "extraordinary risk" they pose.
In the Guantánamo trial, Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, faces charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. If convicted by a jury of U.S. military officers hearing the case at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, he could face life in prison.
The 13 jurors, chosen by the Pentagon, were flown in from other U.S. bases during the weekend for the trial.
"You must make your determination whether or not he is guilty based solely on the evidence presented here in court and the instructions I will give you," Judge Keith Allred instructed jurors. "You must impartially hear the evidence."
Attorney General Michael Mukasey laid out the administration's intentions Monday for the first time, a month after the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay had the right to challenge in federal courts the grounds for their incarcerations.


British panel doubts U.S. on torture

LONDON: Britain should no longer rely on assurances by the United States that it does not torture terrorism suspects, an influential parliamentary committee said in a report released Sunday.
Britain had previously taken those assurances at face value, but after the CIA acknowledged using waterboarding techniques on three detainees, Britain should change its stance, according to the report, by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons.
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, told Parliament in April that the technique, in which suspects are tied down and water is poured over their hooded faces to simulate drowning, amounted to torture.
"Given the clear differences in definition, the U.K. can no longer rely on U.S. assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the government does not rely on such assurances in the future," the report said.


How to electrify the world
By Stanley A. Weiss
Published: July 21, 2008

The author is founding chairman of Business Executives for National Security, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington.
Despite their differences, Barack Obama and John McCain agree on one thing. Obama tells Americans he will "restore our standing in the world." McCain says he'll ensure "the credibility and the moral standing of America in the world."
But how?
To find out, I asked nearly 100 opinion leaders from around the world - all non-Americans: diplomats, parliamentarians, business leaders, military officials, journalists - for the advice they'd give the next U.S. president on repairing America's tarnished global image. Their answers offer a small yet revealing window into the hopes of the six billion people around the world with a stake - but not a vote - in the election, as well as a possible guide for the next occupant of the Oval Office.
There were familiar appeals: Don't attack Iran; improve relations with Russia and reduce nuclear weapons; embrace China and India as true partners; reform the United Nations with a more inclusive Security Council.


Israeli army probes shooting of bound Palestinian

JERUSALEM: Video footage of an Israeli soldier firing what appears to be a rubber bullet at point-blank range at a bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainee has led to an army investigation.
The incident occurred three weeks ago during protests in the village of Nilin against the construction of Israel's barrier in the occupied West Bank.
A video, taken by a villager and released on Sunday by the Israeli rights group B'Tselem, showed a soldier firing his rifle toward a Palestinian detained at the protest. The rifle appeared to have been modified to fire rubber-coated metal bullets.
The protester had been tied up and blindfolded and was standing only a few centimetres (inches) away.
B'Tselem said the man sustained bruises.

An army statement said a military doctor who examined him found he had been "very slightly wounded with swelling to a toe on his right foot".
"This was a serious incident in stark violation of the (military's) rules of conduct and safety," the army statement said. "The advocate-general ... ordered a military police investigation into the incident upon receiving the footage."



Israeli forces detain Hamas lawmaker and businessmen

NABLUS, West Bank: Israeli forces detained a Hamas woman lawmaker on Monday along with 14 managers of a West Bank business venture that Israel accuses of having links to the Islamist faction, Palestinian officials said.
The detentions in Nablus looked likely to stoke tensions between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is trying to advance his own law-and-order drive in the city and elsewhere in the West Bank since breaking with Hamas last year.
Mona Mansour, a Hamas deputy in the Palestinian parliament, was among some 20 Nablus residents taken into Israeli custody overnight, relatives and local officials said.
Also detained were 14 members of the board of Beit Almal, a finance company which owns a Nablus mall which Israel ordered to close this month for what it said were links to Hamas fund-raising.
The management had denied the charge and refused to shut the five-storey complex. The closure order was for two years.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that 18 Palestinians were detained in Nablus "as part of our routine counter-terrorist operations" but had no further details.



Korean War survivors tell of carnage inflicted by U.S.

