Chemical found in liquid milk in China
BEIJING: China's latest tainted product crisis widened Friday after tests found the chemical melamine in liquid milk produced by three of the country's leading dairy companies, the country's quality monitor said.
The crisis roiling the nation's dairy industry was thought to have been initially confined to tainted milk powder and was blamed for four infant deaths, and illnesses in more than 6,200 others.
But about 10 percent of liquid milk samples taken from the Mengniu Dairy Group and Yili Industrial Group - China's two largest dairy producers - contained melamine, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. Milk from the Shanghai-based Bright Dairy also showed contamination.
Melamine is a toxic industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.
The agency would "severely punish those who are responsible," according to a notice posted on the agency's Web site. It said all the batches that tested positive were being recalled.
Reactions were immediate, with Hong Kong's two biggest grocery chains, PARKnSHOP and Wellcome, pulling all liquid milk by Mengniu from the shelves. A day earlier, Hong Kong had recalled milk, yogurt, ice cream and other products made by the Yili Industrial Group.
Starbucks said its 300 cafés in mainland China had pulled milk supplied by Mengniu. Starbucks said that no employees or customers had fallen ill from the milk.
Earlier this week, Mengniu's chief executive officer, Niu Gensheng, vowed to create a clean dairy product market, saying "if this thing cannot be properly dealt with, I'll resign," according to the financial magazine Caijing.
The scandal began with complaints over milk powder by the Sanlu Group, one of China's best-known and most respected brands; but it quickly became a much larger problem as government tests found that one-fifth of the companies producing baby milk powder had melamine in their products.
Though most of the dairy products involved are only sold domestically, two of the companies exported their products to five countries in Asia and Africa.
On Friday, regulators for consumer product safety in the United States, the European Union and China met to announce a joint initiative that would allow for direct cooperation between the three parties on consumer safety issues.
"The situation underscores the need for these kinds of conversations," said Nancy Nord, acting chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Thousands of parents brought their children to hospitals, worried about their safety.
About 1,300 babies, mostly newborns, remain hospitalized, with 158 suffering from acute kidney failure.
Like many of the babies at the Peace Hospital in Shijiazhuang, Yao Haoge, 11 months old, had an IV drip hooked into a vein in her head. Diagnosed with two large kidney stones, she had been drinking formula by Sanlu since birth.
"We don't make much money, but we wanted to buy good milk powder," said her father, Yao Weiguan, a day-laborer from a small town an hour's train ride from Shijiazhuang.
"We thought it was good, and now it's given us problems."
Melamine has no nutritional value but is high in nitrogen, making products with it appear higher in protein. Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added it to watered-down milk to cover up the resulting protein deficiency.
Questions continued to swirl about the handling of the scandal by the milk producer Sanlu and government officials.
The company reportedly received complaints about its formula as early as March and tests revealed the contamination by early August, just before the Olympics. Sanlu went public with a recall on Sept. 11 after its New Zealand stakeholder told the New Zealand government, which then informed the Chinese government.
A vineyard steeped in social values
MILAN: When asked whether she had a lot in common with Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, the multitasking Republican vice presidential candidate in the United States, José Rallo laughed heartily.
"I think most women multitask," said Rallo, 43, a principal at the Donnafugata winery in Sicily. "And it isn't easy."
At the family-run winery, which had sales of 16.7 million or $24 million, last year from more than a dozen varieties of rich, full-bodied Silician wine, Rallo helps run things and supervises the marketing and public relations teams. That's when she's not raising her two children, ages 9 and 12, with her husband, an insurance executive; fronting a jazz ensemble that promotes her wines; or sitting on the board of Banco Sicilia, one of two women ever to do so.
"The problem for a woman is organizing time," Rallo said. In the end, she believes, it makes you a better manager.
A woman's sensibility is at the heart of Donnafugata, which was founded in 1983 by Rallo's parents as an offshoot of a family business started in 1851. The name is an homage to the imaginary town in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's 1958 epic novel "The Leopard." The name translates as "woman in flight" and alludes to a Habsburg queen, Maria Carolina, who took refuge in Sicily when Napoleon's troops invaded Naples. "I'm convinced that the values at Donnafugata are linked to my being a mother and involved in society," she said.
Those values, Rallo said, can be summed up as "enterprise, nature, culture" - an integrated effort to foster social and environmental responsibility in the territory in which Donnafugata operates.
Sitting on the board of one of Sicily's biggest banks by assets, which is now part of the much bigger Unicredit Group, is an integral part of the picture. The sun-drenched Italian island is at the heart of Donnafugata's image. "People like Sicily," Rallo said. "They want sun, they want a taste of the south, they want human warmth. It's our value added."
Massimiliano Bruni, co-director of the new master's degree program in fine food and beverage at Bocconi University in Milan, said efforts like Rallo's were bearing fruit. "In the last 10 years there's been an improvement in quality, as well as in the ability to create the notion of a specific Sicilian product and promote Sicily," which has given these wines an edge, he said.
The cultural side of Rallo's mission comes in with "Donnafugata Music & Wine Sessions," a marketing innovation that lets Rallo and her husband, Vincenzo Favara, meld their interest in music - she is a singer, he a percussionist - with promoting their wine. They have brought Donnafugata musical wine tastings to restaurants and clubs around the world, including New York, where they played and sipped at the legendary Blue Note. Proceeds from the sale of their second CD are being used for microcredit loans to assist start-up businesses. "We need to support small enterprise," Rallo said.
Growing up, it was never a given that Rallo would join the family business. She left home after high school to study economics at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa because "Sicily was a little confining in 1983," she said. "I didn't see much of a future there either professionally or as a woman."
After graduation she went to work for Andersen Consulting and Arthur Andersen in Rome, where she learned that "no one is indispensable and that good managers are those who ensure that their work can be picked up by anyone else at any time," she said. Rallo imparted that style to the family business when she joined in 1990.
She also brought a green sensibility, installing in 2001 a photovoltaic system to produce clean energy at the three estates in Sicily and on the island of Pantelleria where grapes for Donnafugata wine are grown. For the past decade, the winery has held night harvests in August, lowering the risk of untimely fermentation and reducing the energy consumption needed to cool the grapes.
Why the early jump into environmental issues? "I have children," Rallo said simply. "Of course I think of the environment."
'Battle in Seattle': A bruising account of a protest gone awry
Battle in Seattle Directed by Stuart Townsend
'Battle in Seattle" is a film that leaves bruises. A visceral, fictionalized account of the 1999 demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, it repeatedly plunges you into the kicking and screaming melee of peaceful protest gone awry. Cries rend the air and bodies crumple as police batons are swung and tear-gas canisters explode. This is what happens, the movie warns, when the powers that be are unprepared for the magnitude of organized opposition and impulsively lash back. Resistance gives way to fury, and fury incites chaos.
The filmmaking debut of Stuart Townsend, an Irish actor, "Battle in Seattle" makes no bones about where its sympathies lie. Except for the anarchistic fringe, it is wholeheartedly on the side of the demonstrators, a loose coalition of grass-roots activists from the environmental and labor movements joined by students and other groups who opposed globalization.
Some 40,000 demonstrators, far more than were expected, descended on Seattle in late November 1999, determined to shut down the first WTO ministerial conference to be held on U.S. soil. During five days of civil strife they prevented many of the trade ministers from attending the conference.
Stylistically and polemically, "Battle in Seattle" is a descendant of Haskell Wexler's much more complex 1969 movie, "Medium Cool." Filmed on the streets in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, "Medium Cool" mixed scenes of the violent confrontations between demonstrators and the police with the fictional story of a television cameraman. "Battle in Seattle" shoehorns in television footage of the actual protests. (The film is being released this fall in the United States, France, Portugal and Spain.)
But a drama is only as convincing as its characters. The people awkwardly forced together in "Battle in Seattle" are rhetorical mouthpieces tied to the sketchy plotlines of a so-so Hollywood ensemble movie. As in the much better written but equally schematic "Crash," you can hear the machinery grind and squeak as the scales are balanced.
At the heart of the story is Dale (Woody Harrelson), a puppy-eyed policeman whose wife, Ella (Charlize Theron), works in a downtown department store and is five months pregnant. When the store closes early after its windows are smashed, Ella, struggling to get home, is caught up in the crowd and randomly struck in the stomach with a police baton. If Theron conveys almost unbearable pain in this scene, what happens to her is all we really know about her. She is a rhetorical plot device.
As the street battles intensify and Dale is denied time off, his rage and frustration drive him to pursue Jay (Martin Henderson), one of the movie's three representative demonstrators, into a church where he beats him to a pulp. In the preposterously mawkish scene that sinks the film, he eventually calms down, locates Jay and apologizes, and they exchange words of understanding and forgiveness.
The movie tosses in a half-hearted romance between Jay and Lou (Michelle Rodriguez), a hard-shelled fellow demonstrator, who hook up after they collaborate on a daredevil mission to unfurl an anti-WTO banner from a crane. Django (André Benjamin), the gentlest of the three, is a grinning, guitar-strumming ninny who marches on the street dressed as a turtle.
Other semiheroic figures include Jean Asbury (Connie Nielsen), a television news reporter who joins the demonstrators after observing the police brutality; Dr. Maric (Rade Serbedzija), a representative of Doctors Without Borders who angrily lectures the few WTO ministers who show up about the organization's preference for profits over people; and Sam (Jennifer Carpenter), a lawyer who argues for the demonstrators' release from jail.
Trying to mediate between the parties is Mayor Jim Tobin (a miscast Ray Liotta), a fictional surrogate for Paul Schell, Seattle's mayor at the time. A former Vietnam War protester who insists that the police act with restraint, he is pressured by the governor and the White House to take decisive action after store windows are smashed and intersections are blocked. As he summons the National Guard, declares a curfew and orders mass arrests, the internal drama behind his choices is only perfunctorily acknowledged, and a dramatic opportunity is lost.
The afterword that crawls across the screen at the end of "Battle in Seattle" declares that little has changed since 1999. When WTO ministers met in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003, a heavily patrolled three kilometer, or almost two-mile, exclusion zone was established; so much for organized protest.
Minister resigns over Japanese rice scandal
TOKYO: Japan's agriculture minister resigned Friday in a widening scandal over rice contaminated with mold and pesticide that was sold as food for thousands of people, including schoolchildren and nursing home patients.
Agriculture Minister Seiichi Ota's departure only seven weeks after he took office was a further embarrassment to the teetering government of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who announced recently his own resignation amid a parliamentary stalemate.
"I met with Prime Minister Fukuda and told him my decision to resign, considering the seriousness of the tainted rice problem for society," Ota said. The chief cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, would take over as the interim farm minister, the government said.
Japanese consumers have been horrified in recent weeks over the discovery that contaminated rice intended for industrial uses such as the manufacture of glue had been distributed instead as food to thousands of people.
The rice, imported from China, Vietnam and the United States, was shipped to food companies, schools, day care centers and nursing homes, the government said. News reports said it was also discovered in rice balls sold at convenience stores.
"We deeply regret causing worries over food safety," Machimura told a news conference. "We recognize that this is a very serious situation."
The rice was tainted with the pesticide methamidophos at concentrations that exceeded government regulations, but were too low to threaten anyone's health, officials say. There have been no reports of anyone getting sick from the rice.
The discovery is the latest in a string of food scandals including the false labeling of meat, vegetables and sweets, and Chinese-made dumplings that sickened at least 10 people in Japan.
Ota's resignation comes just days before the governing Liberal Democratic Party's election Monday to choose a new prime minister. The winner is expected to be elected by Parliament to succeed Fukuda two days later.
Japan's top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, said the resignation was an attempt by the ruling party to halt damage from the scandal before calling parliamentary elections, possibly later this year.
The rice scandal has been particularly damaging in Japan, where consumers are notoriously finicky about food safety. One distributor apparently involved in the sales reportedly committed suicide this past week.
The government so far has tracked down a rice trader in Osaka, western Japan, who shipped the tainted rice to about 370 food companies, including liquor and sweets makers.
