Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Monday, 1st September 2008


IW: Newsfast ends. Back to the real world.

Senegalese farm shows benefits of targeted aid

DJILAKH, Senegal: Less than a year ago, the land around this small village was parched bush pasture studded with thick-trunked, knobby baobab trees.
But over the last six months, ground pockmarked with anthills that lay hard and idle during the nine-month dry season has blossomed through irrigation into a small but thriving commercial farm, thanks to an aid project financed by Spain.
Trained and assisted by Spanish agriculture experts, 100 peasant farmers and their families have become international exporters of melons to supermarkets in Spain and Britain in a commercial arrangement with a private Spanish farm company.
"Now there's money in the village," said Amy Diouf, her baby son strapped to her back, as she stood in fields crossed with plastic irrigation tubes that drip-feed moisture to crops planted at Djilakh farm, which is southeast of Dakar, the capital.
International aid experts meeting this week in Accra, Ghana, will debate how best the billions of dollars of foreign aid pledged to help the developing world should be handled to have a direct impact on the poor, like African peasant farmers.



Trying to sell luxury goods amid stark poverty

NEW DELHI: An old woman missing her top front teeth holds a tot in rumpled clothes - who is sporting a Fendi bib. At retail, the bib sells for about $100.
A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding helmetless and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way - except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag prominently displayed on her wrist. It costs over $10,000, if you can find one.
Elsewhere, a toothless, barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella costing about $200.
Welcome to the new India - at least as Vogue sees it.
The August edition of Vogue India presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest smidgen of Indian society who can actually afford these baubles but by so-called "regular" Indian people. Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone in India was amused.

The editorial spread was "not just tacky but downright distasteful," said Kanika Gahlaut, a columnist for The Mail Today, who dubbed it an "example of vulgarity." There is nothing "fun or funny" about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen, she said by telephone.
"There are farmer suicides here, for God's sake," she said, referring to thousands of Indian farmers who have killed themselves in the past decade after debts piled up.
Nearly half of India's population - about 455 million people - live on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank figures released last week. http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/09/01/business/vogue.php


Supermarkets rapped over unhealthy food

LONDON: Major supermarkets were criticised by a consumer watchdog on Monday for nearly doubling the number of in-store promotions for unhealthy foods during the last two years.
A National Consumer Council report found 54 percent of in-store promotions advertised sugary and fatty foods, while only one in eight of the retailers plugged fruit and vegetables.
"The volume of in-house promotions for fatty and sugary foods the supermarkets are all offering is staggering," said the report's author Lucy Yates.
"We expected to see evidence of big improvements since our last investigation, but we've been sadly disappointed."
Overall Britain's third largest supermarket chain Sainsbury's came top of the survey for a second time in a row, doing well on customer information and labelling and nutrition, with the Co-operative Group in second place.

Britain's largest retailer Tesco was in joint fifth place, while Morrisons was bottom for the fourth consecutive time.


Putin tracks rare tiger for benefit of TV viewers

"The Ussuri tiger is a unique animal - it's the biggest cat on the planet," Putin later said, according to the daily Izvestia.
Fewer than 400 Ussuri tigers - also known as Siberian, Amur or Manchurian tigers - are believed to survive in the wild, most of them in Russia and some in China. They are the largest tiger species, weighing up to about 270 kilograms, or 600 pounds.

Human settlements have encroached on the cats' habitat, and they also are in danger because of poachers who want their hides or bones for traditional Chinese medicine.



Clean skies campaign was a success, Beijing says

BEIJING: The massive effort to clear the skies over Beijing for the Summer Olympics paid off, the city's environmental authority said Monday, with the capital seeing its cleanest air in a decade.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said that the improvement in air pollution was mainly the result of special, and temporary, measures that closed factories and banned cars from the roads during the Games.
The clear weather appears to be continuing into September, with clear blue skies that have allowed a rare glimpse of Beijing's western hills, which are usually obscured by smog.
The environmental bureau said in a notice on its Web site that the density of major pollutants was cut by 45 percent in August. It said there were 14 days with the best air quality, "excellent" or level 1, and only one day rated at the worst quality, or level 3.
Some months typically have less than a handful of days with level 1 air quality.

"This is the best quality in the past 10 years," the statement said, referring to the 45 percent reduction.


EU committee proposes easing cap on carbon emissions on some cars

BRUSSELS: A European Parliament committee on Monday proposed easing a cap on carbon dioxide from cars by excluding some vehicles for three years to allay German worries about the cost for automakers such as Daimler and Porsche.
The European Union assembly's industry committee recommended imposing the emission curbs on 60 percent of the car fleet initially in 2012 and raising the share of vehicles covered gradually to 100 percent in 2015. EU regulators proposed introducing the cap on all new cars sold in the EU in 2012.
"This is an attempt to find a reasonable compromise between climate policy and the automobile industry's competitiveness," Werner Langen, a German member of the industry committee, said in an interview. The position is an opinion for the Parliament's environment committee, which is due to give its verdict on Sept. 9. The law ultimately needs the support of the full 785-seat assembly and of EU national governments.


Next-generation London taxis offend traditionalists
LONDON: After losing hundreds of its iconic red phone booths and the famous double-decker hop-on-and-off bus, London is now facing competition for its black taxicabs.

KPM-UK, the company responsible for providing London with its black cabs, teamed up with the German car maker Daimler to introduce the new taxi last month. It is designed to offer a bigger and ecologically friendlier alternative to the tourist symbol that traces its roots back to 1919. Since last week, 20 of the new cars were driving around London and KPM-UK said it expected to sell about 350 of the vehicles to London's 25,000 taxi drivers by year-end.

"Taxis have been our lifeblood and we thought it's time for a change now," said Peter Da Costa, chief executive of Eco City Vehicles, which owns KPM-UK.The new taxis are based on Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Vito, a van sold in Britain since 1996. They are built in Spain and sent to Britain to turn them into taxis and make sure they meet the standards of the national Public Carriage Office, which include heating, floor covering and fittings. They hold up to six passengers, one more than most of the traditional taxis, has a sliding door for easier access, and could save taxi drivers up to £10, or $18, worth of fuel a day, Da Costa said.


Mining ban threatens Australia's uranium industry

SYDNEY: Australia's potential to become to the global uranium market what Saudi Arabia is to oil is under the threat of legislation that would outlaw uranium mining over an area five times the size of Texas, Michael Angwin, director of the Australia Uranium Association, said Monday.
Alan Carpenter, the Western Australia State premier, has long opposed uranium mining as a matter of policy, but he has promised to make his opposition into statewide law if he wins re-election on Sept. 6 against his pro-mining opponent, Colin Barnett.
"This would be an enormous setback for Australia, which has enough reserves to be to uranium what Saudi Arabia is to oil," Angwin told Reuters in an interview.
Prospectors have pegged millions of square acres of outback showing signs of uranium in hopes the ban will be lifted. Last month, Cameco Corporation of Canada paid Rio Tinto $495 million for one undeveloped property.
Uranium mining is opposed in the states of Western Australia and Queensland but allowed in South Australia and the Northern Territory.



