WTO: Farming exporters tell rich nations to open agriculture markets
GENEVA: Developing countries and food exporters from rich and poor nations on Sunday demanded that the United States and European Union open their farm markets and eliminate trade-distorting subsidies.
Trade in farm products was at the center of discussions as ministers from three dozen trading powers met in negotiating alliances to prepare for next week's make-or-break talks on a new world trade pact.
Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organization director-general, called the ministers to Geneva to seek a breakthrough in the seven-year-old Doha round to free up world trade. The various alliances among the WTO's 152 members, from the Cairns group of food exporters to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries met Sunday to plot strategy.
"Those members responsible for the most significant distortions in global agricultural trade - the EU, U.S. and Japan - bear a heavy responsibility," the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters, which includes Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and Thailand, said in a statement. "We can and must now seize this opportunity to secure the main parameters of the Doha round. The costs of failure are too high."
Australia, which is serving as leader of the group, said the prospects of a Doha deal were better than ever.
Rise in food prices has Bolivian coca farmers planting rice
SINAHOTA, Bolivia: Soaring food prices may yet achieve what the United States has spent millions of dollars trying to do: persuade Bolivian farmers to sow their fields with crops other than coca, cocaine's raw ingredient.
The unlikely advocate for change is the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, who as leader of a powerful coca growers' union fought U.S. crop-substitution programs for two decades. But rising grain prices and food shortages have made Morales reconsider, and he is now asking coca farmers to supplement their crops with rice and corn as a way of holding down coca production while helping to feed the poorest country in South America.
U.S. programs have often banned the planting of coca - a small, green leaf sacred to Andean peoples and the base ingredient of cocaine - as a condition for farmers to receive aid for trying new crops.
In his own twist on alternative development, Morales is willing to split the difference: Growers can maintain up to one "cato" of coca - about a tenth of a hectare, or a third of an acre - which earns them about 720 bolivianos, or $100, a month while they receive a loan to plant other products.
The cato limit - in practice since 2004 - is seen by U.S. drug officials as a questionably legal concession to drug smugglers, but it has become the linchpin of Morales's strategy to fight narcotics while supporting the leaf's traditional use as a mild stimulant with medicinal qualities.
President of Argentina withdraws tax increase on grain exports
BUENOS AIRES: The president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has said that she would revoke tax increases on grain exports, a measure that had set off months of farm revolts, food shortages and nationwide protests.
The move on Friday to revoke the tax increases was a humbling retreat by the president and was necessary to stop the hemorrhaging of her seven-month-old presidency, political consultants and risk analysts said, after the Argentine Senate rejected the plan and Kirchner's own vice president, Julio Cobos, broke a tie to defeat the measure.
Kirchner's government has lost much of its support during the conflict, with her approval rating falling to as low as 20 percent in some polls.
In explaining the decision to rescind the tax plan, Alberto Fernández, the president's chief of staff, said that in a democracy one had to "respect the popular will" and "preserve the quality of institutions."
He gave no indication of whether the government planned to revisit the measure, but he said it was committed to its vision of redistributing income to the lower classes, a justification the government had used for the tax increases.
Beijing begins limiting car use and factory emissions
BEIJING: With the Olympics less than three weeks away, Beijing began limiting car use and factory emissions Sunday in a drastic final effort to clear its smog-choked skies.
Under the two-month plan, half of the capital's 3.3 million cars will be removed from city streets on alternate days, depending on whether the license plate ends in an odd or even number.
Skies were relatively clear Sunday after some morning haze, and traffic was light for a weekend, flowing smoothly on highways and city streets. But the real test will come when the work week begins.
"Things are fine today," a taxi driver who gave only her surname, Li, said as she sailed through normally traffic-snarled intersections. "But tomorrow, it may be different as people go to work."
In addition to the traffic plan, chemical plants, power stations and foundries had to cut emissions by 30 percent beginning Sunday. Dust-spewing construction in the capital was to stop entirely.
Gore asks bloggers for help promoting energy challenge
AUSTIN, Texas: Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, was asked a question about energy here at a bloggers conference. She glanced at her BlackBerry, noting that she had an e-mail message from a friend on that very subject.
With that, the voice of former Vice President Al Gore boomed over the public address system, leaving a sea of quizzical looks and then gasps, cheers and a standing ovation as he strode onto the stage.
It produced the first electric moment at the conference, the Netroots Nation, an ever-widening group of progressive bloggers whose major interests - the war in Iraq, the environment and technology - mesh well with Gore's current pursuits. Indeed, many in the crowd who are supporting Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, were overheard saying they wished Gore was running for president.
As waves of cheers washed over the convention center, Gore said to Pelosi, "We ought to take that act on the road."
"We are on the road," she replied.
"Well, I feel right at home here, I'll tell you," he said.
Gore told a questioner that he would not accept a role in the next administration. The best use of his talent and experience, he said, is "to focus on trying to enlarge the political space" within which politicians can address the climate crisis.
"I have seen firsthand how important it is to have a base of support out in the country for the truly bold changes that have to be made now," he said, noting that was why he intended to devote his life to bringing about "a sea change in public opinion."
He repeated the challenge he issued to the country to produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and clean, carbon-free sources within 10 years. And he called on the bloggers to help achieve that goal, saying they were on the leading edge of reclaiming democracy for the grass roots.
Wolves in Yellowstone National Park area again placed under protection
Gray wolves in the greater Yellowstone area of the northern Rocky Mountains, which would have been fair game for hunters in three states as a result of a U.S. government decision in March, have again been put under the protections of the Endangered Species Act by a judge in Montana.
The action by the judge, Donald Molloy of U.S. District Court, took the form of a preliminary injunction Friday and could be reversed. But Molloy's language showed serious reservations about the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to remove endangered species protections for the wolves.
Environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, which sued the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the wolves, convinced Molloy that there was a possibility of irreparable harm to the species if hunts had been allowed.
The states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming; the National Rifle Association; and a variety of hunting and cattlemen's associations intervened on the U.S. government's behalf.
The judge said the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service last year to approve Wyoming's plans for maintaining just eight breeding pairs instead of the 15 the U.S. government once required was "problematic." He added that the decision, which ran counter to the U.S. government's earlier rejection of the Wyoming plan, "represents an agency change of course unsupported by adequate reasoning."
