Monday, 28 July 2008

Monday, 28th July 2008


Atmosphere tense as WTO talks stall
GENEVA: Progress towards a global trade deal ground to a halt on Monday as the United States clashed with China and India over access to their rapidly growing markets and key European Union states demanded better terms.
"The situation is very tense. Things are finely balanced and the outcome is by no means certain," World Trade Organisation spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, as key WTO ministers resumed talks shortly after midnight.
Negotiators battled over a "special safeguard mechanism" intended to help poor countries protect their farmers against import surges, with agricultural exporters like Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay pitted against other developing countries.
Balance of power shifts to China at global trade talks
GENEVA: As seven years of global trade talks approach another nervy climax, China is emerging as a central player - and coming under heavy criticism from the United States and others for its tough tactics.
"What we are seeing is the emergence of a new power pole," said Joe Guinan, a trade expert with the German Marshall Fund, a public policy group. "It is finally being felt at the WTO. They have begun to throw their weight around - and this is a glimpse of the future."
Such a development has, Guinan added "been coming a long time - and it is not going away."
On Monday in Geneva, David Shark, a senior U.S. trade official, accused China and India of throwing the round of talks "into the gravest jeopardy of its nearly seven-year life." U.S. and EU diplomats warned again that the talks could collapse.
Afghanistan's opium
Thomas Schweich's article "Is Afghanistan a narco-state?" (July 24) vividly illustrates the total mismanagement of current U.S. counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan.
Thankfully, Schweich's favored policy of chemical eradication of opium crops has thus far failed to get off the ground. The herbicides used in such operations are not, as Schweich claims, harmless to humans and the environment. Moreover, chemical eradication will only exacerbate the anger that is already rising among rural farmers against U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces, pushing local Afghans further into the arms of the Taliban.
Schweich's claim that Afghan farmers are "wealthy" and have the option of growing numerous alternative crops is a dangerous conclusion. In three years of work on the ground in southern Afghanistan, I have never met a "wealthy" farmer. For the majority of Afghan farmers and sharecroppers, poppy cultivation is no less than a desperate survival strategy.
Afghan farmers should be allowed to grow their poppy for the production of essential medicines, such as morphine. This would provide a financial incentive to sever ties with the insurgency, while addressing the global shortage of pain-relieving medicines.
The Poppy for Medicine scheme, developed by the Senlis Council, has worldwide support. According to a nationwide poll, 66 percent of the American public would support poppy-for-medicine projects. In Europe, Poppy for Medicine won the backing of the European Parliament by an overwhelming majority in October 2007.
We can use market forces to successfully combat Afghanistan's illegal drug trade and undercut the financing of the Taliban insurgency.
Norine MacDonald, Kabul president and lead field researcher, Senlis Council
U.N. says corruption helps Afghan drug lords evade justice
KABUL: Corruption in Afghanistan is hobbling efforts to combat the booming opium trade with powerful drug lords evading justice by simply making a telephone call to friends in high places, a United Nations official said on Monday.
Opium production in Afghanistan has risen every year since U.S. and Afghan forces ended Taliban rule in 2001, despite millions of dollars spent on trying to eradicate crops, encourage farmers to plant something else and arrest traffickers.
"We talk about those who are not behind bars, but who should be," the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan, Christina Oguz, told a news conference. "They are the people who have committed crimes of corruption or who are the brains and profiteers behind trafficking networks.
"They are people with power and people with powerful friends who can use their mobile phones to release a suspect from detention without a fair trial," she said.
The U.S. government's former point man in the fight against the heroin trade in Afghanistan accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an article published on Sunday of obstructing counter-narcotics efforts and protecting drug lords.
There was some evidence that a measure of success in stopping industrial chemicals used to process opium into heroin entering Afghanistan had led to something of a shortage, Oguz said.
The chemicals, used to make paint and pharmaceuticals, are legally exported from producer nations in Europe, China, Russia and South Korea to neighbouring countries, but then some are diverted and illegally smuggled to Afghanistan.
Most of the chemicals reach Afghanistan from Pakistan, but significant quantities came also from Iran, the UNODC said.

