U.N. warns Somali crisis could rival '92-93 famine
NAIROBI: The killing and kidnapping of aid workers in Somalia threatens to wreck all attempts to resolve a humanitarian disaster that could soon rival its famine in the early 1990s, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.
Most aid agencies are discussing suspending their operations in areas hit by mounting insecurity and a wave of assassinations that has targeted senior local humanitarian workers.
Relief is still getting through, but the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said the surge in violence was threatening the entire humanitarian response to the emergency.
"If we or our partners cannot operate on the ground because they are being shot or kidnapped then assistance will not be distributed," WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon told Reuters.
"If sufficient assistance cannot be delivered ... in the coming months, parts of southern and central Somalia could well be gripped by a disaster similar to the 1992-1993 famine."
Hundreds of thousands died then
Country, the city version: Farms in the sky gain new interest
What if "eating local" in Shanghai or New York meant getting your fresh produce from five blocks away? And what if skyscrapers grew off the grid, as verdant, self-sustaining towers where city slickers cultivated their own food?
Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, hopes to make these zucchini-in-the-sky visions a reality. Despommier's pet project is the "vertical farm," a concept he created in 1999 with graduate students in his class on medical ecology, the study of how the environment and human health interact.
The idea, which has captured the imagination of several architects in the United States and Europe in the past several years, just caught the eye of another big city dreamer: Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president in New York.
When Stringer heard about the concept in June, he said he immediately pictured a "food farm" addition to the New York City skyline. "Obviously we don't have vast amounts of vacant land," he said in a phone interview. "But the sky is the limit in Manhattan." Stringer's office is "sketching out what it would take to pilot a vertical farm," and plans to pitch a feasibility study to the mayor's office within the next couple of months, he said.
"I think we can really do this," he added. "We could get the funding."
Despommier estimates that it would cost $20 million to $30 million to make a prototype of a vertical farm, but hundreds of millions to build one of the 30-story towers that he suggests could feed 50,000 people. "I'm viewed as kind of an outlier because it's kind of a crazy idea," Despommier, 68, said with a chuckle. "You'd think these are mythological creatures."
Despommier, whose name in French means "of the apple trees," has been spreading the seeds of his radical idea in lectures and through his Web site. He says his ideas are supported by hydroponic vegetable research done by NASA and are made more feasible by the potential to use sun, wind and wastewater as energy sources. Several observers have said Despommier's sky-high dreams need to be brought down to earth.
"Why does it have to be 30 stories?" said Jerry Kaufman, professor emeritus of urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Why can't it be six stories? There's some exciting potential in the concept, but I think he overstates what can be done."
Armando Carbonell, chairman of the department of planning and urban form at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called the idea "very provocative." But it requires a rigorous economic analysis, he added. "Would a tomato in lower Manhattan be able to outbid an investment banker for space in a high-rise? My bet is that the investment banker will pay more."
Carbonell questions if a vertical farm could deliver the energy savings its supporters promise. "There's embodied energy in the concrete and steel and in construction," he said, adding that the price of land in the city would still outweigh any savings from not having to transport food from afar. "I believe that this general relationship is going to hold, even as transportation costs go up and carbon costs get incorporated into the economic system."
Some criticism is quite helpful. Stephen Colbert jokingly asserted that vertical farming was elitist when Despommier appeared in June on "The Colbert Report," a visit that led to a jump in hits to the project's Web site from an average of 400 daily to 400,000 the day after the show. Despommier agrees that more research is needed, and calls the energy calculations his students made for the farms, which would rely solely on alternative energy, "a little bit too optimistic." He added, "I'm a biologist swimming in very deep water right now."
"If I were to set myself as a certifier of vertical farms, I would begin with security," he said. "How do you keep insects and bacteria from invading your crops?" He says growing food in climate-controlled skyscrapers would also protect against hail and other weather-related hazards, ensuring a higher quality food supply for a city, without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Architects' renderings of vertical farms — hybrids of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Biosphere 2 with SimCity appeal — seem to be stirring interest. "It also has to be stunning in terms of the architecture, because it needs to work in terms of social marketing," Despommier said. "You want people to say, 'I want that in my backyard.' "
Augustin Rosenstiehl, a French architect who worked with Despommier to design a template "living tower," said he thought that any vertical farm proposal needed to be adapted to a specific place. Rosenstiehl, principal architect for Atelier SOA in Paris, said: "We cannot do a project without knowing where and why and what we are going to cultivate. For example, in Paris, if you grow some wheat, it's stupid because we have big fields all around the city and lots of wheat and it's good wheat. There's no reason to build towers that are very expensive."
Despite its potential problems, the idea of bringing food closer to the city is gaining traction among pragmatists and dreamers alike. A smaller-scale design of a vertical farm for downtown Seattle won a regional green building contest in 2007 and has piqued the interest of officials in Portland, Oregon. The building, a Center for Urban Agriculture designed by architects at Mithun, would supply about a third of the food needed for the 400 people who would live there.
In June at P.S.1 Contemporary Arts Center in New York, a husband-wife architect team built a solar-powered outdoor farm out of stacked rows of cardboard tube planters — one that would not meet Despommier's security requirements — with chicken coops for egg collection and an array of fruits and vegetables.
For Despommier, the high-rise version is on the horizon. "It's very idealistic and ivory tower and all of that," he said. "But there's a real desire to make this happen."
U.S. electric utility has 12-year plan to shape debate on carbon emissions
Exelon, the largest U.S. operator of nuclear power plants, said Tuesday that by 2020 it would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by an amount larger than its total emissions in 2008, in a bid to shape the debate on carbon dioxide rules and to get a jump on compliance.
Numerous academic researchers and nonprofit groups have made proposals for cutting emissions, but the Exelon plan is an unusual public presentation devised by a company that hopes to make money in the process. The plan relies heavily on conservation and having existing nuclear plants produce more electricity, but it includes smaller contributions from wind and sun energy.