But local reports have said that several chemical companies, including a glue maker, also shipped tainted rice as food, and an Agriculture Ministry official said Friday that the government had yet to "grasp the full scope" of the rice scandal.
The Agriculture Ministry has been rocked repeatedly by scandals in recent years, starting when then-farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide in May 2007.
Nuclear collider delayed in getting down to business
A week after subatomic particles began zooming around its underground racetrack amid cheers and Champagne, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva, is still struggling to take its next big step.
The scientists and engineers on the project had hoped that by late next week the machine would begin to collide subatomic particles, though at energies far below the cataclysmic levels that have had some skeptics worried about the creation of black holes that could eat the world.
But those hopes were dashed by a series of "teething problems," as one engineer put it, including the failure of a 30-ton transformer in the system for chilling the helium that, in turn, chills the superconducting magnets that guide the protons. On Friday, the center announced that a large spill of helium in the collider tunnel would mean a further delay.
Now hopes of high-energy colliding are estimated no earlier than the middle of October
We can stop the cancer epidemic
Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and a founding board member of Doctors Without Borders, USA, is the author of "Anticancer - A new way of life."
There is an epidemic of cancer today. One in three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer, often before the age of 65. I have been on the wrong side of this statistic since I was 31 years old, when I discovered I had brain cancer.
Since 1940, we have seen in Western societies a marked and rapid increase in common types of cancer. In fact, cancer in children and adolescents has been rising by 1 to 1.5 percent a year since the 1960's. And these are cancers for which there is no screening.
For most common cancers - prostate, breast, colon, lung - rates are much higher in the West than in Asian countries. Yet Asians who emigrate to the United States catch up with the rates of Americans within one or two generations. While in Asia, Asians are protected not by their genes, but by their lifestyle.
Indeed, modern studies show that at most 15 percent of cancers are due - and only in part - to inherited genetic defects. Eighty-five percent are not.
However, cancer does run in families: A landmark New England Journal of Medicine study showed that children adopted at birth by parents who died of cancer before the age of 50 had the cancer risk of their adoptive parents, not of their biological ones. What gets passed on from one generation to the next are cancer-causing habits and environmental exposures, not just cancer-causing genes.
We continue to invest 97 percent of our cancer research funds in better treatments and early detection. Only 3 percent is invested in tackling causes.
I was a founding board member of Doctors Without Borders, USA. I worked as a volunteer physician in Iraq, Guatemala, Tajikistan and Kosovo. I know about epidemics in refugee camps. No cholera epidemic can be stopped by early detection and antibiotic treatment - as effective and important as these are. That is because cases always develop at a rate faster than our ability to treat individual patients.
In the 1800s, Britain and America faced several large cholera epidemics. They were able to stop them without antibiotics. Scientists and physicians at the time had not even discovered the concept of germs, but leaders with enough foresight and concern decided to act on what seemed the most likely environmental cause: contaminated water sources in the neighborhoods with the most cases. Cholera receded.
It is ironic to think that if we had had antibiotics at the time, and had counted on them to deal with the disease as we count today on anticancer treatments, we might never have controlled cholera.
We have much more data about the most likely causes of the modern cancer epidemic than our forbears did about cholera.
The World Cancer Research Fund published a report in 2007 concluding that a majority of cancer cases in Western societies could be avoided with life-style measures: 40 percent from changes in diet and physical activity (more vegetables and fruits, less sugar, less red meat, regular walking or the equivalent activity 30 minutes six times per week), 30 percent from smoking cessation, and about 10 percent from reduced alcohol consumption.
We now even have data about how specific foods such as broccoli and cabbages, garlic and onions, green tea or the spice turmeric directly help kill cancer cells and reduce the growth of new blood vessels they need to develop into tumors.
Reducing exposure to many of the well-characterized chemical carcinogens abundant in our modern environments (pesticides, estrogens, benzene, PCBs, PVCs and bisphenol A from heating liquids in plastic containers, alkylphenols in cleaning products, parabenes and phthalates in cosmetics and shampoos, etc.) would contribute even further to lessen the cancer risk.
By neither discussing nor investing in research and preventive programs based on these established scientific facts, we are promoting a sense of hopelessness with respect to cancer.
Most people continue to view cancer as a form of genetic lottery when it clearly is not. While we should all guard against false hope in addressing cancer, we should guard even more adamantly against this false hopelessness. And we should begin to help our society, and each one of us, address the causes of this modern epidemic.
Kazakhstan to tie up with Shell for Kashagan oil
ALMATY: Kazakhstan said on Friday state oil company KazMunaiGas would create a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell to handle the production segment of the Kashagan oilfield.
"A joint venture between Shell and KazMunaiGas is being formed so that KazMunaiGas could take the lead in the production sector of the project," the government said on its website, government.kz.
Energy Minister Sauat Mynbayev said KazMunaiGas would take over production-related operations at Kashagan in five years and join its new operational structure, according to the government.
KazMunaiGas said earlier this year that Western companies developing the Kashagan oilfield would all get new roles after the completion of the project's initial development stage.
Kazakhstan and a group of global oil majors, at odds over Kashagan's production schedule and costs, are due to finalise details of the project's future development by October 25.
KazMunaiGas is at the centre of state plans to exert more control over its resources following the first post-Soviet decade when Kazakhstan, its economy in tatters, lured foreign investors with tax breaks and sky-high returns.
"KazMunaiGas will be also part of a new operational model which is being created in the project," the government said, reiterating an earlier agreement.
It did not elaborate and officials were unavailable to clarify the scheme. Shell was also not available for comment.
Apart from Shell and KazMunaiGas, the consortium unites Eni , Exxon Mobil , Total , ConocoPhillips , and Japan's Inpex Holdings Inc .
Eni said this week it plans to start production at the Kashagan field in 2012, adding it was aiming for production of 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the fourth quarter of 2012.
Under an earlier deal, KazMunaiGas is to double its stake to 16.81 percent in Kashagan for $1.78 billion (990 million pounds), with other shareholders agreeing to cut their stakes on a pro-rata basis.
The stand-off over Kashagan started in August 2007 when the government accused its shareholders of allowing costs to spiral to $136 billion from $57 billion, and missing the original 2005 production start target.
Mynbayev announced the move after a meeting with senior Eni officials and financial institutions in the western oil region of Atyrau where Kashagan is located.
France worries about getting splattered with U.S. economic 'toxic waste'
PARIS: France and President Nicolas Sarkozy had plenty of economic problems already, but America's economic crisis has only added to the uncertainty.
"France wasn't in the eye of the storm and the center from which the toxic waste came," said Daniel Cohen, a professor of economics at the École Normale Supérieure. "But we're going to get a fair amount in the face. And Europe may at the end of the day be hit worse than the United States."
The impact is "already enormous," Cohen told the newspaper Libération, "because it's a questioning of the model of American growth."
Jacques Mistral, head of economic studies at the French Institute of International Relations, said he was "surprised at the speed at which anxiety is rising here" about savings and life insurance. "The government is trying to reassure people that, like the Chernobyl cloud, this will go around France. And the assurance is about as credible."
Sarkozy has announced a major speech on the economy for Thursday, but his aides don't yet know what he is going to say.
The idea is to reassure the French and defend his policies, "to put into perspective the political economy of France," said one Sarkozy aide. But first, Sarkozy was to go to New York this weekend, hoping to meet with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. and the director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of France.
The initial mood of confidence here, that France will not be badly hit by the crisis, is eroding, with a poll published in Le Figaro on Friday, taken Wednesday and Thursday, showing 80 percent of the French now anticipating "a grave economic crisis" at home.
About 94 percent think the United States will undergo such a crisis, but that is little consolation for Sarkozy, since 66 percent think his government cannot protect France from the aftershocks, and only 14 percent think it can.
Sarkozy is already facing severe difficulties from rising Europe-wide inflation as a result of price increases for food and oil and slowing economic growth. He came into office promising to improve the purchasing power of ordinary French workers, but has failed to do so.
A respected economist and editor, Eric Le Boucher, said Thursday that "it's frustrating for Europeans to think they are paying for the excesses of the American financial system," Mistral noted. "If someone as calm as that is saying it, I think many others are thinking it."
Prime Minister François Fillon, calling on Washington to act, said Thursday that "we're not going to accept to pay for the broken dishes of a failed regulation" and a "corruption of capitalism."
Elie Cohen, director of research at the Center for Political Research at the Paris Institute of Political Studies and a member of the government's Council of Economic Advisers, was more blunt.
"There's certainly an idea that the American financial system has gone crazy," he said in an interview. "This has dealt a mortal blow to the timid admiration we had of the American system. But not even the most conservative French person is capable of defending it anymore."
As the current president of the European Union, Sarkozy is planning to make the subject of better regulation of the global markets a prime topic at the European heads of state summit meeting in mid-October. One of his top ministers, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said Friday that the measures taken by the U.S. government show the need for state intervention.
"The Americans have the courage of doing a healthy purge, nationalizing when necessary," he said in a column published Friday in Le Monde. But then he added: "This shows the limits of the ideology of financial liberalism and the need for pragmatic intervention."
But growth has already been dropping all over Europe. On Sept. 10, the European Commission forecast a recession in Germany, Spain and Britain, with France and Italy barely doing better. The commission steeply revised growth estimates downward even before the latest round of bank and insurance meltdowns.
Back in mid-August, Fillon called the government together for what the editorialist Yves de Kerdrel described at the time, in Le Figaro, as "the war against recession. The war against the fall of national wealth. The war against purchasing power at half-mast." Even then, he said, the "economy is broken down," and "the king is naked."
The war continues, but Sarkozy's weapons are further reduced. His policy of trying to reform the supply side of the economy, by reducing some taxes on the middle class but raising others on companies, while doing little to reduce the budget deficit, has created confusion.
"His economic policy is not easy to define, but it is incompatible with what is developing outside," Mistral said. The high deficit, which is already close to breaching EU rules, has also left the government with relatively little room to maneuver in a crisis.
Sarkozy's regular attacks on the independence of the European Central Bank are not widely shared in the rest of Europe, even if some countries would also, more quietly, like an easing of interest rates. And structurally, he is facing problems in keeping industrial jobs, with a relatively strong euro driving companies like Renault to outsource jobs to Asia and eastern Europe and Airbus, a major employer in southwestern France, to do the same.
Cohen, from the Council of Economic Advisers, said that the press has exaggerated the risks of this crisis to French institutions, which are more highly regulated. "It's not the direct effect I fear, but the indirect effect, the progressive paralysis of the system of credit that touches the whole world," he said. "Concretely, it will be harder to find credit to finance industrial projects or housing." And growth in 2009, he said, could be even lower than 1 percent.
Latest twist in Société Générale saga: A graphic novel
PARIS: Financial markets have been in turmoil, but the publishers of a comic book on Jérôme Kerviel hope their take on the world's biggest rogue trading scandal will add a laugh or two to the mix and earn them some cash.
"The Diary of Jérôme Kerviel" is the latest work from the French publishing house Thomas Éditions. It will hit shops Monday as trading floors come to grips with an unprecedented chain of calamities, including the bankruptcy filing this week by Lehman Brothers.
The tale follows the fall from grace of Kerviel, a 31-year old junior trader who nearly brought down a venerable French bank, Société Générale.
The graphic novel combines fact with fiction and sees Kerviel set up a range of business services from his prison cell. It ends with his fellow inmates protesting against their work conditions in the prison and threatening to beat him up.
"I am sick of capitalism," the Kerviel character concludes.
Lorentz, the pen-name for the authors, and Nicolas Million, the artist, said their book was more a critique of the banking industry in general than of Kerviel in particular.
"It's against the banking system," Lorentz said. "For us, Kerviel was just a pawn."
Thomas Éditions had reasons of its own for feeling less than fond of the banks: The fledgling publisher was repeatedly refused a loan as it tried to get its business up and running.
"They all refused us money, including Société Générale," said François-Xavier Thomas. "They weren't prepared to take a risk. But the irony of the Kerviel affair showed that the same banks were happy to take risks in betting on complex trading operations."