Elite airport lounges are falling victim to airline industry downturn
Ryanair profit falls, hammering shares
Gulf airlines don't feel the pinch
"There is no sign of a crisis there," said Thomas Enders, the chief executive of Airbus, during an interview shortly before handing over the jet to the sheik. "These airlines are on a very impressive growth path and expansion course; they are steering a steady course while others are experiencing more difficulties."
Fuel subsidies for some make oil more expensive for all
JAKARTA, Indonesia: To understand why fuel prices around the world have soared over the last year, it helps to talk to the captain of a battered wooden freighter here.
He pays just $2.30 a gallon for diesel, the same price Indonesian motorists pay for regular gasoline. His vessel burns diesel by the barrel, so when the government prepared for a limited price increase this spring, he took to the streets to protest.
"If the government increases the price of fuel any more, my business will collapse totally," said the boat captain, Sinar, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
From Mexico to India to China, governments fearful of inflation and street protests are heavily subsidizing energy prices, particularly for diesel fuel. But the subsidies — estimated at $40 billion this year in China alone — are also removing much of the incentive to conserve fuel.
The oil company BP, known for thorough statistical analysis of energy markets, estimates that countries with subsidies accounted for 96 percent of the world's increase in oil use last year — growth that has helped drive prices to record levels.
Putin steps up attacks on Russian coal company
MOSCOW: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia on Monday made a new attack on the coal miner Mechel, saying it had evaded taxes, erasing a third of the company's market value for the second time in a week.
"If this is an indication of things to come, Russia's reputation will be damaged beyond repair," said Jack Dzierwa, global strategist at U.S. Global Investors in Texas. "I would hate to see the momentum of the last eight years thrown away."
Nigeria militants attack oil pipelines
ABUJA: Militants in Nigeria's Niger Delta said on Monday they had blown up two major oil pipelines belonging to Royal Dutch Shell, forcing the firm to halt some production and helping push world oil prices higher.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose campaign of violence has cut Nigeria's oil output by around a fifth since early 2006, said its members conducted the attacks early on Monday.
"Detonation engineers backed by heavily armed fighters ... sabotaged two major pipelines in Rivers state of Nigeria," it said in an e-mailed statement.
The group said the two pipelines were attacked at Kula -- through which the Nembe Creek trunkline passes -- and at Rumuekpe, located around 50 km (30 miles) west of the main oil city of Port Harcourt.
Industry sources said about 130,000 barrels per day of crude oil flows through the Nembe Creek pipeline, while some 100,000 bpd passes through Rumuekpe.
Both pipelines are connected to the Bonny export terminal in Nigeria, the world's eighth largest exporter.
Oil from the facility is popular in the United States and Europe because it is easily refined into gasoline, diesel and other crude products.
U.S. crude oil prices found support from the news, trading above $123 a barrel on Monday.

Despite rousing finish, Tour de France drug bust leaves bad feeling
PARIS: The final act of the 2008 Tour de France was not the idyllic ride down the Champs-Élysées for the winner, Carlos Sastre, but yet another announcement that a rider had been caught doping.
That the drug bust involved a Kazakh rider who was never in contention didn't matter. It once again left a sour aftertaste at cycling's premier event.
Until the finale on Sunday, the race had gone 10 days without a doping scandal - three drug cases had already marred the three-week race.
Dmitriy Fofonov had tested positive for a "very heavy dose" of heptaminol after the 18th stage on Thursday, said Pierre Bordry, the head of France's anti-doping agency. Fofonov was immediately fired by his Crédit Agricole team. He was detained by police for questioning, a French police official said.
"These guys are crazy, and the sooner they start learning, the better," said Pat McQuaid, the head of the International Cycling Union. "You can never rule out at the Tour de France - the biggest event of the year - that these guys are going to take risks."

Say so long to an old companion: Cassette tapes
NEW YORK: There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a "dear friend." Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape.
While the cassette was dumped long ago by the music industry, it has lived on among publishers of audio books. Many people prefer cassettes because they make it easy to pick up in the same place where the listener left off, or to rewind in case a certain sentence is missed. For Hachette, however, demand had slowed so much that it released its last book on cassette in June, with "Sail," a novel by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.

Russian sports machine gets a major tuneup

Yet the Russian athletes heading to the Beijing Olympics in a couple of weeks may be the last to train among the cracked facades of Soviet-era complexes like Podolsk. Hundreds of sleek athletic facilities are springing up everywhere, it seems, heralding an athletics boom in a country hungry for sporting prestige and wallowing in cash.
Fears of losing Olympic ascendancy have impelled Russia to spend the last five or so years pumping billions of dollars from its oil-soaked coffers into rebuilding an athletics infrastructure left to rot when the Soviet Union crumbled. The investment has already shown impressive results, with the Russians attaining international success in arenas beyond the Olympics.

