Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Sunday, 13th July 2008



The man who dared to question ethanol
It wasn't too long ago that a loose coalition of anti-ethanol forces was bemoaning the futility of its fight.
After failing to block huge new ethanol mandates in the Senate last December, Jay Truitt, until recently the chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, complained about the "fervor" and "spirituality" that surrounded ethanol on Capitol Hill.
"You can't get anyone to consider that there is a consequence to these actions," he said, adding, "We think there will be a day when people ask, 'Why in the world did we do this?' "
That day has arrived sooner than Truitt, or most anyone else, anticipated.
Of course, much of the turnabout is attributable to relentless price increases at the grocery store that have caused many people to argue that the land used to grow corn for ethanol should be used for food instead.

In search of better (and greener) building blocks
In 1999, fresh out of architecture graduate school, Blaine Brownell was put in charge of researching materials for a high-profile renovation of Jones Plaza in Houston's theater district. He quickly became frustrated with the lack of information about new materials and the scant knowledge that some design and building professionals had about anything beyond the conventional bricks, mortar and steel of their trade.
Thus began what he calls "a very humble project" to collect and share information on innovative new materials.
Today, Brownell's Web site, http://www.transmaterial.net/, has become a clearinghouse of sorts for information on the latest innovations. He has catalogued more than 1,000 products on the site as well as in a companion book, "Transmaterial," the second volume of which was published this year by Princeton Architectural Press. More than 3,000 people have signed up for his "product of the week" e-mail message, which spotlights materials like smog-eating concrete.
The first wave of materials he tracked was driven by technological advances. Now, Brownell says, the primary motivator is environmental.
Common materials like steel, concrete and drywall require vast amounts of energy to manufacture, emitting carbon dioxide in the process. And, once constructed, buildings take an enormous amount of energy to run. In the United States alone, buildings of all kinds account for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 65 percent of waste and 70 percent of electrical use, according to the United States Green Building Council, a nonprofit group.


When do human rights extend to nonhumans?

If you caught your son burning ants with a magnifying glass, would it bother you less than if you found him torturing a mouse with a soldering iron? How about a snake? How about his sister?
Does Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - the Guantánamo detainee who says he personally beheaded the reporter Daniel Pearl - deserve the rights he denied to Pearl? Which ones? A painless execution? Exemption from capital punishment? Decent prison conditions? Habeas corpus?
Such apparently unrelated questions arise in the aftermath of the vote of the environment committee of the Spanish Parliament last month to grant limited rights to our closest biological relatives, the great apes - chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.
The committee would bind Spain to the principles of the Great Ape Project, which points to apes' human qualities, including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past and plan the future. The directors of the project, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist, and Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a "community of equals" with humans.
If the bill passes, it would become illegal in Spain to kill apes except in self-defense. Torture, including in medical experiments, and arbitrary imprisonment, including for circuses or films, would be forbidden.
The 300 apes in Spanish zoos would not be freed, but better conditions would be mandated.
What is intriguing about the committee's action is that it juxtaposes two sliding scales that are normally not allowed to slide against each other: how much kinship humans feel for which animals, and just which "human rights" each human deserves.
We like to think of these as absolutes: that there are distinct lines between humans and animals, and that certain "human" rights are unalienable. But we're kidding ourselves.
In an interview, Singer described just such calculations behind the Great Ape Project: He left out lesser apes like gibbons because scientific evidence of human qualities is weaker, and he demanded only rights that he felt all humans were usually offered, like freedom from torture - rather than, say, rights to education or medical care.
Depending on how it is counted, the DNA of chimpanzees is 95 percent to 98.7 percent the same as that of humans.
Nonetheless, the law treats all animals as lower orders. Human Rights Watch has no position on apes in Spain and has never had an internal debate about who is human, said Joseph Saunders, deputy program director.
"There's no blurry middle," he said, "and human rights are so woefully protected that we're going to keep our focus there."
Meanwhile, even in democracies, the law accords diminished rights to many humans: children, prisoners, the insane, the senile. Teenagers may not vote; philosophers who slip into dementia may be lashed to their beds; courts can order surgery or force-feeding.
Spain does not envision endowing apes with all rights: to drive, to bear arms and so on. Rather, their status would be akin to that of children.
Ingrid Newkirk, a founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, considers the Spanish vote "a great start at breaking down the species barriers, under which humans are regarded as godlike and the rest of the animal kingdom, whether chimpanzees or clams, are treated like dirt."
Other commentators are aghast. Scientists, for example, would like to keep using chimpanzees to study the AIDS virus, which is believed to have come from apes.
Singer responded by noting that humans are a better study model, and yet scientists don't deliberately infect them with AIDS.
"They'd need to justify not doing that," he said. "Why apes?"
Spain's Catholic bishops attacked the vote as undermining a divine will that placed humans above animals. One said such thinking led to abortion, euthanasia and ethnic cleansing.
But given that even some humans are denied human rights, what is the most basic right? To not be killed for food, perhaps?
Ten years ago, I stood in a clearing in the Cameroonian jungle, asking a hunter to hold up for my camera half the baby gorilla he had split and butterflied for smoking.
My distress - partly faked, since I was also feeling triumphant, having come this far hoping to find exactly such a scene - struck him as funny. "A gorilla is still meat," said my guide, a former gorilla-hunter himself. "It has no soul."
So he agrees with the Spanish bishops. But it was an interesting observation for a West African to make. He looked much like the guy on the famous engraving adopted as a coat of arms by British abolitionists: a slave in shackles, kneeling to either beg or pray.
Below it the motto: Am I Not a Man, and a Brother?



Posturing and abdication on climate change

The Bush administration made clear on Friday that it will do virtually nothing to regulate the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. With no shame and no apology, it stuck a thumb in the eye of the Supreme Court, repudiated its own scientists and exposed the hollowness of President George W. Bush's claims to have seen the light on climate change.
That is the import of an announcement by Stephen Johnson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, that the EPA will continue to delay a decision on whether global warming is a threat to human health and welfare and requires regulations to address it.
Johnson said his agency would seek further public comment on the matter, a process that will almost certainly stretch beyond the end of Bush's term.
The urgent problem of global warming demands urgent action. And the Supreme Court surely expected a speedier response when - 15 months ago - it ordered the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles (and, by extension, other sources) endangers human welfare and, if so, to issue regulations to limit emissions.
Bush initially promised to comply, and last December, a task force of agency scientists concluded that emissions do indeed endanger public welfare, that the EPA is required to issue regulations, and that while remedial action could cost industry billions of dollars, the public welfare and the economy as a whole will benefit.