Internet entrepreneur returns to solar energy
LOS ANGELES: In 1973, when Bill Gross was 15 and cars were lined up at every gas station in Southern California, he wanted to do something about high energy prices.
An aspiring engineer, he figured out how to build parabolic concentrators and Stirling engines to capture the sun's energy, selling the plans for $4 apiece through ads in Popular Science magazine.
Gross, now 49, is again building solar power projects after a lengthy detour through the early days of the Internet.
His company, Idealab, created a series of Web businesses in the 1990s, including the pay-per-click advertising pioneer GoTo.com and the toy retailer eToys, which he said eventually "outspent its leash."
"Everything we touched was turning to gold for a while and then the crash came," Gross said in an interview at his office in Pasadena, California.
Two years ago, Gross was spared financial ruin again when shareholders agreed to pay off a $50 million personal loan he owed to a bank.
As the Internet boom melted down, however, the California energy crisis of 2000 was rekindling Gross's teenage passion for alternative energy.
It turned out that solar technology had not advanced much since he gave up his mail order business to start writing software in the early 1980s.
Idealab embarked on a mission few others were embracing at the time: developing green energy technologies.
A mechanical engineer by training, Gross is hands-on. A smattering of solar projects are crammed onto the roof of the company's small building in downtown Pasadena, and he explains them all in rapid and minute detail.
His idea for small, prefabricated solar-powered thermal power plants, being developed by the Idealab company eSolar, caught the eye of Oak Investment Partners and Google. Bandel Carano, a managing partner with Oak who also sits on eSolar's board, called Gross's solar thermal technology a breakthrough equivalent to the advantages of PC computing over mainframes.
Half of Idealab's 16 companies are focused on energy.
"We used to have 40 ideas a year and do one company a month," Gross said. "Now we have 40 ideas a year and we're doing one company a year."
This is no repeat of the Internet boom, when companies with little revenue and no profits attracted millions of dollars in capital, he said. "Now we say 'Treat these dollars as if it's the last dollars you'll ever see,"' Gross said.
Texas approves a $4.93 billion wind-power project
Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project, providing a major lift to the development of wind energy in the state.
The planned web of transmission lines will carry electricity from remote western parts of the state to major population centers like Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running.
The project will ease a bottleneck that has become a major obstacle to development of the wind-rich Texas Panhandle and other areas suitable for wind generation.
Texas is already the largest producer of wind power, with 5,300 installed megawatts — more than double the installed capacity of California, the next closest state. And Texas is fast expanding its capacity.
"This project will almost put Texas ahead of Germany in installed wind," said Greg Wortham, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium.
COLUMNIST: Thomas Friedman
9/11 and 4/11
Bush is about to waste a second crisis, this one on energy addiction.
I am reliably told by a Bush administration official that there is an old saying in Texas that goes like this: "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got."
Could anyone possibly come up with a better description of President George W. Bush's energy policy? America is in the midst of its worst energy crisis in years and what is the big decision our Decider has decided? Drum roll, please: Our Decider decided to lift the executive orders banning drilling for oil and natural gas off the country's shoreline - even though he knew this was a meaningless gesture because a congressional moratorium on drilling passed in 1981 remains in force.
The economist Paul Romer once said to me that "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste." Bush is well on his way to being remembered as the leader who wasted not one but two crises: 9/11 and 4/11. The average price of gasoline in the U.S. last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, was $4.11.
After 9/11, Bush had the chance to summon the United States to a great nation-building project focused on breaking America's addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping. After gasoline prices hit $4.11 last week, he had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on clean energy. Instead, he told us to go drilling.
Tour's failed drug tests raise concerns about anti-doping fight
NÎMES, France: It was an inevitable question, one that was on the mind of perhaps every person in the world who pays attention to professional cycling. Still, Mark Cavendish seemed stricken.
"Given the circumstances," a reporter asked Cavendish, who was riding in his first Tour de France and minutes earlier had won his third stage in just over a week, "why should we believe any rider is clean, including you?"
Just hours before Cavendish, 23, easily outsprinted some of the fastest men on wheels in the 12th stage, Riccardo Riccò, the only other man to win more than one stage at this year's race, had been thrown out for failing a drug test. Riccò's Saunier Duval-Scott team also withdrew, under a cloud of suspicion.
Cavendish looked up, started to answer, then stopped himself, letting silence fill the room for 22 seconds. When he spoke, there was a catch in his throat, betraying the emotion that lay behind his poised demeanor.
"I think people who resort to doping maybe don't have the passion that I have and a lot of other people have," he said. "It's not just in cycling, it's in every sport and every aspect of life."
"These people are getting caught," he added. "It's making it a cleaner sport, and for me that's a good thing. I hope it will carry on."
CYCLING TOUR DE FRANCE
Schleck knocks Evans off his perch
PRATO NEVOSO, Italy: The CSC-Saxo Bank team had been warning for a week that its riders would attack Cadel Evans in the Alps.
But on a steep mountain climb at the finish of a long stage, even knowing what is coming sometimes cannot help.
A group of 10 riders, including three from CSC, took turns attacking Evans for most of the 11.4-kilometer climb, about 7 miles, to this Italian ski resort. In the final kilometer, Frank Schleck, who started the day just one second behind Evans in the overall standings, rode away and into the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
Schleck and the others in the group of top riders finished the stage roughly four minutes behind the stage winner, Simon Gerrans, an Australian rider for Crédit Agricole, who was part of a four-man breakaway that led by as much as 17 minutes midway through the 183-kilometer stage.
Bernhard Kohl of the Gerolsteiner team moved into second place overall, seven seconds behind Schleck and one second ahead of Evans. Three other contenders for the overall victory also beat Evans to the finish, leaving five men within a minute of the leader.
Roger Cohen: Sobriety, Herr Obama
I dropped by the Elysée Palace to get a fix on things. The food was shockingly awful - tired crudités, desiccated hake, pasty potato purée - but the Chateau Batailley 2001 was a beauty. Seems President Nicolas Sarkozy's too busy for solids.
Everything's hush-hush about Obama's movements, but we do know he'll be at the palace Friday for a 90-minute session with Sarkozy, followed by a press conference. That's a first: French leaders don't do pressers with U.S. presidential candidates.