WOLMI ISLAND, South Korea: When U.S. troops stormed this island more than half a century ago, it was a hive of Communist trenches and pillboxes. Now it's a park where children play and retirees stroll along a tree-shaded esplanade.
From a hilltop across a narrow channel, General Douglas MacArthur, memorialized in bronze, gazes at the beaches at Incheon where his troops splashed ashore in September 1950, changing the course of the Korean War and making him a hero here. At the harbor below, rows of cars, gleaming in the sun, wait to be shipped around the world - testimony to South Korea's economic might and a reminder of which side ultimately emerged the victor in the conflict that ended 55 years ago.
But inside a ragged tent at the entrance of the Wolmi park, a group of aging South Koreans want to tell the world of a hidden side of the U.S. military's triumph, a story of burning carnage not mentioned in South Korea's official histories or textbooks.
"When the napalm hit our village, many people were still sleeping in their homes," said Lee Beom Ki, 76. "Those who survived the flames ran to the tidal flats. We were trying to show the American pilots that we were civilians. But they strafed us, women and children."
On Sept. 10, 1950, five days before the Incheon landing, 43 U.S. warplanes swarmed over Wolmi, dropping 93 napalm tanks to "burn out" its eastern slope, according to declassified U.S. military documents reviewed by South Korean government investigators.

Wolmi was not the only target. Starting last November, the government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission began releasing a series of reports on Wolmi and two other sites where residents said large numbers of unarmed civilians were killed in indiscriminate U.S. airstrikes. Calling the attacks violations of international conventions on war, the commission recommended that the government negotiate with the United States to compensate the victims.
The government has not disclosed its plans, while the commission, established in 2005 to examine outstanding grievances from South Korea's history, continues its investigations.
According to the commission's other findings, on Jan. 19, 1951, at least 51 villagers, including 16 children, were killed when U.S. planes napalmed Sansong, a village 160 kilometers, or 100 miles, southeast of Seoul.
A day later, it said, at least 167 villagers, more than half of them women, were burned to death or asphyxiated in Tanyang, 35 kilometers north of Sansong, when U.S. planes dropped napalm at the entrance of a cave filled with refugees.
"We should not ignore or conceal the deaths of unarmed civilians that resulted not from the mistakes of a few soldiers but from systematic aerial bombing and strafing," said Kim Dong Choon, a senior commission official. "History teaches us that we need an alliance, but that alliance should be based on humanitarian principles."
Under South Korea's earlier authoritarian and staunchly anti-Communist governments, criticism of U.S. actions in the war was taboo. But when the government set up the fact-finding commission, citizens came forward with more than 210 cases of alleged mass killings by U.S. forces, mostly in airstrikes. Their demands for recognition tap into complicated emotions underlying South Korea's alliance with the United States.
"We thank the American troops for saving our country from Communism, for the peace and prosperity we have today," said Han In Deuk, chairwoman of a Wolmi advocacy group. "Does that mean we have to shut up about what happened to our families?"
Major Stewart Upton, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington, said the Pentagon could not comment on the reports pending formal action by the South Korean government.


Obama visits Basra and Baghdad
BAGHDAD: Senator Barack Obama met Monday in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and other senior Iraqi politicians, then said that he was "pleased with the progress taking place."
"You see the activity taking place, the people in the shops, the traffic on the streets; clearly there's been an enormous improvement," he said.
It was his impression, the Democratic presidential hopeful added, that among Iraqis there was "more optimism about what is happening."

Obama described his talk with Maliki as "a wonderful visit," before then meeting with Tariq al-Hashimi, a leader of the largest bloc of Sunni lawmakers in Parliament and one of Iraq's two vice presidents. The Sunni bloc recently rejoined the government after a nearly year-long boycott.
After considerable confusion over whether Maliki had, in a magazine interview, supported Obama's notion of a 16-month time line for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, the Iraqi government welcomed Obama with word that it did hope those troops could leave by 2010.
A government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said the government did not endorse a fixed date. But he said, "We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq," a period within which Obama's 16-month window would fall.