COLUMNIST: David Brooks
The luxurious growth
We all know the story of Dr. Frankenstein, the scientist so caught up in his own research that he arrogantly tried to create new life and a new man. Today, if you look at people who study how genetics shape human behavior, you find a collection of anti-Frankensteins. As the research moves along, the scientists grow more modest about what we are close to knowing and achieving.
It wasn't long ago that headlines were blaring about the discovery of an aggression gene, a happiness gene or a depression gene. The implication was obvious: We're beginning to understand the wellsprings of human behavior, and it won't be long before we can begin to intervene to enhance or transform human life.
Few talk that way now. There seems to be a general feeling, as a Hastings Center working group put it, that "behavioral genetics will never explain as much of human behavior as was once promised."
Studies designed to link specific genes to behavior have failed to find anything larger than very small associations. It's now clear that that one gene almost never leads to one trait. Instead, a specific trait may be the result of the interplay of hundreds of different genes interacting with an infinitude of environmental factors
Ferrets face decimation from plague
WALL, South Dakota: A colony that contains nearly half of the black-footed ferrets in the United States and that biologists say is critical to the long-term health of the species has been struck by plague, which may have killed a third of the 300 animals.
A much-publicized endangered species in the 1970s that had dwindled to 18 animals, the black-footed ferret had struggled to make a comeback and had been doing relatively well for decades. But plague, always a threat to the ferrets and their main prey, prairie dogs, has struck with a vengeance this year, partly because of the wet spring.
The ferrets are an easy target for the bacteria.
"They are exquisitely sensitive to the plague," said Travis Livieri, a wildlife biologist who is trying to save the colony. "They don't just get sick, they die. No ifs, ands or buts."
Humans can catch plague, but it is easily treated with antibiotics.
Japan's fishing industry hit by huge one-day strike
TOKYO: Fishermen across Japan went on a one-day strike Tuesday to protest skyrocketing fuel prices, the latest blow to the country's fishing industry.The strike was the largest ever for the industry, involving 200,000 boats and 400,000 workers, organizers said. More than 3,000 fishermen from across the country gathered in central Tokyo and marched around the fisheries ministry in protest.
GM suspends dividend and plans more layoffs
DETROIT: General Motors said Tuesday that it would reduce labor costs for salaried workers by 20 percent, eliminate its quarterly dividend and further reduce truck production to ensure that it has enough cash to finance its turnaround for at least two more years.
The moves, which include selling at least $2 billion in assets and borrowing as much as $3 billion, are expected to raise about $15 billion by the end of 2009, the chief executive Rick Wagoner said.
Wagoner said the automaker would stop providing health care coverage to salaried retirees at age 65 - sending them directly into the U.S. government's Medicare program. It also will offer buyout and early retirement packages to reduce its salaried work force and freeze base pay for salaried employees through 2009.
In addition, GM executives will no longer receive discretionary cash bonuses.
"These are tough but necessary actions," Wagoner said, "and these, along with current cash and available credit lines will provide us with ample liquidity through 2009 even under conservative U.S. industry sales assumptions."
In airline investment, Wilbur Ross bets on lower oil prices
NEW DELHI: Wilbur Ross Jr.'s latest deal, an $80 million investment in the flailing Indian airline SpiceJet announced Tuesday, is hardly earth-shaking. But the idea behind it is.
Ross, a contrarian, has decided that high oil prices have hit bubble territory, a bubble that should pop in the next 12 months. In the search for new investments, "we're looking at everything that has been hurt by fuel," he said by telephone Tuesday.
To that end, his firm, WL Ross, which has an estimated $7.9 billion in assets under management, has bought up stakes in railroad freight companies in Europe. It is looking at refineries, gas station chains and even the faltering United States airlines industry.
"The fundamentals don't justify an oil price over $100" Ross said. "It is the nature of bubbles that they expand farther and last longer than anyone logically imagined," he said, but "they always reverse."
Exactly when and where the oil price bubble will burst is still unclear, he said, but he said he thought it could be within the next year.
Bush acts on drilling, challenging Democrats
WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush lifted nearly two decades of executive orders banning drilling for oil and natural gas off the country's shoreline on Monday while challenging Congress to open up more areas for exploration to address soaring energy prices.
Democrats in Congress, joined by environmentalists, criticized the step and ridiculed it as ineffectual, while most Republicans and industry representatives applauded it as long overdue.
The lifting of the moratorium — first announced by Bush's father, President George Bush, in 1990 and extended by President Bill Clinton — will have no real impact because a congressional moratorium on drilling enacted in 1982 and renewed annually remains in force. And there appeared to be no consensus for lifting it in tandem with the president's action.
Focus on interplay of geopolitics and economics
You've got to hand it to the Russians. Like the Chinese, they tend to take the long view of things - the very long view. And that's exactly what Gazprom is doing by trying to buy Libya's oil and gas.
Why, apart from a general acquisitiveness, would Gazprom go all the way to Libya? Perhaps, in a few decades, the oil and gas exploited by Norway and the United Kingdom in the North Sea will run out. Europe will no longer have its own native supply of those fuels. And perhaps, if Gazprom manages to purchase more supplies around the rim of the Mediterranean - say, Algeria's oil and Egypt's gas, for starters - it will be able to encircle Europe, much the way the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is starting to encircle Russia.
The only solution for Europe, not to be empty-handed short and long term, is that the oil giants should invest in alternative energies. But that involves a lot of hard work and thinking. They prefer to continue the easy life; some locals keep drilling, and the money flows in. Oil will hit $200 in fall - big oil companies will make even more money.
Savo Djukic, United Kingdom
Two steps forward, one back in TNK-BP legal battle
MOSCOW: BP's embattled Russian oil venture, TNK-BP, said on Tuesday it had won the latest round of a court battle in Siberia over its use of specialist secondees and had got work permits for 48 of its foreign staff.
However, in a reflection of the tortuous legal battles that threaten to paralyse the $38 billion (19 billion pounds) company, the Moscow prosecutor's office demanded a slew of fresh information on foreign employees and secondees with a very tight deadline.