But Obama's visit is also, or maybe principally, about European politics. Sarkozy gets a touch of the Obamaura. Think halos in Florentine Renaissance paintings. Such reflected glory can do no harm, as Sarkozy the opportunist knows well.
In Kabul, Obama calls Afghan front 'central' to war on terror
KABUL: Afghanistan must become "the central front" in the war on terror, Barack Obama said Sunday in the Afghan capital, sharpening his policy clash with John McCain over whether the war in Iraq has been a distraction from that effort.
Obama has pledged to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan and to focus more on terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan.
"We have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan, and I believe this has to be the central focus, the central front, in the battle against terrorism," Obama said in an interview with CBS News.
Iraq government says PM did not back Obama troop exit plan
BAGHDAD: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki did not back the plan of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and his comments to a German magazine on the issue were misunderstood, the government's spokesman said on Sunday.
Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement that Maliki's remarks to Der Spiegel were translated incorrectly.
The German magazine said on Saturday that Maliki supported Obama's proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months. The interview was released on Saturday.
"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes," Der Spiegel quoted Maliki as saying.
Dabbagh said statements by Maliki or any other member of the government should not be seen as support for any U.S. presidential candidate.
U.S. and NATO strikes exact heavy toll in Afghanistan
KABUL: U.S. and NATO missile strikes continued to exact a heavy toll in Afghanistan, with at least 13 Afghans killed in two incidents over the weekend that Afghan officials said were mistakes.
One NATO soldier was also killed in the eastern province of Khost. Although NATO did not give the nationality of the soldier, U.S. forces are deployed in Khost.
Nine Afghan policemen were killed and five others wounded in a case of friendly fire in western Afghanistan when a joint convoy of Afghan and U.S. forces called in airstrikes on a group they thought to be militants. Separately, at least four people were killed when two mortars fired by the NATO-led force in Afghanistan went astray.
The U.S. military announced it was beginning an investigation into the first incident. The joint Afghan and U.S. force came under attack in the province of Farah from an unknown force while conducting nighttime operations in Ana Dara District, a statement issued from Bagram Air Base said. Coalition forces returned fire and then called in airstrikes on the group firing at them.
The presidential spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said the strikes had been a case of friendly fire. Among those wounded was the police chief of the district, the deputy provincial governor said, according to Reuters.
A NATO statement said that at least four civilians had been accidentally killed, and four other civilians wounded, in mortar strikes by the NATO-led force, ISAF, in the eastern province of Paktika.
The incident took place Saturday night at Barmal, on the border with Pakistan in an area where militants frequently cross from Pakistan's tribal regions.
The wounded civilians were brought to a NATO base and were evacuated by helicopter to a medical facility, the alliance said. "ISAF deeply regrets this accident, and an investigation as to the exact circumstances of this tragic event is now under way," NATO said in its statement.
U.S. troops kill son of Iraqi governor
BAGHDAD: U.S. forces shot dead the 17-year-old son and another relative of the governor of northern Iraq's Salahuddin province in a raid on Sunday, local officials said.
The U.S. military said it shot two armed, adding it was later found they were both related to the governor.
Governor Hamad al-Qaisi's brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Saad al-Qaisi, said American troops stormed a family house in the town of Beiji, where the governor's son Hussam and his cousin were staying.
"They shot dead Hussam and wounded three others. This is barbaric and inhuman," he said.
A statement from the U.S. military said its forces had wounded and captured an al Qaeda financer in the house.
"As they entered the target building, coalition forces encountered two armed men. Perceiving hostile intent ... they shot and killed the men. It was subsequently determined that the two ... were related to the governor," the statement said.
A CIA lesson from the field: Never trust another spy
WASHINGTON: As they complete their training at "The Farm," the CIA's base in the Virginia Tidewater, young agency recruits are taught a lesson they are expected never to forget during assignments overseas: There is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service.
Foreign spy services, even those of America's closest allies, will try to manipulate you. So you had better learn how to manipulate them back.
But most CIA veterans agree that no relationship between the spy agency and a foreign intelligence service is quite as byzantine, or as maddening, as that between the CIA and the Pakistani Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
It is like a bad marriage in which both spouses have long stopped trusting each other but would never think of breaking up because they have become so mutually dependent.
Without the ISI's help, U.S. spies in Pakistan would be incapable of carrying out their primary mission in the country: hunting Islamic militants, including top members of Al Qaeda. Without the millions of covert U.S. dollars sent annually to Pakistan, the ISI would have trouble competing with the spy service of its archrival, India.
But the relationship is complicated by a web of competing interests. First off, the top U.S. goal in the region is to shore up the Afghan government and security services to better fight the ISI's traditional proxies, the Taliban, there.
Inside Pakistan, the primary U.S. interest is to dismantle a Taliban and Qaeda haven in the mountainous tribal lands.
Throughout the 1990s, Pakistan, and especially the ISI, used the Taliban and militants from those areas to exert power in Afghanistan and block India from gaining influence there. The ISI has also supported other militant groups that carried out operations against Indian troops in Kashmir, something that complicates Washington's efforts to stabilize the region.
Of course, there are few examples in history of spy services really trusting one another. After all, people who earn their salaries by lying and assuming false identities probably don't make the most reliable business partners. Moreover, spies know that the best way to steal secrets is to penetrate the ranks of another spy service.
But circumstances have for years forced successful, if ephemeral, partnerships among spies. The Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA, worked with the predecessors of the KGB to hunt Nazis during World War II, even as the United States and the Soviet Union were quickly becoming adversaries.
These days, the relationship between Moscow and Washington is turning frosty again, over a number of issues. But, quietly, U.S. and Russian spies continue to collaborate to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, and to secure nuclear arsenals.
The relationship between the CIA and the ISI was far less complicated when the United States and Pakistan were intently focused on one common goal: kicking the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. For years in the 1980s, the CIA used the ISI as the conduit to funnel arms and money to Afghan rebels fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
But even in those good old days, the two spy services were far from trusting of each other - in particular over the Pakistani quest for nuclear weapons. In his book "Ghost Wars," the journalist Steve Coll recounts how the ISI chief in the early 1980s, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, banned all social contact between his ISI officers and CIA operatives in Pakistan. He was also convinced that the CIA had set up an elaborate bugging network, so he had his officers speak in code on the telephone.