The agency sent its findings to the White House. The details of what happened next are not clear.
But investigations by Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Edward Markey have established that the White House, prodded by Vice President Dick Cheney's office, decided to ignore the findings - refusing at first to even open the e-mail containing them and then asking Johnson to devise another response that would relieve the administration of taking prompt action.
Along the way, the administration engaged in what Boxer has aptly called a "master plan" to ensure that the EPA's response to the Supreme Court's decision would be as weak as possible.
This campaign of obfuscation and intimidation included doctoring congressional testimony on the health effects of climate change; ordering the EPA to recompute its numbers to minimize the economic benefits of curbing carbon dioxide; and promoting the fiction that the modest fuel-economy improvements in last year's energy bill would solve the problem of carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.
All this is unfortunate but not surprising. Bush spent years denying there was a climate change problem. And while he no longer denies the science, he still insists on putting the concerns of industry over the needs of the planet.
We were skeptical last week when Bush joined other world leaders in a pledge to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century. We worried that without nearer-term targets there would be too little pressure on governments to act. Now we have no doubt that he was merely posturing. The next president, armed with the EPA's findings, can and must do better.

Protesters in Australia blockade the world's biggest coal terminal

SYDNEY: Environmental protesters in Australia brought the world's biggest coal terminal to a standstill on Sunday by blocking railway lines and chaining themselves to rail cars.
The police said they arrested about 37 people who chained themselves to a train and rail tracks at the port in Newcastle, 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, north of Sydney to protest the impact of burning coal on climate change.
"This caused three trains scheduled for Sunday to stop before getting to the terminal, meaning about 20,000 tons of coal could not be unloaded," a spokesman for the port, Matthew Watson, said.
"We've sent a message around the world about the need for urgent action on climate change," said Damien Lawson, an organizer for Friends of the Earth Australia.
Loading of coal already in the terminal onto waiting freighters was not affected, according to Watson.

Big coal companies including BHP Billiton, Xstrata, Rio Tinto, Gloucester Coal and Centennial Coal rely on the port.
Protests were also scheduled for Monday, Lawson said.
With consistent demand, much of it from China, 38.7 million tons of coal were shipped out of Newcastle in the first five months of 2008, according to port figures.


As China's small mines stay shut, crisis grows

SHANGHAI: A push by China to reopen thousands of small coal mines is failing, deepening its worst power crisis in years as local officials still fear Beijing's wrath if they suffer high-profile disasters.
Weeks after the central government urged miners to reopen the mines, effectively reversing a years-old policy of shutting them in order to improve safety, local officials are proving reluctant. And Beijing's freeze on coal prices has lowered the incentive for miners.
The failure to increase domestic coal supplies spells trouble for coal-fired electricity generators, who produce four-fifths of the power in China and could add to the emerging power crisis, which has already forced aluminum smelters to cut output by up to a tenth and could stoke demand for oil.
"Local government officials are more concerned about personal interest," said Li Chaolin, a coal analyst at an industry body based in Beijing. "They are afraid of the punishment a mine accident could bring to them."
They are right to be concerned. Six government officials in the Luliang region of Shanxi were fired after a blast at a small mine, approved to reopen just a month earlier, killed 34 in June, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported.



Greenpeace climb Eiffel Tower in nuclear protest

PARIS: About 15 environmental activists climbed the Eiffel Tower on Sunday to unfurl a banner protesting against France's nuclear energy policies, on the day when it hosts a major summit of heads of state.
Campaign group Greenpeace said the banner showing the nuclear logo was placed in the middle of a circle of stars representing the European Union displayed on the tower to mark France's six-month term as EU president.



Aviation industry examines alternative fuels

SAN FRANCISCO: Aviation emits 2 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and 3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body set up by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization to review the evidence on human-induced global warming. And according to environmental advocates, including some scientists, greenhouse gases released at high altitude may trap more heat than the same gases released on the ground.
Before the current economic downturn global air travel was growing about 5 percent a year, according to the International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines worldwide that carry 93 percent of passenger traffic. The association says that it expects the industry will recover and that growth will continue at least through 2011. In the United States the Federal Aviation Administration also is still predicting growth of 4 percent to 5 percent through 2011 and beyond.
Against that background, the aviation industry is scrambling to improve fuel efficiency, in part by researching alternative fuels.
At a meeting in Geneva in April, aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel suppliers, airlines and airports signed a voluntary declaration committing them to work toward carbon-neutral growth, and, ultimately, an aviation industry that, over all, expels no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While the document did not set a target date, the airline association has challenged the industry to achieve zero emissions in 50 years. Companies and organizations have made a variety of interim commitments.
The declaration highlights four areas for improvement: technology, operations, infrastructure and economic instruments. According to Airbus Industrie, the leading European plane maker, the target is an extension of ongoing efficiency improvements. Over the last 40 years the aviation industry has reduced CO2 emissions from aircraft by 70 percent and the dumping of unburned fuel by 90 percent, it says.



Destroying old airliners and protecting the environment

PARIS: Boeing and Airbus, the rivals who dominate the aircraft manufacturing industry, do not just make planes; they break them, too. Move over Shiva, goddess of destruction. Make way for Pamela and Afra, the Process for Advanced Management of End of Life Aircraft, and the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association.
When aircraft are too old to fly, they cannot just be crunched up like an old car into a cube of metal. Not only does a plane contain pollutants and toxins, it also has parts that can be recycled.
Airbus, which prides itself on building environmentally friendly aircraft, turned its attention in March 2005 to developing an environmentally friendly way to destroy them. It was at that time that it realized that the first planes it had rolled off its production lines, dating back to the 1970s, would soon reach the end of their flying lives.
And so, in May 2005, Airbus started Pamela, a project to develop a decommissioning process that could dismantle aircraft from any manufacturer.
Boeing responded to the recycling challenge in June 2006 with the establishment of Afra, a network of brokers and scrap merchants that seeks to improve the way aircraft are dismantled.

Estimates of the number of aircraft that will reach the end of their life cycles over the next 20 years vary between 6,400 and 8,500, but Martin Fraissignes, chief executive of Afra, says the number could be much higher. "If the price of oil continues to rise, kerosene-greedy aircraft will be grounded earlier than originally planned," he said.



Gazprom considers gas sales to UK households



German Henkel, ThyssenKrupp pass on price rises

FRANKFURT: German consumer goods firm Henkel and steelmaker ThyssenKrupp are succeeding in passing higher raw material costs on to their consumers, while tyre maker Continental is struggling, executives said in interviews published on Sunday.
The comments from ThyssenKrupp and Henkel -- the company behind brands like Persil soap powder and Pritt glue -- support the European Central Bank's fear that rising commodity prices will feed through to consumer prices, entrenching record-high euro-zone inflation for the long term.
"Our raw material prices have doubled in some cases," Henkel's chief financial officer Lothar Steinebach said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.
"We are raising prices. We have already done so with adhesives and we're going to follow this up in other sectors," he added.
ThyssenKrupp, facing higher costs for iron ore and coal to fuel its furnaces, said it was asking customers with contracts with a fixed price for steel in 2008 to sign new ones at a higher price guaranteeing them steel until June 2009.



