Stefan Schumacher, the Gerolsteiner rider who had been in the lead for two days, fell out of first place on Thursday when he crashed to the ground less than one kilometer from the end of a steep climb to this ski resort in the Massif Central.
After the stage, Schumacher put the blame for his fall on Kim Kirchen of Team Columbia. Though Kirchen finished the stage in fifth place, four seconds behind Riccardo Ricco, the stage winner, Kirchen took over the race lead and the yellow jersey.
Kirchen acknowledged that he had applied his brakes briefly on the final climb. At the time, just after a group of about 30 riders passed under the red flag that marks the final kilometer of the race course, other riders had moved in front of him on the right side of the course, Kirchen said, causing him to have to slow down.
But he denied that he did anything to impede Schumacher and said he hadn't even realized that Schumacher had fallen behind him.
IW: GLOBAL ECONOMY TIPPING POINT DAY
INSIDE THE MARKETS
Biofuels called a major cause of soaring food prices
WASHINGTON: A leading World Bank economist's claims that biofuels are a major cause of soaring world food prices could further undermine support for the alternative fuel worldwide and cause tensions with the White House, which fervently supports the new industry.
The draft report by the World Bank's top agricultural economist, Don Mitchell, estimates that the growing use of food for fuel, combined with low grain stocks, market speculation and export food bans, contributed as much as 75 percent of the 140 percent rise in prices between January 2002 and February 2008.
The remainder of the increase is due to a weakening U.S. dollar, higher energy prices and related increases in fertilizer costs, he said.
"Increased biofuel production has increased the demand for food crops and been the major cause of the increase in food prices," said Mitchell, who is widely respected for his work on agricultural policies and production.
Mitchell's preliminary finding of 75 percent has sparked a heated debate because it goes beyond most other estimates.
So far, estimates have ranged between 2 percent and 3 percent, by the Bush administration, and up to 30 percent by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
There is growing concern that the U.S. ethanol industry is a big part of food inflation, with the sector on tap to buy up to one-third of the U.S. corn crop - a grain normally used for food and livestock feed.
According to Mitchell, growing biofuel production is the main reason for the increase in food prices.
He said export bans and speculative activity increased as a result of rising prices and would not have occurred without higher costs. Also, higher energy and fertilizer prices would have increased crop output costs by about 15 percent in the United States and by less in other countries with less-intensive production practices.
Moreover, successive droughts that ravaged wheat crops last year in Australia would not have had a large impact because they reduced global grain exports by just 4 percent and other exporters would have been able to offset those losses.
"Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," he said.
Still, Mitchell's thinking is not far off that of colleagues at the International Monetary Fund, who recently concluded that a "significant part of the latest jump in food prices can be traced directly to biofuels policy."
Concerned that rising food prices have increased poverty and hunger, the report is part of a effort at the World Bank to find a more accurate picture of the role biofuels are playing in the rise of food prices.
It has also thrust the development agency, which considers itself a neutral voice on global issues, into an intensely political debate.
The Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group for the ethanol industry, argues that it is a stretch to put 75 percent of the blame for rising food prices on biofuels.
Joe Jobe, the chief executive of the National Biodiesel Board, said the addition of biofuels to the U.S. energy supply was the only thing keeping prices from rising even more quickly.
"Credible fact-based research has demonstrated repeatedly that soaring petroleum costs are the main culprit behind higher food prices," Jobe said.
Kimberly Elliott, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, said the debate around biofuels should not be about numbers but should focus on the broader issue of whether current biofuel policies work or not.
"It doesn't really matter if biofuels' contribution to the food price crisis is large or small because promotion of the current generation of biofuels doesn't make any sense anyway," Elliot said. "It is premised on energy security and mitigating global warming, and it's not achieving either of those things. Also, new scientific research on the global warming front suggests it is actually making things worse because of the land use changes," she added.
The World Bank has denied media reports that Mitchell's document was withheld because of political pressure from the Bush administration, which has increased incentives and mandates for alternative fuels made from food crops.
The bank said Mitchell's report was part of research for its World Development Report 2008 released in April and is not the official view of the bank. A final version of the paper is expected to be released this week.