When the general and his aides were invited by the CIA to visit agency training sites in the United States, the Pakistanis were forced to wear blindfolds on the flights into the facilities.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, CIA officers have arrived in Islamabad knowing that they will probably depend on the ISI at least as much as they have depended on any liaison spy service in the past. Unlike spying in the capitals of Europe, where agency operatives can blend in to develop a network of informants, only a tiny fraction of CIA officers can walk the streets of Peshawar unnoticed.
And an even smaller fraction could move freely through the tribal areas to scoop up useful information about militant networks there.
Even the powerful ISI, which is dominated by Punjabis, the largest ethnic group in Pakistan, has difficulties collecting information in the tribal lands, the home of fiercely independent Pashtun tribes. For this reason, the ISI has long been forced to rely on Pashtun tribal leaders - and in some cases Pashtun militants - as key informants.
Given the natural disadvantages, CIA officers try to get any edge they can through technology, the one advantage they have over the local spies.
For example, the Pakistani government has long restricted where the CIA can fly Predator surveillance drones inside Pakistan, limiting flight paths to approved "boxes" on a grid map.
The CIA's answer to that restriction? It deliberately flies Predators beyond the approved areas, just to test Pakistani radars. According to one former agency officer, the Pakistanis usually notice.
As U.S. and allied casualty rates in Afghanistan have grown in the last two years, the ISI has become a subject of fierce debate within the CIA. Many in the spy agency - particularly those stationed in Afghanistan - accuse their agency colleagues at the Islamabad station of actually being too cozy with their ISI counterparts. There have been bitter fights between the CIA station chiefs in Kabul and Islamabad, particularly about the significance of the militant threat in the tribal areas.
Veterans of the CIA station in Islamabad point to the capture of a number of senior Qaeda leaders in Pakistan in recent years as proof that the Pakistani intelligence service has often shown a serious commitment to roll up terrorist networks.
And, they point out, the ISI has just as much reason to distrust the Americans as the CIA has to distrust the ISI. The CIA largely pulled up stakes in the region after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, rather than staying to resist the chaos and bloody civil war that led ultimately to the Taliban ascendance in the 1990s.
After the withdrawal, the U.S. tools to understand the complexity of relationships in Central and South Asia became rusty. The ISI operates in a neighborhood of constantly shifting alliances, where double-dealing is an accepted rule of the game, a phenomenon many in Washington still have problems accepting.
Until late last year, when he was elevated to the command of the entire army, the Pakistani spymaster who had been running the ISI was General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. U.S. officials describe Kayani as at once engaging and inscrutable, an avid golfer with some odd affectations. He will spend several minutes carefully hand-rolling a cigarette, then, after taking one puff, he stubs it out.
The grumbling at the CIA about the ISI comes with a certain grudging reverence for the spy service's Machiavellian qualities. Some former spies even talk about the Pakistani agency with a mix of awe and professional jealousy.
One retired senior CIA official said that of all the foreign spymasters the CIA had dealt with, Kayani was the most formidable and may have earned the most respect at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The soft-spoken general, he said, is a master manipulator.
"We admire those traits," he said.
Pakistan army fights militants in northwest hills
KOHAT, Pakistan: Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships have killed 15 Taliban militants and captured 60 in an operation that began mid-week in a troubled northwestern town, the military said on Sunday.
The operation was launched on Wednesday around Hangu town after militants killed 17 soldiers and abducted 49 paramilitary soldiers and government officials just over a week ago.
"The operation is still on. We have successfully cleared the valley and now our troops are fighting militants on the mountains," spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said, adding five soldiers had also been wounded in the fighting.
He said the operation's goal was to flush out militants from Hangu district, 40 km (25 miles) west of the garrison town of Kohat, but not to extend it into the neighbouring Orakzai tribal region, where most insurgents were believed to have fled.
Residents told Reuters by telephone that the military was using heavy artillery and mortars to hit militants' position in the Tora Warai area, about 25 km (15 miles) west of Hangu town.
Militants hurled a grenade inside a military cinema in Kohat city on Saturday night, wounding four people, including a 9-year-old boy.
Building on success in Iraq
William J. Fallon, a retired admiral, was commander of the U.S. Central Command from 2007 to 2008.
The number of incidents of violence in Iraq is less than a tenth of what we were experiencing in the spring of 2007. The casualty rate among U.S. troops is the lowest in more than four years and continues to improve. Ethnic and sectarian violence among the Iraqi population has declined to levels not seen since the early days of the war.
Aid workers fleeing Somalia over threats
NAIROBI: At a time of drought, skyrocketing food prices, crippling inflation and intensifying street fighting, many of the aid workers upon whom millions of Somalis depend for survival are fleeing their posts - or in some cases the country.
They are being driven out by what appears to be an organized terror campaign. Ominous leaflets recently surfaced on the bullet-pocked streets of Mogadishu, Somalia's ruin of a capital, calling aid workers "infidels" and warning them that they will be methodically hunted down. Since January, at least 20 aid workers have been killed, more than in any year in recent memory. Still others have been abducted.
The White House wins a disturbing legal victory
The Bush administration has been a waging a fierce battle for the power to lock people up indefinitely simply on the president's say-so. It scored a disturbing victory last week when a federal appeals court ruled that it could continue to detain Ali al-Marri, who has been held for more than five years as an enemy combatant. The decision gives the president sweeping power to deprive anyone - citizens as well as noncitizens - of their freedom. The Supreme Court should reverse this terrible ruling.
Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar legally residing in the United States, was initially arrested in his home in Peoria, Illinois, on ordinary criminal charges, then imprisoned by military authorities.
The government, which says he has ties to Al Qaeda, designated him an enemy combatant, even though it never alleged that he was in an army or carried arms on a battlefield. He was held on the basis of extremely thin hearsay evidence.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, Virginia, declared that the government could not hold al-Marri, or any other civilian, simply on the president's orders. If it wanted to prosecute him, the court ruled, it could do so in the civilian court system.
That was the right answer. Unfortunately, last week the full 4th Circuit reversed the decision, and with a tangle of difficult-to-decipher opinions, upheld the government's right to hold al-Marri indefinitely. The court ruled that al-Marri must be given greater rights to challenge his detention. But this part of the decision is weak, and he is unlikely to get the sort of procedural protections necessary to ensure that justice is done.