Guantanamo prisoners in limbo as trials gain pace


U.S. Justice Department report concludes politics illegally affected hiring


Tennessee church shooter angry at "liberals"

NASHVILLE, Tennessee: A man who opened fire inside a church, killing two people with a shotgun hidden in a guitar case, was frustrated at being unable to find a job and blamed liberals and gays, police said on Monday.
"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred of the liberal movement," Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen told reporters of Sunday's incident at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
Suspect Jim Adkisson, 58, who was being held on $1 million (500,000 pounds) bond, had previously worked as a mechanical engineer in several states. He described his violent plans in a four-page letter found at his home, which also explained that his age and "liberals and gays" taking jobs had worked against him.
Another recent setback was that Adkisson's allotment of government-issued food stamps had been reduced, Owen said.
The church outside Knoxville, Tennessee, where some 200 people were watching a children's play at the time, had been in the news recently for its "liberal stance," Owen said.

"Humanitarian crisis" at Greek migrant camp
ATHENS: Greece is locking hundreds of migrants in an overcrowded centre on the Mediterranean island of Lesbos without proper sanitation and medical care in what French charity Medicins Sans Frontiers branded a "humanitarian crisis".
The migrants, most of them from war-torn Afghanistan, are kept in rooms clogged with stagnant water and only allowed outside for half an hour every couple of days, said Yiorgos Karayiannis, head of MSF Greece's migrant assistance programme.
With some migrants suffering from tuberculosis and skin diseases, there is a risk of contagion and only one doctor was working at the camp, without a translator, MSF said, adding its staff was not being permitted regular access to provide healthcare.
"The situation is horrible from a medical point of view," Karayiannis told Reuters on Monday. "This is an urgent humanitarian crisis."

Deadly Istanbul bombs on eve of political case
ISTANBUL: Bombs killed 15 people and wounded around 140 in Istanbul late on Sunday, just hours ahead of a court case over banning the governing party that has plunged Turkey into political turmoil.
Officials said one loud blast brought people into the streets of a busy shopping and eating area, then a larger bomb hidden in a rubbish bin exploded 10 minutes and 50 metres away, tearing through the crowds.
"This is a terror attack," city governor Muammer Guler told reporters at the scene, in a pedestrianised street where families gather in the evenings to dine, sip tea and stroll, well away from the city's tourist sites.

ETA bomb in Spanish roadworks

Bombers hit crowds in Baghdad and Kirkuk
BAGHDAD: Female bombers struck Kurdish political protesters in Kirkuk and Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad on Monday, leaving at least 48 people dead and 249 wounded in one of the bloodiest sequences of attacks in Iraq this year.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, at least 24 people were killed and 187 wounded, after a female suicide bomber blew herself up amid thousands of Kurdish demonstrators who had gathered near the provincial headquarters building, said Brigadier General Burhan Tayyib Taha, of the Iraqi police in Kirkuk. The bombing immediately set the city on edge. Many Kurds believed the city's ethnic Turkmen were behind the blast and retaliated by attacking the headquarters of Turkmen political parties.
In the attacks in Baghdad, three women used suicide vests and a bomb in a bag to make strikes just minutes apart, killing 24 people, all apparently Shiite pilgrims marching in a festival, according to an official at the Interior Ministry. The dead included at least four children, one an infant, and there were at least 62 other people wounded, according to police officials and witnesses.
Qaeda wants Saudi king killed over interfaith call
"Hurrying to kill this wanton tyrant (King Abdullah) who has announced himself to be a leader of atheism would be among the most pious acts," Abu Yahya al-Libi said in a video posted on Monday on Islamist websites often used by al Qaeda supporters.
Indonesian plots reported in death of teacher and planned attack on American
JAKARTA: Ten Indonesian terrorism suspects killed a Christian teacher in front of his family and were planning to assassinate an American language teacher before their arrest this month, an anti-terrorism official and the suspects' lawyer said Monday.
Missiles hit religious school in Pakistan, killing 6
ISLAMABAD: Missiles hit a religious school in a village just inside Pakistan's border with Afghanistan on Monday, killing six people, intelligence officials and state media said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the incident follows a series of strikes from unmanned U.S. aircraft in recent months against militant leaders in Pakistan's wild tribal belt.
Afghan spy agency says Pakistan prepares anti-India attacks
KABUL: The Afghan intelligence agency accused Pakistani agents on Monday of training thousands of militants to attack Indian road projects in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have accused Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of a string of attacks in recent months straining relations between the neighbours, both allies of the United States.
"Pakistan's ISI are determined to hamper the activities of Indian companies in various parts of Afghanistan," the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said in a statement,
"The spy agency have some 3,000 terrorists, most of them foreigners, under sabotage training to attack Indian construction projects inside Afghanistan," it said.
Indian soldier killed in clash with Pakistan military
ISLAMABAD: An Indian soldier was killed in an exchange of fire with Pakistani troops across the de-facto border dividing the disputed region of Kashmir on Monday, military officials of the two countries said.
The clash in Leepa sector was the second in three days and third such incident this month on the so-called Line of Control in the region.
"The Indians started unprovoked firing at 04:50 p.m (11:50 a.m. British time) ... We only returned the fire," a Pakistani military official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
"The exchange of fire continued for several hours in which we have reports that an Indian soldier has been killed."
An Indian army spokesman in Srinagar, the capital of Indian Kashmir, blamed the Pakistani troops for triggering the clash, saying they crossed into the Indian side and fired at a military post.
"Our soldiers retaliated, exchange of fire continues," Lieutenant-Colonel A. K. Mathur said. "We lost a soldier and many Pakistani soldiers feared dead."
Canada to investigate deaths of two Afghan children
OTTAWA: Canada will investigate why its troops opened fire on a car in southern Afghanistan, killing two small children, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Monday.
He noted, however, that earlier probes into similar civilian deaths had always absolved the soldiers involved.
Military officials say a two-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister died when the troops blasted a car approaching their convoy in Kandahar province on Sunday. They said the driver had ignored several warnings to stop.
MacKay said Canadian soldiers were working in "tough, trying and intense circumstances" and often had to deal with attacks from Taliban militants hiding among civilians.