Algeria invites bids for oil/gas exploration

ALGIERS: OPEC member Algeria unveiled details of its 7th exploration and production licensing round on Sunday, inviting prequalified companies to bid for acreage with what it called high petroleum potential.
The deadline for bids for 16 zones containing 45 blocks was 1000 (0900 GMT) on 3 December 2008 and the winners would be announced two hours later at 1200 (1100 GMT), a statement on the Energy and Mines Ministry website said.



WITNESS - So, he asked me, when will oil come down?

Daniel Fineren is a senior energy correspondent who has worked with Reuters for two years. In a previous job he lived in Barcelona, covering the Spanish energy industry, and he now reports on European power and gas markets in London.

I sank into my seat in the air-conditioned taxi. Heading home from the World Petroleum Congress, exhausted by days pestering top oil producers about when prices might come down, I gazed at the parched scrubland around Madrid.
"Tell me," the taxi driver interrupted. "When are fuel prices going to fall?"
He peered accusingly in the rear-view mirror.
"Every day they just go up and up. But when are they going to go down?"

That question again.
Sitting in the suit I bought in Madrid for the event for 69 euros -- that's less than two tanks of diesel these days -- I was flattered to be mistaken for a wealthy expert.
Oil has risen seven-fold since 2001, scorching the fingers of any highly paid forecaster who said the rally was petering out. Goldman Sachs, the biggest investment bank in the commodities sector, has tipped prices to hit $200 a barrel within two years.
I knew I couldn't honestly tell the driver any relief was on the way, and my own survival strategy of cycling to work clearly wasn't going to work for him.
So I stole Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi's joke that if I knew how to predict the future I would be in Las Vegas making a fortune, and apologized for just being a reporter.
"You're a journalist? Oh, I'm sorry for having a go at you!" the driver apologized. "We have to go through really tight security to pick people up from that conference ... there must be some really rich people in there..."
Soaring prices have sparked protests across the world from those who need to use fuel -- from farmers and fishermen to truck and taxi drivers -- for their work.
My taxi driver's questions continued in a softer tone as we neared the airport where my plane -- filled with ever pricier jet fuel squeezing the airline's profit -- would hopefully get me back to Britain without a sermon from the pilot.
But they didn't get any easier to answer.
"I now pay about 36 euros every day for diesel," the driver of the mid-sized saloon taxi said, adding diesel had risen to over 1.30 euros (1 pound) from 90 euro cents a litre last year.
"If the euro is now worth more than a dollar fifty, why am I paying so much more to fill up?"
That would be tough to deal with in the 10 minutes we had together on the empty highways feeding into Madrid's new terminal building.
The strength of the single European currency against the pound had been really noticeable during my stay, so I could understand why euro-zone consumers might expect goods priced in other currencies to be cheaper.
Less than a pint of beer in a simple street cafe can now easily cost four pounds -- almost unheard of even in London -- after the euro gained around 15 percent against sterling this year.
I tried to explain that the price of oil had doubled in the last year, largely because of the weak dollar, but that the euro had gained only about 15 percent against the U.S. currency, so oil was still more expensive in euros.
The ride to the airport was thankfully not long enough to tie myself in knots trying to explain all the interrelated factors behind the huge rise in fuel prices.
We arrived at departures with the driver concluding that electric or natural gas-fuelled transport might be the best long term solution.
Then he hit me with airport and conference centre service surcharges that took the bill to 20 euros.
Not bad for 10 minutes' work. Next time I'll take the tube.



A new fashion catches on in Paris: Cheap bicycle rentals

PARIS: They're clunky, heavy and ugly, but they have become modish — and they are not this season's platform shoes.
A year after the introduction of the sturdy gray bicycles known as Vélib's, they are being used all over Paris. The bikes are cheap to rent because they are subsidized by advertising, and other major cities, including American ones, are exploring similar projects.
About 20,600 Vélib' bicycles are in service here, with more than 1,450 self-service rental stations. The stations are only some 270 meters, or 300 yards, apart, and there are four times as many as there are subway stations, even in a city so well served by its metro system.
In the first year, the city says, there have been 27.5 million trips in this city of roughly 2.1 million people, many of them for daily commutes. On average, there are 120,000 trips a day. And on July 27, at the conclusion here of the Tour de France, 365 lucky Vélib' riders will be chosen to ride along for a while and cross the finish line.
There are Vélib' Web sites, Vélib' fashions and a Vélib' blog (http://blog.velib.paris.fr/blog); one recent posting discussed the best way to ride with a skirt. A kind of Vélib' behavior has emerged, especially at the morning rush, with people swiftly checking for bikes in the best condition: tires inflated, chains still attached, baskets unstolen.

Natallya Ghyssaert, a 34-year-old doctor, has an annual subscription for 29 euros (about $46), which lets her use a bike whenever she wants for 30 minutes at a time without extra charges. She uses a Vélib' two or three times a day, saying, "I love it; you can see Paris, you can exercise and stay out in the light of day."
The Vélib' — a contraction of vélo for bike and liberté — can also be rented for a day or for a week, with a 150 euro (about $239) deposit taken from the user's credit card if the bike is not returned. Usage fees over 30 minutes can rise steeply: two hours costs 7 euros (about $11). But 96 percent of all rides are less than 30 minutes, because bikes can be returned to any station.
No one knows quite how many trips by car or taxi are thereby avoided, but the "eco-friendly" nature of the Vélib' has been much promoted in a country where juice companies warn of the risks to "our fragile planet" in lavish brochures on thick paper.
Benjamin Tomada, 30, a cook parking his Vélib' near the Music Hall restaurant where he works, said: "I have a car but I don't use it. It's always better to take a bike than the metro."
Still, there have been significant problems with traffic congestion and safety, vandalism and theft. At least 3,000 of the bikes have been stolen — nearly 15 percent of the total, and twice original estimates. Some have been seen in Romania or found in shipping containers on their way to Morocco.
Wearing helmets is not compulsory in France, and three people have died on their rented Vélib's, hit by buses or trucks.
The Vélib' program in Paris was conceived by the Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, and the 10-year contract was won by JCDecaux, a major French public relations and advertising company with good political contacts, after defeating a rival bid from Clear Channel.
The deal is supposed to be good for Paris, but it promises to be extremely lucrative over time for JCDecaux.
Decaux got to erect 1,628 billboards to rent; it invested nearly $142 million to set up the rental bike system and the billboards, and must provide maintenance and replace stolen bikes; the city of Paris gets the proceeds from the usage of the bikes plus some royalties from Decaux.
So far, according to Rémy Pheulpin, the company's executive vice president, it has put up 1,500 billboards in a year and expects to make about $94 million a year from them. The company stands to begin turning a considerable profit if not next year, then in the third year of its 10-year contract.
The city has received $31.5 million from subscribers and users of the bikes, plus an additional $5.5 million a year, fixed in the contract, from advertising royalties, according to Céline Lepault, the Vélib' project manager for City Hall.
Pheulpin, whose company built similar but much smaller programs in 10 other cities, like Lyon and Rouen, said the company had learned that there were several keys to success: allowing subscriptions, so people get the sense that the bikes are free once they have paid their up-front fee; making sure the bike stations are ubiquitous and keeping the system "user-friendly."