The implications are breathtaking. The designation "enemy combatant," which should apply only to people captured on a battlefield, can now be applied to people detained inside the United States. Even though al-Marri is not a U.S. citizen, the court's reasoning appears to apply equally to citizens.
Equally troubling, the ruling supports President George W. Bush's ludicrous argument that when Congress authorized the use of force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, it gave the president essentially unlimited powers. If a president ever wants to round up Americans on vague charges and detain them indefinitely, this ruling gives him a dangerous green light.
Al-Marri's lawyers say they will ask the Supreme Court to review the ruling. Without doubt, it should. The case raises critically important issues for a free society, and the 4th Circuit's convoluted set of opinions is too confusing to give proper guidance to other courts, the executive branch, or the people.
The jumble reflects how badly the administration has butchered the law in this area. People accused of bad deeds should be tried in court - not in sham proceedings. They should be put in jail - not in secret detention. If they are not proved guilty, they should be set free. It is up to the Supreme Court to restore these principles of American justice.
Is America too big to fail?
NEW YORK: In the narrative that has governed American commercial life for the last quarter-century, saving companies from their own mistakes was not supposed to be part of the government's job description. Economic policymakers in the United States took swaggering pride in the cutthroat but lucrative form of capitalism that was supposedly indigenous to their frontier nation.
Through this uniquely American lens, saving businesses from collapse was the sort of thing that happened on other shores, where sentimental commitments to social welfare trumped sharp-edged competition. Weak-kneed European and Asian leaders were too frightened to endure the animal instincts of a real market, the story went. So they intervened time and again, using government largess to lift inefficient firms to safety, sparing jobs and limiting pain but keeping their economies from reaching full potential.
There have been recent interventions in America, of course - the taxpayer-backed bailout of Chrysler in 1979, and the savings and loan rescue of 1989. But the first happened under Jimmy Carter, a year before Americans embraced Ronald Reagan and his passion for unfettered markets. And the second was under George H.W. Bush, who did not share that passion.
So it made for a strange spectacle last weekend as the current Bush administration, which does cast itself in the Reagan mold, hastily prepared a bailout package to offer the government-sponsored mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The reasoning behind this rescue effort - like the reasoning behind the government-induced takeover of Bear Stearns by JPMorgan Chase just a month before - sounded no different from that offered in defense of many a bailout in Japan and Europe:
The mortgage giants were too big to be allowed to fail.
Big indeed. Together, Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee nearly half of the nation's $12 trillion worth of home mortgages. If they collapse, so may the whole system of finance for American housing, threatening a most unfortunate string of events: First, an already plummeting real estate market might crater. Then the banks that have sunk capital into American homes would slip deeper into trouble. And the virus might spread globally.
The central banks of China and Japan are on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Fannie's and Freddie's bonds - debts they took on assuming that the two companies enjoyed the backing of the American government, argues Brad Setser, an economist at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Commercial banks from South Korea to Sweden hold investments linked to American mortgages. Their losses would mount if American homeowners suddenly couldn't borrow. The global financial system could find itself short of capital and paralyzed by fear, hobbling economic growth in many lands.
Nobody with a meaningful office in Washington was in the mood for any of that, so the rescue nets were readied. The U.S. Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson Jr., announced that the government was willing to use taxpayer funds to buy shares in Fannie and Freddie. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, said the central bank would lend them money.
The details were up in the air as the week ended, but some sort of bailout offer was on the table - one that could ultimately cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Whatever the dent to national bravado, or to the free-enterprise ideology, the phrase "too big to fail" suddenly carried an American accent.
"Some institutions really are too big to fail, and that's the way it is," said Douglas Elmendorf, a former Treasury and Federal Reserve economist who is now at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There are no good options."
Given a shovel, digging deeper into debt
The collection agencies call at least 20 times a day. For a little quiet, Diane McLeod stashes her phone in the dishwasher.
But right up until she hit the wall financially, McLeod was a dream customer for lenders. She juggled not one but two mortgages, both with interest rates that rose over time, and a car loan and high-cost credit card debt. Separated and living with her 20-year-old son, she worked two jobs so she could afford her small, two-bedroom ranch house in suburban Philadelphia, the Kia she drove to work, and the handbags and knickknacks she liked.
Then last year, back-to-back medical emergencies helped push her over the edge. She could no longer afford either her home payments or her credit card bills. Then she lost her job. Now her home is in foreclosure and her credit profile in ruins.
McLeod, who is 47, readily admits her money problems are largely of her own making. But as surely as it takes two to tango, she had partners in her financial demise. In recent years, those partners, including the financial giants Citigroup, Capital One and GE Capital, were collecting interest payments totaling more than 40 percent of her pretax income and thousands more in fees.
Years of spending more than they earn have left a record number of Americans like McLeod standing at the financial precipice. They have amassed a mountain of debt that grows ever bigger because of high interest rates and fees.
But behind the big increase in consumer debt is a major shift in the way lenders approach their business. In earlier years, actually being repaid by borrowers was crucial to lenders. Now, because so much consumer debt is packaged into securities and sold to investors, repayment of the loans takes on less importance to those lenders than the fees and charges generated when loans are made.
Lenders have found new ways to squeeze more profit from borrowers. Though prevailing interest rates have fallen to the low single digits in recent years, for example, the rates that credit card issuers routinely charge even borrowers with good credit records have risen, to 19.1 percent last year from 17.7 percent in 2005 — a difference that adds billions of dollars in interest charges annually to credit card bills.
Average late fees rose to $35 in 2007 from less than $13 in 1994, and fees charged when customers exceed their credit limits more than doubled to $26 a month from $11, according to CardWeb, an online publisher of information on payment and credit cards.
Mortgage lenders similarly added or raised fees associated with borrowing to buy a home — like $75 e-mail charges, $100 document preparation costs and $70 courier fees — bringing the average to $700 a mortgage, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These "junk fees" have risen 50 percent in recent years, said Michael Kratzer, president of FeeDisclosure.com, a Web site intended to help consumers reduce fees on mortgages.
"Today the focus for lenders is not so much on consumer loans being repaid, but on the loan as a perpetual earning asset," said Julie Williams, chief counsel of the Comptroller of the Currency, in a March 2005 speech that received little notice at the time.