Olympic cleanup puts some Beijing residents behind walls
BEIJING: Tourists leaving the west gate of the Temple of Heaven next month probably will not notice Song Wei's home, across the street. Nor will spectators here to watch Olympic cycling see Sun Ruonan's restaurant, two blocks away.
Song and Sun live along the city's central axis in neighborhoods that have been gutted to beautify the city for the Olympics. Both have held onto their property despite pressure to move. They will spend the Olympics behind walls or screens erected to keep them out of public view.
A veil of green plastic netting has covered Sun's restaurant for months. Song's house and several shops that he rents to migrant workers were surrounded by a brick wall three meters, or 10 feet, high last week, as part of last-minute efforts to beautify the city for the Olympics. The authorities deemed his little block of commerce not beautiful.
Amnesty slams China's broken Olympics promises
HONG KONG: Rights group Amnesty International slammed China for failing to honour its Olympic human rights pledges in a report summarising Beijing's "deteriorating" record over the past seven years.

"There has been no progress towards fulfilling these promises, only continued deterioration," said Amnesty in the report, titled "The Olympics countdown - broken promises".
"The authorities have used the Olympic Games as pretext to continue, and in some respects, intensify existing policies and practices which have led to serious and widespread violations of human rights," it said in the report released in Hong Kong.
Amnesty said Chinese authorities had targeted human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers to "silence dissent" ahead of the Games, jailing the likes of Hu Jia, Ye Guozhu and Yang Chunlin and often intimidating their families.
"China really needs to be releasing human rights activists, in order to be showing it's following through with its promises," said Mark Allison, a China researcher for Amnesty in Hong Kong.
Beijing shrouded in haze 11 days before Olympics
BEIJING: Olympic host city Beijing was shrouded in haze on Monday 11 days before the Games begin, raising anxieties about whether it can deliver the clean skies promised for the world's top athletes.
The city's chronic pollution, a sometimes acrid mix of construction dust, vehicle exhaust and factory and power plant fumes, has been one of the biggest worries for Games organisers.
Beijing has ordered many of its 3.3 million cars off roads and halted much construction and factory production in an effort to cut pollution before the Games open on August 8.
But a sultry haze persisted on Monday, and state media said Beijing might be forced to restrict more cars and shut more factories if the pollution persists.
City officials had earlier said the haze was due to humid weather, not pollution. But state media on Monday suggested Games organisers were also worried and considering more pollution cuts.
U.S. needs more knowledge to deal with Iran
WASHINGTON: 'Iran is not in a revolutionary or even prerevolutionary stage." That was the assessment of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in August 1978, at a time when Iran's ruler was America's closest ally in the Middle East. The Defense Intelligence Agency, a month later, predicted that the shah of Iran "is expected to remain actively involved in power over the next 10 years."
If U.S. intelligence on Iran was bad in the 1970s, when the United States had a sizable embassy and officials could move freely around the country, how is it now, after 28 years without official contacts and no American presence on the ground? Just as bad? Very bad? Barely there?
To hear Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tell it: You "never know what you don't know, particularly in a fairly opaque place like Iran. And you would be surprised what it does to both your diplomatic and intelligence capability to not be in the country." She added, "We don't really have very good veracity or a feel for the place."
Drawing a red line with Iran
Anatol Lieven is a professor at King's College London and a senior fellow ofthe New America Foundation in Washington. He is co-author, with John Hulsman, of "Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World." Trita Parsi is author of "Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S." and president of the National Iranian American Council.
The Bush administration's decision to open direct contacts with Iran is to be welcomed, but precisely because it marks such a break with previous U.S. policy, it also carries a great danger. This is that hard-liners in the American and Israeli governments will treat this Western proposal as a last chance for the Iranians, to be followed by an attack if Tehran fails to accept it.
Meanwhile, it is already clear that much of the Iranian establishment interprets the latest Western conditions not as a final red line, but as yet another pink line, a vague basis for further negotiations. In consequence, it is unlikely that the Iranians will agree to a complete suspension of uranium enrichment within the six-week deadline set by the West.