Shareholders turn to sharecropping
CAMPTON TOWNSHIP, Illinois: In an environmentally conscious tweak on the typical way of getting food to the table, growing numbers of Americans are skipping out on grocery stores and even farmers' markets and instead going right to the source by buying shares of farms.
On one of the farms here, about 35 miles, or about 55 kilometers, west of Chicago, Steve Trisko was weeding beets the other day and cutting back a shade tree so that baby tomatoes could get sunlight. Trisko is a retired computer consultant who owns shares in the four-acre, or 1.6-hectare, Erehwon Farm.
"We decided that it's in our interest to have a small farm succeed and have them be able to have a sustainable farm producing good food," Trisko said.
Part of a loose but growing network mostly mobilized on the Internet, Erehwon is participating in what is known as community-supported agriculture. About 150 people have bought shares in Erehwon - in essence, hiring personal farmers and turning the old notion of sharecropping on its head.
The concept was imported from Europe and Asia in the 1980s as an alternative marketing and financing arrangement to help combat the often prohibitive costs of small-scale farming. But until recently, it was slow to take root. There were fewer than 100 such farms in the early 1990s, but in the past several years the number has grown to close to 1,500, according to academic experts who have followed the trend.
Like the dollar, value of American life has dropped
WASHINGTON : It's not just the American dollar that's losing value. A government agency has decided that an American life isn't worth what it used to be.The "value of a statistical life" is $6.9 million, the Environmental Protection Agency reckoned in May - a drop of nearly $1 million from just five years ago.The Associated Press discovered the change after a review of cost-benefit analyses over more than a dozen years.Though it may seem like a harmless bureaucratic recalculation, the devaluation has real consequences.When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation, such as tighter restrictions on pollution.
Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.Some environmentalists accuse the Bush administration of changing the value to avoid tougher rules - a charge the EPA denies."It appears that they're cooking the books in regards to the value of life," said S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local air pollution regulators. "Those decisions are literally a matter of life and death."Dan Esty, a senior EPA policy official in the first Bush administration and now director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, said: "It's hard to imagine that it has other than a political motivation."Agency officials say they were just following what the science told them.The EPA figure is not based on people's earning capacity, or their potential contributions to society, or how much they are loved and needed by their friends and family - some of the factors used in insurance claims and wrongful-death lawsuits.Instead, economists calculate the value based on what people are willing to pay to avoid certain risks, and on how much extra employers pay their workers to take on additional risks. Most of the data is drawn from payroll statistics; some comes from opinion surveys. According to the EPA, people shouldn't think of the number as a price tag on a life.The EPA made the changes in two steps. First, in 2004, the agency cut the estimated value of a life by 8 percent. Then, in a rule governing train and boat air pollution this May, the agency took away the normal adjustment for one year's inflation. Between the two changes, the value of a life fell 11 percent, based on today's dollar.EPA officials say the adjustment was not significant and was based on better economic studies. The reduction reflects consumer preferences, said Al McGartland, director of EPA's office of policy, economics and innovation."It's our best estimate of what consumers are willing to pay to reduce similar risks to their own lives," McGartland said.But EPA's cut "doesn't make sense," said Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi. EPA partly based its reduction on his work."As people become more affluent, the value of statistical lives go up as well. It has to." Viscusi also said no study has shown that Americans are less willing to pay to reduce risks.At the same time that EPA was trimming the value of life, the Department of Transportation twice raised its life value figure.But its number is still lower than the EPA's.The environmental agency traditionally has placed the highest value of life in government and still does, despite efforts by administrations to bring uniformity to that figure among all agencies.Not all of EPA uses the reduced value. The agency's water division never adopted the change and in 2006 used $8.7 million in current dollars.From 1996 to 2003, EPA kept the value of a statistical life generally around $7.8 million to $7.96 million in current dollars, according to reports analyzed by The AP. In 2004, for a major air pollution rule, the agency lowered the value to $7.15 million in current dollars.Just how the EPA came up with that figure is complicated and involves two dueling analyses.Viscusi wrote one of those big studies, coming up with a value of $8.8 million in current dollars. The other study put the number between $2 million and $3.3 million. The co-author of that study, Laura Taylor of North Carolina State University, said her figure was lower because it emphasized differences in pay for various risky jobs, not just risky industries as a whole.