In the bailout game, the elite and all the rest
NEW YORK: The credit crisis has exposed and worsened a dangerous and deepening divide in the United States between a vast number of average borrowers and a fairly elite slice of corporations, banks and executives enriched by the mortgage mania.
Borrowers who are in trouble on their mortgages have seen their government move slowly - or not all - to help them. But banks, and the executives who ran them, are quickly deemed worthy of taxpayer bailouts.
On the ground, this translates into millions of troubled borrowers, left to work through their problems with understaffed, sometimes adversarial loan servicing companies. If they get nowhere, they lose their homes.
Taxpayers, meanwhile, are asked to stand by with money to inject into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants, should they need propping up if loan losses balloon.
The message in this disconnect could not be clearer. Borrowers should shoulder the consequences of signing loan documents they didn't understand, but with punishing terms that quickly made the loans unaffordable.
But for executives and directors of the big companies who financed these loans - who grew wealthy while the getting was good - the taxpayer now is coming to the rescue.
To be sure, bailouts are becoming increasingly necessary in our highly leveraged, interconnected financial world. One obvious reason that huge companies are not allowed to fail is that so many people are hurt by such debacles. If a family files for bankruptcy or loses a home, it still hurts, but the emotional and financial ripples are confined.
And in the heat of a financial crisis, there is often little time to think through who deserves a bailout and who does not. In especially dire circumstances, leaders have no choice but to rescue companies.
Think about Bear Stearns: Even though it was relatively small in size for a brokerage firm, its demise had to be averted because of a possible domino effect that might have also taken down its many trading partners
In that multibillion-dollar bailout, it was Bear's big and wealthy counterparties who benefited.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, however, present an exponentially larger problem. They are unquestionably too big to fail. With $5.2 trillion in mortgages either on their books or guaranteed by them, their bailout was completely predictable. If those companies had been left for road kill, the mortgage market would have ground to a halt and a financial conflagration of historic and devastating proportions would have resulted.
Giuliani to form fund to find property bargains
A bad couple of years, or a bad decade?
Something has clearly gone wrong with the economy. But how bad are things, really? And how bad might they get before better days return? Even to many economists who recently thought the gloom was overblown, the situation looks grim. The economy is in the midst of a very rough patch. The worst is probably still ahead.
Job losses will probably accelerate through this year and into 2009, and the job market will probably stay weak even longer. Home prices will probably keep falling, shrinking household wealth and eroding spending power.
"The open question is whether we're in for a bad couple of years, or a bad decade," said Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, now a professor at Harvard.
Is this a recession?
Officially, no. The economy is not in recession until a panel at a private institution called the National Bureau of Economic Research says so. Unofficially, many economists think a recession started six or seven months ago, even as the economy has continued to expand — albeit at a tepid pace.
Many assume that if the economy expands at all, then it isn't a recession, but that's not true. The bureau defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months." If enough people lose their jobs, factories stop making things, stores stop selling things, and less money lands in people's pockets, it is probably a recession.
Whatever it is called, it is a painful time for tens of millions of people. Indeed, this may turn out to be the most wrenching downturn since the two recessions in the early 1980s; almost surely worse than the recession that ended the technology bubble at the beginning of this decade; perhaps worse than the downturn of the early 1990s that followed the last dip in real estate prices.
But, despite what some doomsayers now proclaim, this is not the Great Depression, when unemployment spiked to 25 percent and millions of previously working people woke up in shantytowns. Not by any measure, even as your neighbors make cryptic remarks above dusting off lessons passed down from grandparents about how to turn a can of beans into a family meal.
How bad is housing?
Bad in many markets, awful in some, and still O.K. in a few.
The downturn has its roots in the real estate frenzy that turned lonely Nevada ranches into suburban ranch homes and swampland in Florida into condominiums. Speculators drove home prices beyond any historical connection to incomes. Gravity did the rest. After roughly doubling in value from 2000 to 2005, home prices have fallen about 17 percent — and more like 25 percent in inflation-adjusted terms — according to the widely watched Case-Shiller index.
Even so, most economists think house prices must fall an additional 10 to 15 percent to get back to reality. One useful measure is the relationship between the costs of buying and renting a home. From 1985 to 2002, the average American home sold for about 14 times the annual rent for a similar home, according to Moody's Economy.com. By early 2006, home prices ballooned to 25 times rental prices. Since then, the ratio has dipped back to about 20 — still far above the historical norm.
With mortgages now hard to obtain and speculation no longer attractive, arithmetic has replaced momentum as the guiding force for housing prices. The fundamental equation points down: Even as construction grinds down, there are still many more houses on the market than there are people to buy them, and more on the way as more homeowners slip into foreclosure.
By the reckoning of Economy.com, enough houses are on the market to satisfy demand for the next two-and-a-half years without building a single new one.
The time it takes to sell a newly completed house has expanded from an average of four months in 2005 to about nine months, according to analysis by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
And many sales are falling through — more than 30 percent in some parts of California and Florida — as buyers fail to secure financing, exacerbating the glut of homes, Baker said.
Indian debt faces risk of a cut to junk status
HONG KONG: India's hard-won investment-grade foreign-debt rating is in danger of being cut back to junk status as slowing economic growth, rising inflation and growing debt wreak havoc on the country's finances.
The balance is tilting toward a downgrade by at least one of the big three rating companies this year, especially because the Indian government has been weakened by the loss of a coalition partner and will not want to antagonize voters with any fiscal cuts.
In the past four years, the three rating companies have raised India to investment grade on the strength of its external financial ratios, improving budget deficit and robust economic growth.
The external position remains strong, but analysts are worried that domestic problems and a flight of capital could combine to bring down the country's credit standing.
"Undoubtedly, the downside risks have grown on account of high oil prices and an inadequate reaction from the government," said Aninda Mitra, a rating analyst with Moody's Investors Service.
Sovereign wealth funds likely to turn to Asia
NEW YORK: The trouble at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. mortgage finance companies, may discourage sovereign wealth funds from buying dollar-denominated assets, but the euro is not likely to be the main beneficiary.
Instead, these government-run investment entities, which control more than $3 trillion in assets, are likely to turn to investments in Asia, a move that will probably push the dollar lower against Asian currencies, including the yen.