Thomas and his wife Marie-Clotilde, a couple of trendy 40-year olds, set up their publishing business in southern Paris in March 2007.
The company has a capital base of 50,000, or $71,000, and is not yet profitable.
They said, however, that a buzz of publicity surrounding the Kerviel cartoon augured well. The French-language book will be sold for 15 in France, Belgium and Switzerland; 10,000 copies have been printed.
In January, Société Générale revealed 4.9 billion of losses that it said had been caused by unauthorized deals conducted by Kerviel.
Kerviel was released in March after an appeal against his detention, but he remains under formal investigation for breach of trust, computer abuse and falsification.
The banker from Brittany became a sort of cult anti-hero when the scandal broke. Leftist observers saw him as a working-class victim of his upper class bosses.
The cartoon diary alludes to this class tension.
It has Kerviel wanting to prove that despite his degrees from the relatively modest universities of Nantes and Lyon, he could play with the blue-blood Société Générale traders educated at France's prestigious seats of learning.
"Kerviel acted practically like a kid," Million said.
The authors said they had already been contacted by Kerviel's advisers, asking to see the book. "We'll send him a copy," Lorentz said.
Didier Dagueneau, 52, maker of Pouilly-Fumé wines, dies
Didier Dagueneau, an iconoclastic Loire Valley winemaker whose Pouilly-Fumés displayed a purity and subtlety far beyond most other sauvignon blanc wines, died Wednesday in a plane crash.
He died when the ultralight plane he was piloting crashed after takeoff in the Dordogne region of France, said his New York importer, Joe Dressner.
Dagueneau was 52 and lived in St.-Andelain, a village in the Pouilly-Fumé region on the eastern end of the Loire Valley.
Working with sauvignon blanc, a grape that made crowd-pleasing, thirst-quenching Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres but was rarely taken seriously, Dagueneau sought to show its potential for greatness.
"He influenced the entire region," said Jacqueline Friedrich, a wine writer who is working on a revision of her 1996 book, "A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire." "I've been tasting a lot of Sancerres, and I'm absolutely amazed by the evolution and how much better they've become. That was absolutely his doing."
With meticulous, almost radical attention to detail in his vineyards, and with relentless experimentation and perfectionism in his cellar, Dagueneau produced wines that, on first taste, were a revelation.
If his wines made an indelible impression, his personality doubled it. With his long, shaggy hair, his heavy beard and his outspoken manner, Dagueneau could be an intimidating presence. He cultivated a rebellious image, and at one time he rechristened the street outside his winery Rue Che Guevara.
He was a provocateur in winemaking, too, charging prices well beyond the standard of the region. On national television, he compared the drastically low yields in his own vineyards with the high yields of his neighbors, and he did not hesitate to criticize their wines.
"He was wildly disliked in the area, yet people had a great deal of respect and admiration for him, too," Dressner said. "The wines were so apart from what was produced in the area that people couldn't deny the quality of the wine."
Didier Dagueneau was born in St.-Andelain in 1956. His family was in the grape and wine business - his uncle and cousins continue to produce Pouilly-Fumé at Serge Dagueneau & Filles - but as a teenager, Didier had a falling-out with his father and struck out on his own.
At first, he raced motorcycles. But after a string of crashes he returned to St.-Andelain and the wine business, said Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports, Dagueneau's West Coast importer. He did not lose the taste for daredevil activities: He was a committed dogsled racer and later took up flying.
When Dagueneau went into business in the early 1980s, he had no holdings, but he was able to get enough grapes together by renting vineyards. Even as a young man he was ambitious, competitive and perfectionist.
The 1980s was an era of steel tanks, high yields and chemical farming, but Dagueneau wanted to make wine as his great-grandmother had done. His vineyards were organic, and as soon as he could afford to do so, he acquired barrels to age his wines. He was eventually able to buy almost 12 hectares, or 30 acres, in Pouilly-Fumé, along with a tiny plot in Les Monts Damnes, one of the finest Sancerre vineyards.
Dagueneau was eventually able to build his own winery, a scrupulously clean structure that has been likened by visitors to a cathedral. As Friedrich told it in her book, he conceded that the expense was "disproportionate."
"I didn't want to wait and do it bit by bit," he told Friedrich.
"You've got to move quickly. Life is short."
The crisis was too complex for easy fixes
PARIS: Just over 100 years ago, J.P. Morgan gathered his fellow financiers at his Manhattan mansion amid growing financial panic and declared, "This is where the trouble stops."
Last weekend, a similar conclave gathered farther downtown at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with the Fed's chairman and the U.S. Treasury secretary giving the bosses of Wall Street giants like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and, yes, J.P. Morgan, a similar ultimatum.
Unlike the successful dénouement to the Panic of 1907, however, the trouble did not stop. Indeed, the crisis of 2008 worsened, with one financial firm filing for bankruptcy protection, another ending up in a shotgun wedding with a major bank and a third essentially getting nationalized by Washington.
In the end, it looks as if only the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, now committed to taking over the lion's share of bad housing debt, may be enough to stem the fear.
Why didn't the magic wrought by J.P. Morgan (the banker, not the bank) work this time around? It may be because, unlike the financiers 100 years ago, the people in the room did not fully understand what the institutions they run actually owned and were trading back and forth - at immense profit.
Neither did they fully grasp the speed at which their world had changed since the last financial crisis a decade ago, when the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, a giant hedge fund, seemingly brought Wall Street to the brink.
"I consider myself a serious student of Wall Street history, but history is not going to be a lot of help here," said Byron Wien, a 40-year market veteran who is now chief investment strategist for Pequot Capital.
"The degree of complexity is so great, the products are new and untested and the operations are now global," he added. "This is Long-Term Capital on steroids."
In some ways, Wall Street suffers from a generation gap. At 62, Richard Fuld, the head of Lehman Brothers, had ridden out everything from the oil shocks of the 1970s to the Russian debt default and Asian economic flu in 1998. But in recent years, his firm and other Wall Street giants derived an ever-increasing share of profits from products that barely existed a decade ago, like credit-default swaps. Essentially insurance on debt, the market for credit-default swaps has ballooned from $900 billion in 2001 to a nearly unimaginable $45.5 trillion now.
In fact, the insurance giant AIG, which was effectively taken over by the U.S. government Tuesday, was one of the very largest players in this gargantuan market - far bigger than Lehman, which filed for bankruptcy protection early Monday. That was a top reason why AIG got an $85 billion government lifeline, while Lehman was left to fend for itself.
Jamie Cawley, a veteran player in the credit-default swaps market, says he doubts whether the older chiefs of the firms who profited from these products, or the young traders who specialized in them, fully understood the implications of what they were doing.
"Had they understood the implications, we wouldn't be where we are today," said Cawley, founder and chief executive of IDX Capital. The overriding feeling on Wall Street, he said, was: "Let's make money while the sun shines and worry about the details later."
While Fuld and other chief executives bear the ultimate responsibility for their firms' fates, it would take a doctorate in mathematics to unravel the most complex of the derivatives that helped bring down Lehman or Bear Stearns earlier this year.
The compensation of Fuld and other Wall Street chief executives followed a similar trajectory higher during the earlier boom years.
"If you're approving things you don't understand, that's not doing your job," said Jonathan Koppell, director of the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at the Yale School of Management. "What are these guys compensated for, if they're checking off things they don't understand?"
"A huge number of directors probably didn't understand what their companies were up to, and it's quite likely at least some of the leaders of these companies didn't fully understand what their employees were doing," he added.
To make matters worse, the financial models undergirding many of the most sophisticated new products were largely based on recent trading patterns - an unusually tranquil time, at least by historical standards.
With the inflation spike of the 1970s largely conquered by the central banks, the last 25 years have seen steadily dropping interest rates, the successful integration of emerging markets, and low inflation, according to Thomas Mayer, chief European economist for Deutsche Bank.
Despite occasional periods of volatility - the crash of 1987, the failure of Long-Term Capital, the bursting of the technology bubble and economic fallout from Sept. 11 - the markets managed to bounce back each time.
"People were lulled into complacency," said Wien of Pequot Capital.
To be sure, it was not only the veterans who were caught off guard by the risks lying in wait. The young lions were, too.
Earlier this year, a 31-year old derivatives trader named Jérôme Kerviel nearly brought down Société Générale, the 150-year-old French financial giant, by making unauthorized bets on the stock market that cost his bank almost €5 billion, or $7.7 billion at the exchange rate at that time.
His supervisors later said they had had no idea what he was up to.
It is not just Wall Street that has changed, either.
The global economic landscape is also fundamentally different from that of a decade ago, not to mention that when men like Fuld and his contemporaries came of age. Maurice Greenberg was 80 when he stepped down from AIG in 2005. James Cayne, the former boss of Bear Stearns, is 74.
In earlier eras, says Wien, a stricken firm like Lehman or AIG would have turned to deep-pocketed investors in the United States, or failing that, Europe.
This time around, banks are turning to the Middle East and especially Asia for capital. Lehman itself entered a death spiral when the state-controlled Korea Development Bank walked away from talks to buy a stake in the 158-year-old investment bank.
"The balance of economic power has shifted out of the U.S and Europe to the Middle East and Asia," Wien said.
At the same time, dramatic gains in computing power allowed the creation of financial products with many more variables - and gave individual traders like Kerviel much more power to move them at lightning speed.
"Twenty years ago, it was hard to accurately price a corporate bond, let alone calculate credit spreads," said David Munves, a managing director in the capital markets research group of Moody's, who spent 10 years at Lehman. Even in the mid-1990s, he recalls, bond traders would use oversized calculators at their desks to figure out yields down to 1/16 and 1/32.
Now, he said, traders can call up databases that feature 400 fields for a single bond, with once-straightforward features like duration and yield sliced a multitude of different ways. "As you build more complex products, you get further away from real world events, like actually having to sell these bonds," he said.
The result, said Mayer of Deutsche Bank, is that products were developed for markets that everyone assumed would be like they were then, only more so, with capital freely flowing, rational minds prevailing and fear largely in check.
"A generation grew up that has been very well trained in this new finance theory, very well educated to apply it on a broad scale with the necessary computing power, and off we went," Mayer said.
Recent events, he said, have shown that the basic assumptions that have held sway for a generation or two no longer hold. "This will leave us with a different paradigm," he added. "If I could give it to you, I'd win the Nobel Prize."
FTSE soars to biggest gain in its history
LONDON: The FTSE 100 powered to the biggest daily gain in its 24-year history on Friday as banks surged on a radical U.S. government plan aimed at supporting crisis-hit markets and a ban on short-selling of financial stocks.
The blue chip index closed 431.3 points higher at 5,311.3, up 8.8 percent. the biggest percentage and points gain since its inception in 1984.
Stocks surged globally after news the U.S. government is crafting a bailout to mop up the billions of dollars of toxic mortgage debt still clogging the financial system.
The blue chip index, in which banks are heavily represented, got an extra boost from a temporary ban by the Financial Services Authority on short-selling in 33 financial stocks until January 2009.
In the U.S. the Securities and Exchange Commission said short selling of 799 financial stocks is to be halted in the United States under an emergency order aimed at protecting investors and markets.
"There's a very heavy element of the (short selling ban) pushing the rise," said Richard Hunter, head of UK equities at Hargreaves Lansdown. "If you look at banking stocks ... they are particularly rallying and that's clearly off the back of the short selling ban."
Battered banks bounced back strongly, with the FTSE 350 bank index soaring 20.7 percent.
Barclays , HSBC , Royal Bank of Scotland HBOS and Standard Chartered leapt between 17 and 32 percent.
Lloyds TSB gained 20 percent after traders said a 5 percent share placing from the bank, designed to raise over 800 million pounds was fully covered.
Other financial stocks, which have also been dented by the ongoing financial crises, rebounded sharply as well.
London Stock Exchange shares were up nearly 15 percent, while ICAP , the world's biggest interdealer broker, jumped 16 percent.