Apart from anything else, Iranian leaders know that as long as they stop short of weaponization, neither the Europeans nor much of the U.S. uniformed military will approve an attack on Iran, with all its potentially devastating consequences for Western security. An attack will open up disastrous splits not only between the United States and Europe, but possibly within the U.S. security establishment itself.
Iraq, Bush and the 'time horizon'
Selig S. Harrison, director of the Iran program at the Center for International Policy, covered Iran for the Washington Post. He revisited Tehran in June of 2007 and February and June of 2008.
Iran is never mentioned when President George W. Bush explains what led to his surprising acceptance of a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq. But I found clear evidence on a recent visit to Tehran that Iranian diplomacy was a key factor behind his reversal.
The White House explanation is that the success of the administration's "surge" policy is enabling Iraq to stand on its own, releasing pent-up nationalist opposition to the presence of foreign soldiers.
This, in turn, it is said, has compelled the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to demand inclusion of a withdrawal timetable in a projected Iraq-U.S. security agreement so that his opponents cannot use nationalism against him in the fall provincial elections.
What this explanation omits is the crucial role that Iran has played in Maliki's conversion. It was only after Iranian intervention, I learned in Tehran, that Maliki shifted to his newly tough stand in the deadlocked negotiations with Washington on the security agreement.
When a draft U.S.-Iraq accord without a time table was signed on March 17, it remained a well-kept secret until nationalist critics within Maliki's inner circle leaked it in early May to Iranian diplomats and to the Iraqi media. The reaction in Tehran was explosive. On May 11, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan, attacked it in a vitriolic signed editorial entitled "Iraq on the Edge" that he handed to me during an hour-long interview.
"If you want to know what has been happening," he said, "I suggest you read this."
Shariatmadari is the "personal representative of the Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is widely regarded as his media spokesman.
"How is it," the editorial asked, "that the Maliki government took the first steps toward signing such a disgraceful pact in the first place?"
The United States, it said, is using the treaty to "sow the seeds of discord" between Maliki and his coalition partner, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, so that "the U.S. can put pro-American individuals in charge. It is amazing that al-Maliki failed to see such a conspiracy coming."
In a clear warning to Maliki, the editorial added that if the treaty is implemented, Iraqis will replace his government with "another Islamist government."
Maliki was summoned to Tehran for a three-day dressing down from June 7 to 9 that led to his announcement on June 13 in Jordan that the negotiations with the United States had reached "a dead-end and deadlock."
Informants in government-affiliated think tanks told me that he had "difficult" meetings, as one put it, with Khamenei and with the Revolutionary Guard generals who oversee Iraq policy. Soon thereafter, his defense minister signed a secret mutual security accord with his Iranian counterpart.
Iran's first deputy foreign minister, Alireza Sheikhattar, repeatedly emphasized the importance of a firm withdrawal timetable. "We don't expect that U.S. forces can leave in a fortnight," he said, "but whether it's three months or eight months or longer, the important thing is a serious intent to withdraw gradually."
Asked if any American forces could remain, he replied, "yes, some could stay to help with training Iraq forces, if their goal is truly training," but Iraq "would not allow" the continued operation of U.S. air bases that could make Iraq "a platform for harming the security of Iran and other neighbors. Why should the United States operate air bases in Iraq?"
Maliki is increasingly upset, Sheikhattar added, that the United States "still exercises complete control over Iraqi airspace. The Iraqis should have a real air force of their own. Why are they prohibited from having more than token aircraft and related facilities, even for civil aviation? They are not poor. They can purchase fighters and have their own aircraft for both internal and external security."
Wouldn't this pose a potential security threat to Iran? Not if Iraq has a sovereign, democratic government, he said, "because there is an absolute majority in favor of Iran" now that the Shiite government is in control.
As if in reply to Sheikhattar, Admiral William Fallon, the recently retired commander of the U.S. Central Command, emphasized in an article published in The New York Times last week that "control of Iraqi air space" would be an "important component of the security agreement that would require clear headed negotiations."