In Iraq, controversy has reverberated between the United States and Iraqi governments over a weekend news report that Maliki had expressed support for Obama's proposal to withdraw American combat troops within 16 months of January. The reported comments came after President George W. Bush agreed Friday to a "general time horizon" for pulling out troops without a specific time line.
Diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad spoke to Maliki's advisers on Saturday, said an American official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss what he called diplomatic communications.
After that, the government's spokesman, Dabbagh, issued a statement saying Maliki's words had been "misunderstood and mistranslated" by Der Spiegel, the German magazine that carried the interview.
But the interpreter for the interview works for Maliki's office, not the magazine.



Mending a Muslim divide

Reza Zia-Ebrahimi is a Middle East consultant and commentator based in Oxford, England.

The "Shiite crescent" - an alliance of Shiite Iran with Arab Shiite movements in Iraq and Lebanon allegedly committed to dominating the Middle East - has become a popular intellectual shortcut to explaining Muslim affairs in the West.
Yet the theory is a flawed one. It ignores the complexity of religious, national, local and tribal allegiances that include, exclude or overlap one another throughout the region. Moreover, it does not account for a number of other factors, for example, the reasons behind the occasional inter-Shiite fighting in Iraq.
In an interesting twist, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - two Shiites - happen to be considered the most popular foreign leaders in overwhelmingly Sunni Egypt (and probably most of the Middle East) according to a poll conducted by the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo.
Since the death of the Prophet of Islam, Muslims have split into two groups with distinct theological, cultural and even political outlooks: Sunnis (85 percent) and Shiites (15 percent). For most of the past 14 centuries, the two have got along, but often Shiites have been ruthlessly repressed by the Sunni majority. Today, non-Arab Iran is the largest Shiite country (more than 90 percent of its 70 million inhabitants) and the two other important Shiite communities are Iraq (65 percent) and Lebanon (40 percent).
Though inadequate and overinflated, the Shiite crescent theory nevertheless refers to a real problem, which is that of rising tension between Sunnis - the main branch of Islam - and Shiites in various parts of the Middle East.


Goldman executive to help Paulson with economy

NEW YORK: Kendrick Wilson, a senior Goldman Sachs Group, investment banker will take a leave of absence to advise U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. on the nation's banking crisis, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Wilson, a vice chairman of investment banking and chairman of Goldman's financial institutions business, has played a key role advising banks on capital raising and reorganizations.
He is expected to help address the crisis gripping banks, Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders, the sources said. He is expected to serve without pay through January, when President George W. Bush's second term ends.



New regulator's role in Treasury rescue plan questioned

WASHINGTON: When the Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson Jr., orchestrated a rescue effort for the nation's two largest mortgage finance companies last week, most of the attention was focused on the infusion of cash and credit that the government would provide. But his plan also relies on the creation of a new regulatory agency to control the companies more tightly over the long term and to limit the risk they pose to the country's financial system.
Under the measure, Congress would lose some of its authority to oversee the companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including the right to determine how much capital they must keep as a cushion against losses. That role would shift to the new regulator, which would be called the Federal Housing Finance Agency; the director of the agency would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
While experts on the companies agree that the proposed regulator would be stronger than the existing one, housed in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, some contend that the legislation does not go far enough.



Pfffffffffft! There goes the vacation

When T. S. Eliot said that it is the journey, not the arrival, that matters, he surely was not thinking of a journey to Paris on a commercial airline, at a cost of $1,400, following a two-hour wait on the tarmac, in which cocktails on overseas flights are no longer free.
Nor, presumably, was he referring to a 12-hour automobile trek to see friends a state or two away, seeing the money evaporate as the gas gauge dwindles. And he certainly would not have thought of a "journey" as a simple weekend jaunt across town, or merely across the living room, in the form of a pseudo-respite known as a "staycation" (formerly known as "staying home").
To most Americans, a summer getaway is a crucial component of the life-work compact: they trade 50 weeks of cubicle-bound servitude for two weeks of sun-dappled bliss, and it seems worth it (well, almost).
But halfway through the 2008 season, vacationers (and would-be vacationers) are being squeezed by a confluence of dismal economic realities: fuel prices that have nearly doubled since the start of last year; airlines that have jacked up fares 17 percent since the start of the year; a dollar that stands like a pygmy alongside foreign currencies.
Travelers flush or fortunate enough to get away, whether to the Amalfi Coast or to a friend's pool in New Jersey, must labor to keep this season's economic anxieties — plummeting home prices, tanking 401(k)'s, looming layoffs — off their minds.