BA and Ryanair to cut capacity
DUBLIN/LONDON: Ryanair and British Airways will cut flights next winter due to the rising cost of fuel which is threatening to wipe out their profits this year, the two companies said on Tuesday.
Ryanair , Europe's biggest budget airline, said it would cut weekly flights at Dublin by 12 percent this winter and it would also cut some at Stansted in the UK.
Separately, British Airways said it expected to reduce capacity by 3 to 5 percent in its winter season.
BA chairman Martin Broughton said the airline is looking at extra fuel costs this year of more than 1 billion pounds, which is more than last year's record profit of 875 million pounds.
"I don't want anybody to be under any illusions that in the current operating conditions, it will be a considerable achievement for British Airways to break even this year," he said at the company's annual shareholders' meeting (AGM).
As coal markets expand, traders find themselves in demand
PERTH: Coal may be the world's most abundant form of carbon energy, but those who can turn a profit trading it are increasingly in short supply as trading houses and investment banks jostle for a share of the expanding market.For the first time in recent memory, people in the industry say, coal traders have become hot commodities, rivaling keenly sought oil or metals dealers in a scramble for experienced personnel able to maneuver in a volatile, opaque and often illiquid market that is finally opening up."The pool is getting smaller and people with experience are very sought after now," said Tim Spragg, a director at Commodity Appointment, a recruitment agency in Singapore. "And since the recent credit crunch, employers are less willing to take risks on those without a proven track record."The recruitment drive comes as coal is breaking out of decades of clubby, narrow trade among a few key producers, consumers and middlemen to become an internationally traded commodity.Booming Asian demand is spurring steady growth in spot trade, derivatives and, this autumn, new futures contracts.
The price of benchmark Australia thermal coal, used for power generation, has quadrupled from a year ago, striking a record high of $201 a ton on July 1 after an overnight surge of nearly $20, a degree of volatility that can make or break a trader's book.Thanks also to the freeing up of European power and gas markets and the advent of the carbon offset market, firms like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch have begun to trade physical and paper coal.And trading firms that previously focused on oil or metals, including Sempra Energy and Vitol, recently set up coal desks in Asia, which accounts for 60 percent of world seaborne trade in steam coal, which is all hard coal not classified as coking coal. Many expect Asia to provide the bulk of future demand growth.Lured by higher pay and bigger bonuses, employees of long-time coal trading firms, such as Noble Group or producers like Rio Tinto, are changing jobs.The opportunities for profit are set to expand sharply before year's end, with a trading firm, globalCOAL, beginning a futures contract with ICE Futures, a derivatives exchange, in the third quarter. The Australian Stock Exchange is doing likewise."The industry has suddenly blossomed in the past year, but the number of people with the experience hasn't," said a trader based in Singapore who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. "Sometimes it does seem like everyone is looking over everyone else's shoulder to see who they can poach."
Britons shine a light on energy use at home
HOVE, England: A retired customer service representative for the local power company, Jeffrey Marchant, admits to a lifelong obsession with household energy, born originally of thrift rather than green environmental consciousness.
"I'm like one of those fellows who stands at the station spotting trains, only what I do is electricity," he says.
Even today, a meticulous handwritten chart on the wall of the sitting- room documents yearly electricity use since the 1960s, recording how the birth of each child in the 1970s — Phillip, Catherine and Helen — now all fully grown, affected the home's average daily electricity consumption.
The latest addition to the tidy house in Hove he shares with his wife, Brenda, is a small box hanging in the front hall — dubbed a "smart meter " — that displays a continuous digital readout of home electricity use, and how much it will cost the Marchants.
This type of meter takes information normally hidden in the basement or a cupboard and puts it in a place consumers can readily access, helping to save energy through feedback.
Turn on a computer and the reading on the smart meter goes from 300 to 400 watts per hour. Turn off the light and it goes from 299 to 215.
"You walk by and wonder, 'Why is it up?' Or see 295 and think, 'That's not bad,"' said Marchant, a gray-haired man with sensible shoes and wire-rimmed glasses over bright blue eyes. "The girls yell upstairs, 'You're over 400."'
At 500, the meter is set to sound an alarm.
"I've become like one of Pavlov's dogs — every time it bleeps I think I'm going to take one of those pans off the stove," Brenda Marchant said. "I'd do anything to make it stop. It helps you change your habits."
Through a host of small efforts like this, people like the Marchants have reduced their carbon footprint by half in the last five years. Although smart meters are currently an experiment in Britain, in tens of thousands of homes, the government is debating a plan to put smart metering on all 46 million home gas and electricity meters in the country.
Just as movie stars build eco-mansions, families here have made their old Victorian houses eco-friendly, too. But they have done it through a host of minor, inexpensive interventions like under-the-roof insulation, solar water heaters and hallway meters that leave their homes looking, well, like old Victorian houses.
"When people talk about an eco- house they picture a sleek house in the countryside with solar panels and wind turbines. Well, good for them. But that's not how the average person lives," said Mischa Hewitt of the British Low Carbon Trust, which helped to organize a series of Eco-Open Houses here on weekends so that Brighton's residents could show each other what they have done. "What's more important, what we're encouraging, is to take old properties that were not built for energy efficiency and turn them around to save carbon, save energy and save money," she said.
Brighton was voted most sustainable city in the United Kingdom last year by the British research group Forum for the Future. Its politicians recently have made reducing carbon emissions a high- profile public priority, helping to bring eco-consciousness to the trenches, to the very ordinary houses and apartments where most people live.
While most governments use the relatively high emission levels of the 1990s as a baseline against which to measure emission reductions, Brighton is aiming for make a 20 percent reduction from 2006, by April 2012.
That means reducing its emissions by an average of 4 percent per year for the next four years. The city has taken measures like expanding bus services and promoting housing developments that do not permit cars. But about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from private homes, and so every house must do its bit to meet such ambitious targets.
That it why the town council of Brighton, an artsy community with a long tradition of holding open houses in artists' homes, decided to sponsor the eco-open houses this year.