China state paper lashes India-U.S. nuclear deal

BEIJING: China's top newspaper called a nuclear agreement between India and the United States a "major blow" to non-proliferation, raising pressure as the deal faces opposition in an international atomic cartel.
The commentary on Monday in the People's Daily, the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official paper, was a rare public response from Beijing on the controversial U.S. proposal to lift a ban on nuclear trade with India.
Diplomats in Vienna said on Sunday that a revised U.S. proposal to lift the ban did not sufficiently ease fears the move could compromise efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Washington needs an unprecedented exemption from the Nuclear Suppiers Group's normal rules to help seal its 2005 civilian nuclear energy deal with New Delhi. But at the group's meeting, six member nations demanded changes to ensure Indian access to nuclear markets would not indirectly help its atomic bomb programme.
Chinese officials have remained tight-lipped about the deal and given no sign they would outright block it, but official media and experts have raised worries.

The Party's official paper was unusually forthright on Monday.
"Whether it is motivated by geopolitical considerations or commercial interests, the U.S.-India nuclear agreement has constituted a major blow to the international non-proliferation regime," said the commentary by a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a leading state think tank.
"Irrespective of the fate of the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, the United States' multiple standards on non-proliferation issues have met with a sceptical world."



Power out in Venezuelan capital

CARACAS: A power blackout hit swaths of Venezuela on Monday, including in the capital of Caracas and a major oil-producing province, darkening office buildings and homes and knocking out city traffic lights, witnesses said.
It was the second time this year the OPEC nation's electricity grid, creaking from outdated infrastructure, has suffered a major outage.
Venezuela's oil refineries are hit by frequent outages. But it was not immediately possible to reach officials from the state-run oil industry for information on Monday's blackout.
In some parts of the country, like the major provincial town of Barquisimeto, electricity was lost for only a few seconds. In Caracas and the oil state, power remained off more than 20 minutes after the blackout.



Chávez threatens to expel American ambassador

CARACAS, Venezuela: Fuming over assertions by American officials that cocaine smuggling through Venezuela has surged in recent years, President Hugo Chávez threatened the American ambassador with expulsion on Sunday, opening a new phase of tension between Venezuela and the United States.
Speaking on his Sunday television program, Chávez also called the Bush administration's drug czar, John P. Walters, "stupid," mocking him by breaking into English and asking, "Are you a donkey?" Going further, Chávez described the United States as hypocritical, calling it the largest producer of marijuana.



Mauritanian junta unveils cabinet after coup
NOUAKCHOTT: Mauritania's military rulers, facing criticism at home and abroad of their August 6 coup, unveiled a new government on Monday nearly a month after taking power in the Saharan Islamic state.

The announcement of the 22-minister cabinet followed difficult negotiations with political parties and came in the face of widespread international condemnation of the bloodless overthrow of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

The government named by the military High Council of State kept on four key ministers -- for Defence, Finance, Economy and Justice -- who had served under the deposed Abdallahi.General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz's ruling junta also brought into the cabinet officials and technocrats who had worked in the transitional government under military control that handed over to civilian rule in 2007 after multi-party elections.

On August 14, the junta had named Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, a respected former ambassador to Belgium and the European Union, as prime minister.

Although the coup has garnered some support in Mauritania's political establishment, the country's main opposition party, the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD), and others have refused to participate in the new government. There have been some street protests against the junta.


Opponents have criticised it for failing to announce a clear timetable for elections and for not ruling out the possibility that its members might run in any future polls, a move strongly opposed by the international community.

The African Union has suspended Mauritania and major donors like France and the United States, which have viewed Mauritania as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, have frozen some non-humanitarian aid.

They are calling for the release of Abdallahi, who has been in detention since the coup, and for the restoration of democratic civilian rule in the country which became Africa's newest oil producer in 2006.

The new oil and energy minister, Die Ould Zeine, is a former finance ministry official. The industry and mines portfolio went to Mohamed Abdellahi Ould Oudaa, who had previously run a private energy and water company.



Belated fame for a pioneer of the heliotropic home

WAVRE, Belgium: With energy prices rising, François Massau, a local coal merchant-turned-builder who died impoverished and alone in 2002 at the age of 97, is enjoying a small measure of posthumous fame, though not here in his hometown.
In the 1950s, when few people talked about ecology or conserving energy, Massau built what was among the earliest revolving homes. He built it in 1958 for his sickly wife, a schoolteacher, so that she could enjoy sunshine and warmth (there often isn't much of either in Belgium) any time of the day or the year.
Today, as energy prices soar and the need to contain carbon emissions becomes pressing, revolving buildings have arguably become fashionable. In southern Germany, Rolf Disch has built a solar-powered rotating house; in Dubai, David Fisher, an Israeli-born Italian architect, plans an 80-story rotating skyscraper, the Dynamic Tower. Some call it sunflower architecture.
The innovative technology Massau pioneered was so effective that it still works today, and all three of the revolving houses he built remain operational. Yet, on the 50th anniversary of Massau's first house, there will be no ceremonies, no special tours or honors.
"There's total indifference," said Guy Otten, a retired journalist who wrote frequent articles about Massau, including his obituary. "He was always seen as eccentric. He was never appreciated here."



In California, sprawl bill is heading to governor

The California Senate approved a bill over the weekend intended to discourage the kind of sprawling suburbs and crawling traffic that have long characterized the communities where many of the state's 38 million people live.
A goal of the bill — which the Assembly approved last week and which now goes to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — is to ensure that increases in heat-trapping gases from passenger vehicles are kept to a minimum as the state grows by an estimated eight million people in the next two decades.
The measure would be the United States' most comprehensive effort to reduce urban sprawl. It would loosely tie billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies to cities' and counties' compliance with efforts to slow the increase in driving. The goal of the legislation is to either rely on the state's existing job centers and public transit, or to create new, higher-density developments with jobs, bus stops and rail stations nearby.
The bill, which now goes to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been rewritten five or more times since being introduced. In the end, it had broad support from natural antagonists, like statewide environmental groups and associations of home builders. Those groups describe the measure as the first of its kind in the country to link heat-trapping gas emissions explicitly to plans for new housing patterns.
The state's Air Resources Board would set goals for reducing future emissions and give regional planning boards targets to meet as they develop plans for roads, bridges and housing.
Transportation grants would not be contingent on meeting the targets set by state regulators but would require drafting at least one blueprint, if not two, by which the goals might be met.