"This is not a euro-dollar story - it's going to be a developed-world-versus-developing-world story," said Stephen Jen, who heads global foreign-exchange strategy at Morgan Stanley.
The authorities in Kuwait said last week that its sovereign wealth fund would not buy future Fannie or Freddie debt, opting instead to raise investments in stocks, bonds and real estate in China, India and Japan.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences also said the problems at Fannie and Freddie added urgency to China's goal of diversifying its $1.8 trillion in currency reserves.
At the end of 2007, the China Investment Corporation, China's sovereign wealth fund, oversaw an estimated $200 billion in assets, while the Kuwait Investment Authority has as much as $250 billion in investments, according to estimates by JPMorgan.
Asian builders vie for share of superyacht market
The gritty workshops where Asia makes its super-yachts contrast sharply with the glitzy finished products.
A hangar-size building hums as sweat-soaked laborers work inside the steel shells of four 27-meter yachts being built by Jade Yachts in the southern Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung, where the Taiwanese luxury-boat industry is based.
These hulls, filled with sawdust, will eventually end up as multilevel yachts with rooms for 12 to 14 guests and features like glass elevators, Jacuzzis and entertainment centers with elaborate audio and video systems.
Jade began its large-yacht business in 2005 by re-outfitting a 210-foot research vessel into a luxury craft for the fashion company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Luke Huang, special assistant to the company's president, said the 27-meter yachts under construction each carried a list price of €8 million, or $12.6 million, though he added that the LVMH refitting was much more expensive. "These are very expensive toys," Huang said.
Jade's high-end customers come from such countries as Russia, Malta and Spain. "The buyers are all very rich," Huang said.
Such wealth helps to shield the industry from the kinds of economic downturns now plaguing the United States and spreading to other parts of the world, said Jack Chen, chairman of the Taiwan Yacht Industry Association.
"These are people with lots of money, even when the global economy isn't so good," he said. Growing geographic diversity among buyers, Chen added, is also helping to shield the sector.
Pope closes youth event with call for a 'new age'
SYDNEY: In his final address on Sunday to hundreds of thousands of young Catholics gathered in Australia, Pope Benedict XVI attacked the violence and materialism of the modern age and called on his audience to build a "new age."
"A new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God's gift of life is welcomed, respected, and cherished - not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed," he told a congregation estimated by the organizers at 400,000 gathered at a Sydney racecourse and nearby park.
"A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships," Benedict told his rapt audience, which included 26 cardinals and more than 400 bishops.
The communion Mass on Sunday was the culmination of six days of public and private events of World Youth Day, an event organized by the Roman Catholic Church and which the Church says is the largest gathering of young people on the planet.
The 81-year-old pope has used the event as a forum to call for religion to be returned to the center of the moral universe; for Catholicism to return to its evangelistic roots with its adherents publicly declaring their religiosity; and for a united front, among Christians and among the world's religions, in a world becoming ever more materialistic.
"In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair," he warned.
Earlier in the week, he had fired a broadside against materialism.
He said that in the absence of God, "what was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation."
"Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division," the pope said, "of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises."
Dans ce lien une rétrospective de ce WE..
Bombs explode in Spain as Basque separatists claim credit
LAREDO, Spain: Four bombs exploded in northern Spain on Sunday, causing damage and one injury, officials said. A caller warned about some of the explosives, saying he was speaking on behalf of Basque separatists.
The first bomb detonated without warning, however, around 5 a.m. outside a bank in the northern town of Getxo, damaging a cash dispenser and breaking windows, the regional Interior Ministry said in Bilbao.
Five hours later, the caller warned fire officials in the Basque town of Muskiz that two bombs would explode in Laredo and Noja in the neighboring province of Cantabria, the ministry said.
A bomb exploded in the sand next to Laredo's beachfront promenade at around 12:20 p.m. In Noja, a device detonated at the beach around 1 p.m., and another bomb exploded at a golf course about an hour later, according to Cantabria's regional Interior Ministry in Santander.
A woman was slightly injured when she was hit by a rock sent flying by the fourth explosion on a golf course at Noja. A pregnant woman was treated for shock after the bomb exploded while she ate lunch nearby, a government official said.
Anatoly Pristavkin, 76, Russian writer and head of pardons commission
Anatoly Pristavkin remembered how he and other orphans were forever shuttled about "like a flock of little animals" during the hell that was World War II in Russia. His scars showed in the suffering children who traipsed through many of his 26 novels, and in the toughness of his opposition to the Soviet authorities.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pristavkin, the consummate outsider, was astounded to find himself in a position of power. But his concern was still the hurting and the powerless. In the 1990s, he led the Presidential Pardons Commission that defied tough-on-crime Kremlin hard-liners to free 70,000 convicted criminals.
So when Pristavkin died at 76 on July 11 in Moscow, a death widely reported by the state news media in Russia, it was slightly jarring to hear Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praise him for his dignity and ideals. After all, it was Putin, who as president in 2001, ended the pardons commission, of which Pristavkin had been chairman for a decade.
The commission dealt with sad, perhaps small cases. They included the father of three small children who stole a gas tank worth $10.80 and who had, for that crime, served three years and three months of a four-year, two-month sentence. Another case involved a widow with a disabled 4-year-old son doing five years for stealing a purse containing $31.
Pristavkin called the commission "a drop in an ocean of cruelty" when he fought to save it. His own profound knowledge of cruelty harked back to his boyhood, when he was imprisoned for stealing a cucumber
In "The Inseparable Twins," Pristavkin's most available novel in English, he recalled how he and other orphans were treated in a godless society: "The only thing we could call ours was ourselves - ourselves and our legs, ever ready to run away should anything happen - and our souls, which, so we were always being told, didn't exist."
His was a life that encompassed, then transcended, post-revolutionary Russia. First came the war-defined childhood. He then lived a proletarian ideal by working as a laborer and glorifying this in early writings. He soon discovered a voice that grated on official ears but that found welcome during cultural thaws. He organized writers against the establishment.
In 1991, his appointment to the pardons commission signified monumental change. In a country where the government had long ruled absolutely, government functionaries were barred from the commission.
Pristavkin won the right to handpick intellectuals from outside government for what became a 17-member body.