For the Marchants, the two structural modifications they made to their home of 20 years were to install a solar water heating panel on a back roof, at a cost of £3,200 after a local grant) and to place 12 inches, or 30 centimeters, of insulation under the roof, which Brenda Marchant rolled out in the eves herself and which cost: £300.
But there have been dozens of behavior changes as well. Brenda, for example, has a lovely chandelier in the dining room with Regular light bulbs that use more energy. She turns it on only for dinner parties now She now washes most laundry at 30 degrees, instead of 60. She has revived the use of her pressure cooker for vegetables.
Database failed U.S. in airstrike in Pakistan
WASHINGTON: The precise location of a Pakistani border post that was destroyed by U.S. airstrikes last month, killing 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers, was not in a U.S. database used to prevent accidental attacks on friendly forces, an investigation into the episode has concluded.
Had the coordinates of the remote outpost been logged into the database, it would have immediately raised a red flag when allied troops called in airstrikes after being fired on during a clash with insurgents on the Afghan border, U.S. officials who were briefed on the inquiry said.
After the June 10 incident, each of the three countries involved conducted its own inquiry into what happened. They then tried, largely unsuccessfully, to reconcile their results.
The United States, for instance, concluded that the airstrikes were justified to defend a small team of U.S.-led soldiers who were ambushed. U.S. officials said a Pakistani liaison officer approved the airstrikes, apparently thinking there were no Pakistani forces in the area.
Pakistan, by contrast, told U.S. officials that none of its officers ever cleared the airstrikes and artillery fire.
To avoid further damage to relations, the United States and Pakistan have essentially agreed to disagree over important points of the investigation, including whether the Pakistani forces killed were aiding the insurgents or innocent victims caught in the crossfire.
"It's not inconceivable that the two forces could have been meters apart on opposite sides of a ridge line and not known of the other's presence," a senior U.S. defense official who was briefed on the investigation said.
Afghans suspend meetings with Pakistan after attacks
KABUL: Afghanistan has suspended a series of meetings with Pakistan because of what it called the "violent policies" of the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies and their suspected involvement in a string of attacks.
Pakistan said the accusations were "baseless" and had created an "artificial crisis" that would sour bilateral relations.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are important U.S. allies but their relations, for decades dogged by a dispute over their border, have more recently been plagued by Afghan accusations of Pakistani involvement in violence in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday Pakistani agents were behind recent violence, including a suicide car bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul last week that killed 58 people.
India's national security adviser said last week he had no doubt Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was behind the attack.
Gunmen kidnap two Turkish nationals in Afghanistan
HERAT, Afghanistan: Unknown gunmen kidnapped two Turkish nationals working on a construction project in western Afghanistan on Monday, a senior police official said.
Kidnapping has become a lucrative business in Afghanistan, where dozens of locals and foreigners have been abducted by criminals or Taliban-linked militants.
"The Turkish engineers were working on a project in the town of Islam Qala, bordering Iran, where they were kidnapped from the vehicle yesterday afternoon," regional Police Chief Abdul Rahoof Ahmadi said.
"We found the vehicle and their passports inside the car ... The kidnappers might have taken them on foot somewhere," he said.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official in Ankara said the two abducted engineers were Gokhan Gul and Erhan Gunduz who were both working for the Turkish construction company Gulsen Insaat.
THREE BIG PROBLEMS
America's next steps
Richard Clarke is chairman of Goodharbor Consulting. Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh are senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.
As Americans begin to debate the merits of John McCain and Barack Obama, the Middle East is roiling. Just as the 1948 Israel war of independence triggered the collapse of the old order and the Six Day War of 1967 spurred profound shifts in both Israeli and Arab societies, the events of the past eight years have brought the region to a precipice.
To grapple with the quandaries of the Middle East, America will need a president of intellectual independence, strategic flexibility and considerable political imagination. He will have to be conscious of history without being shackled by it, alive to the emerging Arab narrative and prepared to shape it, while protecting American interests.
Although the Middle East is never short of problems, three in particular will dominate the next president's foreign policy agenda: The war in Iraq, the inflamed Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the looming shadow of a nuclear Iran.
Iraq is engaged in an unstable transition. Over time, it could disintegrate, remain a weak state dominated by its neighbors and an arena for their competition, or become a strong country led by an increasingly self-confident military. The creation of a Sunni militia largely separate from Iraqi national security forces, a key part of the surge strategy, may yet foster division, rather than cohesion. Nor can anyone say how the intra-Shiite conflict will turn out. The next president will need to have both the nerve and resilience to advance U.S. interests amid such deep uncertainty.
Iran is a country that has often confounded American expectations. The image of a defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust and insisting on a divine right to nuclear power justifiably worries the West. Although the conservative consolidation of power seems intact, voices of right-wing dissent declare that Ahmadinejad's bombast is damaging Iran's interests.
America is not the only country preparing for presidential elections; next summer Iranians will also go to the polls. Should Ahmadinejad be displaced, it will not be by a liberal reformer pledging a dialogue of civilizations, but by another conservative who might be open to a different relationship with the United States. Is America ready for a post-Ahmadinejad Iran ruled by reactionaries?
The Israel-Palestine conflict has entered similarly uncharted waters. A poisonous brew of Israeli political paralysis, internecine warfare between Palestinians, and U.S. inattention has created serious doubt that Israel and a Palestinian state could ever live securely side-by-side. The rise of Hamas, an explicitly Islamist party, whose militia was capable of routing its secular Fatah rival in just a few days, has decisively changed the rules of the game.
There is little in the extensive record of U.S. mediation to guide Washington's mandatory re-engagement in the new dispensation. The next administration will have to blend innovation and resolution to traverse this altered landscape and return with a viable two-state solution.
Of the two men contesting the presidency, John McCain's worldview, shaped by a war that ended nearly a half century ago, seems ill-suited for such turbulent times. As president, he would bring to the job a rigid conviction that America can win all wars, if it only has the will to fight on. Prone to see reality in black and white, McCain would find it particularly difficult to deal, for example, with Iranian conservatives who may denigrate America as the "Great Satan," while seeking to accommodate American power.