Anxiety abounds as autumn begins in France

PARIS: The dead city is slowly awakening, but there is still an element of dread in the air. The grand return from the summer holidays - la rentrée - is preoccupying France, but anxiety abounds about what exactly is being re-entered.
La rentrée is a new beginning, as if the new school year provides new chances for everyone here to reform, renew, replenish and re-engage. People make resolutions, as at New Year's, to be thinner, faster, smarter, better.
But this year, the public mood remains sour, with optimism hard to find and open worries about inflation, purchasing power and the position of France in what seems a suddenly less stable world.
The French are like "eternal children who return to school," said Alix Girod de l'Ain, a columnist at Elle magazine. "There is a sacralization of vacation," since nearly everyone takes August off, with la rentrée as "an important moment because we officially change our rhythm and enter a new cycle."
But "this is a particularly morose rentrée," she said. "The French have the blues."

The newspapers and fashion magazines are full of the usual post-vacation advice and counsel, the government is gearing up for a new political season, new films are waiting their turn, new opera and dance productions are being readied, and the publishing houses are about to dump hundreds of new novels in a rapid, crashing flood on people who are still worried about paying for the summer vacation.
Even new news anchors are in place, with Laurence Ferrari, 42, replacing Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, the crinkled monument of the last 20 years, on the television station TF1 last Monday. Ferrari has already caused much comment just by placing her desk in the middle of the newsroom.
The media seem to feel obligated to do special sections for la rentrée.
Madame Figaro, a magazine of the newspaper Le Figaro, has 45 pages on "Tous les Must de la Rentrée" - all the essentials, from who is new to what is new in the worlds of "culture, mode, beauté, décor."
Fashion "musts," it seems, include "immeasurably long lashes in the Twiggy fashion" and the return of an old "voluptuous" treat, "at the same time generous and airy," called Saint-Honoré, which is being offered either salty, with mushroom, or sweet.
"Trop chou," says Madame Figaro, a pun on the pastry used, and which translates roughly as "too cute." But also trop cher, or too expensive, for many French, who are worried about the costs of getting their children back to school, which starts Tuesday. According to a group called Familles de France, parents are spending an average of €193, or $283, to equip each child entering secondary school.
The daily newspaper Le Parisien has been investigating the price of school supplies and ran a front-page article of "our advice for divorced parents" on how to cope with the rentrée for their children. "Share tasks to best organize the daily life of children," it said.
This year, Saturday classes are no more, adding stress to divided families.
Elle magazine offers 60 nuggets of advice from psychologists and parents on how to have "a relaxed and efficient rentrée," including the admonishment to "maintain your positions and show constancy," not give cellphones or unsupervised Internet access to children under 12, parcel out pocket money, but "be more flexible when it comes to food" and "give room to dreams, or even boredom."
And Florence Escaravage, the director of a company called Love Intelligence, provides advice on "how to keep the flame burning" of vacation love affairs after the rentrée. "Create an intellectual complicity," she suggests, "emotional and spiritual, in other words, intimacy."
But the French are pessimistic in the polls, and Prime Minister François Fillon has already called his cabinet together in an early session to try to speed up economic change and increase purchasing power.
In a survey of 1,006 adults by the polling firm IFOP just before the rentrée, for the Sunday edition of the newspaper Ouest-France, only 33 percent of respondents described themselves as optimistic for the future of themselves and their children, the lowest figure in 13 years, and a drop from 53 percent since December. About two-thirds said they were pessimistic.
Only 18 percent said they had confidence in the ability of Fillon's government to ease the cost of living. In the last year, the prices of certain foods have risen considerably - chicken nearly 12 percent, milk nearly 13 percent.
Jean-Christophe Fromantin, the mayor of upscale Neuilly-sur-Seine just to the west of Paris, attributes the malaise to bad news, inflation and national character.

"We're not supple," he said. "We're not optimistic. We see the bottle as half empty." The anxiety, he said, is personal, but "it's also about the future of France in a world of globalization."
According to the newspaper Journal du Dimanche, the French are the world's biggest consumers of tranquilizers, and one of every five French men and women takes antidepressants.
It cannot only be because of the avalanche of new books - la rentrée littéraire - facing anyone who wants to be au courant. (For some reason, French publishers do not produce new books for people going on vacation, but only for people coming back to work, when they presumably have less time to read.)
This autumn, according to the newspaper Libération, 676 new books will be published, 466 of them written in French, the rest long-awaited translations. According to François Reynaert in Le Nouvel Observateur, "The name alone is leaden - in the expression 'rentrée littéraire,' one hears especially 'rentrée.' It smells of the back of the classroom and the old eraser."
One novel, "Zone," by Mathias Enard, consists of one sentence running over 500 pages.
Le Figaro identifies 30 novels "not to miss," but the biggest hype has been reserved for two new novels by women. One, "The Market of Lovers," by Christine Angot, tells the story of her affair with a Plato-reading French rapper named Doc Gynéco. The second, which explores jealousy, is by Catherine Millet, who won notoriety in 2001 with her barely disguised autobiography, "The Sexual Life of Catherine M." Publications seem to feel that any article about her must include a photo of her naked torso.
Girod de l'Ain, the Elle columnist, asked her readers to decide if they "really need to come back from vacation." The French, she said, will recover.
"French people like it when it's sunny and they don't work," she said. "But this year the weather was bad, and now we have to start work again."




Making peace with Syria

Alain Gresh is deputy director of Le Monde diplomatique.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Damascus this month confirms the failure of his policy of isolating the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
That policy began at the end of 2004, when Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac formed a common front, following the UN Security Council's Resolution 1559 of Sept. 2 of that year, which called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the disarmament of all militias - meaning mainly Hezbollah. Some months later, after the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, on Feb. 14, 2005, the Syrians were forced to withdraw from Lebanon and the UN set up an international commission of inquiry. The future of the Syrian regime looked increasingly uncertain. Bush and Chirac decided to crack down harder, boycotting it politically and punishing it economically. For the Bush administration, Syria was a part of the "axis of evil."
Three years - and a war - later, their policy has collapsed. This is partly because of Lebanon and partly because of their misreading of Syria's policy. In Lebanon, the clash was never between the "good guys" and "bad guys," it was between two alliances representing roughly half of the population. Hezbollah was allied with General Michel Aoun, the main leader of the Christian Maronites - something which didn't fit into Bush's vision. Any political solution means compromise and will have to take into account this balance of power; otherwise things will have to be resolved with guns (and the strongest, Hezbollah, will win).