Lack of tangible goals tempers pledge on climate change
2nd day of Iranian missile tests heightens tension with U.S.
OPEC warns against military conflict with Iran
"We really cannot replace Iran's production - it's not feasible to replace it," Abdalla Salem El-Badri, the OPEC secretary general, said during an interview.
Leader at E.ON urges Germany to keep nuclear plants
Photo caption: Wulf Bernotat, chairman of the European energy powerhouse E.ON, said that it was "questionable" whether Merkel's government of conservatives and Social Democrats could realize its environmental ambitions without reversing its policy on nuclear energy.
"Nuclear energy is free of CO2 gases, it is independent of resources, it would lead to dramatic fall in prices and subsidies, and it is protected from price volatility," Bernotat told a group of foreign correspondents based in Berlin.
EDF battles to keep its nuclear secrets
LONDON: Christian Kunze pays French farmers to install camouflaged, shoebox-size "power stalkers" in fields near nuclear stations owned by Électricité de France, collecting data that the world's biggest utility says is a secret.
Less than three years after fending off spying charges from EDF's German affiliate, Kunze's company, Powermonitor, plans to sell information about reactor starts and stops in France. Banks, hedge funds and traders will pay for the data to gain an edge in continental Europe's $565 billion power market.
EDF is at the center of a battle over the disclosure of such data, which Citigroup says may save European electricity users billions of euros a year. The state-owned utility refuses to release information on plant operations that its biggest competitors, E.ON and RWE, began reporting last year. Now the European Union may force the company to be more transparent.
"Generation is the most valuable piece of information there is and we want this in real-time or near real-time," said Paul Dawson, head of regulatory affairs at Citigroup, which began trading European power last year.
Such data is important because prices hinge on the amount of power being produced at any time, given that electricity, unlike other commodities, cannot be stored. National markets are linked, so unexpected supply cuts in France tend to mean that prices soar in neighboring markets. Those with information about outages can anticipate the jump.
U.S. lawmakers see need for urgent action on energy
WASHINGTON: Many U.S. lawmakers are increasingly convinced that Congress cannot afford a prolonged stalemate over energy policy.
But with Republicans pushing for more domestic oil and gas production and many Democrats focusing on alternative energy sources, finding a consensus would not be easy, congressional leaders acknowledge.
Northwest Airlines plans to cut 2,500 jobs and add fees
Northwest Airlines said it would cut 2,500 jobs, including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and other employees, reflecting its reduction in flights in the wake of high fuel prices.
Search for U.S. site for VW factory helps lift hopes for jobs in the South
Overwork cited in death of Toyota engineer
TOKYO: A Japanese labor bureau has ruled that one of Toyota's top car engineers died from working too many hours, the latest in a string of such findings in a nation where extraordinarily long hours for some employees has long been the norm.
The man who died was aged 45 and had been under severe pressure as the lead engineer in developing a hybrid version of Toyota's blockbuster Camry line, said Mikio Mizuno, the lawyer representing his wife. The man's identity is being withheld at the request of his family, who continue to live in Toyota City, where the company is based.
In the two months up to his death, the man averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month, according to Mizuno.
He regularly worked nights and weekends, was frequently sent abroad and was grappling with shipping a model for the pivotal North American International Auto Show in Detroit when he died of ischemic heart disease in January 2006. The man's daughter found his body at their home the day before he was to leave for the United States.
Toyota to make Prius in the U.S.
Toyota Motor of Japan said Thursday that it would build its popular gas-electric hybrid sedan, the Prius, in the United States for the first time as it tries to meet surging demand and struggles with falling sales of big trucks.
Starting in 2010, Toyota plans to make the Prius at a new factory in Blue Springs, Mississippi, that was originally intended to assemble sport utility vehicles. Toyota said shifting production to the Blue Springs plant, which is under construction, will help it alleviate shortages of the Prius, which gets an average of 46 miles a gallon and has months-long waiting lists at most dealers.
Toyota also said it would stop building its two largest vehicles, the Tundra pickup and Sequoia sport-utility vehicle, for three months before permanently halting production of the Tundra next spring at one of two plants that make it.