This summer, the vacation has become a no-win situation: unattainable for those who can't afford it, dispiriting and unsatisfying for many who can.
"It's a tremendous disappointment that you're sort of stuck here," said Hollister Hovey, a public relations executive who lives in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. She decided to postpone a trip to Scandinavia this summer because of exorbitant air fares and lethal exchange rates.
"It's too expensive to drive, too expensive to go overseas, because you can't afford to fly," she said, "and once you're there, you can't shop."
"I know that travel is a luxury," Hovey added. "But it really plays on the heart and minds of people, because people need that escape."
About 4 in 10 Americans said they intend to change travel plans because of escalating costs and rising worries about household finances, according to a recent national survey on summer travel conducted by Y Partnership, a travel services marketing company, in conjunction with the Travel Industry Association. But generally, people "are trading down, not out," of the travel market, Peter Yesawich, the company's chairman said.


Rebels clash in southwest Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan: At least 36 people were killed in clashes between security forces and militants in a part of southwest Pakistan where nationalist rebels have fought a low-level insurgency for years, paramilitary officials said on Monday.
Officials said 28 militants and six troops have been killed since fighting broke out late on Saturday in the Dera Bugti area of Baluchistan after a gas pipeline was blown up.
Two civilians were killed on Monday when remote-controlled bombs hit two paramilitary vehicles in two separate attacks on paramilitary vehicles in Dera Bugti.
"The operation is continuing against militants involved in attacking gas installations in the Uch area ... We have destroyed two militant camps," a paramilitary official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
A Pakistani newspaper, The News, had reported a higher death toll of 43 from the fighting over the weekend.
Top Indian diplomat blames Pakistan in bombing of Indian Embassy in Kabul
NEW DELHI: A top Indian diplomat blamed Pakistan on Monday for the bombing of India's embassy in Afghanistan, saying the attack had put the rivals' peace process "under stress."
"All our information points to elements of Pakistan being behind the blast," Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters following talks with his Pakistani counterpart in New Delhi.
He did not detail what information pointed to a Pakistani role in the July 7 bombing in Kabul. But his comments came weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai hinted that Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, was responsible for the bombing, which killed at least 58 people, including an Indian diplomat and its military attache.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry offered no immediate comment, but Pakistan has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, insisting it wants stability in the region and good relations with India.
Court eases curbs on Pakistani nuclear scientist
ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad court on Monday relaxed some of the restrictions on the disgraced nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has been under house arrest since 2004 after he confessed to running an illicit nuclear proliferation program. "The court accepted that Khan has been kept in illegal detention," his lawyer said Monday.
The court eased travel restrictions within Pakistan, allowed Khan to undertake research work, and to choose a doctor for medical treatment, but restricted him from giving interviews about nuclear proliferation, his lawyer said.
The five-page court order said the security and safety of Khan was of "paramount importance" and stressed that he could meet close relations and friends after a security clearance was granted.

Portuguese attorney-general closes Madeleine McCann case
LISBON, Portugal: Portugal's attorney general ordered police Monday to halt their investigation into the disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann because detectives uncovered no evidence of a crime during their 14-month probe.
The case will remain closed unless new evidence emerges, Attorney-General Fernando Pinto Monteiro's office said in a statement. Detectives found no reason to charge any of the three people named as suspects: Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry and local man Robert Murat, the statement said. All three denied involvement.
After the announcement, the McCanns said being named suspects in the case had damaged the search for Madeleine.
"In an order issued today, ... the investigation into the disappearance of the minor Madeleine McCann has been halted because no evidence was discovered of any crime committed by the suspects," the attorney general's statement said. It added the investigation could be reopened "if new evidence emerges from any serious, pertinent and authoritative" source.
The disappearance of the blond-haired girl in May 2007 immediately attracted intense global media attention which continued unabated as her parents were named as suspects and few clues turned up to explain how she mysteriously vanished from a hotel room during a family vacation in Portugal's southern Algarve region.
IW: Not a good day for anyone.


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