In fact, the system is easy to use, with instructions in various languages, and bikes can be taken and returned quickly — so long as there are bikes available in good repair. But as many American tourists have discovered, only credit cards with built-in chips, common in Europe but unusual in America, are accepted by the terminals.
A Decaux subsidiary repairs the bikes — some 1,500 a day. The bikes are heavy, to try to prevent theft of key parts like gears, chains and electronic sensors, which measure time of rental. While an average bike weighs 33 pounds and is used for 124 miles a year, Pheulpin said, the three-gear Vélib', specially designed and built by a French company in Hungary, weighs nearly 50 pounds and is built to be used more than 6,000 miles a year. Each bike costs $3,460.
As for safety, both the city and Decaux argue that bicycle accidents in Paris have risen only 7 percent compared with a 24 percent increase in bicycle use since early 2007. "Bicycles become fashionable, and the more bikes there are in a city, the safer it is, and the more the city will give space to bicyclists," Pheulpin said.
The city and Decaux, after criticism following the latest death on June 23, say they will start a new safety advertising campaign in September. Vélib' users are supposed to follow road rules, stop at red lights and stay off the sidewalks, but many do not.
Drivers in already congested Paris, never particularly bike-friendly, are not particularly happy with the bikes that further clog the streets or with Delanoë's effort to reduce car traffic by 40 percent by 2020. In 2001, Yves Contassot, then deputy mayor for the environment, said of motorists: "It is only by making them live in hell that we'll get drivers to renounce their cars." Motorists remember.
Wide bus lanes were set up on major through streets like the Boulevard Montparnasse — considered too wide, termed "XXL" in the press. While nothing like Amsterdam, Paris is also building more bike lanes, as well as reducing parking spaces by putting Vélib' stations in their place.
"This is what the French call a 'false good idea,' " said Ronald Koven, who drives a car here. "The traffic jams are far worse, and because of them, the pollution is, too."
Ghyssaert, the doctor, says she feels safe on the bicycles, "except in some bustling neighborhoods where there are too many cars." She is not always so careful, she admitted. "I use the bike to dodge in and out of traffic, and I know that the drivers are irritated to see so many Vélib's."
Helmets would be a good idea, she said, offering a very French solution: "The city should get further subsidies and give Vélib' subscribers vouchers to get helmets from big stores."


Riccardo Ricco wins stage as Tour de France enters Pyrenees

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France: The first two steep climbs in the Pyrenees essentially ended in a draw on Sunday while Cadel Evans, the race favorite, suffered a fearsome fall that apparently did not seriously injure him but cracked his helmet and shredded parts of his uniform.
The stage produced no big changes in the overall standings, meaning that the first big fireworks in the 95th Tour de France are likely to come on Monday - appropriately enough, Bastille Day.
Riccardo Ricco, a 23-year-old Italian rider for the Saunier Duval-Scott team, won the 224-kilometer, or 139-mile, stage on Sunday, his second mountaintop victory this year on the Tour. Ricco's winning move came as he attacked the pack roughly 5 kilometers from the summit of the Col d'Aspin, the second of two climbs that were ranked in the first category in difficulty.
Ricco then kept his lead of more than a minute during the swift, 26-kilometer descent to this mountain village, known for its thermal spas, beating Vladimir Efimkin of AG2R by 1 minute 4 seconds and most of the race favorites by 1:17.
Kim Kirchen remained in the yellow jersey for the fourth day, but he conceded that he was unlikely to keep it on Monday. He holds a 6-second lead over Evans and is 44 seconds ahead of Christian Vande Velde, the American rider for Garmin-Chipotle, who moved up a place after Stefan Schumacher, of Gerolsteiner, fell 40 seconds behind the main group on the run to the finish line.



Bold Mediterranean summit opens diplomatic doors
PARIS: Leaders of 43 nations with nearly 800 million inhabitants inaugurated a new Union for the Mediterranean on Sunday, designed to bring the northern and southern countries that ring the sea closer together through practical projects dealing with the environment, climate, transportation, immigration and policing.


Suspicions mount in Israel against Olmert

JERUSALEM: Suspicions of fraud mounted on Sunday against Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the publication in a newspaper of what it said were invoices backing police allegations he made duplicate claims for travel expenses.
Denying any wrongdoing, Olmert flew to Paris for the launch of a French-inspired Mediterranean Union amid renewed calls in Israel for his resignation in the latest chapter -- dubbed "Olmert Tours" by the Israeli media -- of a corruption probe.


French insider-trading investigation is 'very bad theater,' Airbus chief says
FARNBOROUGH, England: The head of Airbus, a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defense & Space, criticized a French judicial inquiry into possible insider trading at the parent company, calling it "a show trial" and very bad theatrics at that.

Sarkozy looking to build national media champion

According to a poll published by the newspaper Le Parisien on July 6, two in three French people were against scrapping commercials on public television and 71 percent were opposed to another part of the plan, the idea that the president would himself name the head of France Télévisions from now on. That would reverse a 1982 decision to assign this task to the broadcasting regulator.
Add to that indications that the European Commission may rule part of the plan illegal, and it is unclear whether it will survive in its current form.
But French officials insist that a bill will enter Parliament in autumn and that the changes will be phased in, starting next year. A stronger media sector, they say, is in the interest of the country.


France to crack down on under-age binge drinking
PARIS: France will ban the sale of alcohol to minors and drinking in public near schools as part of a broad crackdown on binge drinking among youths, the health minister said in an interview published on Sunday.
Roselyne Bachelot said that a recent study showed an over all decline in alcohol consumption among youths but the frequency of drunkenness was increasing.
"Almost half of youths said they had had five glasses of alcohol on a single night on at least one occasion in the previous 30 days, which is the definition of binge drinking," she said in an interview with Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
She said she was working on a new bill that would also ban promotions known as "open bar" which allow customers to drink as much as they want to for a fixed price.
"We are also going to ban open bars ... which are a classic at student parties and which encourage binge drinking," Bachelot said.