Portugal to work with Renault-Nissan to build recharging network for electric cars
Sarkozy aims to revive EU pact this year
Sarkozy defends decision to attend Olympic opening
"I happen to think that humiliating China is not the best way to respect human rights," Sarkozy told European legislators in Strasbourg. "I don't think you can boycott 1.3 billion people, a quarter of the world's population."
U.S. officials rush to reassure markets about loan agencies
Confluence of events pushes Irish economy toward first recession in 25 years
Irish bookies are taking bets on a British recession
Paddy Power, the largest bookmaker in Ireland, is taking bets on the British economy falling into a recession this year.
The bookmaker puts the odds of the nation facing two consecutive quarters of contraction at 5-2, meaning a successful 2-pound ($4) bet would yield a profit of 5 pounds, Dublin-based Paddy Power said in an e-mailed statement today. It set odds of 1-4 of the country avoiding a recession.
Former Bank of England policy maker Charles Goodhart said today that the U.K. faces "quite a recession" as consumer spending slumps. Policy makers left the benchmark interest rate at 5 percent today after inflation quickened to 3.3 percent in May, the fastest pace in at least 11 years.
World economy shudders on growth prospects
NEW YORK/LONDON: More signs emerged on Thursday that the world economy is on the ropes, as spiralling inflation and financial deterioration threaten global growth prospects.
Asia, Europe and the Americas all face some combination of rising inflation and stagnating growth as record-high oil prices and the effects of a year-old financial crisis wreak havoc on developing countries and rich economies.
U.S. data showed home foreclosures soared in June and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said financial market turbulence persists and that government officials are focused on helping the system regain stability.
"The financial turmoil is ongoing, and our efforts today are concentrated on helping the financial system return to more normal functioning," Bernanke said in testimony to Congress.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, also in remarks to Congress, said regulators need emergency authority to step in to limit temporary disruptions to financial markets.
Builders feel pain as house prices fall
LONDON: House prices are sinking and housebuilders are first in the firing line for a property market downturn that is threatening to plunge the whole economy into recession.
The cost of an average home fell by 2 percent in June, data from HBOS, the country's largest mortgage lender, showed on Thursday. Prices were 8.7 percent lower on the year, a bigger fall than at any time during the 1990s crash.
"It is fair to say we are now in the worst housing slide for over 50 years," said Michael Saunders, economist at Citigroup.
Barratt Developments , one of the country's best-known homebuilders, said it was going to lay off 1,200 people -- a fifth of its workforce -- because of the housing downturn. Nor would it pay a final dividend for 2007-08.
That took the total number of job cuts announced by homebuilders in the last week to around 4,000 as Persimmon , Taylor Wimpey , Bovis Homes and Redrow have all been warning of a sharp turnaround in business.
Austria's Wienerberger , the largest brickmaker in the world, reported on Thursday a 10 percent drop in its core earnings for the first six months of the year, because of a collapse in homebuilding.
"The spread of the financial crisis to Great Britain triggered a slump in new residential construction beginning in April," said Wienerberger.
SLUMP COULD GET WORSE
Hit by the global credit crunch, lenders have toughened up borrowing conditions, demanding as much as 25 percent of a home's value as a deposit before making any new loans -- until relatively recently 100 percent loans were commonplace.
Mortgage approvals have consequently collapsed, pointing to even sharper falls in house prices in the months ahead. Rising inflation, meanwhile, is preventing the central bank from offering any succour.
The Bank of England held interest rates at 5 percent on Thursday and analysts say it could be quite a while before they come down -- experts are predicting a protracted and painful housing downturn.
Housebuilders could remain under pressure for a while and vulture funds are already circling them as their debt and equity prices fall.
China export growth slows in June
BEIJING: China recorded a trade surplus of $21.35 billion in June, less than expected, as slower growth in exports contributed to concerns that weakening demand overseas could be starting to hit the economy.
The surplus marked an increase from $20.2 billion in May, but it was significantly smaller than the $26.9 billion surplus recorded in June 2007 and undershot economists' expectations of a $22.4 billion gap.