The unpaid committee met weekly to sift through appeals. Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Putin usually approved recommendations, including the release of Edmond Pope, an American businessman convicted of spying in 2000.
Pristavkin, an absolute opponent of the death penalty, used his position to help reduce the number of executions to 10 per year from 1993 to 1995. From 1989 to 1991, before the commission began, 228 of 470 people sentenced to death were executed. (Since 1996, Russia has refrained from executions but has not banned them.)
The pardons commission was opposed by Putin's lieutenants, who thought it coddled criminals. Pristavkin provocatively replied that what the apparatchiks really wanted was an unpaid labor force to build dachas for themselves.
The commission was replaced in 2001 by 89 regional pardon commissions, which have since then acted on very few cases, according to Russian press reports.
Russians get a new look at the last czar
MOSCOW: The black-and-white photographs are ordinary enough: Czar Nicholas II, his wife and their five children relax in the countryside. His wife, Alexandra, mingles with patients in a hospital. Their son, Crown Prince Aleksei, poses in a traditional Russian sailor suit.
But to many of the Russians who visited the new "Crown of the Czar" exhibition in Moscow last week, these pictures of the royal family were breathtaking. Older people who grew up versed in the canon of Marx and Lenin seemed particularly grateful to see items that had been locked away in archives for so many decades.
"We know very little about this period," said Vera Milkhina, 66. "I didn't study this kind of history - only political science and the history of the Communist Party."
The exhibition's popularity underscores a nationwide renewal of interest in, and even affection for, the imperial family.
Besides the crowds flocking to the exhibit in Moscow, thousands of pilgrims traveled Thursday to Yekaterinburg, about 1,450 kilometers, or 900 miles, east of Moscow, to pay respects at the site where the family was executed by the Bolsheviks exactly 90 years before. Others took part in ceremonies in St. Petersburg.
Inside Nairobi, the next Palo Alto?
Nairobi's challenges are many. Internet use is relatively expensive and slow. Power failures are common. The city also lacks a world-class technical university. Mworia's professors don't offer lessons in the latest computer languages; he must learn them on his own.
Political instability can be a problem, too. Earlier this year, Kenya suffered widespread violence after its disputed national election. For weeks, work in Nairobi came to a halt.
"If you have a bright idea in Nairobi, you can't just turn it around," says Laura Frederick, an American working on an online payment system in the city.
Still, Nairobi is home to a digital brew that invites optimism about its chances for creating unusual innovations. The city has relatively few wired phone lines or networked personal computers, so mobile phones are the essential digital tool. Four times as many people have them as have bank accounts. Text messages are far more popular than e-mail. Safaricom, the dominant mobile provider, offers a service called M-pesa that lets customers send money with text messages. Nokia sells brand-new phones here for as little as $33.
While engineers in the United States lavish attention on expensive phones that boast laptoplike features, in Kenya there are 10 million low-end phones. Millions more are used elsewhere in Africa. Enhancements to such basic phones can be experimented with cheaply in Nairobi, and because designers are weaned on narrow bandwidth, they are comfortable writing compact programs suited to puny devices.
"Applications are heavy in America," says Michael Wakahe, a Nairobi code writer. "Here we have to make them light," because simpler hardware requires smaller programs. These can have advantages in wireless systems.
They recalled how they tucked Jews into odd hiding places when German soldiers were on the prowl, risking the death penalty for themselves and their family.
"At various times we had up to nine people living in our flat. They had free run of the house, but when they heard a knock at the door, they would all run down to a special hiding place next to the coal bin," said Waclaw Nowinski, 83.
He was one of about 60 ageing Poles invited to the event by the U.S.-based Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), all of them medal-holders of the Yad Vashem Institute's Righteous among the Nations decoration.
Since its inception in 1986, the JFR has spent millions of dollars supporting needy Gentile rescuers like Nowinska and Irena Senderska-Rzonca, who was only 13 in 1943 when her family provided a safe haven for a Jewish doctor's family in the eastern Polish town of Boryslaw, now in Ukraine.
"We hid them in the dovecote, and I would take food and water up to them. They were later joined by the father."
On one occasion Nazi officers were billeted in the house and German soldiers bedded down in the attic, separated from their quarry by only the thinnest of slats.
STAYING IN TOUCH
Like many Yad Vashem medal-holders, Senderska-Rzoncashe has stayed in touch with her beneficiaries. "Miron Bander was just a little boy back then. He is now a successful physics professor in California," she said.
Nowinski said he had been in contact with a rescued Jew named Bronowski until his death in Israel last year at 103.
"We're still in touch with Janina Panski of Tev Aviv. My dad arranged forged Aryan (racial-purity) documents for her, and because she didn't look Jewish she could freely walk the streets," he explained.
During World War Two, Poland was the only country in German-occupied Europe where anyone aiding Jews risked death. In was also the only occupied country whose Government-in-Exile set up an underground organisation for the express purpose of aiding and saving Jews.
According to estimates, up to 120,000 Jews who could not have survived the Holocaust without help were rescued, and over 6,000 Poles were subsequently awarded the Rigtheous Among Nations medal, more than any other country.
There was a bittersweet note to the Warsaw ceremony.
"Due to the rising age of the rescuers, it will likely be the last," said one of the organisers.
In his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories as Britain's leader, Brown repeatedly stressed that economics are key to Mideast peace, and said Israel should ease travel restrictions in the West Bank that have hindered commerce.
But his strongest comments were reserved for the settlements: "I think the whole European Union is very clear on this matter: We want to see a freeze on settlements."
"Settlement expansion has made peace harder to achieve. It erodes trust, it heightens Palestinian suffering, it makes the compromises Israel needs to make for peace more difficult," Brown said at a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Abbas went further in his criticism of Israel's construction in disputed east Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank, telling Brown that Israel lacks commitment to the "principles and spirit" of Mideast peace efforts. He singled out stepped-up construction of homes for Jews in areas of Jerusalem the Palestinians claim for their capital.
Olmert repeated his contention that agreement is "closer than ever," and said he hoped for an accord by the end of the year.
Begbies Traynor, the business rescue, recovery and restructuring specialist, said 4,258 companies faced critical problems, including moves to wind them up, in the three months to June 30, compared with 542 the same time last year.