She said the number of under-25s hospitalised because of excessive drunkenness had doubled between 2004 and 2007.
"Drinking alcohol in public places close to schools will also be forbidden," she said.
She told the newspaper that at present there was a grey area surrounding sales of alcoholic drinks to teenagers aged 16 to 18, with different rules depending on the kind of alcohol and whether the sales point was a bar, a club or a supermarket.
She said her bill would unambiguously ban any sale of alcohol to under-18s anywhere in France.
Another measure will be to ban sales of alcohol in filling stations. Bachelot said that at present, such a ban exists only from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and the new rule should help curb drunk driving.
Bachelot said the measures, which she expected will come into force in 2009, would be accompanied by an advertising campaign featuring youths in a heavenly environment that turns hellish after they have been drinking.
In May, a government body in charge of fighting drug and alcohol addiction said it was considering banning "happy hours" during which bars offer cheaper drinks early in the evening to attract customers. Bachelot's interview made no mention of this.


U.S. presses MIA hunt in Eastern Europe
WARSAW: For more than six decades, the family of First Lieutenant Archibald Kelly had no way of being certain the army airman was killed when his bomber smashed into a cliff in Croatia in World War II.
They did not know his bones lay under a cairn cobbled together by villagers. Without a body or a proper burial they could never completely convince themselves he was dead.
"We didn't have anything confirmed," the navigator's brother, Samuel Kelly, 85, recalled. "My mother always thought he got knocked in the head and had amnesia and was wandering around Europe somewhere. She never gave up thinking that he would come home. My dad was the same way."
Last year, Kelly was finally buried back home in Michigan in a ceremony with full military honors after his remains were located and identified by U.S. investigators - the latest success in a renewed push to recover the remains of missing WWII servicemen in Eastern Europe.
The work comes as families of missing soldiers have increased pressure on the U.S. government to find their remains, and as Eastern Europe has become more accessible and receptive to American military researchers.



History goes missing at the White House

After watching wholesale lots of the Bush administration's most important e-mails go mysteriously missing, Congress is trying to legislate against any further damage to history. The secrecy-obsessed White House is, of course, threatening a veto - one more effort to deny Americans their rightful access to the truth about how their leaders govern or misgovern.
The House approved a measure last week that would require the National Archives to issue stronger standards for preserving e-mails and to aggressively inspect whether an administration is in compliance. The Archives needs spine stiffening. Congressional investigators found that its staff backed off from inspections of e-mail storage after the Bush administration took office.
We fear we may never find out all that has gone missing in this administration, although we urge congressional investigators to keep trying. What we do know is that the Bush gaps of missing e-mails run into hundreds of thousands during some of the most sensitive political moments. Key gaps coincide with the lead-up to the Iraq war - and the White House's manipulation of intelligence - as well as the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations and the outing of the CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
Missing e-mails include entire blank days at the offices of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Also mysteriously wiped from the record are e-mails from Karl Rove, the president's political guru, and dozens of other White House workers who improperly conducted government business on Republican Party e-mail accounts. The White House now claims that nothing has been lost, though officials previously acknowledged large-scale purging, claiming they were accidental.
An administration with nothing to fear from the truth would be in the forefront of protecting the historical record. The Senate must stand with the House and ensure that at least future administrations are stopped from doing wholesale damage to history.



Cohen: Scandinavia's scarred Mr. Dialogue

OSLO: Scandinavia does reasonableness well, even when faced with unreason. The Oslo Accords of 1993 were as close as Israelis and Palestinians have come to looking each other in the eye, admitting neither side is going away, and jettisoning a bitter past for a better future.
The mediation habit stayed with Norway, despite Oslo's collapse. Jonas Gahr Store, the Norwegian foreign minister, is a battle-hardened Mr. Dialogue. He took a personal terrorism course earlier this year while on a diplomatic mission to Afghanistan.
Store was in Kabul's Serena Hotel on Jan. 14 when explosions and machine-gun fire erupted in the lobby, a flight of stairs above where he sat. Carsten Thomassen, a prominent Norwegian diplomatic correspondent covering his visit, was killed by terrorists linked to the Taliban. At least five other people died; one of Store's media officials was gravely wounded.
The foreign minister was left with what he calls "anger and sadness." But in the course of a conversation with Store, on the margins of the Oslo Forum, a meeting on conflict resolution that Norway hosts with the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, it was less anger I felt from him than relentless reason.
Perhaps Store's world view - that of a very critical NATO ally - is a good introduction to this post-unipolar moment, when the United States has bumped down to earth from its with-us-or-against-us apotheosis.

Store disapproves of the way the Bush administration has conducted the war on terror. "This paradigm of the war on terror, connecting all kinds of armed resistance around the globe in one huge ideological framework, as a new ideology at a stage in history when most of the major ideologies are gone, does not reflect the facts on the ground," he told me.
Norway's message to the United States is forthright: The next administration, whether headed by Barack Obama or John McCain, should pronounce the war on terror over. Because it has tended to isolate the United States, polarize the world, inflate the enemy, conflate diverse movements and limit scope for dialogue, its time has passed.
"The way this has been framed, as an indefinite war that will last for decades, has impoverished our ability to understand the point of departure of the conflict and how we should deal with it," Store said. "Engaging is not weakness, and by not talking the West has tended to give the upper hand to extremists on the other side."
He continued: "Moderates lose ground if they cannot show tangible results. You don't engage at any price, but the price can come down and we can achieve more."



Iran to "cut hands" off any attacker, president says
TEHRAN: Iran's president said that even before its enemies "get their hands on the trigger" the country's military would cut them off, media said on Sunday, in a growing war of words that has intensified Middle East tension.But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also suggested Iran would consider any proposal by the United States for a U.S. interests section in the Islamic Republic, if it was forthcoming. The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since 1980.Amid the mounting tensions over Iran's nuclear plans, U.S. media have reported that the State Department was considering opening an interests section that could mean some U.S. diplomats returning to Tehran but operating under another country's flag.U.S. officials have said there are no concrete plans on such an idea. But Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said this month at the United Nations in New York that any such proposal, if made, could be examined."Iran favours actions that would result in enhanced ties between nations of the world," Ahmadinejad said when asked about the issue, according to the website of state-run Press TV.
"We are ready to consider all proposals in this regard."