Wall Street tumbles as investors pull out of financial shares
White House predicts a deficit of $482 billion, a record
WASHINGTON : The White House predicted on Monday that the Bush administration would bequeath a record deficit of $482 billion to the next president — a sobering turnabout in the country's fiscal condition from 2001 when President George W. Bush took office and inherited three consecutive years of budget surpluses.
The deficit projected for 2009 would be the largest in absolute terms. The White House and many economists prefer to measure the deficit as a share of the economy. The White House said the 2009 deficit would be 3.3 percent of the economy. That is the largest share since 2004, but well below the percentages recorded in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
Paul Krugman: Another temporary fix
So the big housing bill has passed in the U.S. Congress. That's good news: Fannie and Freddie had to be rescued, and the bill's other main provision - a special loan program to head off foreclosures - will help some hard-pressed families. It's much better to have this bill than not.
But I hope nobody thinks that Congress has done all, or even a large fraction, of what needs to be done.
This bill is the latest in a series of temporary fixes to the financial system - attempts to hold the thing together with bungee cords and masking tape - that have, at least so far, succeeded in staving off complete collapse. But those fixes have done nothing to resolve the system's underlying flaws. In fact, they set the stage for even bigger future disasters - unless they're followed up with fundamental reforms.
Basically, the financial framework created in the 1930s, which brought generations of relative stability, needs to be updated to 21st-century conditions.
The desperate rescue efforts of the past year make expanded regulation even more urgent. If the government is going to stand behind financial institutions, those institutions had better be carefully regulated - because otherwise the game of heads I win, tails you lose will be played more furiously than ever, at taxpayers' expense.
Of course, proponents of expanded regulation, no matter how compelling their arguments, will have to contend with very well-financed opposition from the financial industry. And as Upton Sinclair pointed out, it's hard to get a man to understand something when his salary - or, we might add, his campaign war chest - depends on his not understanding it.
But let's hope that the sheer scale of this financial crisis has concentrated enough minds to make reform possible. Otherwise, the next crisis will be even bigger.
Wall Street 'forecasting' is faulted as getting too wild
The news hit Wall Street trading floors on the morning of July 2: An analyst at Merrill Lynch was saying that General Motors might go bankrupt.
Within minutes, the share price of GM, which once symbolized America's industrial might, was plunging to its lowest point since 1954.
What the Merrill analyst actually wrote, in a downbeat report on the troubled company, was that bankruptcy for GM was "not impossible" - an equivocal forecast that could be applied to almost any event, from winning the lottery to the odds of rain a week from Wednesday.
But in a financial crisis where the unthinkable has seemingly become routine, Wall Street forecasters - and even the markets themselves - are struggling to get a handle on what will happen next.
"These are volatile times - there's a lot of moving parts here, and nobody can quite figure out how they all mesh," said Edward Yardeni, an investment strategist. "You're hearing a lot of catastrophic predictions."
Reports paint bleak picture for EU economy
BERLIN: There was more bleak news for the European economy Monday, as a survey found that German consumer confidence was worse than at any time since recession last struck and reports showed more declines in house prices in Spain and Britain.
IMF warns of more housing-related pain
WASHINGTON: There is no end in sight to the U.S. housing recession and deteriorating credit conditions for consumers and banks may prolong a period of slow economic growth, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.
"Global financial markets continue to be fragile and indicators of systemic risk remain elevated," the IMF said in an update of its semiannual Global Financial Stability report. "At the moment, a bottom for the housing market is not visible."
"Stemming the decline in the U.S. housing market is necessary for market stabilization as this would help both households and financial institutions to recover," the report added.
Websites seen to batter insurers' reserves
LONDON: Car insurers could begin to run out of claim reserves in two years if they continue to use the money to subsidise policies and fight off pressure from price comparison websites, a report showed on Monday.