Assad told me this summer that he wants to make peace with Israel. He is afraid for the future of the region, which is growing more socially conservative and sliding toward terrorism. To stop the country from becoming a fertile ground for terror, he said, you need development, culture, an educational system and dialogue. And you absolutely need peace. This is a fundamental difference from Iranian policy.
In May, Israel and Syria announced the opening of indirect negotiations, with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as intermediary.
"After eight years of paralysis," Assad said, referring to the end of negotiations between the two countries in 2000, "after the war on Lebanon, after two attacks on Syria, there is no trust. We are probing Israel's intentions, we don't trust them and perhaps they don't trust us."
"We want to make sure that the Israelis are ready for peace." he said. "Ready to return the whole Golan."
A peace between Israel and Syria would mean, quite rapidly, a peace between Israel and Lebanon and a solution to the question of Hezbollah's arms. It would mean peace between Israel and all its neighbors. Of course, the Palestinian question remains a stumbling block, but the conditions for resolving it would have changed radically.
Are Europe and France and the next American administration ready to push in this direction? Assad has asked Sarkozy to help him and play a role in these negotiations. Europe can help of course, but the United States remains the main player. And for all three of them to succeed they have to understand that there will be no agreement without a total withdrawal from the Golan.




1958: Unrest in South France
PARIS: Algerian nationalists tried to blow up the gasworks in the southern France city of Alès yesterday [Aug. 30] in the latest act of a wave of terrorism that started one week ago. A fire that started in the gasworks was brought under control 20 minutes later. Police said the fire had been started by Algerians. Fifteen minutes later, in a suburb of the city, a bomb went off in a garage containing supplies of gasoline. Disaster was averted because the tank blown up by the bomb was empty. In Paris, meanwhile, Algerian terrorists continued their attacks on young French service men. A 21-year-old soldier, Raymond Bos, was stabbed in the back by two Moslems in the south side of the city just before midnight Saturday night. Earlier Saturday Moslem terrorists shot and killed another 20-year-old soldier in the Montparnasse Métro station. He was the sixth Frenchman killed by Algerian gunfire in Paris in the last seven days. Three Algerians have been killed by police in the same time.

Editing - and re-editing - Sarah Palin's Wikipedia entry

NEW YORK: In the 24 hours before the McCain campaign put the finishing touches on its surprise announcement Friday that Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska would be the Republican vice presidential candidate, one Wikipedia user was putting the finishing touches on her biography on the site.
Beginning at 2 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, a Wikipedia user with the name YoungTrigg began an overhaul of the article. The user added compelling stories about her upbringing, including that "she earned the nickname 'Sarah Barracuda' because of her intense play" as point guard for her high school basketball team and that she and her father "would sometimes wake at 3 a.m. to hunt moose before school."

By Sunday morning, YoungTrigg came forward, still anonymous, on his or her Wikipedia user page: "It's not true that 'all of my edits made Palin look better."'
The user narrowed down YoungTrigg's identity: "I am not Sarah Palin. I think it is obvious that I am not the 5-month-old Trig Paxson Van Palin. I am not a member of Sarah Palin's family, or even Michael Palin's family."

YoungTrigg was a user name picked for this task; for other editing, he or she chooses other names: "I will acknowledge that I volunteer for the McCain campaign, one of thousands of people nationwide who are working to elect the best candidate for the job.
"Palin was not the nominee when I made my edits, though I am certainly excited about the selection. I don't believe I have a conflict of interest problem."
That said, nobody will be hearing from YoungTrigg again anytime soon. On the bottom was a black-bordered box surrounding the word "retired.



1,000 protest killing of journalist in Ingushetia

NAZRAN, Russia: More than 1,000 people gathered in Russia's troubled Ingushetia region Monday to protest the death of Magomed Yevloyev, a leading journalist and opposition leader who was shot over the weekend while in police custody.
Yevloyev, owner of the opposition Internet site www.ingushetiya.ru, was the most high-profile Russian journalist to be killed since the investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was shot outside her Moscow apartment in October 2006.



Palin says her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: The 17-year-old daughter of Governor Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate, is five months pregnant, Senator McCain's campaign advisers announced Monday.
The daughter, Bristol, plans to marry the father, the campaign said.
In a statement, Palin said: "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows that she has our unconditional love and support."
The announcement was intended to counter rumors by liberal bloggers that said Palin had claimed to have given birth to her fifth child in April when, according to the rumors, the child was her daughter's.
Groups that oppose abortion rights had been thrilled with McCain's selection of Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his running mate, partly because of her opposition to abortion. It is not clear how social conservatives will respond to the latest news.

The campaign intends to cast this as the kind of situation that ordinary American families face.
The McCain campaign says it was aware of her daughter's pregnancy before it announced Friday that she was his running mate.
The family's statement said: "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media, respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."



Abortion: The unbridgeable rift in U.S. politics

The values divide on the issue has proved inviolable since 1980.
Seven years after Roe v. Wade, the Republican Party platform backed an anti-abortion constitutional amendment, and George H.W. Bush, placed on the ticket by Ronald Reagan, reversed his previous support for abortion rights.
Since then, Republicans have not nominated a candidate who favors abortion rights; Democrats have not nominated one who opposes them.
The 2004 exit polls show why: Three-fourths of those who said abortion should be legal voted for John Kerry, while three-fourths of those who said abortion should be outlawed voted for President George W. Bush.

China ponders the lessons of the Japanese 'miracle'

BEIJING: Now that the Olympics are over, a new game is under way: predicting China's economic future by studying Japan's past.
Teasing out economic parallels is a favorite academic pastime, but it can be just as treacherous as extrapolating prevailing trends into the indefinite future. In the 1960s, the Philippine economy was the second-richest in Asia after the Japanese. Now it is bringing up the rear.
Still, looking at Japan provides some useful pointers as the world ponders how long China can keep up the growth of nearly 10 percent a year it has enjoyed since it embarked on market revamping 30 years ago.
Albert Keidel at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington says that when Japan was at China's current level of gross domestic product of just over $2,000 per capita, and headed for $10,000, it had growth rates of 8 to 10 percent. So did South Korea and Taiwan.
Economists have observed that the later a country begins its catching-up, the more rapidly it modernizes. So Keidel expects China to grow more swiftly than its three neighbors did at the same stage of development.

The result, he says, is that China will match the United States for economic size by 2035 and be twice as big by midcentury.


HSBC says super-rich clients moving into cash

GENEVA: Many of the world's wealthiest people have moved their money out of stocks and bonds and into cash, the head of HSBC's Swiss private banking unit said on Monday.
"The first half of 2008 has seen a notable change in client expectations and investment choices," said Peter Braunwalder, chief executive of HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), the bank's main affiliate catering to the ultra-rich.
"Faced with inflation worries, volatile asset prices and sudden changes in exchange rates, a majority of investors have reduced their transaction volumes in equities, bonds, and structured products," he told a news briefing in Geneva.
This was particularly true for clients from Asia, whose demand for complex investment tools such as equity derivatives has "drastically decreased" in response to recent financial market upheaval, said Braunwalder.
"Concurrently, most clients increased their cash allocation and, for some, their leverage," he added.