Iran condemns McCain for cigarette joke

TEHRAN: Iran has condemned U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain for joking about killing Iranians with cigarettes and said it showed his "warmongering" foreign policy attitude, media said on Sunday.
McCain, who once sang in jest about bombing Iran, on Tuesday reacted to a report of rising U.S. cigarette exports to the Islamic Republic by saying it may be "a way of killing 'em."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said: "McCain's crude remark on the indiscriminate killing of the Iranian nation not only testifies to his disturbed state of mind, but also to his warmongering approach to foreign policy."
In a statement quoted by the website of Iran's state Press TV satellite station, Hosseini added:
"We condemn such jokes and believe them to be inappropriate for a U.S. presidential candidate. It is most evident that jokes about genocide will not be tolerated by Iranians or Americans."



Israel to release Palestinian prisoners

PARIS: Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared Sunday that Israel and the Palestinians have never been closer to making peace — even as a widening corruption probe brings him closer than ever to being ousted from office.
To help build confidence between the two sides, Olmert agreed in a one-on-one meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, an Israeli official said.



Hamas chief calls for Palestinian dialogue

SANAA: Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called on Sunday for the resumption of Yemeni-brokered efforts to reconcile rival Palestinian factions and Yemen said a meeting could be held in the Gulf state of Qatar.
"We support talks to resume the Palestinian dialogue on the basis of the Yemeni initiative with the aim of restoring the Palestinian situation in Gaza and the West Bank to what it was before and remedying all the causes that led to the Palestinian dispute," Meshaal told reporters.
Tensions between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction have been high since the Islamist movement routed the more secular Fatah forces from the Gaza Strip in June 2007 and wrested control of the territory of 1.5 million people.
Abbas dismissed a Hamas-led Palestinian unity government after the Gaza takeover.
"We support reconciliation," Meshaal said after meeting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.



Insurgents kill 9 U.S. troops in Afghanistan

KABUL: Insurgents killed nine U.S. soldiers in an assault on an Afghan army and NATO outpost in northeastern Afghanistan on Sunday, making it one of the worst days for foreign troops casualties in the country since 2001.
Afghanistan is suffering from a rising tide of violence this year, with a sharp increase in Taliban attacks, especially in the east where NATO says militants have taken advantage of peace deals in Pakistan to cross the border and fight in Afghanistan.
"The fighting began in the early morning hours and continued into the day as insurgents were repulsed from an Afghan National Army and ISAF combat outpost," a statement by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
The dead soldiers were all American, a NATO official said. Fifteen ISAF troops and four Afghan soldiers were also wounded in the fighting.
"Although no final assessment has been made, it is believed insurgents suffered heavy casualties during several hours of fighting," it said. The fighting took place in the northeastern province of Kunar, close to the border with Pakistan and also to neighbouring Nuristan province.



Suicide blast in Afghanistan kills at least 24

The attack [that killed the 9 NATO soldiers] was the worst of several reported Sunday, including a suicide bombing that killed 25 people, 20 of them civilians, in southern Afghanistan.

The coalition also reported a heavy clash between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and U.S. forces patrolling in the southern province of Helmand in which it estimated that 40 militants were killed by airstrikes.
In other violence, a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up in a busy shopping bazaar in the town of Dehrawud in the southern province of Uruzgan, killing the local police chief and four of his men.
Twenty civilians, mostly shopkeepers and including some children, were killed and 30 were wounded, the provincial police chief, Juma Gul Himat, said by telephone.
McKiernan said that insurgents are firing almost daily across the border from Pakistan at Afghan, U.S. and NATO military border posts and that these attacks are one of main factors in the sharp increase in combat violence in Afghanistan in the last few months.
"A cross-border kinetic event, we have probably had at least one almost every day I have been here," the general said in an interview at the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.
It is the first time a senior commander has stated so clearly that militant groups not only are infiltrating across the border to attack, but also are firing from positions inside Pakistan. [IW emphasis]



Pakistan sets limits on hunt for Osama bin Laden

NEW YORK: The top diplomat for Pakistan has said that there are currently no foreign military representatives in Pakistan hunting for Osama bin Laden, and that none would be allowed into the country to search for him.
In an interview Saturday, the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said the new government of Pakistan had ruled out such military operations, covert or otherwise, to catch militants including Osama bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda.
"Our government's policy is that our troops, paramilitary forces and our regular forces are deployed in sufficient numbers," Qureshi said.
"They are capable of taking action there. And any foreign intrusion would be counterproductive. People will not accept it. Questions of sovereignty come in."



India blames Pakistan for Kabul embassy attack

MUMBAI: India's national security adviser has said Pakistan's ISI intelligence service was behind a suicide car-bomb attack on the Indian embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul last week that killed 41 people.
"We have no doubt that the ISI is behind this," M.K. Narayanan told NDTV late on Saturday, referring to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
He told another news channel India had a "fair amount" of evidence linking the ISI to Monday's car bomb. Among the dead were an Indian defence attache and a diplomat.
An Afghan spokesman said after the attack that it bore the "hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency".
Pakistan has denied any involvement in the embassy attack.



U.S. visit feeds Pakistani worry over U.S. attack

ISLAMABAD: The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, visited Pakistan on the weekend, fueling speculation that the United States was about to take action against militants in northwest Pakistan.
Pakistan has been a close U.S. ally in the global campaign against terrorism but the United States has become increasingly frustrated at what it sees as insufficient effort by Islamabad to fight militants on the Afghan border.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman confirmed that Mullen had made a one-day trip to Pakistan on Saturday, but said she had no details about his meetings. Pakistani military and government spokesmen were not available for comment.
Pakistani newspapers said Mullen, in talks with Pakistani military commanders and leaders of a new government, had expressed deep frustration with growing cross-border militant attacks and had called for decisive action to stop it.
"Sources quoted Mullen as complaining that militants were moving across the border with greater liberty now than during the previous government," the Dawn newspaper said.



U.S. weighs increasing pace of Iraq withdrawal

WASHINGTON: The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq beginning in September, according to administration and military officials, raising the prospect of a far more ambitious plan than expected only months ago.
Such a withdrawal would be a striking reversal from the nadir of the war in 2006 and 2007.
One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other fighters have intensified their insurgency and inflicted a growing number of casualties on Afghans and U.S.-led forces there.
More U.S. and allied troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq in May and June, a trend that has continued this month.
Although no decision has been made, by the time President George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, at least one and as many as three of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could be withdrawn or at least scheduled for withdrawal, the officials said.

The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for Afghanistan and, potentially, other missions.
The most optimistic course of events would still leave 120,000 to 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from the peak of 170,000 late last year after Bush ordered what became known as the "surge" of additional forces.
Any troop reductions announced in the heat of the presidential election could blur the sharp differences between the candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, over how long to stay in Iraq. But the political benefit might go more to McCain than Obama. McCain is an avid supporter of the current strategy in Iraq. Any reduction would indicate that that strategy has worked and could defuse antiwar sentiment among voters.