Notably, exports rose just 17.6 percent from a year earlier in June, slowing from 28.1 percent in May. Economists had expected export growth of 23.4 percent.
ING analyst thinks bottom may be close
PARIS: The equity market is getting close to capitulation as consumer-related worries continue to hit food and retail shares while fears of bank failures knock financial stocks lower, said ING's Ad van Tiggelen.
"If you look at oversold levels, we are already there. We're clearly in a bear market which may last until the end of this year or sometimes next year, and we might be reaching the bottom at the moment," van Tiggelen, senior strategist at ING Investment Management, told Reuters on Thursday.
"The problem is there is no place to hide, utilities are going down, staples are going down, now even the materials and oils are going down. Unlike in March, insider buying is very muted because management themselves are much more pessimistic now," he said.
"We think we are close to capitulation levels and that valuations are becoming quite supportive now," he said, pointing out that stocks will soon be poised for a bear market rally.
Capitulation is a market concept describing heavy, sometimes panic selling of stocks and sharp declines. It heralds the bottom and a beginning of an upturn as the belief is that everyone who wants to sell has sold.
Indian bank looks to expand its business abroad
House prices holding up well in Holland
U.S. Senate approves bill to broaden wiretapping powers
Sept. 11 suspects want classified documents
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba: Accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed complained loudly on Thursday about the U.S. war court system that could lead to his execution, saying his mail had been opened, he lacked writing paper and didn't understand why he could not see secret evidence.
"We are in hell," Mohammed, the highest ranking al Qaeda leader in U.S. custody, told the Guantanamo war crimes court at the remote U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Mohammed, an alleged military commander for al Qaeda who has said he planned the 2001 commercial airliner attacks on the United States, made his second appearance in the controversial court and was granted permission to act as his own lawyer.
Asked if he understood that the case could result in a death sentence, Mohammed recited from the Koran in Arabic: "Every soul tests death." He said at his previous hearing on June 5 that he wanted to be martyred.
The judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, ordered the five men accused in the Sept. 11 attacks to appear in court separately this week to question them about allegations that they might have been bullied into forsaking military lawyers.
U.S. physicians apologize to black doctors
CHICAGO: The American Medical Association, the largest physicians' group in the United States, apologized to black doctors on Thursday for a history of racial discrimination.
The AMA said it will work to increase the ranks of minority physicians and their participation in the association.
The apology arose from the work of an independent panel of experts commissioned in 2005 to study the history of what the AMA called "the racial divide in organized medicine."
"The point of the apology is to acknowledge our policies and practices in the past that discriminated against African American physicians," Dr. Ronald Davis, the AMA's immediate past president, said in a telephone interview.
Details of the AMA panel's work will be released next week on the Web site of the association's Institute for Ethics to coincide with publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Jesse Jackson says Obama "talking down" to blacks
15 Africans die in vain attempt to reach Spain
Visas from more countries to be considered
LONDON: Britain announced on Thursday that it is considering expanding visa requirements to citizens from 11 additional countries including South Africa.Nationals from more than 100 countries, equivalent to three-quarters of the world's population, need a visa to come to the United Kingdom.But following a "Visa Waiver Test" of all non-European countries, the government said there is a "strong case" to add 11 more.These are: Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.The test looked at the level of risk nationals from countries posed in terms of illegal immigration, and crime and security.
Canada no longer a haven for U.S. deserters
TORONTO: Corey Glass, apprentice mortician and U.S. Army deserter, was keeping an unusually close eye on the text messages coming into his mobile phone. He was hoping to hear that a court had blocked the Canadian government's attempt to force him back to the United States.
On Wednesday afternoon, the message came: Glass can remain in Canada while he appeals his removal order by the Federal Court. It was a welcome reprieve, he said, but well short of a guarantee that he and other deserters can make Canada their new home.
The government's move to deport Glass contrasts with the warm reception deserters and draft dodgers from the United States received during the war in Vietnam. And although the current war in Iraq has relatively little support among Canadians, the situation of Glass and others who abandoned their military positions provokes a wide range of responses. For American soldiers looking for an escape, Canada is no longer a guaranteed safe haven.