Barack Obama would begin his prospective presidency with advantages not entirely of his own making. Coming on the heels of a president widely reviled in the region, his election would be welcomed throughout the region. To this highly perishable advantage, he brings a willingness to examine existing policies in new light and a tendency to discard tired shibboleths.
Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. military troops from Iraq is grounded in the larger geopolitical context and an understanding that pursuing the chimera of victory will exact a high cost in terms of America's more pressing priorities.
Obama's offer to undertake comprehensive negotiations with Iran may not yield a desired outcome, but we do know that the existing policy hurts America in Iraq and in the larger region. Looking westward, he sees Israel's security - to which he has pledged unflagging U.S. support - as best served by a successful Palestinian state rather than by Israeli military power alone. This mind-set equips him to seize opportunities to channel forces in the region in ways that favor a long-term stability, a clear U.S. interest.
Of course, not all opportunities pan out and the risk of failure must not be discounted.
This is a decisive moment for the Middle East. The decisions and choices that will be made in the next few years will condition the region's political culture and strategic alignments for decades to come. The United States cannot escape responsibility for the current crisis. Washington's actions have hastened the region's march to cliff's edge. In this dangerous moment, American interests in the Middle East will require a departure from old paradigms.
If Obama wins the election, let's hope that he follows through on his promise. If McCain is victorious, let's hope that his celebrated maverick side subdues his attachment to an old and ineffectual foreign policy.
Guantánamo interrogation video is released
OTTAWA: Video recordings released Tuesday showing interrogations of the only Canadian held at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba provide an unprecedented glimpse inside the compound.
The mood of the detainee, Omar Khadr, just 16 years old at the time of the interrogations, in February 2003, swings from calm and indifference to rage and grief in the recordings, which were released by his lawyers.
The video footage, which provides the most extensive videotaped images from inside Guantánamo Bay, shows Khadr pleading with a Canadian intelligence agent for help and, at one point, shows him displaying chest and back wounds that had still not healed months after his capture in Afghanistan.
The poor-quality recordings were made by the U.S. military, and were given to Khadr's lawyers by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service under the terms of a court order.
They show Khadr, who is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan during a battle in July 2002, being questioned by an unidentified member of the Canadian intelligence agency.
Obama sticks to timeline for Iraq withdrawal
WASHINGTON: Senator Barack Obama said Tuesday that he remained determined to end the war in Iraq on a 16-month schedule, shrugging off sharp criticism of any timetable from his rival, Senator John McCain. But Obama called for increased efforts, including sizable nonmilitary contributions, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In preparing for a trip next week to Europe and the Middle East, he also laid out a much broader foreign-policy vision that would reorient the American approach on the global challenges of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change and energy dependence. The Illinois Democrat stressed the use of diplomacy and economic aid over the use of force and said that as president he would mend alliances in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that have frayed during the Bush administration.
"What's missing in our debate about Iraq, what has been missing since before the war began, is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq and its dominance of our foreign policy," Obama said in a speech in Washington. "This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
"By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe."
Obama proposed a different relationship with Pakistan, moving "beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience," that would include a tripling of U.S. nonmilitary aid; the deployment of an additional two combat brigades to Afghanistan, a commitment he would use to leverage greater contributions from NATO allies; and a doubling of foreign aid worldwide by 2012.
Court backs Bush on military detentions
President George W. Bush has the legal power to order the indefinite military detentions of civilians captured in the United States, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, ruled on Tuesday in a fractured 5-to-4 decision.
But a different 5-to-4 majority of the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, ruled that Ali al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar now in military custody in Charleston, South Carolina, must be given an additional opportunity to challenge his detention in federal court there. An earlier court proceeding, in which the government had presented only a sworn statement from a defense intelligence official, was inadequate, the second, overlapping majority ruled.
The decision was a victory for the Bush administration, which had maintained that a 2001 congressional authorization to use military force after the Sept. 11 attacks had granted the president the power to detain people living in the United States.
The court effectively reversed a divided three-judge panel of its own members, which ruled last year that the government lacked the power to detain civilians indefinitely as enemy combatants. That panel ordered the government to either charge Marri or release him.
Quake hits off Greek island of Rhodes
ATHENS: A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck off the island of Rhodes in southeast Greece on Tuesday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
The quake was at a depth of 13 km (8 miles) in the Aegean sea off Rhodes, the Athens Geodynamic Institute said.
The early morning quake woke people up in Rhodes, officials said. Police said there were no reported injuries or damage to buildings, but that emergency services were on alert.
A magnitude 6.5 earthquake had struck south of the western port city of Patras in Greece last month killing two people and injuring scores others.
Greece is often rattled by quakes but most do not cause serious damage.
INSIDE THE MARKETS
No hangover of unsold homes in Australia
SYDNEY: Australia, like many rich nations, is in the throes of a painful housing slump, but there are peculiarities here that mean the impact on the domestic economy will be a lot less brutal.
Crucially there is no hangover of unsold homes in Australia, unlike the United States, where a record glut has been driving prices inexorably lower.
If anything, Australia has too few homes to match the demands of a growing population and a record immigration intake, a phenomenon that is keeping house prices near historic highs even as the cost of buying has climbed.
"Sure, Australia has taken a hit, but it's nothing like as bad as in the U.S., U.K. or New Zealand," said Matthew Hassan, an economist at Westpac in Sydney.
"In fact there's a pent-up demand for housing because construction has been running below average for some years now," he explained. "That's putting a floor under the market and should ensure that any decline in prices won't be precipitous."
Fearing the worst, Paulson led a mortgage rescue
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration hastily arranged the dramatic Sunday evening rescue of the giant mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after Wall Street executives and foreign central bankers told Washington that any further erosion of confidence could have a cascading effect around the world.
The Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson Jr., and other U.S. officials were warned, according to those involved in the discussion, that any more turmoil threatened to reduce the value of trillions of dollars of the companies' debt and other obligations, which are held by thousands of U.S. and non-U.S. banks, pension funds, mutual funds and other investors.