UK insurers also registered strong gains, with Prudential , Old Mutual , Standard Life and Aviva rising 10.6 to 23.5 percent, while hedge fund Man Group gained 16 percent.
Energy stocks rose along with higher crude prices . BP , Royal Dutch Shell , gas producer BG Group , Cairn Energy and Tullow Oil were up between 5.5 and 12.3 percent.
In the mining sector, BHP Billiton , Rio Tinto , Anglo American , Xstrata , Vedanta Resources and Antofagasta gained 9.9 to 22.2 percent as precious metal prices stayed firm.
Retailers and property shares were also in demand as market sentiment improved. Marks & Spencer , Next , Hammerson , Land Securities , British Land and Kingfisher surged 5.5 to 12.1 percent.
Defensive stocks, which investors tend to unload as risk appetite increases lost ground, with food and household products group Unilever down 1 percent, British & American Tobacco down 1.4 percent.
Present at the crash
On the subway, a stranger in a suit knowingly eyed my Lehman Brothers ID badge in its Bear Stearns holster. With a look of detached curiosity, he expressed his condolences. This is not the way I thought my Wall Street career would begin.
During college, I was an intern at Bear Stearns. There, I toiled at the lowest levels of Wall Street, fetching coffee, moving boxes, filing papers.
In my final summer at Bear, I was promoted to intern in the marketing department of the asset management division. There, I worked on some hedge funds that invested in stuff called "mortgage-backed securities."
Several months later, the hedge funds went down the tubes, dragging Bear Stearns behind them.
After I graduated from college, Lehman Brothers hired me to help settle trades in complex derivatives, the very derivatives that led to the company's demise. I helped resolve trading issues involving tens - hundreds - of millions of dollars.
And now? Now from my desk here in the trenches, my colleagues and I watch CNBC reports on the collapse of Wall Street. Over the months, we have watched our stock price plummet 99.8 percent, from $65 per share to 15 cents.
The news provides grist for the rumor mill. I trade notes with my colleagues here. Though some more senior people have lost their entire life savings, the steady stream of bad news and uncertainty are also difficult for those of us at the bottom of the Wall Street food chain. It is dizzying.
Most of the time, in the office and out, I feel like I am on display, an object of pity or fascination. Friends and family send frequent expressions of concern and empathy by phone, e-mail and text message.
Even though I had little - nothing, actually - to do with the real estate losses that led to Lehman's problems, or the hedge funds that precipitated Bear's demise, the only conclusion I can draw is that I'm a jinx. Prospective employers will take one look at my résumé and call security to escort me out the door lest my mere presence infect their otherwise healthy businesses.
Meanwhile, I sit at my desk. "Your password will expire in nine days," my computer informs me. "Would you like to change it?" Each time, I click "No."
Sam G. Baris is an analyst at Lehman Brothers.
Learning to reach lower for happiness
"If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher's stone."
- Benjamin Franklin
In Rambouillet, France, about an hour's drive from Paris, a French executive and his wife have given up their customary weekend evenings in the capital because the price of a show, a restaurant, gasoline for the drive and a babysitter until the wee hours of the morning has become prohibitive.
In a prosperous Long Island suburb, the wife of a fund manager says she has heard gossip that several women in her club have had to borrow to pay their annual dues.
And as far away as Tanzania, a tour provider frets that Americans are cutting back on African safaris.
Pride prevents many of these well-off people from discussing or even closely examining their downsizing - a phenomenon bound to intensify as financial institutions unravel and bankers at Lehman Brothers and elsewhere lose their hefty paychecks. And of course, most people with moderate incomes would be happy to have these problems.
But to David Rosenberg, chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch, the evidence was clear even before the Wall Street debacle: The downturn in the world economy and the end to a 20-year credit cycle that fueled a consumption boom, means that households at nearly every level are reducing spending.
"It means that fashions are going to change," Rosenberg wrote in a research report last month. "It means that frugality is going to set in."
So far, spending by the affluent may be merely fraying around the edges. But Russ Prince, president of Prince & Associates, a market research company that tracks the habits and attitudes of the rich, says that members of a group he calls "middle-class millionaires" - those who have total assets of between $1 million and $5 million - are "freaking out," worried about cash flow because of high fixed costs like maintaining large houses and sending their children to private school.
But finding one's inner Benjamin Franklin - the American founding father who moralized about the relationship between money and happiness - is not easy. How well people at all income levels cope with the need for frugality depends in large part on how they are wired and how they have been socialized. With the majority of people feeling more out of control about the economy than at any time since the Great Depression, coping may require far more than a family budget and some financial education.
Sharon Danes, an economist and professor at the University of Minnesota who advises family businesses, likens the emotional reaction to a suddenly reduced income to the loss cycle in mourning a death: First denial, then anger and blame, followed by depression with loss of energy; negotiation, in which people want to discuss the problem; and, finally, acceptance and the search for a solution.
The denial phase, Danes said, can mean that although income drops immediately, people "continue their lifestyle as it is until they see things are not going to change." The result is that spending ratchets down in smaller increments. In fact, it may take a wake-up call, like not being able to pay a tax bill, to stimulate action. "Then the change becomes scary," she said.
For those whose sense of self depends on money, warned Richard Trachtman, who runs a New York psychological practice specializing in money and relationships, the consequences of concentrating on wealth are often "unhappiness, physical problems, headaches, backaches, suppressed tension, which leads to heart attacks, problems in relationships and problems with sleep."
Trying to change that orientation may be difficult Trachtman said, "because it is hard to change your personality and the habits of a lifetime."
Once people are ready to face change, Danes advises them to adopt positive motivations for spending cuts. "Don't call it 'the new frugality,"' she said - that implies a negative outside stimulus. Instead, she said, "Call it 'right-sizing' your life as a family. Or making your life more manageable."
Many affluent parents believe it essential to keep children in private schools and shelter them from financial worries, but Danes advises families to open up about the need to trim budgets. She advised planning and finding ways to encourage children to make small changes, then assessing how those little savings make a difference. "If you make the goals realistic, the snowball of success will continue, so you can motivate the whole family," she said. That ensures the process will be sustainable. "If it is too hard, people are going to check out and not do it."
For some, cutting back may merely mean more discipline and wiser choices; for others it may require tossing out credit cards or even professional help to counter compulsive spending.
Lorrin Koran, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, found that 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men in the United States had symptoms that correlated with compulsive buying disorder. Worldwide, the figure is estimated to be about 1 percent, but in Paris, a world center for luxury goods, the figure is more like 4 percent, according to Lana Strika, a psychologist who specializes in addiction therapy at Hôpital Emile Roux outside of Paris.
Comparing compulsive spenders with other addicts, Strika said the common thread is a search for pleasure to cover up some deeply held feeling of emotional privation. Erlangen University Hospital in Germany is beginning a therapeutic program for compulsive shoppers this autumn, based on counteracting the lift in self-esteem that shopaholics get from salespeople's attentions.
Increasingly, psychologists have been examining and treating money-related behaviors, as the pursuit of affluence interferes with other life satisfactions or leads to excessive risk-taking or inability to enjoy wealth.
Ted and Brad Klontz, father and son psychologists who specialize in treating financial behavior issues, say that clients are often referred by financial planners and other professionals who have tried to help and have "run out of tools," said Brad Klontz, president of the Hawaii Psychological Association.
Klontz was drawn to the field after he lost virtually all his assets when the dot.com bubble burst. He had just earned his doctorate in 1999. All his friends were boasting of fortunes they had made on the stock market. He wanted to catch up. He sold his truck and invested all his money in the market. Two months later he was broke.
In examining his behavior, Klontz found that he was influenced by an old set of family beliefs developed after his grandfather lost all his money when the banks collapsed in the Depression.
"The typical response is educate, educate, educate. It is misguided," said Klontz, who is also co-author with his father of "The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge." "People know those concepts. You need an emotional shift."
The two men try to find the thinking behind misguided financial behavior. "Every behavior makes perfect sense if you understand the thought process," said Brad Klontz. During the real estate bubble, for instance, some people who bought oversized homes and took risky mortgages thought: "It is my job to give my family what I didn't have." Others thought, "If they are stupid enough to give me this money, I am smart enough to take it."
These personal beliefs then feed into the larger world of public opinion. "People get sucked into bubbles because 30,000 years ago, if you were not part of the tribe, you were dead," said Ted Klontz. "If everyone at the dinner party is talking real estate, that part of your brain gets scared to death that if we are not part of the crowd, we are going to die."
For those hunkering down for hard times, it may be a consolation to recall the Easterlin Paradox, a classic study of the relationship between self-reported well-being and income level.
Despite significant GDP growth in a variety of countries after World War II, Richard Easterlin, an economist, found that the level of reported happiness did not rise with growth in national income. Within countries, however, wealthier people reported themselves as happier.
The explanation is "the more money they make, the more their material expectations rise in proportion to their income," said Joseph Sirgy, a marketing professor at Virginia Tech University. "There is always a gap between what you want and what you get."
He said less materialistic people tend to base their expectations on their own resources - what they earned last year, their level of optimism or pessimism and education and competence. More materialistic people compare themselves with television portrayals of the rich, and are often working off an ideal.
"People are constantly bombarded by messages about how things could be better and how material things will improve one's life," Sirgy said, adding that materialists tend to watch more television and advertising.
As to the current economic downturn, Sirgy observed that people were beginning to make adjustments. "They are cutting down on their travel plans. It is happening in small increments. Expectations will ultimately have to fall. Psychologically, that is how we adapt."
David Brooks: The post-Lehman world
A few years ago, real estate was all the rage. Earlier this year, the business magazines were telling us to invest in Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, because those stocks were bound to zoom. Now another herd is on the march.
We're in a paradigm shift, its members say. The current financial turmoil marks the end of the era of wide-open global capitalism. Today's gigantic government acquisitions signal a new political era, with more federal activism and tighter regulations.
This observation is then followed by a string of ethereal gottas and shoulds. We Americans gotta have smart regulation that offers security but doesn't stifle innovation. We gotta have rules that inhibit reckless gambling without squelching sensible risk-taking. We should limit excesses during booms and head off liquidations when things go bad.
It all sounds great (like buying a house with no money down), but do you mind if I do a little due diligence?
In the first place, the idea that America's problems stem from light regulation and could be solved by more regulation doesn't fit all the facts. The current financial crisis is centered around highly regulated investment banks, while lightly regulated hedge funds are not doing so badly. Two of the biggest miscreants were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which, in theory, "were probably the world's most heavily supervised financial institutions," according to Jonathan Kay of The Financial Times.
Moreover, there is a lot of lamentation about Clinton-era reforms that loosened restrictions on banks. But it's hard, as Megan McArdle of The Atlantic notes, to see what these reforms had to do with rising house prices, the flood of foreign investment that fed the credit bubble and the global creation of complex new financial instruments for pricing and distributing risk.
In other words, maybe there is something more going on here than just a bunch of laissez-faire regulators asleep at the wheel. But even if it is true that America needs more federal activism, I'm a little curious about what we're going to need to make the system work.
Surely, we're going to need lawmakers who understand what caused the current meltdown and who can design rules to make sure it doesn't happen again. And yet there's no consensus about what caused this bubble.
Some people blame the Fed's monetary policies, but some say the Fed had only a marginal effect. Some argue a flood of foreign investment allowed us to live beyond our means, while others say bad accounting regulations after Enron created a chain reaction of losses.
We don't even have a clear explanation about the past, yet we're also going to need regulators who understand the present and can diagnose the future.
We're going to need regulators who can anticipate what the next Wall Street business model is going to look like, and how the next crisis will be different than the current one. We're going to need squads of low-paid regulators who can stay ahead of the highly paid bankers, auditors and analysts who pace this industry (and who themselves failed to anticipate this turmoil).
We're apparently going to need an all-powerful Super-Fed than can manage inflation, unemployment, bubbles and maybe hurricanes - all at the same time! We're going to need regulators who write regulations that control risky behavior rather than just channeling it off into dark corners, and who understand what's happening in bank trading rooms even if the CEOs themselves are oblivious.