Gold steady after piggybacking on oil gains
SINGAPORE: Gold was trading largely unchanged on Monday, after gaining $5 early in the day on the back of oil-led gains ahead of Hurricane Gustav, but volumes will likely remain low because of a U.S. holiday.
Platinum and silver shed early gains, while palladium dropped after hitting a two-week high last week on fund buying. Investors waited for the release of U.S. economic indicators, including Friday's non-farm payrolls.
Gold hit an intraday high of $835.25 an ounce before slipping to $830.50/831.50 an ounce, from $830.35/832.35 an ounce late in New York on Friday. U.S. markets were closed on Monday for Labour Day holiday.
"I guess with the United States on Labour Day today, markets are going to be a bit quieter. But I guess the focus for today and over the next few days will probably be on Hurricane Gustav and its after-effects," said Adrian Koh, an analyst at Phillip Futures.
"I think in the near-term, gold will still be looking at the $845 resistance and we will probably need a clear break above those regions before gold can head higher," he said.




By Anne Roiphe 214 pages.

$24.95. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers.

In a little-known essay called "Loneliness," the psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann once remarked that it's difficult for most people to retain vivid recollections of times when they were very lonely. This isn't because the experience isn't striking; it's because it's almost unbearably so. Loneliness presents a threat to a person's integrity and well-being, to the very sense of who one is. "Loneliness is so awful an experience," Fromm-Reichmann observed, that "most people will do practically anything to avoid it." But loneliness makes up a large and unavoidable part of a newly widowed woman's life. So, paradoxically, does the wish to be left alone with one's grief, as Anne Roiphe tells us in this raw, painful and yet occasionally comic memoir of the year and a half following the sudden death of her husband.
Herman Roiphe, a psychoanalyst, suffered a fatal heart attack in December 2005, when he was 81. "Epilogue" is Anne Roiphe's description of the aftermath of their happy, 39-year marriage. As readers of her novels and her previous memoirs will expect, she isn't reticent about taking off the bandages and showing us the extent and depth of her injuries.
Roiphe is now the extra woman in the coupled world she and H. (as she calls him throughout) formerly inhabited. While her old friends talk about travels they have planned or just returned from, she's left out of the conversation. She isn't going anywhere. She doesn't feel fully present in the group. She'd rather return home and get under the covers, with the cat lying beside her in the space H. used to occupy.
The pressing need is always to retreat to her safe base, even though that's where the silence of her single status awaits her: "If I am at dinner with a friend I keep glancing at my watch, how soon can I leave, how long till I am back in my apartment. If I am in my apartment I am anxious. I should go out. I need to be out. I need to go somewhere. If I am downtown I worry about the subway on the way home. Will it come? Will I be safe? I go to the theater with friends. I want to leave at intermission. I can't concentrate. I am worried about how I am going to get home. ... This anxiety, anxiety about nothing, no reason or sense to it, flows in and out of my mind all day."
In a much earlier book, the novel "Torch Song," inspired by her disastrous first marriage to the playwright Jack Richardson, Roiphe informed the reader that she had learned something important about disasters: They had their rhythms. They built, they rose to a peak and then they subsided as "adjustments" were made as discarded partners found new people to love. But the situation of a woman nearing 70, alone and mourning a long-term mate, is a calamity not easily resolved.


Russia claims its sphere of influence in the world

MOSCOW: President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia on Sunday laid out what he said would become his government's guiding principles of foreign policy after its landmark conflict with Georgia — notably including a claim to a "privileged" sphere of influence in the world.
Speaking to Russian television in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a day before a summit meeting in Brussels where European leaders were to reassess their relations with Russia, Medvedev said his government would adhere to five principles.
Russia, he said, would observe international law. It would reject what he called United States dominance of world affairs in a "unipolar" world. It would seek friendly relations with other nations. It would defend Russian citizens and business interests abroad. And it would claim a sphere of influence in the world.
In part, Medvedev reiterated long-held Russian positions, like his country's rejection of American aspirations to an exceptional role in world affairs after the end of the cold war. The Russian authorities have also said previously that their foreign policy would include a defense of commercial interests, sometimes citing American practice as justification.
In his unabashed claim to a renewed Russian sphere of influence, Medvedev said: "Russia, like other countries in the world, has regions where it has privileged interests. These are regions where countries with which we have friendly relations are located."



Putin tracks rare tiger for benefit of TV viewers

MOSCOW: He's driven a big truck, flown in a Russian fighter jet and fished shirtless on national television. Now Vladimir Putin has visited a Russian wildlife preserve that gave him the chance to wear camouflage, stalk through the woods and shoot a tiger - all for a good cause.
State-run television in Russia showed footage Monday of the tough-talking Russian prime minister's visit to the Far East, home of the rare Ussuri tiger. Russian media reports said Putin aided a program to track the tigers by shooting a 5-year-old female cat with a tranquilizer gun after it had freed itself from a restraint.
The televised footage showed Putin, deep in the woods, placing a collar with a tracking device around the knocked-out tiger's neck and patting its cheek like a pet. "She'll remember us," he said.


EU leaders issue another warning to Russia

BRUSSELS: The leaders of the European Union, having repeatedly warned Moscow in vain to abide by the six-point cease-fire agreement reached by France to end the fighting with Georgia, gathered here Monday in an emergency summit meeting and after several hours of talks, decided to warn Moscow again.
In a week, the leaders announced, the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso; the EU foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana; and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who currently holds the EU presidency, will travel to Moscow to insist, they said, that Russia withdraw all its troops to positions held before the Aug. 7 fighting broke out between Georgia and Russia.
If Russia did not comply, the European leaders announced, a second round of talks with Moscow on a strategic partnership agreement with the European Union, scheduled for mid-September, would be postponed.
That was as close to a "sanction" as the European leaders agreed upon, pressed to do even that by Poland, Sweden and the Baltic states, and it is meant to show Russia that it is on probation. Barroso said: "It is clear that, in the light of events, we cannot continue as if nothing had happened."
The rare four-hour crisis meeting in Brussels produced blunt criticism of Moscow's military offensive in Georgia but proposed few concrete measures that might deter Russia from similar action. The leaders did, however, offer firm support for Georgia, promising reconstruction aid and civilian monitors.



UK urges suspension of EU-Russia talks

LONDON: Britain called on Monday for the European Union to suspend talks on a new partnership agreement with Russia in protest at Moscow's military intervention in Georgia.
"In light of Russia's actions we should suspend negotiations on a successor to the partnership and cooperation agreement," a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters in London.