Iraq poised for new offensive

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces are poised to launch a major crackdown in volatile Diyala province, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday, the latest in a series of operations aimed at stabilising the country.
Sunni Islamist al Qaeda has sought to stoke tensions in the religiously and ethnically mixed northeastern province, which has seen a string of suicide bombings in recent months.
The crackdown will be the latest Iraqi-led offensive aimed at stamping government authority on areas once in the hands of Sunni Arab insurgents or Shi'ite militias.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say a campaign against al Qaeda in the northern city of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province has helped reduce violence there. Other operations have targeted Shi'ite militias in the southern provinces of Basra and Maysan.
"Soon, the security forces will be in Diyala to play the role they played in Basra and Maysan and Mosul, and Diyala could be the last stage," Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf told a news conference.



U.S. played significant role in Colombia hostage rescue

BOGOTÁ: The United States played a more elaborate role in the events leading up to the rescue this month of 15 hostages in the Colombian jungle than had been previously acknowledged, including the deployment of more than 900 U.S. military personnel to Colombia earlier this year in efforts to locate the hostages, according to an official briefed on these efforts.
At one point in the first three months of 2008, the number of U.S. military personnel members in Colombia passed the limit of 800 established by law, but a legal loophole in the United States allowed the authorities to go above that level since the service members, including more than 40 members of the Special Operations forces, were involved in search and rescue operations for U.S. citizens.
The official who provided this detailed account spoke to The New York Times and several other news organizations, asking not to be identified because of the political sensitivity surrounding the involvement of U.S. forces in Colombia. (Normally, only about 400 to 500 U.S. military personnel are believed to operate in Colombia in noncombat roles.) A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy here declined to comment on the account.
Some of the details provided by the official have been confirmed by Colombian officials. But other details could not immediately be corroborated Saturday with other sources.
According to the official's account, the United States pared down its military presence in Colombia in early March after problems arose in attempts to track a unit of the rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guarding three U.S. defense contractors. Alexander Farfán, commander of the rebel unit holding the three men, discovered a U.S. surveillance device planted in a remote area of southern Colombia, prompting the rebels to change location quickly.

At that point, Colombian military officials began devising their own plan to free the hostages by infiltrating the rebels' radio communications system and convincing a regional guerrilla commander that he needed to transfer the hostages aboard the helicopter of a fictitious aid group. The Colombians delayed formally informing the U.S. authorities here of their plan until June 25, just a week before it was carried out on July 2.
In the earlier search-and-rescue effort with heavier U.S. involvement, personnel included FBI hostage negotiators embedded with Colombian counterparts at a location in San José del Guaviare, a provincial capital about 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, southeast of Bogotá, and members of U.S. Special Operations forces inserted into small Colombian reconnaissance teams tracking the rebels on foot through the jungle.
Hundreds of U.S. support personnel on the ground in Colombia complemented these elite forces, in addition to a frenzied intelligence-gathering operation in the U.S. Embassy here, drawing on intercepts of the rebel group's radio systems, human intelligence, satellite imaging and "air breathers," as piloted surveillance aircraft are called in military jargon.
The idea then was for Colombian forces to surround rebel units in the jungle and encourage them to negotiate the release of their captives, emphasizing that no attack on them was imminent. Given the rebel group's execution of captives in previous military rescue efforts, the chances of such a plan succeeding were believed to be dim by both Colombian and U.S. officials.
The plan later devised by Colombian military intelligence officials first came into focus for the Americans in early June, when they began intercepting communications pointing to three rebel units shifting in the jungle to converge near the village of Tomachipan.
Soon after U.S. officials asked Colombia's government about the movements, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos invited William Brownfield, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, to a meeting at his home here to go over the details of the plan, called Operation Check. After that meeting, the United States placed military and intelligence personnel alongside Colombian officials planning the operation.
While the Colombians devised and carried out the operation with a team of more than a dozen elite Colombian commandos disguised as aid workers, television journalists and rebels, they did so with some important assistance from the United States, which provides Colombia with $600 million of aid a year as part of a counterinsurgency and anti-narcotics project.



Far left finding fault with Obama

PORTLAND, Oregon: In the breathless weeks before the Oregon presidential primary in May, Martha Shade did what thousands of other people here did: She registered as a Democrat so she could vote for Senator Barack Obama.
Now, however, after critics have accused Obama of shifting positions on issues like the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's program of wiretapping without warrants, gun control and the death penalty - all in what some view as a shameless play to a general election audience - Shade said she planned to switch back to the Green Party.
"I'm disgusted with him," said Shade, an artist. "I can't even listen to him anymore. He had such an opportunity, but all this 'audacity of hope' stuff, it's blah, blah, blah. For all the independents he's going to gain, he's going to lose a lot of progressives."
Of course, that depends on how you define progressives.
As Shade herself noted, while alarm may be spreading among some Obama supporters, whether left-wing bloggers or purists holding Obama's feet to the fire on one issue or another, the reaction among others has been less than outrage.



Green Party announces its ticket for 2008 presidential election

CHICAGO: The Green Party, which captured less than 1 percent of the vote in the last U.S. presidential election, has chosen the former Democratic Representative Cynthia McKinney as its 2008 presidential candidate.
McKinney, 53, will be joined on the ticket for the election in November by vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente, a hip-hop artist and activist.


IndyMac one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history



Worst is yet to come for Europe's ad market



Ad budgets cut at fastest rate since 9/11



Fortis chief executive out; chairman now faces shareholder anger



RBS seeks to unload assets



Earnings in spotlight amid fears on economy

LONDON: With the Goldilocks economy long gone, investors this week will wrestle again with the three bears of financial markets - banking woes, slow-to-stagnant economic growth and rising inflation.
On the blocks are the latest readings on inflation from the United States, Britain and the euro zone, while banks including Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan as well as other major businesses like Philips Electronics in Europe will release second-quarter earnings.
Oil prices will be closely watched following U.S. crude's record highs above $147 a barrel last week after Iran test-fired missiles and tensions escalated in Nigeria.
But the credit crunch and the havoc it has wreaked on banks may remain uppermost in investors' minds after U.S. bank regulators stepped in late on Friday to prop up IndyMac Bancorp after withdrawals by panicked depositors led to one of the largest banking failures in U.S. history.



U.S. regulators planning crackdown on stock manipulation

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Sunday it is immediately opening an investigation to prevent the spread of false information used to manipulate securities prices.
The SEC chairman, Christopher Cox, said the investigation is aimed at "ensuring investors continue to get reliable, accurate information about public companies in the marketplace."
The investigation comes amid a new bout of turmoil that has gripped investors. Questions have been swirling about the financial health of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as Lehman Brothers Holdings.



Obama cautious on steps to help Freddie/Fannie

Obama said he had "little doubt we've moved into recession at this point" and that he was committed to ensuring liquidity in the housing market.