The warnings of a potential systemic failure led to the resulting rescue package, and one of the most striking - though unspoken - regulatory shifts in modern times. For decades, secretaries of the U.S. Treasury have insisted that the government did not stand behind the debt of Fannie and Freddie. But the safety net that Paulson announced Sunday sends the opposite message: that the government is determined not to let either one fail.
For the second time in four months, the housing crisis prompted the U.S. government to scramble during a weekend to rescue a major financial institution. In March, the besieged investment bank Bear Stearns was pushed by the government into a takeover by J.P. Morgan Chase.
This time, the rescue involved saving, not merging, two institutions, and the numbers involved were exponentially bigger: Fannie and Freddie have combined debts of $1.5 trillion. They own or guarantee $5 trillion in mortgages. They have contracts with other institutions worth an additional $2 trillion to hedge the risks behind those mortgages.
The rescue package was cobbled together Saturday and Sunday during a series of frantic telephone calls and meetings involving senior officials at the Treasury and the Federal Reserve.
As he announced the plan, Paulson became the first Treasury secretary in more than a decade to use the steps of the imposing Treasury building as a backdrop. It seemed like a well-scripted moment aimed at calming the markets, as Robert Rubin, a Treasury secretary in the Bill Clinton administration, once did.
But in fact, it was happenstance. Because it was a Sunday, the Treasury Department's security measures would not allow large numbers of reporters to enter the building, requiring Paulson to make his announcement outside. Officials said they were relieved it did not rain.
The plan Paulson announced calls on the U.S. Congress to give officials the power to inject billions of dollars into the beleaguered companies through investments and loans. Until it is adopted, the Fed has agreed to let the companies have access to its so-called discount lending window, a move that most regard as a symbolic gesture intended to show the markets that the government stands ready to help the companies if they need cash.
Officials said that the prospect of eroding confidence in the debt securities of Fannie and Freddie was far more worrisome to them than either the declining stock price of the companies, or the results of a $3 billion debt auction Monday by Freddie Mac.
The concern, they said, was that if those Fannie and Freddie debt securities began to decline in value, then thousands of institutions - including all major U.S. banks, and many large mutual funds, money market funds and pension funds - might have to recognize losses on their portfolios.
That, in turn, could have lasting effects on economies around the world, already struggling from slumping housing markets, spiking energy prices and sharp declines in consumer confidence.
By all accounts, Paulson was the engineer of the rescue package.
Only days earlier, he had lost his right-hand adviser on Wall Street issues, Robert Steel, who left as Treasury under secretary with virtually no notice to head Wachovia Bank. For their part, officials from the Fed decided that since the problems in the markets did not reflect a liquidity problem - meaning that Fannie and Freddie had access to plenty of cash - they were willing to take a secondary role to the Treasury.
During a Saturday morning telephone conference call led by Paulson, and which included Bernanke and senior officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies, Paulson suggested that a housing bill now moving through Congress could provide a legislative vehicle to get a rescue package adopted quickly, an official recalled.
During the hour-long call, Paulson discussed the idea of enlarging a credit line to the Treasury to which both companies have access. For nearly 40 years, each has had a $2.25 billion line of credit. While large when set by Congress, the amount is now considered quite small compared with the overall obligations of the two companies.
Paulson told the participants that he planned through the day to contact leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. Paulson also spoke about the timing of reaching a lawmaker who was in Europe.
The rescue package did not come together until late Saturday evening, officials said, after Paulson had received assurances from legislators that the measure would have support in Congress. At that point, Paulson made a round of late-evening phone calls to top executives at the two companies. He did not speak to Daniel Mudd, the chief executive of Fannie Mae, until after 11 p.m.
The Fannie and Freddie chief executives ultimately endorsed the plan after consulting with their directors.
After Paulson called Bernanke on Saturday evening to apprise him of the prospects for a plan, Bernanke called the governors of the Fed to alert them that there would be a meeting at 1 p.m. Sunday to consider approving a plan to let the companies have access to the discount window.
Two hours after that meeting began, Paulson convened another conference call with the same officials who had been on the Saturday call.
Afterward, Paulson phoned more lawmakers from his corner office overlooking the White House, telling them more of the details of the plan he would make public from the steps of the Treasury later that evening.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats in the House said that they would move quickly to approve the Treasury Department plan as part of a major package of housing legislation, and that the bill could be returned to the Senate, adopted, and sent to the White House for the signature of President George W. Bush, perhaps by the end of this week.
Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, and a main author of the housing legislation, began working Monday to incorporate the Paulson plan into the bill. And Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, chairman of the Banking Committee, held a hearing Tuesday on the proposal, with testimony from Paulson, Bernanke and Christopher Cox, the chairman of the SEC.
During an interview, Dodd said that the legislation was needed "to restore some confidence to a market that has been gripped by fear for the last couple of days."
Gretchen Morgenson and Jenny Anderson contributed reporting from New York, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David M. Herszenhorn from Washington, and Eric Dash from London.
Europe looks no longer immune to U.S. economic storm
FRANKFURT: Europe, which held the world's economic storms at bay for the last year, has finally succumbed.
Spain, Ireland and Denmark are either in, or on the brink, of a recession. Italy is stagnating. France is weakening fast. And Germany, the sturdy locomotive of European growth, is suddenly faltering - dashing most residual hopes that Europe could escape the upheaval in the United States.
On Tuesday, an influential poll of German investors by the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim found that confidence has plummeted to its lowest level since the survey was started in 1991.
Shares in Spain swooned after that country's housing crisis claimed its first big casualty: a property developer that filed for protection from creditors. And in Britain, the inflation rate surged - as it has elsewhere in Europe - to 3.8 percent because of soaring prices for food and fuel.
"We've seen a sea change in Europe," said Thomas Mayer, the chief European economist at Deutsche Bank in London. "All the bad news around the world has finally come to us."
While most economists had predicted that Europe would suffer fallout from the financial market chaos and the broader American malaise, the speed of the deterioration has surprised the soothsayers.
As recently as June, Mayer noted, the European Central Bank was projecting only a modest dip in growth in the second quarter. Two weeks ago, it raised interest rates, citing the risk of inflation. Now the risk is that Europe could face a shrinking economy this summer.