Iran says has not bought Russian missiles

TEHRAN: Iran denied on Monday it had bought Russia's advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system, after Israeli defence sources said the Islamic Republic could take delivery of the weapons by the end of the year.
Western and Israeli experts have said that if Tehran acquired the S-300 missile batteries it would make any strike by Israel or the United States on Iran's nuclear sites tougher.
Iran is involved in a row over its nuclear plans. The United States and Israel say Tehran wants to build atomic bombs despite Tehran's denials. They have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.
Asked whether it had bought missiles from Russia, including the S-300 system, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said: "No such thing is correct."
He also told the news conference: "Our missile and technical capability completely depends on Iranian scientific capability, as has been demonstrated so far."


Doctors head to flood-stricken zones in India
SAHARSA DISTRICT, India: The authorities hurriedly sent doctors and medical equipment to flood-devastated northern India on Monday to ward off outbreaks of disease among the hundreds of thousands of victims crowding relief camps, officials said.
Nearly half of the 1.2 million people left homeless when the Kosi River burst its banks two weeks ago, spilling over northern India's vast plains, had been rescued by Monday. Officials said they hoped to reach the rest in the next three days.
About 250,000 refugees were in government and relief agency camps, said Prataya Amrit, a top disaster management official in Bihar State, the scene of the flooding. Many of the rest have taken shelter with families or friends.
But with the numbers in the camps expected to nearly double in the coming days, there were fears the crowded and often unsanitary conditions could lead to outbreaks of diseases like cholera.
The United Nations warned that "the heat, combined with limited supplies of safe drinking water and poor hygiene conditions, poses a great risk of water- and vector-borne diseases."
In one camp set up at a school in Saharsa District - one of the worst-hit of the five flooded districts in Bihar - a nurse trying to treat the sick had just one packet of paracetamol tablets.

Downgraded Hurricane Gustav passes New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — This nearly deserted city appeared to have escaped threats of full-scale devastation on Monday when Hurricane Gustav came ashore 70 miles to the southwest, bearing winds and rain far less formidable than earlier forecast.

Army helps as desperation mounts in flood-hit India
PATNA, India: The Indian army and navy stepped up efforts on Monday to rescue hundreds of thousands of people marooned by floods and facing severe shortages of food in the east of the country.
Some villagers have been living on rooftops for days, while others are eating plants and leaves after exhausting food stocks. Aid agencies said the government of the impoverished state of Bihar should have done more to anticipate the disaster and plan relief operations in a region hit by monsoon flooding every year.
"Lessons from the past disasters should be kept in mind while planning response," ActionAid said in a statement. "A long-term comprehensive response is necessary to deal with relief, recovery and disaster preparedness."
Three million people have been displaced from their homes and at least 90 killed by floods, officials say, after the Kosi river burst a dam in Nepal, swamping hundreds of villages in Bihar and destroying 100,000 ha (250,000 acres) of farmlands.
Hundreds of boats are being used to evacuate people but more are needed, while heavy rains over the past few days have hampered rescue and relief operations, officials said.

Storm leads McCain to scale back convention
ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Senator John McCain and his advisers decided to halt all but the most essential activities for the Republican National Convention, sacrificing a major televised platform for McCain's political message as he sought to project a forceful response to the threat of Hurricane Gustav.

Bomb hits bus terminal in southern Philippines
MANILA: A homemade bomb exploded at a bus terminal in the southern Philippines on Monday, killing at least six people and wounding 26, security officials said.
The device blew up in the city of Digos, in Davao del Sur Province, inside a bus owned by a company that has been the target of extortionists in the past. Superintendent Francisco Villaroman, the regional police intelligence officer.
The bomb, which was placed in an overhead bin, tore a hole in the roof of the bus and shattered its windows. The roof of the terminal also was damaged, Villaroman said. "They placed the bomb overhead and packed it with nails obviously to cause more casualties," Villaroman said.
Six people died and the wounded included several children, he said.

A long and weary bus ride to anywhere
ABOARD A BUS FROM NEW ORLEANS: The 40-odd people boarding the black, red and white bus that the city provided late Saturday afternoon embarked on a journey of pure faith. They did not know how long they would be away or whether they would have anything to come home to. It would be many hours before they even learned where they were going.

Pakistan to halt airstrikes for Ramadan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Pakistani military, which has been criticized by Washington for not pushing hard enough against Taliban militants, has used jet fighters and helicopter gunships in the past three weeks to strike at insurgents who pour over the border to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
A military official involved in the operation said that the air assaults had resulted in more than 400 Taliban casualties in Bajaur, an area of the tribal region where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have forged close ties, and had forced the militants to retreat from villages they controlled. It was difficult to verify the number of casualties independently.
But as a result of the air campaign, more than 200,000 civilians have fled their homes, according to the World Health Organization and Unicef, which are providing assistance in the area. Many of the refugees, who are now squatting in makeshift camps or bunking with extended families, are angry at the deaths of relatives and the destruction of property. More than 40,000 people from Bajaur are now refugees in Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Toll from weekend quake in China hits 38
BEIJING: Rescuers appealed for temporary housing and tents Monday after a weekend earthquake in southwest China killed at least 38 people, injured hundreds and left tens of thousands of homes in ruins.
The temblor Saturday in Sichuan Province, which the U.S. Geological Survey measured at magnitude 5.7, struck along the same fault line as a May 12 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000.
"This is a mountainous place, and so we can't build temporary houses everywhere," Zhang Hai, head of the foreign liaison office of the Communist Party propaganda department in the city of Panzhihua, said as he issued a call for 10,000 tents. He said the beginning of the school year, which was supposed to be Monday, was postponed for a week because the authorities were inspecting damage in classrooms, he said.
"We still can't bring all kids back to their previous classrooms," Zhang said.


Scars linger for Georgian refugees

GORI, Georgia: As quickly as war erupted between Russia and Georgia, more than 150,000 refugees left home in a fearful scramble. More than three weeks later, many are stranded in tents, some with little prospect of ever venturing back to their burned, mined villages; others have gone home; some are in Russia. All carry the scars that make any war, however short, linger long in popular memory and legend.
Meri Tamazashvili, 51, is among the hundreds of families huddled under a scorching sun outside one of the 1,000 tents of a United Nations refugee center on the outskirts of Gori, the bomb-scarred central Georgian town watched over by a statue of its best-known son, Stalin. In a tearful encounter, she recalled hiding under the trees in fields next to her charred house in Russian-occupied Georgia, taking shelter from marauding bandits.
"Men in black masks burned down my home and if I hadn't hid in my garden, I would be dead," she said. "I don't know of any families who have returned. People are too afraid."
Several tents away, Tatiana Nebiaridze, 28, from the village of Vanati, said her 85-year-old neighbor had been killed by an Ossetian bandit. The body remained on the street near her house for several days until Ossetians removed it and burned the body in a bread oven.
The two women are among about 4,500 refugees at UN camps in Gori, desperate to return to their villages in South Ossetia and the security zone 26 kilometers, or 16 miles, wide that Russia is occupying on Georgian territory in defiance of calls by the United States and the European Union to retreat.