We're also going to need regulators who can overcome politics and human nature. As McArdle notes, cracking down on subprime loans just when they were getting frothy would have meant issuing an edict that effectively said: "Don't lend money to poor people." Good luck with that.
We'd need regulators who could spot a bubble and squelch a boom just when things seem to be going good, who can scare away foreign investment and who could over-rule popularity-mongering presidents. (The statements by the two candidates this week have been moronic.)
To sum it all up, this supposed new era of federal activism is going to confront some old problems: the lack of information available to government planners, the inability to keep up with or control complex economic systems, the fact that political considerations invariably distort the best laid plans.
This doesn't mean there's nothing to be done. Martin Wolf suggests countercyclical capital requirements. Everybody seems to be for some updated version of the Resolution Trust Corp., though disposing of complex debt securities has got to be more difficult than disposing of commercial real estate.
It's just that there's a big difference between dreaming of some ideal regulatory regime and actually putting one into practice. Everybody says we're about to enter a new political era, rich in global financial regulation. The herd might just be wrong once again.
Paul Krugman: Crisis endgame
PRINCETON, New Jersey: On Sunday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson tried to draw a line in the sand against further bailouts of failing financial institutions; four days later, faced with a crisis spinning out of control, much of Washington appears to have decided that government isn't the problem, it's the solution. The unthinkable - a government buyout of much of the private sector's bad debt - has become the inevitable.
The story so far: The real shock after the feds failed to bail out Lehman Brothers wasn't the plunge in the Dow, it was the reaction of the credit markets. Basically, lenders went on strike: U.S. government debt, which is still perceived as the safest of all investments - if the government goes bust, what is anything else worth? - was snapped up even though it paid essentially nothing, while would-be private borrowers were frozen out.
Thus, banks are normally able to borrow from each other at rates just slightly above the interest rate on U.S. Treasury bills. But Thursday morning, the average interest rate on three-month interbank borrowing was 3.2 percent, while the interest rate on the corresponding Treasuries was 0.05 percent. No, that's not a misprint.
This flight to safety has cut off credit to many businesses, including major players in the financial industry - and that, in turn, is setting us up for more big failures and further panic. It's also depressing business spending, a bad thing as signs gather that the economic slump is deepening.
And the Federal Reserve, which normally takes the lead in fighting recessions, can't do much this time, because the standard tools of monetary policy have lost their grip. Usually the Fed responds to economic weakness by buying up Treasury bills, in order to drive interest rates down. But the interest rate on Treasuries is already zero, for all practical purposes; what more can the Fed do?
Well, it can lend money to the private sector - and it's been doing that on an awesome scale. But this lending hasn't kept the situation from deteriorating.
There's only one bright spot in the picture: interest rates on mortgages have come down sharply since the federal government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and guaranteed their debt. And there's a lesson there for those ready to hear it: Government takeovers may be the only way to get the financial system working again.
Some people have been making that argument for some time. Most recently, former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and two other veterans of past financial crises published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal declaring that the only way to avoid "the mother of all credit contractions" is to create a new government agency to "buy up the troubled paper" - that is, to have taxpayers take over the bad assets created by the bursting of the housing and credit bubbles. Coming from Volcker, that proposal has serious credibility.
Influential members of Congress, including Senator Hillary Clinton and Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have been making similar arguments. And on Thursday, Senator Charles Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (and an advocate of creating a new agency to resolve the financial crisis) told reporters that "the Federal Reserve and the Treasury are realizing that we need a more comprehensive solution."
Sure enough, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Paulson met on Thursday night with congressional leaders to discuss a "comprehensive approach" to the problem.
We don't know yet what that "comprehensive approach" will look like. There have been hopeful comparisons to the financial rescue the Swedish government carried out in the early 1990s, a rescue that involved a temporary public takeover of a large part of the country's financial system. It's not clear, however, whether policymakers in Washington are prepared to exert a comparable degree of control.
And if they aren't, this could turn into the wrong kind of rescue - a bailout of stockholders as well as the market, in effect rescuing the financial industry from the consequences of its own greed.
Furthermore, even a well-designed rescue would cost a lot of money.
The Swedish government laid out 4 percent of gross domestic product, which in America's case would be a cool $600 billion - although the final burden to Swedish taxpayers was much less, because the government was eventually able to sell off the assets it had acquired, in some cases at a handsome profit.
But it's no use whining (sorry, Senator Gramm) about the prospect of a financial rescue plan. Today's U.S. political system isn't going to follow Andrew Mellon's infamous advice to Herbert Hoover: "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate."
The big buyout is coming; the only question is whether it will be done right.
Philip Roth: A storyteller's eye on death and defiance
By Philip Roth
233 pages. $26, Houghton Mifflin Co; £16.99, Jonathan Cape Ltd.
In his new novel, "Indignation," Philip Roth withholds a crucial piece of information - and that's an understatement - until about a quarter of the way through. This placement seems to me right on the borderline of fair game for reviewers, and not to tell it would misrepresent the book. (A more alert reader than I was might figure it out simply by looking at the table of contents.) Still, it seems mean to spoil a strategic surprise for folks who like that kind of thing. So in case you want to head for the exit now, I'm going to vamp for a couple of paragraphs of harmless generalities and evasive plot summary before getting specific. Roth has a couple more surprises, too (which you might see coming but probably won't), and I promise not to get anywhere near those. Anyhow, isn't it surprising enough that Roth, now 75, has just published his third novel in three years?
Well, at this point, maybe not. Roth has been burning up the track for well over a decade now. Since "Sabbath's Theater" in 1995, Roth has written eight novels, including two general-consensus masterworks - "American Pastoral" (1997) and "Everyman" (2006) - the conclusion of his long Zuckerman saga (last year's "Exit Ghost") and a half-dozen other exceptionally strong books. And in "Indignation," his power and intensity seem undiminished. I generally prefer Roth's short, devastating sex-and-mortality novels - "Everyman," "Exit Ghost," "The Dying Animal" (2001) - to his larger social/political/historical excursions - "American Pastoral," "The Human Stain" (2000), "The Plot Against America" (2004) - although I admit the big books are more fun to read, since they offer a richer menu of topical distractions from what's ultimately in store for each of us.
"Indignation," set during the Korean War in a small, conservative Ohio college - hat-tippingly named Winesburg - has something in common with both Rothian modes. It evokes a nasty period of America's social history (you know, as opposed to all those idyllic ones), but like Roth's two previous novels, it's also ruthlessly economical and relentlessly death-bound.
The narrator, a college sophomore named Marcus Messner, who says he used to be "the nicest boy in the world," is the Everyteen of his superficially innocent era. "In my high school years, I had been a prudent, responsible, diligent, hard-working A student who went out with only the nicest girls, a dedicated debater and a utility infielder for the varsity baseball team." The summer after high school, Marcus worked 60-hour weeks in his father's kosher butcher shop in Newark - yet another of Roth's lovingly researched workplaces, like the glove factory in "American Pastoral." And at Winesburg, Marcus studies all week and waits tables all weekend. "I wanted to do everything right," he says. "If I did everything right, I could justify to my father the expense of my being at college in Ohio rather than in Newark. I could justify to my mother her having to work full time in the store again."
His goal is to become valedictorian, and since he's only human - as well as a Philip Roth character - "to have intercourse before I died." At 19, Marcus is just beginning to distill a self out of all this slop of generic niceness: to his surprise, if not to ours, he finds a quality for which Roth's title, with its implication of justified outrage at violated dignity, is the mot juste.
Back when Marcus was in grade school, during World War II, he and his classmates had to learn what they were told was the national anthem of China, America's Pacific Theater ally: "Arise, ye who refuse to be bondslaves!/ ... Indignation fills the hearts of all of our countrymen,/ Arise! Arise! Arise!" Now, during a war in which China has become the enemy, Marcus sings this call to arms in his head when forced to attend chapel, with Christian hymns and sermons about "Christ's example" - objecting "not because I was an observant Jew but because I was an ardent atheist."
As Marcus's troubles and his defiance mount - neither of them especially high - he is called into the office of a cartoonishly offensive dean and again sings to himself "the most beautiful word in the English language: 'In-dig-na-tion!"' What has the nicest boy in the world done? Changed dorm rooms, twice, to get away from roommates who were driving him crazy.
Neither this nor his subsequent infractions, linked from one to another with a horrible inexorability, would amount to anything today, and not one does a bit of harm. But in a novel set in 1951, this series of dinky moments is more than enough to bring on the denouement.
Everything in "The Human Stain," you may remember, turns on Coleman Silk's use of a single word; for Marcus Messner, it takes two to change his life forever.
Roth holds back his final surprise - those two words, and all that they lead to, until a few pages before the end; that's the one we won't touch. Marcus, though, has gotten us only from Newark to Winesburg, and into a car for his first date with a delightful basket case named Olivia, when he stops his narrative at a cliff-hanging point - during an episode more astonishing to him than it is to us - and imparts something as astonishing to us as it is to him. Which is simply ... ah, but let's cliff-hang for a minute ourselves, O.K.?
How does Roth get away with this stuff? The cliffhanger, the obscure portent, the withholding of essential information? He doesn't use these antiquated devices ironically. And those occasional descents into boilerplate prose?
Roth's secret, I think, is his supreme confidence as a storyteller - and, paradoxically, a supreme humility. His writing is at the service of his story and characters; he's a pragmatist, not a belletrist. If certain conventions of plot and language do the job, why get fancy? He can break out the fine writing when the occasion requires.
As it does when Marcus delivers his revelation: which is simply ... that he is dead, and has been "for I don't know how long."
"Everyman" and "Exit Ghost" both have a mood of sorrowful resignation; this book goes about its grieving savagely. And of all Roth's recent novels, it ventures farthest into the unknowable. In his unshowy way, with all his quotidian specificity and merciless skepticism, Roth is attempting to storm heaven - an endeavor all the more desperately daring because he seems dead certain it's not there.
David Gates's most recent book is "The Wonders of the Invisible World," a collection of stories.
Police in New Delhi battle suspected Muslim militants
NEW DELHI: The Indian police battled suspected Islamic militants holed up in a New Delhi safe house Friday, killing two, including a man believed to have played a major role in bombings that ripped through the Indian capital last week, officials said.
The suspect - identified only as Atif - is also believed to have taken a lead role in plotting blasts that hit three other cities in the past year, killing scores of people in what the authorities say were attempts to provoke violence between India's Hindu majority and Muslim minority.
The New Delhi police commissioner, Y.S. Dadwal, told reporters that police officers, acting on a tip, raided the safe house in a southern part of sprawling New Delhi in hopes of catching those behind the bombings.
The officers arrived around 11 a.m. and killed two of the militants in the ensuing gun battle. Another was arrested and two managed to escape, he said, adding that five people were also detained for sheltering the militants.
A police spokesman, Rajan Bhagat, said two policemen were wounded in the fighting. Indian media later reported that one of the officers had died of his wounds. "A sizable amount of arms and ammunition was discovered in the house," Bhagat said. "The area has been cordoned off, and we are continuing our investigation."
Soon after the gun battle broke out, scores of police officers, many in riot gear, could be seen fanning out through Jamia Nagar, the leafy lower middle-class neighborhood where the fighting took place. The scene was chaotic, with the authorities trying to get civilians out of harm's way while subduing the militants.
The gun battle put the city back on edge days after five coordinated market bombings killed 21 people - attacks credited to homegrown Islamic militants. Security was further stepped up at the city's markets with the police opening the trunks of cars before letting them park.
A group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen has claimed responsibility for the New Delhi attacks. It also said it was behind bombings that killed 61 people in the western city of Jaipur in May and July blasts in the western state of Gujarat that killed at least 45.
While the killing Friday of the alleged militant leader appeared to be a victory for the police, previous arrests of militant leaders have not halted the attacks. Part of the problem is that investigators are still not entirely sure who they are dealing with.
British teen sentenced to 2 years for terrorist offense
LONDON: A schoolboy who was 16 when he was arrested and charged with terrorist offenses has been sentenced to two years in a young offenders' institution.