In that sense, Europe finds itself on a precipice similar to that in the United States, which is already in or verging on a serious slump. But given the historic resilience of the U.S. economy, some economists give the Americans slightly better odds of avoiding a classically defined recession - in which economic growth shrinks for two quarters in a row - than the Europeans.
"It is not impossible that the euro zone will dip into recession while the U.S. manages to skirt it," said Holger Schmieding, the chief European economist at Bank of America in London.
Such a statement would have been far-fetched four months ago, when investor confidence and industrial output was rising in Germany and France, despite a buoyant currency that makes European exports more expensive in the United States and other dollar-linked markets.
One dynamic that has not changed since then is the euro, which hit a new record high against the dollar Tuesday.
The tense mood in the United States is pushing investors to sell dollars and seek refuge in the euro. For all the storm clouds here, Europe still looks like a safe harbor next to the United States, where fears about the solvency of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have rattled the broader market.
Still, the strong euro - combined with high oil prices - is finally exacting a toll on Europe's export machine.
German exports slumped 3.2 percent in May from the previous month, the largest monthly decline since June 2004. The country's once-robust trade surplus shrank to €14.4 billion, or $23 billion, from €18.8 billion, according to government statistics.
"The Germans had full order books when this started," Schmieding said, "but now they are emptying."
Germany, experts said, was the last big European country to keep its momentum because of its role as a supplier of machinery and capital goods to China and other fast-growing economies.
As Americans have stopped buying television sets and other goods from China, however, the Chinese have begun to curtail their orders of machinery from Germany, economists said.
For Germany, the biggest threat may not be a recession but an inflationary spiral that drives up wages. The German airline Lufthansa is at odds with the union representing its cabin and ground staff over the union's demand for a 9.8 percent pay increase this year.
Lufthansa offered 6.7 percent, which the union, ver.di, rejected. Now it is collecting ballots for a strike, which it says could begin at the end of August.
The European Central Bank, in raising rates a quarter point earlier this month, was trying to discourage that kind of behavior. But with inflation running at 4 percent - twice the threshold set by the bank - economists said a one-time rate increase would have limited effect.
With Europe slowing so rapidly, economists believe it will be tough for the inflation-fighters on the central bank's governing board to marshal the votes for any further rate increases.
These are trying days for central bankers everywhere. In Britain, the worsening conditions had fanned expectations that the Bank of England would cut rates soon. But the surge in inflation has doused those hopes.
In Spain, one company's implosion is another's profit
LONDON: The failure of the Spanish property firm, Martinsa Fadesa, is a sign that hedge funds are stepping up efforts to wring profit out of ailing companies, in moves that might prompt more Spanish insolvencies.
Hedge funds which bought Martinsa Fadesa debt at discounts of as much as 50 percent of its value could now profit from its administration process because an expected sale of assets might pay them back at a price closer to face value.
Martinsa Fadesa said late Monday that it would file for bankruptcy after it failed to raise funds and meet debt payments. It would be one of the biggest corporate failures in Spanish history.
Such hedge funds, acting as so-called vulture funds, might not care if a company goes bust, and that could be a painful lesson in modern finance for Spanish companies accustomed to cozy long-term relationships with regional savings banks like La Caixa.
"There will be more of these companies," said Mark Fennessy, a restructuring partner at Orrick, a law firm in London. "Spain is completely unprepared for what's going to hit them. There are a number of funds, large private equity funds, that are already in discussions with Spanish banks to take out their debt and equity positions in distressed companies."
High prices drive a modern, illegal - and dangerous - gold rush
LONDON: As a new gold rush spreads to the remotest corners of the world, the face-off between illegal, small-scale miners and multinational companies has cost millions of dollars and claimed lives.
Poor men and women in Ghana, former militia fighters in eastern Congo and farmers in Peru are among those joining the ranks of illegal miners and risking their lives as they seek to profit from high gold prices.
As a new gold rush spreads to the remotest corners of the world, the face-off between illegal, small-scale miners and multinational companies has cost millions of dollars and claimed lives.
Not all small-scale miners work illegally, but as international companies move into ever more remote and politically risky countries, they sometimes tread on the toes of miners who have worked that land for years.
Alternatively, the mining conglomerates' trucks and cranes can act as magnets that draw small-scale miners to a previously unexplored area.
Prisoner swap reopens wounds in Israel
NAHARIYA, Israel: Israel is a tale of family tragedies lived out within small distances.
Consider the Harans and the Goldwassers, two families in Nahariya linked by shocking killings nearly 30 years ago that have returned anew to break mothers' hearts.
The wounds from their stories have been reopened by a plan to swap a terrorist who killed three members of the Haran family for the corpse of a Goldwasser son taken hostage just across the border in Lebanon.
Around midnight on April 22, 1979, Samir Kuntar, 16, a Lebanese Druze, slipped from a small boat onto one of Nahariya's beaches along with three other teenage fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. That bloody night is seared into the Israeli national conscience.
An Israeli court found that the four men broke into an apartment building and kidnapped a young father, Danny Haran, murdering him in front of his 4-year-old daughter, Einat. Then, the court found, Kuntar turned to the child and crushed her skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. Smadar Haran, Danny's wife, hid in the apartment's crawl space with the couple's 2-year-old, accidentally smothering her to death in an effort to stop her from crying out.
Kuntar disputed this account, telling the court that Israeli troops had been responsible for at least one of the deaths.
Now, almost 30 years later, Israel is preparing to trade Kuntar and other Lebanese terrorists in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, which captured Ehud Goldwasser and another army reservist, Eldad Regev, in a cross-border raid that set off the Lebanon war two years ago.
The deal has stirred painful debate in Israel, where Goldwasser and Regev, both university students, have been declared dead. Though Israel has a history of trading large numbers of prisoners for captured soldiers, the prospect of exchanging the country's most despised prisoner for corpses has disturbed some.
Hezbollah has said it mounted the raid in a bid to win the release of Kuntar, whom Hezbollah celebrates as a hero.