About 128,000 Georgians have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Tbilisi, Georgia. Nearly 30,000 people from South Ossetia, the breakaway enclave at the heart of the conflict, fled to the Russian Federation, although at least 25,000 of them have now returned to their homes, the UN agency said.
Georgia fired a barrage against South Ossetia on the night of Aug. 7-8, prompting a Russian move into Georgian territory that led to the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. As fighting subsided, bandits, including some from South Ossetia, swept into Georgian villages, causing thousands more people to flee and prompting accusations of marauding, theft, killing and ethnic cleansing on both sides.
As in any multiethnic conflict zone, whether the Caucasus, the Balkans or Iraq, refugee officials say the right of refugees to return to their homes is vital to the restoration of stability.
"Some refugees have tried to return to their homes in Russian-occupied Georgia and are being turned away at Russian checkpoints," said Tapio Vahtola, a Tbilisi-based spokesman for the UN refugee agency. "Some older people stayed behind to look after their homes, but not so many people have returned. People are afraid because it is not safe."


Reports of civilian deaths inflame tensions in Afghanistan

KABUL: Foreign and Afghan forces killed five children in two separate incidents Monday, further inflaming tensions in the country over the killings of civilians by troops from the U.S.-led coalition.
NATO said Monday it had accidentally killed three children in an artillery strike in eastern Afghanistan. It said NATO forces had fired the rounds after insurgents attacked its patrol in the Gayan district of Paktika Province and one of the rounds hit a house, killing three children and injuring seven civilians.
In a separate incident, foreign and Afghan forces killed a man and his two children and during a raid near Kabul, the police and witnesses said. Angry men gathered at the victims' house in the Utkheil area east of the capital, where the three bodies were displayed inside a mud-walled compound. The man's wife was wounded in the operation, said Yahya Khan, a cousin.
NATO issued an unusual statement Monday warning that the Taliban planned to make a false claim about the killings of civilians in the south.



Pakistan orders inquiry into killing of five women

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan ordered an investigation on Monday into the killing of five women who rights groups say were shot and buried alive because three of them wanted to marry men of their choice.
The killings have produced shock and outrage even in a country inured to the murder of women by male relatives in the name of family honour in conservative, rural areas where tribal traditions hold sway.
The women were killed in Babakot village, 320 km (200 miles) east of Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, last month.
Rights groups say the perpetrators are connected to a powerful political family and have managed to block a police investigation.
The government's top Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, said he had ordered an inquiry headed by a top police officer and he wanted a report within a week.



Ahmed Faraz, revolutionary Urdu poet

The revolutionary Pakistani poet Ahmed Faraz, whose name is synonymous in South Asia with modern Urdu poetry, died Aug. 25 in Islamabad. He was 77.
The cause was kidney failure, said his son, Shibli Faraz.
He was earlier reported to have died while being treated in a Chicago hospital after a fall in Baltimore, but he returned to his homeland, where he died.
Popular among both the cognoscenti and the general public, he was one of the few poets from the subcontinent whose verses were read as well as sung. He was in great demand at the mushaira, social gatherings - usually after dusk - at which Urdu poets recite their poems.
Often compared to legends of the past like Mohammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Faraz was as popular in India as he was in his own country.

He enjoyed a near cult status in the pantheon of revolutionary poets. In India and other countries outside Pakistan, he was best known for his ghazals - poems expressing the writer's feelings, especially about love - which were popularized by leading singers like Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hasan, Runa Laila and Jagjit Singh.
A passionate voice for change and progress, Faraz was usually at his best when writing the poetry of love and protest. His romantic poetry made him particularly beloved by the young; the establishment was not so fond of his verses mocking and at times exposing the authorities.
An advocate for the poor and downtrodden, Faraz raised his voice against capitalists, usurpers and dictators. In the 1980s, he went into a six-year self-imposed exile in Canada and Europe during the era of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, whose military rule of Pakistan he had condemned at a mushaira and whose power seemed to drive him to heights of inspiration.
"That was the worst phase for our country's writers," he once said of Zia's rule. "Yet it also provided ample food for thought for the poet and made protest poetry so popular in Pakistan."
Faraz, who was also closely associated with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan People's Party, wrote some of his best poetry in exile, including "Dekhtay Hain" ("Let Us Gaze") and "Mohasara" ("The Siege"). In all, he had written 13 volumes of Urdu poetry.
Ahmed Faraz was the pseudonym of Syed Ahmad Shah, who was born in Nowshera village near Kohat in Pakistan on Jan. 14, 1931. His father, Agha Syed Muhammad Shah Bark Kohati, was a leading traditional poet.
He studied at Edwards College in Peshawar and was greatly influenced by progressive poets like Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri. He obtained his master's degree in Urdu and Persian from Peshawar University.
Faraz's first volume of poetry, "Tanha Tanha," was published in the late 1950s, when he was an undergraduate student, and became a huge, instant hit. He had a tendency to create controversies about himself or about various issues. He spoke against marriage, saying it was "a sort of prostitution through a contract on paper." He also said Urdu was "a dying language," prompting outrage among Urdu speakers.


Sri Lanka's Tamils live in fear, and resignation, of security forces
COLOMBO: People in the poor, mainly Tamil neighborhood in Colombo described it as a harrowing day.
It was 5 a.m. on a Wednesday two months ago when police officers started knocking on doors. They searched hundreds of homes then forced thousands of men, women and children to get dressed and walk through the narrow streets lined with soldiers to a nearby sports field. Over the next six hours, the authorities questioned, photographed and videotaped the neighborhood's inhabitants.
Still, few of those rounded up expressed surprise at the intrusion.
Members of Sri Lanka's minority Tamil community say police raids, harassment, arbitrary detentions and even abductions have become routine in recent years as violence has escalated in the 25-year civil war between the government, dominated by the Sinhalese majority, and the Tamil Tiger militia fighting for a separate state in the island's north and east.
"They think every Tamil-speaking person is a terrorist. They want to control us," said Sanjeevi Ramiah, 47, one of the few residents of the Kimbulla Ela neighborhood willing to speak publicly about the raid on July 2.



Nicholas D. Kristof: Tortured, but not silenced

An early test of the next president's moral courage will come as he decides how to engage two Sudanese people named Bashir.
One is President Omar al-Bashir, who faces indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The other is Dr. Halima Bashir, a young Darfuri woman whom the Sudanese authorities have tried to silence by beatings and gang-rape.
In 10 days, Halima's extraordinary memoir will be published in the United States, at considerable risk to herself. She writes in "Tears of the Desert" of growing up in a placid village in rural Darfur, of her wonder at seeing white people for the first time, of her brilliant performance in school.
Eventually Halima became a doctor, just as the genocide against black African tribes like her own began in 2003. Halima soon found herself treating heartbreaking cases, like that of a 6-year-old boy who suffered horrendous burns when the state-sponsored janjaweed militia threw him into a burning hut.
One day she gave an interview in which she hinted that the Darfur reality was more complicated than the Sudanese government version. The authorities detained her, threatened her, warned her to keep silent and transferred her to a remote clinic where there were no journalists around to interview her.