Offering McCain help in Econ 101

The U.S. presidential campaign last week was fought on economic terrain, and John McCain was the New York Yankees battling in Boston's Fenway Park or Liverpool playing at Manchester United's Old Trafford: the visiting team with a decided disadvantage.
The Republican standard-bearer isn't comfortable in the economic arena. He started off the week talking about a "slowing" economy. Slowing? Most Americans think it's going overboard and threatening to take them down.
He pledged to balance the budget by the end of his first term, which is inconsistent with the lavish tax cuts he also promises. He offered the same Social Security prescriptions that President George W. Bush failed to sell, insisting that somehow a more Democratic Congress would be receptive.
Contradictions, detours and flip-flops abound. On Bloomberg Television last spring, the Arizona Republican said there had been "great progress" economically under the Bush administration; the next day, he said Americans were "hurting badly" and weren't better off than they were eight years ago.
McCain likes to joke about his rebellious youth, noting that he graduated fifth from the bottom of his 1958 U.S. Naval Academy class. The valedictorian of that class was Ronald Reagan's onetime national security adviser, John Poindexter, who barely avoided jail. This reinforces the novelist Walker Percy's admonition not to get all A's and still flunk life.

McCain gets an A in life and in most subjects. Just not economics.
If he wants a quick tutorial, there are two useful books: "Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age" by Larry Bartels and "High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families" by Peter Gosselin. They dismantle many of the policies he's espousing.
These aren't ideological diatribes. Bartels, a Princeton University political scientist, says he hasn't voted in a presidential election since 1984, when he supported Reagan. Gosselin is a well-regarded national economics correspondent for The Los Angeles Times.
The Gosselin book focuses on the precarious state of many American families as safety nets - secure jobs, health coverage and pensions - have frayed.
He tells tragic tales - of a Duke University MBA who lost jobs at three financial institutions because of their bad business decisions and now works for a homeless shelter; of an insurance-firm employee whose own company denied her disability coverage when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; and of a widow whose husband was denied coverage for his alcoholism.
These aren't isolated stories. The centerpiece of the McCain health-care proposal is enabling more families to buy private insurance. It's tough to find a family with a severely ill or injured child that doesn't despise its private health insurer.
"Unequal Democracy" lays out the widening gap between rich and poor. The dangers of growing income inequality in a democratic society aren't just the rantings of soak-the-rich left-wingers. Conservative central bankers from Arthur Burns to Alan Greenspan have worried about such a gap.
Bartels persuasively argues that this isn't simply a reflection of globalization or other events beyond our control. His research shows that government policies significantly affect economic inequality.
Surveying the last 50 years, he finds that real incomes of middle-class families have grown twice as fast under Democrats as Republicans, and six times as rapidly in the case of the working poor.
In this campaign, the contrast between the estate tax and various proposals to help the working poor is illustrative.
The estate tax, or "the death tax" as the Republicans, in a public relations coup, have labeled it, is assessed on fewer than 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans. For a couple, the first $7 million is exempt in 2009, as is anything given to charity; there are numerous loopholes around what's left.
McCain would raise that exemption to $10 million and lower the rate to 15 percent. The Democrat Barack Obama would keep the current 45 percent rate on estates over $7 million.
The McCain approach would cost the government $175 billion more than Obama's over 10 years, and most benefits would go to wealthy heirs who've done little to earn it - affirmative action for the rich.
Less than one-third of that amount - $50 billion - would fund Obama's proposal to expand the earned-income tax credit, money given to the working poor to offset payroll taxes that typically eat up 15 percent of their income. It's one of the most effective anti-poverty and economically stimulative measures - these people have no choice but to spend the money.
The Tax Policy Center, a venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, analyzed the candidates' proposals: The working poor would get a $1,459 tax cut under Obama, more than double what McCain proposes.


Thousands protest in Sudan over charges against president



Stampede kills 12 at Sudan graduation ceremony



UN rattled as Darfur continues to bleed

On a recent hot, dusty June day, Susana Malcorra was standing in the middle of embattled Darfur, just outside the central town of Nyala, watching scarce earthmoving equipment chew into the sandy, rolling terrain dotted with shrubs and low trees.
Malcorra, a newly minted UN under secretary general who serves as the grand quartermaster for all peacekeepers, recalls trying to picture the wasteland of 2.5 square kilometers, or a square mile, spread out before her as a finished camp for about 4,000 soldiers and other personnel.
"When you look at it, it is very, very empty," Malcorra, who once ran Telecom Argentina, said recently in an interview in her office near the top floor of the UN Secretariat in New York. That "sense of emptiness" underscored just how much work lies ahead, before there is a real peace to keep, she said.
The mandate for the Darfur force comes up for renewal by the Security Council on July 31, its first birthday, so members are bracing for a debate about why so much remains unfinished.
On one level, they will be examining local difficulties, bureaucratic delays and logistical problems. But at least some diplomats, UN officials and advocacy groups are also beginning to sense that finding a route out of the impasse will also depend on taking a larger view: looking at Sudan's problems as a diplomatic failure and treating its interwoven conflicts and supply logjams as one large crisis, rather than a set of problems to be diagnosed and fixed in isolation.



Somali aid workers in crisis talks after killings



Ethiopia says arrests 8 bombers

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia says it has arrested eight "Eritrean-trained" rebels suspected of carrying out bombings that rocked the capital Addis Ababa and killed eight people earlier this year.
A statement by security chiefs late on Saturday said the attacks were sponsored by arch-foe Asmara "and implemented by its stooges in Ethiopia, the self-proclaimed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)."
Simultaneous blasts at two petrol stations killed two people a day after local, regional and federal elections in April, then a bomb tore through a minibus taxi a month later, killing six.
The statement by the National Intelligence and Security Service did not say when or where the detainees were arrested, but said three "most wanted" suspects remained at large and urged the public could come forward with information.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000 people, and tensions remain high. Officials in Addis Ababa often refer to their counterparts in Amara as terrorists.


Egypt police hold 17 Islamists in parliament vote

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt: Police detained 17 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday in northern Egypt where the Islamist group was fielding candidates for three vacant parliamentary seats, security officials said.
The Brotherhood, the strongest opposition group in the Arab country despite the ban, said police forces were blocking its campaign staff and supporters from voting in the coastal city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh. Brotherhood candidates are running as independents.
The Interior Ministry said the charges were baseless.
Security officials and the Brotherhood said police rounded up the 17 Islamists in Alexandria, where the group was vying with ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and other independent candidates for two seats vacant since 2005 when voting was halted after a legal challenge.
A Reuters photographer saw police detain two men who were carrying leaflets promoting a Brotherhood candidate.



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