Kuntar gave a different version of the night of the attack in his court testimony in 1980, excerpts of which were published in Yediot Aharonot, an Israeli newspaper, for the first time Monday. He told the court that Israeli fire had killed Haran as soldiers burst in to free him. He said he was wounded and passed out and did not see what happened to the child.
Smadar Haran, the widow, still lives in Nahariya, just 9 kilometers, or 6 miles, from the Lebanese border. So do Goldwasser's parents, while his wife's mother lives just a few doors down.
In a home surrounded by lush red bougainvillea, lemon and orange trees and a high wall with a security gate, Haran discusses her decision to speak out on the prisoner release. She folds herself up on a high-backed striped couch, dark eyes staring straight ahead, and speaks softly but firmly of her decision not to stand in the way of Kuntar's release.
"Samir Kuntar is not my private prisoner, and we live in a country where there is a framework for making decisions," she said, echoing what she wrote in a letter to the prime minister and the cabinet before their decision to proceed with the deal. "I asked them not to think about my personal pain and to make decisions according to the interests of the state."
"What happened to me and my family will always be part of me, part of my personal pain, but it does not mean that I don't see the pain of others, the Goldwasser and Regev families," she said.
Haran, who has since remarried, knows the Goldwasser family as acquaintances, in the way all longtime residents in Nahariya seem to know one another. They say hello in passing and share words of support, but they have refrained from discussing the prisoner exchange.
"What she did is a noble act," said Miki Goldwasser, Ehud's mother, who has campaigned aggressively to pressure the Israeli government for a trade. She still holds out hope he might be coming back alive, though she knows the chances are low.
A poster of her son smiling on his wedding night a few months before his capture rests on a wooden bookcase behind her. The bookcase is full of folded-up banners, bumper stickers imprinted with slogans like "Don't Leave Soldiers in the Field," and other paraphernalia used in the struggle to win the release of Goldwasser, Regev, and another soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been captured shortly before the others, by Hamas and two other militant groups.
Shalit is considered to be alive, and Israel has been negotiating separately for his release.
Goldwasser said her son Ehud, then 3 years old, was asleep in his bed that night three decades ago when gunshots and grenades suddenly sounded a few blocks away. "We heard the gunfire," she said. "Rumors began to fly."
The late Danny Haran's mother and brother have come out against the agreement, as has the family of Eliyahu Shahar, a policeman killed by Kuntar during the attack. His family even went to the Supreme Court last week, seeking to block the release, but the justices refrained from intervening in the case.
But Smadar Haran, the widow, said she did not want to be seen as an obstacle. Recalling the night of the attack, she says the terrorists' original plan was to kidnap Israelis and take them into Lebanon. "I could have been on the other side of this and I would have been the one working to get my family released," she said.
Ilana Hazan, 66, lives in what was the Haran family apartment. She points out the crawl space where Haran hid with her daughter. It now stores paper towels.
"I'll be happy to see our captured soldiers return; we think of them as our own sons, but there is a terrible pain that comes with seeing him, of all people, being released," she says of Kuntar, her voice echoing in the quiet, empty stairwell that the terrorists came charging up so many years ago.
In the Lebanese city of Sidon, preparations are under way for a festive return for Kuntar. The central square is decorated with pictures and banners welcoming him home as a hero. The swap is scheduled to take place on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border at Rosh Hanikra. The town's antenna towers are visible in the distance from Nahariya, where Haran and Goldwasser will be waiting for their shared tragedy to come full circle.
Two suicide bombers kill 23 north of Baghdad
BAGHDAD: Bombers killed around 40 people and wounded scores in several attacks in northern Iraq on Tuesday, days after the government vowed to expand a crackdown against militants in a region where al Qaeda retains influence.In the worst attacks, two suicide bombers killed 27 people and wounded 68 when they blew themselves up outside an army recruitment centre in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, an Iraqi security source said.The U.S. military said 20 recruits were killed and 55 wounded, saying the attackers blew themselves up in a line of men outside the centre in Baquba, capital of Diyala province.
British inflation soars as recession looms
LONDON: Inflation in Britain quickened more than economists forecast in June to the fastest pace in at least 11 years, keeping pressure on the Bank of England to refrain from cutting interest rates as the threat of a recession looms.
Consumer prices climbed 3.8 percent from a year earlier, exceeding the government's 3 percent upper limit for a second month and the highest result since records began in 1997, the Office for National Statistics said Tuesday in London. Economists forecast 3.6 percent, according to the median of 36 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.
Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, predicts that inflation may accelerate above 4 percent, and he said Monday that it would exceed the limit "until well into next year." Policy makers kept the main interest rate at 5 percent last week, defying calls for a cut as the weakest housing market in 30 years pushed the economy toward a recession.
Spate of knife attacks afflicts Britain
LONDON: Every day, it seems, there is a new incident. A 16-year-old, Shakilus Townsend, stabbed to death by a masked gang. Ben Kinsella, also 16, stabbed to death after being caught in an argument outside a pub. Victims in Bristol, in Manchester, in Glasgow. Four people fatally stabbed in London over a 24-hour period last week.
In a country where few people have guns or access to them, a sudden spate of knife attacks, many involving teenagers, is afflicting Britain. Members of the Metropolitan Police are so concerned that they made knife crime one of their top priorities, along with terrorism.
Government and law-enforcement officials are scrambling to produce plans to allay public fears. On Monday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a series of measures that he said would make it "completely unacceptable to carry a knife."
The plan includes automatic prosecution for anyone over the age of 16 caught with a knife and doubles the maximum sentence for knife possession, to four years. It also sets up a £3 million, or about $6 million, advertising campaign to discourage young people from committing knife crimes, and a program to force perpetrators to confront their actions. They could, for instance, attend courses that describe what happens to victims of stabbing.
The prime minister also said the government would intervene directly in as many as 20,000 families whose children were at risk of turning to violence because "the mother or father have lost control of their children and their whole life is actually in difficulty." Parents who refuse to accept the government intervention, he said, will be threatened with eviction from their homes.