Tesco plans big push into banking
Beer sales at British pubs fall to lowest level since Great Depression
LONDON: The iconic British pint is fast losing ground as the national drink, with a report out Monday showing beer sales in pubs slumping to their lowest level since the Great Depression.
Squeezed by a nationwide smoking ban, rising costs, competition from supermarkets and the economic downturn, beer sales fell 4.5 percent between April and June this year, compared with the same quarter last year.
"Most people are a bit bored with beer," said Anthony Buck, a manager at the Lock 17 bar in Camden.
But how can this be? This, after all is a drink which has been such a staple across the country that bars in many a rural pub is still adorned with personalized tankers for regular imbibers.
Buck said that beer was being overtaken by drinks like hard cider, which "is a lot more fashionable and people tend to pick up on the trends."
The British Beer and Pub Association's Quarterly Beer Barometer revealed that pub managers around the country are now pulling around 14 million pints a day — a fair amount — but some 1.6 million fewer than last year and 7 million less than at the height of the market in 1979.
In Britain, the BBPA's quarterly barometer also highlighted the growing trend for drinkers to enjoy a pint in the comfort of their own home instead of at the pub. While overall sales are down, sales in shops and supermarkets rose nearly 4 percent.
Pubs have repeatedly criticized supermarkets for selling multipacks of drinks at below cost to entice custom.
"I do more drinking at home now than at the pubs — they're more for special occasions since it's becoming so expensive," said Chris Hanson, 43, a carpenter heading into a grocer in the London neighborhood of Camden. "I used to go (to the pub) two or three times a week after work, but now I just stay at home and go once every now and again."
The BBPA, whose members brew 98 percent of Britain's beer and include nearly two-thirds of the country's pubs, fear the declining sales will speed up the closure of pubs and clubs around the country.
More than 1,400 pubs called last orders for the final time in 2007 and the Campaign for Real Ale claims that more than half Britain's villages are "dry" for the first time since the Norman Conquest of 1066.
BBPA chief executive Rob Hayward urged the government to rethink the heavy taxes on alcohol, accounting for some 90 million pounds (around US$180 million) of revenue each year, which the industry blames in large part for its woes.
"We need a change of approach from the government," Hayward said. "Brewing is a major industry, beer our national drink and pubs a treasured part of our national culture."
However, there are fears that the sliding pub beer sales will have the effect of spurring on another, less attractive, aspect of British culture as cash-strapped pub owners return to sales promotions that encourage binge drinking — such as selling cheap drinks until a team scores in a soccer match.
Around half of Britain's 57,000 pubs have ditched a voluntary code banning aggressive happy-hour deals and other promotions after the beer and pub organization said it could be in breach of European competition law, prompting police to call on the government to step in. That has raised speculation about an intense price war among pubs in Britain's major cities and towns.
"Sadly, the trade repeatedly shows that it cannot be relied upon to consistently act in a responsible way," said Chris Allison, a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Some pubs are beefing up the food side of the business to make up for declining beer sales. Mitchells & Butlers, Britain's second largest pub group, revealed last week that beer now accounts for just a quarter of all revenue but that it now serves some 110 million meals to customers each year.
Enterprise Inns, which has about 7,700 pubs, said it has had to give more help to licensees who are having to cope with difficult trading conditions.
After battling with the smoking ban in England, which marked its first anniversary this month, the pub chain said it was struggling to cope with pressures on consumers' disposable income, such as high mortgage costs, petrol prices and gloomy sentiment.
However, in good news for the trade, some consumers suggested that traditional pubs could survive by transforming to meet new demand.
Ian White, 44, an IT director for a hospital, a nonsmoker visiting London from Leeds with his wife and three sons, said he goes to the pub more these days.
"They're increasingly more friendly to families, the quality of the food has increased," White said. "The ones that are closing aren't seeing the threat and the opportunity. Their old clientele who just wanted to booze and smoke are less inclined to go, but people like me are more inclined to go."


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