"It's quite clear that the current Canadian government does not want to annoy the U.S. government on this issue and will not give any ground," said Michael Byers, a professor of politics and international law at the University of British Columbia.
During Vietnam, Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal prime minister, welcomed American deserters and draft dodgers, declaring that Canada "should be a refuge from militarism." Americans who arrived were generally able to obtain legal immigrant status simply by applying at the border, or even after they entered the country.
Dutch court disclaims jurisdiction in UN-Bosnia case
THE HAGUE: A Dutch court ruled Thursday that it had no jurisdiction in a civil suit against the United Nations by survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, affirming UN immunity from prosecution, even when genocide is involved.
A group called the Mothers of Srebrenica was seeking compensation for the failure of Dutch UN troops to prevent the slaughter by Serbian forces of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the UN-declared safe zone.
The Hague District Court said the UN's immunity - which is written into its founding charter - meant it could not be held liable in any country's national court.
"The court's inquiry into a possible conflict between the absolute immunity valid in international law of the UN and other standards of international law does not lead to an exception to this immunity," the judges wrote.
A ruling lifting the UN's immunity could have had far-reaching implications for the way the world body carries out peacekeeping operations around the world. At a hearing last month, a Dutch government lawyer, Bert Jan Houtzagers, said that if a Dutch court decided it had jurisdiction in the case, "any court in any country could do so and that would thwart the viability of the United Nations."
Axel Hagedorn, a lawyer for the victims, said he would appeal the decision. The case could go to the European Court of Human Rights.
"The court ruled that the UN has immunity, even if a genocide has happened, and that is in our opinion exactly what you can't accept," Hagedorn said.
He said the court should have overruled UN immunity because of the extreme circumstances of the case - the first genocide in Europe since the Genocide Convention was drawn up in the aftermath of the Holocaust in World War II.
The ruling Thursday was a day short of the 13th anniversary of the massacre, when Dutch UN peacekeepers looked on helplessly as Serbian forces rounded up Muslim men and boys. The men and boys were then taken to isolated fields and buildings scattered around Srebrenica and gunned down. Their bodies were plowed into mass graves that are being unearthed even today.
UN war crimes court acquits former Macedonia interior minister
THE HAGUE, Netherlands: A U.N. tribunal on Thursday acquitted Macedonia's former interior minister of murder, cruel treatment and other war crimes stemming from a 2001 police attack on an ethnic Albanian village that left seven men dead.
However, the police officer who led the attack was convicted of murder in three of the deaths and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Italy's fingerprinting of Roma is racial discrimination, European Parliament says
STRASBOURG, France: The European Parliament on Thursday called the fingerprinting of Gypsies in Italy a clear act of racial discrimination and urged the authorities to stop it.
In a resolution, the EU assembly said the measure is not supported by EU human rights treaties and that EU citizens of Roma, or Gypsy, origin must not be treated differently from others in Italy, who are not required to submit their fingerprints.
In Austria, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors and reports on the human rights situation in its 56 participating states, including Italy, also expressed serious reservations about Italy's handling of Gypsies.
The Italian government has begun the Roma fingerprinting as part of a wider crackdown on street crime. Italian newspapers have published photographs of gloved officials taking fingerprints from the ink-stained hands of Gypsies living in around Naples, and authorities are expected to move in on camps in other cities in the coming days.
Early examples of the papers filed in Naples showed local authorities also were identifying those fingerprinted according to their religion, ethnicity and education level.
Despair drives suicide attacks by Iraqi women http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/10/africa/05diyala.php
Advertising on your mind
In the 1950s, a marketing type called James Vicary caused national hysteria when he announced he could get people to buy Coca-Cola by flashing a "Drink Coke" sign on a screen so quickly that viewers couldn't tell, implanting the urge in their subconscious.
Vicary's experiments turned out to be a sham. But the fear of corporations stealthily mucking about with Americans' brains took hold in the collective imagination.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a policy statement that "subliminal perception" techniques were "contrary to the public interest."
Judas Priest was accused in court of inciting suicidal tendencies with a subliminal message in a song. In 2000, Democrats in the Senate accused a Republican National Committee ad of subliminally calling Al Gore a rat.