Hammaad Munshi is the youngest person to be convicted in Britain of a terrorist offense. He is now 18 and was found guilty last month of compiling information likely to be useful to terrorists.
Prosecutors say Munshi downloaded files about making napalm, detonators and grenades. Al-Qaida propaganda was found on his computer and under his bed.
Judge Timothy Pontius said Friday that Munshi had fallen under the spell of fanatical extremists.
Two older associates, Aabid Khan and Sultan Muhammad, were sentenced to longer prison terms for possessing items for terrorist purposes.
Germans arrest 2 suspected of terror links
BERLIN: A German and a Turkish citizen have been arrested on suspicion of collaborating with a terrorist group whose plans for attacks on U.S. targets in Germany were foiled last year, authorities said Friday.
Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the pair, both 27 years old, were arrested Thursday in the Frankfurt area on suspicion of links to Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a jihadist group with ties to al-Qaida.
Prosecutors identified the two as Omid S., a German citizen of Afghan descent who is suspected of membership in a terror organization, and Hueseyin O., a Turkish citizen suspected of supporting a terror organization. Both are suspected of involvement with the Islamic Jihad Union's German cell.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Islamic Jihad Union was responsible for coordinated bombings outside the U.S. and Israeli embassies in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in July 2004.
Members have been trained by al-Qaida instructors to use explosives and the group has ties to Osama bin Laden and fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the State Department says.
Prosecutors said they believe both suspects were aware of the German cell's plot to target U.S. and German interests a plot thwarted by authorities in September 2007. Three suspected members of the cell were arrested then and charged earlier this month.
During that arrest, prosecutors said they confiscated a mobile phone that contained information on both Omid S.' and Hueseyin O.'s bank accounts that led them to the pair.
They said Omid. S. had "traveled to an Islamic Jihad Union training camp near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the spring and summer of 2007, where he completed a course." He is also suspected of purchasing equipment for the Islamic Jihad Union and bringing it to the group in Pakistan.
Hueseyin O. also traveled to Pakistan but was prevented by authorities there from reaching the camp, prosecutors said, saying that before he left, he gave his debit card and PIN number to Adem Yilmaz, one of the suspected members of the German cell arrested in 2007.
Along with Fritz Martin Gelowicz, and Daniel Martin Schneider, Yilmaz has been charged with membership in a terrorist organization and plotting a terror attack for his role in stockpiling 1,600 pounds (730 kilograms) of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide to build bombs.
Authorities said the chemicals were enough to build bombs more powerful than those that killed 191 commuters in Madrid in 2004 and 52 people in London in 2005.
Hueseyin O. and Omid S. were being held in detention on Friday pending the results of a criminal investigation. The names of their lawyers were not immediately available.
Deadly U.S. airstrike sparks protests in Iraq
BAGHDAD: Iraqis protested the deaths of at least seven people during an American air strike in northern Iraq on Friday, in the town where Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003.
Americans say the raid successfully singled out a senior operative of Al Qaeda in Iraq who was suspected of involvement in bombing attacks along the Tigris river valley.
But Iraqi officials said the strike used excessive force in killing eight members of one family, whose innocence they protested. They accused the Americans of shooting down men and women from the air as they fled. The Americans say seven were killed.
The deaths come at a sensitive time for the American government, as it tries to negotiate a security agreement with Iraq, which is eager to exert tighter controls over American troops who remain in the country.
An American military statement said that coalition forces went to Ad Dawr in Salahuddin Province after receiving intelligence that the wanted man was in the small Sunni town, which lies 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, north of Baghdad, near Saddam Hussein's former stronghold of Tikrit.
It said the target was an "emir" in the bombing network of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, known to the Americans as AQI.
Iraqi officials said the dead were all from one family: five men in their twenties and thirties and three women aged between 20 and 58.
Abdul Karim Khalil Ibrahim, 51, a relative, said that he watched the raid take place from his house.
"The American forces surrounded my cousin's house then they bombed it," he said. "I was watching from my roof through a hole in the wall. The American forces lit the place with flashlights. I saw my cousin with his wife escape from the back yard, when the American helicopter shot them and killed them immediately."
American officials said that four men and three women were killed, but justified the use of air power in the operation.
"After arriving at the target, forces surrounded the building and called for its occupants to surrender. Despite nearly an hour of multiple calls and warnings that the force would engage them, the individuals inside refused to come out," said the statement.
"An armed man appeared in the doorway, and coalition forces, perceiving hostile intent based on the man's actions, engaged him.
Later he was determined to be the suspected terrorist. During the operation, and in accordance with applicable rules, supporting aircraft engaged and killed three additional terrorist suspects. Three women were also killed."
They said an Iraqi child was rescued from the rubble by coalition forces and taken to a nearby base for medical treatment.
Colonel Jerry O'Hara, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, said:
"Sadly, this incident again shows that the AQI terrorists repeatedly risk the lives of innocent women and children to further their evil work."
After the attack, 400 protesters gathered at the site demonstrating peacefully against the raid, and marched to the cemetery for the funeral.
Abdullah Hussein Jibara, the deputy governor of Salahuddin Province said he did not accept the initial explanations offered by the Americans to the Iraqi police in Ad Dwar and said that they should have carried out more checks before the bombing.
"I condemn the random targeting of civilians and the excessive use of force against civilians," he said. "It was better to use another method to avoid losses; this is the third incident during the past two months," he said.
Fares Khatab, a sheik of the family's tribe, said that the family had fled to Ad Dwar from their home in Baghdad to escape the violence in the capital. "This family is an innocent family," he said.
GI held in killings of 2 U.S. soldiers
BAGHDAD: An American soldier was in custody in Iraq in the shooting deaths of two fellow American soldiers at their patrol base near Iskandariya on Sunday, the American military said Thursday.
The two soldiers who were killed were identified as Staff Sergeant Darris Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Florida, and Sergeant Wesley Durbin, 26, of Hurst, Texas. They were killed early Sunday at the base, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, a military statement said.
All three soldiers were assigned to the Third Battalion, Seventh Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia.
The military did not identify the American soldier being held. "A U.S. soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths," it said. "He is being held in custody pending review by a military magistrate. The incident continues under investigation."
An American military spokesman in Baghdad declined to say whether the soldier was being held on suspicion of deliberate killing, negligence, or for other reasons. In April 2005, Sergeant Hasan Akbar, of the 101st Airborne Division, was sentenced to death in a grenade attack on his comrades in March 2003 in Kuwait, at the beginning of the war.
Akbar was convicted of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder after he threw grenades into tents and then fired on soldiers, killing two officers and wounding 14 at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait.
In November 2006, Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, serving with the New York National Guard, was arraigned in a military court on charges of murdering two officers in an explosion at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces in Tikrit in June 2005.
He has maintained his innocence. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Meanwhile, American and British officials said that an American military helicopter that crashed shortly after midnight on Thursday, killing all seven soldiers on board, was on a routine supply mission in southern Iraq.
The officials said they did not suspect enemy activity, and an American military spokesman in Baghdad, Major John Hall, said the most obvious possible cause was mechanical failure, though the military was still investigating. The helicopter, a CH-47 Chinook, crashed about 60 miles west of Basra.
It was part of a convoy of four aircraft en route to Balad in northern Iraq from Kuwait, the American military said.
The crash was the deadliest helicopter accident for American troops since August 2007, when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the north, killing 14 American soldiers. It was the 69th helicopter to go down in Iraq in the war, American military officials said.
British coalition forces recently handed over security control in Basra Province to the Iraqi government, but still have around 4,000 military personnel members in the region. Major Paul Smyth, a British military spokesman in Basra, said a British unit was in the area and was diverted to the site after the crash.
"The Americans subsequently sent their own assets," he said. "All the investigation is being conducted by the Americans."
The names of the dead were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Battles rock Mogadishu as Islamists show strength
MOGADISHU: Somalia's warring parties pounded each other with artillery in Mogadishu on Friday after an African Union military aircraft defied a rebel ban on planes using the capital's international airport.
Witnesses said at least 15 people were killed.
The bombed-out city's airport had been abandoned since Tuesday after Islamist insurgents from the hardline al Shabaab group vowed to shoot down any aircraft trying to land there.
In another demonstration of their increasing strength, the Islamists also chased away pro-government militia manning roadblocks in the south of the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
On Friday, a plane carrying AU peacekeepers braved the rebel threats and touched down at the Mogadishu airstrip, provoking a barrage of mortar fire from the insurgents.
Government forces and their Ethiopian allies responded with missiles, heavy machine guns and mortar rounds of their own.
An AU spokesman in the city said the aircraft had been carrying troops from Burundi, but that none of them were hurt.
As usual in Somalia, civilians bore the brunt of the fighting. At least four residents died and seven were injured when one shell detonated in the Kilometre 4 area of Mogadishu.
SHELLS KILL CIVILIANS
"A group of local teenagers was sitting playing cards here under a big tree," witness Abdullahi Farah told Reuters. "Now their flesh is scattered everywhere."
Residents said six bodies lay in another area and that a house nearby was hit and burning with three bodies inside.
An official at the city's main Madena Hospital said about 50 wounded civilians had been admitted. Two of them, including a two-year-old child, later died of their injuries.
Since early 2007 the Islamists have waged an Iraq-style insurgency of mortar attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations targeting the fragile Western-back interim government and its Ethiopian military allies.
This year, Washington officially listed the group as a terrorist organisation with close ties to al Qaeda.
Fighting in Somalia has killed more than 9,500 civilians since the start of last year, and an unknown number of gunmen. More than 1 million people have been forced from their homes.
Earlier on Friday, the government's director of civil aviation said it had cancelled the licences of all airlines that heeded the "unimportant and baseless" threats from the Islamists and had stopped flying into Mogadishu airport.
(Additional reporting by Sahra Abdi in Kismayu; Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Ralph Boulton)
Maggie Scarf's 'September Songs'
September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years.
By Maggie Scarf.
256 pages. $24.95. Riverhead Books.
In his poem "The Common Wisdom," Howard Nemerov defines a good marriage as one in which the partners stay together despite fraying tethers. "One should be watching," he concludes, "while the other dies." The six so-called "young-old" (50- to 75-year-old) couples Maggie Scarf interviews for her engrossing investigation into enduring marriage seem to agree. Yet no one claims to be hanging in just for the sake of convention or convenience. Claudia, one of the wives, even declares that ' despite financial setbacks, serious health issues and the medically necessitated end of sexual activity with her husband - "I would actually say this is the happiest period of my whole lifetime." Other spouses describe these later years as "tranquil," a "new beginning." A great deal of mutual admiration and affection is expressed, even without prompting by the interviewer.
Scarf, whose earlier book "Intimate Partners" explored marriage over a broader spectrum of time, suggests that many long-married people may have simply learned to live with the "background hum" of a partner's habitual complaints. But she also reports that some of the optimism and sense of well-being among older couples ' "the paradox of aging" ' could be linked to changes in the brain that, as one research report put it, "allow greater selective control over negative emotions." And although divorce may put an end to daily bouts of enmity, other studies show that a majority of divorced people don't seem much happier five years after the split than they were during the turmoil of togetherness. Some of the subjects in "September Songs" had abandoned previous, unhappy relationships, and perhaps fear of another failure has contributed to the effort they've put into their present arrangements. Or maybe they've learned over the years, as Scarf observes, to "focus on what and who really mattered in the world of right now."
She's a gifted and discreet interviewer, knowing what to ask and when to back off. Her gently probing questions - about retirement, health, sexual activity, finances, children, religion, disappointments and regret - lead her subjects to some unexpectedly candid answers. They speak with ease, separately and together (in what often seem like twin soliloquies), about their shared histories and their hopes for and concerns about the future.
Their lives have hardly been problem-free. Children have caused grief as well as pleasure, and forced retirement has made for feelings of restlessness and inadequacy. There are confessed disagreements over everything, including where and how to live and, for one couple, the close call of a near separation. Compromise (sometimes one-sided) and forgiveness frequently come into play.
A husband discusses his use of Internet pornography to the obvious discomfort of his wife. Loss of libido and performance anxiety are not uncommon, but erection-enhancement drugs aren't as popular as might be imagined. One wife worries about possible side effects, while another's husband resents the expense. ("I asked myself," he says. "Am I getting $8 worth out of that?") In one of the most moving interviews, a couple named Nancy and David recall the triumph of their responses to the discovery of her breast cancer and subsequent bilateral mastectomy. David, who dreaded dressing Nancy's wounds, fearing this might evoke revulsion, says that instead the experience made him realize how much he loved her.
At some point during my reading of "September Songs," I began to wonder if the deck was stacked, if the couples had all been selected to suit some preconceived conclusion about marital success. Scarf herself questions the almost uniform level of contentment she's encountering and mentions this to a close friend, a therapist, who tells her: "Interview me. My marriage is a mess." But when Julie and her husband, Ed, meet with Scarf and she asks them one of her stock questions: "What do you think were the smartest and dumbest moves you ever made in your life?" Ed answers, with feeling, "The smartest move I ever made in my life was marrying Julie." His wife's eyes brim with tears, and Scarf turns off her tape recorder. These two, she decides, "had flunked the 'impossible marriage' exam."
The statistical tables included in "September Songs" make for drier reading than either Scarf's crisp commentary or the interviews themselves (in which the participants come to palpable life), but they offer evidence of the continuing spike in Americans' longevity. In the early 1900s, half of all children died before the age of 5, and those who made it to adulthood usually succumbed before reaching 50. The Maxwell Anderson/Kurt Weill show tune "September Song" ' from which the book's title is derived ' was written in the 1930s, when people were living to an average of just under 60. Its lyrics include the line, "Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few." Thanks to modern medicine and vastly improved sanitary conditions, almost three decades have been added to the average American life span since the beginning of the 20th century, what Scarf calls the "bonus" years. To the surprise of the author and this reader, those additional years - precious, if often challenging - serve mostly to strengthen rather than sever the fraying tethers of marital commitment.
Forget not their abominations
Václav Havel is former president of the Czech Republic. Kjell Magne Bondevik is former prime minister of Norway and president of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.
Although international focus has been on North Korea's threats to disrupt the six-party talks and on the health of Kim Jong Il, we must not lose sight of the fact that the North Korean government remains responsible for one of the most staggering human-rights and humanitarian disasters in the world.
In 2006, along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, we commissioned the global law firm DLA Piper and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea to prepare an account of the humanitarian and human-rights situation in North Korea.
The resulting report concluded that North Korea had failed in its "responsibility to protect" its citizens from the most severe violations of international law, and urged a robust international response through the UN Security Council.
Two years later, little has changed. Although there has been some progress in the six-party talks on the nuclear issue, discussions about the human-rights and humanitarian challenges within North Korea remain an issue of secondary concern.
As a result, the three of us have commissioned a new report, titled "Failure to Protect: The Ongoing Challenge of North Korea," which was issued on Friday, to highlight the importance of this discussion and to propose an additional set of recommendations to enhance the prospects of achieving some meaningful incremental progress.
The evidence and analysis contained in these reports are disturbing: North Korea is actively committing crimes against humanity against its own people.
During the 1990s, the government allowed as many as 1 million people, and possibly many more, to die during years of protracted famine while the government consistently prioritized the diversion of resources to its military and nuclear programs away from food purchases for its citizens.
Although limited improvements had been seen since 2000, recent consecutive years of flooding have devastated North Korea's agricultural regions, which, combined with the government's willingness to leverage international food donations for its own political gain, has left the country once more on the precipice of another food disaster.
Furthermore, North Korea continues to hold as many as 200,000 people without due process of law for arbitrary reasons in political prison camps. Not only are they imprisoned in unspeakable conditions - fed starvation-level rations, forced to labor under brutal conditions and subject to torture and execution for trivial offenses - but so are their relatives, including the elderly and children, under a three-generation guilt-by-association system instituted by North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung.
It is in this context that we reaffirm our call for action under the "responsibility to protect" doctrine. This relatively new doctrine for diplomacy holds that while a state such as North Korea retains sovereignty over its own territory, the international community has an obligation to intervene should that state fail to protect its citizens from the most severe of human rights abuses.
It is clear that the North Korean government has failed to protect its people. It is time for the international community to act.
The new report recommends a multilateral approach to these challenges in North Korea:
First, direct international engagement with North Korea must be expanded on the human-rights and humanitarian situation.
Second, human-rights concerns should be included in the six-party talks.
Third, the UN General Assembly should strengthen its annual resolution on North Korea by referencing the "responsibility to protect" doctrine and calling for an investigation into whether the conditions in North Korea constitute a violation of this doctrine.
For too long, too many in the international community have refused to address North Korea's flagrant human-rights abuses for fear that their criticisms would drive the government away from discussions of its nuclear program.
However, time has shown that this restraint has not yielded enhanced compromise from Kim Jong Il, but has only allowed him to ignore his people's suffering.
The world cannot continue to postpone discussion of these critical issues. We owe it to the people of North Korea to finally take action to alleviate their misery.
Immigration deception from both candidates
Yes, immigration is a complicated and combustible issue for political candidates in the United States, and the economic meltdown is everyone's top priority.
No, that is no excuse for ignoring immigration or lying about it to voters, as John McCain and Barack Obama have been doing.
McCain lied first, in a Spanish-language ad that accused Obama of helping to kill immigration reform last year, by voting for amendments that supposedly doomed a bipartisan bill. The ad lamented the result: "No guest worker program. No path to citizenship. No secure borders. No reform. Is that being on our side?"
That is a jaw-dropping distortion. The bill wasn't killed by any amendments. It was killed by a firestorm of talk-radio rage and a Republican-led filibuster. The very bill that McCain now mourns is the one he sidled away from as his own party weakened and killed it. It's the one he says he would now vote against.
For McCain to suggest that Obama opposes the "path to citizenship" and "guest worker program" compounds his dishonesty. Obama supports the three pillars of comprehensive reform - tougher enforcement, expanded legal immigration and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here.
McCain was an architect of just such a comprehensive bill. But he is also leading a party whose members rabidly oppose the path to citizenship. So, in deference to them, McCain now emphasizes border security as the utmost priority. Except when he's pandering in Spanish.
Obama's retaliatory ad, also in Spanish, was just as fraudulent. It slimed McCain as a friend and full-bore ally of restrictionists like Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh has long attacked McCain's immigration moderation. It quotes Limbaugh as calling all Mexicans stupid and ordering them to "shut your mouth or get out," which he never did.
Immigration was broken before the candidates started this repugnant ad war, and looks as if it will stay that way for at least the duration of this campaign.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorizing immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lockups, dying without decent medical care. Day laborers are harassed and robbed of wages. An ineffective border fence is behind schedule and millions over budget. Local enforcers drag citizens and legal residents into their nets.
Both candidates once espoused smart, thoughtful positions for fixing the problem. The answer to immigration is what it was last year: comprehensive reform that extends order and the rule of law to a system that is broken in a million complex ways. McCain and Obama both know this. They should get back to telling the truth about it, in English and in Spanish.
Spain to pay jobless immigrants to go home
MADRID, Spain: Spain will pay jobless immigrants to go home under a decree approved Friday, more dramatic evidence of how a once-booming economy has quickly gone bust.
Labor Minister Celestino Corbacho said the Cabinet had fast-tracked the measure to take effect in about a month. Its approval by Parliament is expected.
The plan targets tens of thousands of non-EU citizens who have been laid off in Spain and are entitled to various unemployment benefits, based on length of employment. The plan, however, offers them 40 percent of their full entitlement once they renounce their work and residency permits, and the remaining 60 percent once they get home.
The program is strictly voluntary, and applies to people from 19 non-EU countries with which Spain has signed bilateral agreements to pay people's social security benefits that are accrued one another's country.
People who sign up for it must agree not to come back to Spain for three years, but can come back after that and recover their work and residency permits.
The government has been grappling with growing unemployment in an economy now flirting with recession after more than a decade of solid growth. Spanish unemployment is now an EU-high of 10.7 percent, according to the bloc's statistical agency Eurostat.
The meltdown stems mainly from a collapse in the construction industry, which apart from being the main engine of growth has also been a key employment source for low-skill workers from Latin America, North Africa and Eastern Europe.
These immigrants are being hit by building companies' layoffs, and are the ones the government now wants to pay to go home until things get better in Spain.
"We are trying to facilitate the return of those workers who, having contributed to the growth of this country, decide to go back to their own," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a news conference. She gave no further details.
In July, the government said it believed some 10,000 jobless non-EU citizens out of a total of 165,000 recorded as of that month would go along with the plan.
Immigrants riot in Italy after six killed
NAPLES: Immigrants rioted in a southern Italian town on Thursday after six Africans were shot dead at a tailor's shop, in what police said they suspected was fallout from a drug-related turf war.
Dozens of rioters smashed windows, flipped cars and threw rocks at police, calling for justice and accusing law enforcement of racism for assuming the victims were drug traffickers.
Television footage showed young men wielding metal bars halting traffic and making motorists leave their vehicles.
"We want justice. It's not true that our murdered friends sold drugs or were mobsters," one protester told reporters.
Police say at least six hitmen sprayed 130 bullets at the men late on Thursday in Castelvolturno, a town of 20,000 northwest of Naples, apparently using a Kalashnikov automatic rifle as well as smaller weapons.
It was one of the bloodiest shootouts in recent memory blamed on the Camorra, the Naples version of the mafia, and stunned a region long used to violence from organised crime.
The six dead were from Ghana, Togo and Liberia, and between the ages of 25 and 31. A man from Ghana was wounded in the shooting, Italian media reported.
"The arrogance of the Camorra has reached intolerable levels," said Sandro De Franciscis, president of the Caserta province which includes Castelvolturno.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, called for an end to the violence.
"Put down your guns. What you use to kill people today will kill you and your families tomorrow," Sepe told reporters. "As long as these killers are not defeated we will always have a cemetery filled up by hate and with violence."
Venezuela expels rights activists
CARACAS: President Hugo Chávez's government expelled two activists from Human Rights Watch late Thursday night after chafing at their documentation of widespread political discrimination, intimidation of union members and a subservient judiciary.
Armed men in uniforms apprehended José Miguel Vivanco, a Chilean citizen who is Americas director for Human Rights Watch and Daniel Wilkinson, an American who is deputy director for the Americas, and placed them on a flight to Brazil, where they arrived in São Paulo on Friday morning.
"About 20 men, some of them in military uniform, intercepted us when we arrived at our hotel after returning from dinner Thursday night," Vivanco said in a telephone interview from Brazil. He said he struggled briefly with the security officials when he tried to send a message on his Blackberry to The New York Times about the incident.
The officials then disabled the Blackberries of the two men and prevented them from contacting anyone in Venezuela, including diplomats from the embassies of Chile or the United States. "They informed us of our apprehension and told us they had entered our rooms and had packed our belongings," Vivanco said.
The expulsion, broadcast partly on state television here, comes at a time of increasingly erratic actions by Chávez. In the past week, he expelled the American ambassador, rounded up military officers and accused them of plotting to kill him and clashed with the Vatican over its granting of political asylum to a political opponent.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that Vivanco violated the law by entering the country on a tourist visa to do human rights work. The ministry also said that Human Rights Watch, which is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, was acting in concert with the United States government in a campaign of aggression against Venezuela.
"Accusing us of being part of a conspiracy is a distraction tactic used to attack the messenger," Vivanco said. "We have never had this experience anywhere in this hemisphere."
The expulsion of the two men came after they released a long report here on Thursday documenting rights violations in Venezuela. They pointed to Chávez's dismantling of judicial independence and his use of a 2002 coup that briefly ousted him from office as a pretext for consolidating power by weakening rights protections.
The report also discussed the government's intimidation of local human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations, documenting the use of state television to carry out attacks on activists doing work that criticized Chávez's creation of a military reserve under his command.