Now the clever men and women in the persuasion business appear to have found a more effective way to reach surreptitiously into our heads: embedding the commercials into the programming itself. If a subliminal flash of "Coke" doesn't do the trick, how about a whole episode of "The Apprentice" devoted to designing Burger King's new Western Angus Steak Burger? Or a three-month plot line in "All My Children" in which Erica Kane's cosmetics company goes to battle against Revlon?
These days if you flip on "Desperate Housewives," you might find Eva Longoria in an evening dress promoting a Buick LaCrosse. The boss in "The Office" raves about his Levis. And Coke shows up all over "American Idol." Spending on product placement in the U.S. grew by a third last year. With TiVo snapping at broadcasters' heels, allowing viewers to zap traditional commercials out of their shows, product placement is shaping up to be advertisers' holy grail.
The question is, should we worry?
Regulators do. Last month, the FCC proposed rules requiring broadcasters to disclose embedded commercial arrangements in a minimum font and for a set number of seconds - not just flash them across a screen at the speed of light, which is the current practice. It also opened an inquiry into whether more disclosure is even needed.
Though I have nothing against regulating an industry bent on convincing me to spend money on stuff I never knew I needed, I'm not sure I should worry much about these new, not-so-stealthy techniques.
Seeing the kids on "7th Heaven" dunk Oreos in milk may be a devious way to advertise Oreos. "The Manchurian Candidate" it's not.
Many researchers are skeptical that concealed appeals are more effective at changing behavior than overt ones. Children, who are often mentioned in these sorts of debates as particularly worthy of protection, can't tell the difference between an ad and a show anyway.
The world of adults is already papered over with advertising. Increasing the font in a TV disclosure comes across as quaint, but not that useful. American Express has shown ads with Karl Malden of "The Streets of San Francisco" because it reckons he can persuade viewers that the company's traveler's checks will keep them as safe as a rugged cop.
(Although the cohort that remembers the show must be shrinking fast.) Other companies have used judges, doctors and grandmothers in commercials in the hope that their respectability might rub off.
Everyone knows Malden, and the grandmothers were paid for their words.
The disclosure we need most is not whether commercials are embedded in a show. We need truth: Despite the leggy women wrapped around the man with the tumbler, our whiskey will not increase your sex appeal and may, in quantity, reduce it. Truth might not make for exciting television, but it might make us better shoppers.
Eduardo Porter is a member of the New York Times editorial board.
Tradition of blood feuds isolates Albanian men
SHKODER, Albania: Christian Luli, a soft-spoken 17-year-old, has spent the past 10 years imprisoned inside his family's small, spartan house, fearing he will be killed if he walks outside the front door.
To pass the time, he plays video games and sketches houses. Unable to attend high school, he reads at the level of a 12-year-old. A girlfriend is out of the question. He would like to become an architect, but he despairs of a future locked inside, staring at the same four walls.
"This is the situation of my life," Christian said, looking plaintively through a window at the forbidden world outside. "I have known nothing else since I was a boy. I dream of freedom and of going to school. If I was not so afraid, I would walk out the door. Living like this is worse than a prison sentence."
Christian's misfortune is to have been born the son of a father who killed a man in this poor northern region of Albania, where the ancient ritual of the blood feud still holds sway.
Under the Kanun, an Albanian code that has been passed on for more than 500 years, "blood must be paid with blood." A victim's family is authorized to avenge a slaying by killing any of the killer's male relatives.
Pakistan reaches deal with elders to cool insurgency in Khyber tribal area
But now Vinela Arias is preparing to return home in style. A few weeks ago, she and her boyfriend put a bid on a two-story stuccoed colonial in an elite gated community in Santo Domingo with three bedrooms, a sundeck and private quarters for a live-in housekeeper.
One day, Arias hopes, she will never have to lift a mop again.
"It's the kind of house I dreamed of," said Arias, who arranges the furniture in her new home in her mind while riding the bus from her Roxbury neighborhood to work. "It's mine."
It is the American dream in reverse: Arias is part of a growing contingent of immigrants who are gobbling up real estate in their native countries, discouraged by high housing prices and foreclosures in the United States and enticed by the possibility of returning home to a better life than the one they left behind.