"Our expulsion reveals yet again the degree of intolerance of this government," said Vivanco.
UN study finds more women in politics
UNITED NATIONS: Women have entered politics in greater numbers than ever in the past decade, accounting for 18.4 percent of parliament members worldwide, according to a study released Thursday by the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
The proportion of women has increased by seven percentage points since 1995. Much of the increase was driven by women realizing that they needed to attain power rather than just lobby for change, said women who spoke at a ceremony for the study's release.
"We need to convince women that the only way to really make a change is to stop complaining and just be the owner of power," said Senator Cecilia López Montaño, the speaker of the opposition Liberal Party in Colombia. "It is a huge fight because men have been controlling power for centuries."
If the rate of change holds constant, it will take until 2045 for women to reach parity in the developing world, which the study by Unifem, as the development fund is known, defined as holding 40 percent to 60 percent of elected parliamentary seats. The report also examined how women were affected by economics, the courts and crime, among other issues.
Quotas that reserve seats for women have proved instrumental in increasing their numbers. In elections held in 2007, women in countries with some form of electoral quota captured 19.3 percent of the seats, as opposed to 14.7 percent in countries without such quotas, the study said. Of the 22 countries where women constitute more than 30 percent of the national assembly, 18 have some form of quota.
Provisional election returns from Rwanda, announced in news reports on Thursday, indicated that its Parliament, which reserves 24 of 80 seats for women, will become the first in which women hold a majority, with 44 seats.
The genocide in Rwanda was also a crucial factor in galvanizing women to get more involved politically during the country's reconstruction, said Inés Alberdi, the executive director of Unifem.
"If you are in a secondary position, you can never fight for women," she said.
The study found a high correlation between the number of elected women and legislation related to women's issues, including agriculture services, day care and street lighting for security. It also cited British research that women turned out in higher numbers to vote in elections when there was a female candidate.
In addition, the study suggested that women held far fewer party leadership posts than their membership in the rank and file would suggest. A Latin American study quoted in the United Nations report said that while 47 percent of party members in Paraguay were women, they held just 19 percent of leadership positions. In Mexico, 52 percent of party members were women, compared with 31 percent of the leaders. In Panama, the numbers were 45 percent and 19 percent.
"You have to be three times more intelligent, you have to be four times more transparent, you have to have everything more than men," said Senator López, of Colombia. "We still have a male chauvinist society."
It will continue this way, she said, until the "democratic deficit" is closed, meaning equal representation for men and women.
GENEVA: More than half a million women still die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, often bleeding to death because no emergency obstetrical care is available, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.
Despite modest progress, particularly in Asia, the global maternal mortality toll remains stubbornly stable due to a lack of financial resources and political will, it said.
More than 99 percent of the estimated 536,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2005 occurred in developing countries, half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, it said in a report entitled "Progress for Children: A Report Card on Maternal Maternity".
"One of the critical bottlenecks has always been access to highly skilled health workers required to deliver emergency obstetrical care, particularly caesarean sections," Peter Salama UNICEF's chief of health, told a news briefing.
Around 50 million births in the developing world, or about 4 in 10 of all births worldwide, are not attended by trained personnel, according to the report.
Haemorrhaging is the leading cause of maternal death in Africa and Asia, causing one in three deaths, it said. Infections, hypertensive disorders, complications of abortion, obstructed labour or HIV/AIDS are other causes.
Such complications can be easily treated in a health system whose facilities are staffed with skilled personnel to handle emergencies around the clock, but disparities persist, it said.
"The lifetime risk of maternal death in the developing world as a whole is 1 in 76, compared with 1 in 8,000 in the industrialised world," UNICEF said.
The riskiest place to give birth is Niger, where the risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth over the course of a woman's lifetime is one in seven, it said. In Sierra Leone it is 1 in 8.
But developing countries including Sri Lanka and Mozambique have succeeded in reducing maternal mortality rates, it said.
A combination of family planning, training skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetrical care and post-natal care is the key to reducing maternal mortality, according to the agency.
At the current average reduction rate of less than one per cent a year, the world will miss the goal of reducing maternal mortality rates by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015, to less than 150,000, one of the Millennium Development Goals, it said.
"The time is right. We now know exactly what to do for maternal mortality reduction to make this one of the next big issues in global health," Salama said.
Programmes to combat three major epidemics -- HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria -- now receive the required international attention and billions in funding, he said.
"But maternal mortality and child mortality do not yet receive the attention that the scale of the problem deserves," he said. An additional $10 billion would be needed each year to combat both child and maternal mortality, according to Salama.
UNICEF said last week that more than 9 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2007, down slightly from a year before, but a huge gap remains between rich and poor countries.
(Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Richard Balmforth)
Students saw in Professor Obama a pragmatist, not an idealogue
When Jaime Escuder, a University of Chicago law student, was searching for a professor to supervise an independent project on prisoners' rights, he turned to Barack Obama, but not for Obama's politics. As a student in Obama's constitutional law class in 2001, Escuder was impressed by his teacher's ability to see both sides of an argument.
"I figured Obama would respect the stance I took in the paper, whether or not he agreed with it," said Escuder, now a public defender in Illinois.
In the project, Escuder forcefully advocated for prisoners having the freedom to procreate. Obama gave him guidance on honing his argument - but never told him if he agreed. When he did venture an opinion, it was to prod Escuder to consider real-world implications. On running into Escuder one weekend morning, Obama said: "I don't think that you're giving adequate consideration to how difficult it will be for prison officials to care for pregnant women. I've been dealing with this recently, and believe me, it isn't easy." Escuder assumed Obama was talking about being a father.
Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School for a decade before he left in 2003 to run for the U.S. Senate. He emerged as one of the Senate's most liberal members, and his voting record is often invoked in the current campaign, especially by his opponents. But the men and women who studied with him at Chicago echo Escuder's observation that Obama was much more pragmatic than ideological. Even as his political career advanced, Obama's teaching stuck to the law-school norm of dispassionately evaluating competing arguments with the tools of forensic logic.
"It was drilled into us from Day 1 that you examined your biases and inclinations," said Richard Hess, now an attorney at Susman Godfrey in Houston. "And then, when you made decisions, they were based on sound empirical reasons."
Escuder saw his professor as "a street-smart academic."
"He wanted his students to consider the impact laws and judicial opinions had on real people," Escuder said.
According to Marcus Fruchter, who took constitutional law with Obama and now practices at the law firm of Schopf & Weiss in Chicago, "You never would have known he was going to be a liberal senator based on what he said in his courses."
I recently spoke to many of Obama's former students and asked them to speculate about how the teacher they saw manage a classroom might try to manage a country. Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who lobbies for progressive causes in Illinois, said he thought his former professor was unlikely to emerge as an ideological liberal if he makes it to the White House. "Based on what I saw in the classroom," he said, "my guess is an Obama administration could be summarized in two words: Ruthless pragmatism."
Obama's status as senior lecturer in law was a rarefied one. At that time, two federal judges - Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, both of the Seventh Circuit - held that position, and both men had been full-time, distinguished members of the Chicago faculty before joining the bench and reducing their course loads at the law school. So when the 34-year-old Obama told the law school's dean, Douglas Baird, that he wanted the same post, Baird was somewhat taken aback. "He's not a man possessed by self-doubt," Baird said with a smile.
It wasn't that he didn't think highly of Obama. Baird had recruited him from Harvard Law School, where Obama was the first African-American president of the Law Review. Baird arranged for the promising graduating student to become a law and government fellow at Chicago, providing Obama with a stipend and an office so he could complete his first book, "Dreams From My Father."
In 1996, after winning election to the Illinois Senate, Obama decided he needed to supplement the salary he would draw as a legislator. And so over dinner at the Park Avenue Cafe in Chicago one evening, he and Baird hammered out an agreement whereby Obama would become a senior lecturer and teach three classes a year.
Baird pushed hard to get Obama the senior lecturer position. The newly minted state senator would have added diversity to the law school: At the time, there was only one person of color on the full-time Chicago academic teaching staff. And Obama had proved to be a skilled teacher.
"You could tell from the course evaluations and enrollments that students had really taken to him," Baird said.
When Obama was promoted to the senior lecturer position, he had only taught his seminar on racism and the law. While his teaching schedule expanded to include constitutional law and voting rights, it was his original seminar that left the greatest impression on his students. In the class, Obama emphasized how people's experiences and backgrounds could influence their perceptions of prejudice and the possible need for government action to curb its effects.
"He wanted us to be aware of our biases so we could better avoid the pitfalls they can bring," said a former student, Bethany Lampland, who now practices in New York.
He did that in part by sharing personal stories that revealed preconceptions he himself harbored. In the autumn of 2003, for example, he told of an uncomfortable encounter he had one evening on Lake Shore Drive. An Asian driver in a souped-up Honda cut him off; when the two men reached a stoplight, Obama shot him a dirty look. The driver's response was to roll down his window and yell "nigger" at Obama before speeding off.
The professor described himself as initially shocked. But as he reflected on the episode, he told the class, he realized that the other driver wasn't the only one harboring stereotypes. "I was thinking, 'Here's some Asian kid on his way to a club,"' Obama said, according to Richard Hess, who was enrolled in the course. Obama had stereotyped the driver as the kind of person who would never call him "nigger."
Hess, who worked in Democratic politics before attending law school, told me he was impressed by his professor's ability to coolly analyze such an unpleasant confrontation. "I thought it displayed a thoughtfulness," he said. "He would talk about race in a way that I doubt anyone had heard from their professor before, or I had heard from a politician before."
The class led Tom Hynes, who took racism and the law in 1996, to consider his experiences growing up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in racially balkanized Chicago. Under Obama's supervision, he wrote an independent paper on the history of tensions between Irish immigrants and African-Americans. He was struck, he said, by Obama's pragmatic take on race relations.
"In his mind, the real problem wasn't racist attitudes some people may hold, but the fact that some minorities were starting at such a huge disadvantage," Hynes recounted. "Issues like poor public education and the lack of access to credit seemed more glaring to him."
Dennis Hutchinson, who also teaches courses on race and the law at Chicago, pointed out that Obama's racial background gave him a certain advantage. "Let's be frank," said Hutchinson, who is white. "If you're black, and you are teaching a group of mostly white students about sensitive topics touching on race, then you're controlling the class."
But like any good law professor, Obama seems not to have used his position to produce a preconceived political result. When he lectured on a pivotal affirmative action Supreme Court case, for instance, he emphasized that white contractors who lost out to minority businesses because of racial set-asides had a legitimate grievance.
Similarly, Obama allowed that there was an argument to be made for paying out reparations for slavery. The class reading - including authors like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington - certainly bolstered the idea that some kind of atonement was warranted. But after making the theoretical case, Obama pushed his students to think about the implications of actually cutting checks to the descendants of slaves. It was possible, he pointed out, that the move would merely create resentment. Obama kept his own thoughts on the topics he was teaching mostly to himself.
Dan Johnson-Weinberger studied voting rights with Obama. He remembers Obama as an able observer of the allocation of power in the American democratic system. As Obama shepherded students through the evolution of how Americans elect their representatives, Johnson-Weinberger said, he emphasized how important the rules of the game were in determining who won elections.
That background in voting law, the former student said, played a factor in Obama's primary triumph over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. "He understood how important the caucus states would be, and he grasped that voters in African-American Congressional districts would have a disproportionate impact in selecting the nominee," he said. "I think one of the reasons he said yes to this race is that he grasped the structural path to victory."
Johnson-Weinberger, who has championed alternative electoral systems like proportional voting in Illinois, found Obama's practical approach to be a welcome respite from traditional law-school fare. He volunteered for Obama's losing 2000 primary challenge to Representative Bobby Rush and his victorious Senate run four years later. His former professor, he speculated, would bring a similar mind-set to the White House.
"I don't think he's wedded to any particular ideology," Johnson-Weinberger told me. "If he has an impatience about anything, it's the idea that some proposals aren't worthy of consideration."
Alexandra Starr has written about politics and culture for The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic and The American Scholar.
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