Lebanon troops end deadly clashes in northern city
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Lebanese troops deployed in volatile districts of the northern city of Tripoli on Thursday, ending 24 hours of sectarian clashes that killed four people and wounded 75.
The military moved in after religious and political leaders of the mainly Sunni Muslim port brokered a ceasefire agreement between Sunni Muslim supporters of the government and Alawite gunmen close to the opposition, led by Shi'ite Hezbollah.
At top end, still plenty of demand for country estates in England
Across the rest of the real estate spectrum, sharp reductions in credit availability and lack of confidence in the market are continuing to push prices down on properties worth less than £2 million, or almost $4 million, in some parts of Britain.
But the prices of "super-premium" country homes, worth £4 million or more, and of those costing £500,000 or more in sought-after geographical areas are, at least so far, holding firm.
Lucian Cook, a market trends expert at Savills Research, said limited stock and continued demand from the very wealthy were supporting prices. Unlike other sectors of the market, "values in this super-prime regional market grew by a further 2.9 percent in the first quarter of the year," he said.
Mark McAndrew, partner in charge of the estate and farm agency department at Strutt & Parker real estate, agreed that a lack of supply in the £4 million-plus market was keeping demand strong.
"We are still seeing some gradual price rises, perhaps 5 to 10 percent this year," he said. "There is still a lot of private wealth around. In Britain you have millions of pounds which have been locked into families for generations and, of course, people come from abroad too."
He said one property in Gloucestershire recently was on the market at more than £5 million and finally sold for more than £9 million. An offer of more than £20 million has been made for another, Tetworth Hall in Cambridgeshire.
"Properties like these are rare beasts," he said. "The higher up the price scale you go, the more desirable they become - central England in particular, within two and a half hours of London, is always highly desirable."
According to James Laing, head of country homes at Strutt & Parker, properties valued at more than £4 million are still being sold to buyers from Russia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. "Buyers from these countries are still looking for homes within a 50-mile radius of London," or within 80 kilometers, he said.
The Knight Frank real estate agency is marketing an estate called Compton Basset in Wiltshire for £8.5 million. According to a partner in the country homes department, James Crawford, interest has come from Russia, the United States and Europe, as well as Britain.
"This property has international appeal," he said. "It has a top quality specification, with an indoor swimming pool and a helicopter hangar. It is in a beautiful village setting and is close to some very good schools."
An hour and a half from London by car and just 20 minutes by helicopter, Compton Bassett House dates to 1721; among its noteworthy former owners is the architect Sir Norman Foster. In addition to the main house, the estate has a leisure complex, two apartments, a cottage, the hangar and 70 acres, or 28 hectares, of land.
The next level of country homes - the bracket from £500,000 to £2 million - is feeling the slowdown in the property market. According to Savills Research, values fell 4.2 percent in the second quarter of 2008, leaving them 3.5 percent lower than this time last year.
Overall, the annual growth rate for this category of real estate, designated "prime" property, is 4.9 percent; last year it was 11 percent.
"Although these markets have held firmer for longer than the mainstream and have been less affected than prime central London where values are 9 percent off their peak, overall prices in prime regional markets could end 2008 down by 8 percent," Cook said.
And the prices vary in different parts of the country. In the Midlands and the North, where the demand is generally much weaker than around London, the value of such properties has fallen by 6.4 percent in the last 12 months.
Mark Atkinson, director of the Buccleuch Town & Country real estate agency based in Edinburgh, said certain locations in Scotland were "bucking the trend" and actually seeing price rises in the country homes market.
"Places such as North Berwick, Melrose, Gleneagles, Elie and St. Andrews are still incredibly desirable as there's a real shortage of property here at this end of the market," Atkinson said.
He cited the example of an Arts & Crafts property in Comrie, Perthshire, with an asking price of £795,000. Forty-six potential buyers visited the property, which drew 13 bids and finally sold for more than £1 million after only three weeks on the market.
Agents say they hope that the public's confidence in the real estate market will return before prices drop much more.
In the spring the Bank of England injected £50 billion in capital into the market in an effort to encourage lending but, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the infusion is unlikely to have an effect until later this year.