Then the janjaweed attacked a girls' school near Halima's new clinic and raped dozens of the girls, aged 7 to 13. The first patient Halima tended to was 8 years old. Her face was bashed in and her insides torn apart. The girl was emitting a haunting sound: "a keening, empty wail kept coming from somewhere deep within her throat - over and over again," she recalls in the book.
Sudan's government dispatches rapists the way other governments dispatch the police, the better to terrorize black African tribes and break their spirit. What sometimes isn't noted is that many young Darfuri girls undergo an extreme form of genital cutting called infibulation, in which the vagina is stitched closed until marriage; that makes such rapes of schoolgirls particularly violent and bloody, increasing the risk of AIDS transmission.
Halima found herself treating the girls with tears streaming down her own face. All she had to offer the girls for their pain was half a pill each of acetaminophen: "At no stage in my years of study had I been taught how to deal with 8-year-old victims of gang rape in a rural clinic without enough sutures to go around."
Soon afterward, two UN officials showed up at the clinic to gather information about the attack. Halima told them the truth.
A few days later, the secret police kidnapped her. "You speak to the foreigners!" one man screamed at her. They told her that she had talked of rape but knew nothing about it - yet. For days they beat her, gang-raped her, cut her with knives, burned her with cigarettes, mocked her with racial epithets. One told her, "Now you know what rape is, you black dog."
Upon her release, a shattered Halima fled back to her native village, but it was soon attacked and burned - and her beloved father killed. Halima still doesn't know what happened to her mother or brothers. Eventually she made her way to Britain, where she is seeking asylum, and even there Sudanese agents are trying to track her whereabouts.
It is difficult to verify some of Halima's story, and she has modified her own name and some place names to protect family members from retribution. But what can be checked out does check out and suggests no exaggeration.
For example, Halima says in her book that she does not know how many girls were raped at the school but that 40 were brought to the clinic. I've found independent accounts of the same attack that describe as many as 110 girls and teachers raped and dozens more kidnapped; the United Nations also has photos of the school after the attack.
I asked Halima if she regrets telling the UN officials about the rape of the schoolgirls, considering what it cost her. She sighed and said no.
"What happened to me happened to so many other Darfur women," she said. "If I didn't tell, all the other people don't get the chance - and I have the chance. I am a well-educated woman, so I can speak up and send a message to the world."
Halima's bravery contrasts with the world's fecklessness and failures on Darfur. She is applying for a travel document and a visa to come to the United States to talk about her book, but it seems unlikely that they will arrive in time for its release. I hope President Bush accelerates the process and invites her to the White House, to show the world which of the two Bashirs America stands behind.



Global justice threatened

Eric Reeves is author of "A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide."

As news coverage of Darfur's horrors again ebbs, as regional rains reach their heaviest in a deadly season known as the "hunger gap," the regime in Khartoum appears to have outwaited the international community.
The men who have orchestrated ethnic destruction in Darfur now believe that by threatening the massive UN humanitarian and peacekeeping presence in the region, they can have their way with the fate of international justice and determine fully the fate of Darfur's millions of conflict-affected civilians.
This threat emerges in response to a July announcement by International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo seeking an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity. Khartoum has so far responded mainly with declarations defying and denouncing the ICC.
But recent language suggests an ominous shift. Increasingly confident that it will not be held accountable by its neighbors in the Arab and African worlds, Khartoum has now declared in effect, "don't allow an ICC arrest warrant to be issued or we will undermine security for the UN in Darfur."
At the same time, an extraordinary coalition of expediency and callousness has joined with Khartoum, coming primarily from African, Arab and Islamic countries expressing greater concern for a possible arrest warrant for Bashir than for the overwhelming evidence of crimes committed by him and his regime.

These crimes continue: This past week more than 100 civilians, the majority women and children, were killed or wounded by the regime's security forces in an armed assault on the Kalma displaced persons camp.
The longer international silence continues in the face of such outrageous threats against the UN, the more dangerous the moment in which the ICC three-judge panel announces its decision in the coming weeks. For if Khartoum does move to create additional insecurity for humanitarians, who already face intolerable risks and harassment, entire organizations will withdraw, even in this season of fierce malnutrition.


U.S. hands back a quieter Anbar Province

RAMADI, Iraq: Two years ago, Anbar Province was the most lethal place for American forces in Iraq. A U.S. marine or soldier died in the province nearly every day, and the provincial capital, Ramadi, was a moonscape of rubble and ruins. Islamic extremists controlled large pieces of territory, with some so ferocious in their views that they did not even allow the baking of bread.
On Monday, U.S. commanders formally returned responsibility for keeping order in Anbar Province, once the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, to the Iraqi Army and police. The ceremony, including a parade on a freshly paved street, capped one of the most significant turnabouts in the country since the war began five and a half years ago.
Over the past two years, the number of insurgent attacks against Iraqis and Americans has dropped by more than 90 percent. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been severely degraded, if not crushed altogether, in large part because many local Sunnis, including former insurgents, have taken up arms against it.
Since February, as the security situation improved, U.S. commanders have cut the number of marines and soldiers operating in the province by 40 percent.
The transfer of authority codified a situation that Iraqi and American officers say has been in effect since April: The Iraqi Army and police operate independently and retain primary responsibility for battling the insurgency and crime in Anbar. The United States, which had long done the bulk of the fighting, has stepped into a backup role, going into the streets only when accompanied by Iraqi forces.



Key Sunni militias to shift to Iraqi control

BAGHDAD: As of Oct. 1, the Iraqi government will assume responsibility for paying and employing the Sunni-dominated citizen patrols known as Awakening Councils operating in and around Baghdad, American military officials said Monday.
The handover, which the American officials said would give the Iraqi government "full administrative control, will involve 54,000 Awakening members in the Iraqi capital and its province who are currently paid by American forces to guard neighborhoods or, in some cases, to refrain from attacking American and Iraqi forces.
General David Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, has said the American military pays about 99,000 Awakening members across the country, so the number affected by the transfer appears to be more than half. And some Awakening leaders in other provinces said they expected to be transferred soon.
It was not immediately clear whether the mainly Shiite Iraqi government has given the Americans or the Awakening forces assurances on how long — or even whether — they will keep the patrols intact. Some senior Iraqi government officials have expressed deep reservations about paying armed Sunni militias, which draw from the ranks of former insurgents.
Many American military commanders say that the Awakening movement has been critically important in helping reduce violence levels in the capital and around Iraq, including in Anbar Province, where control was returned to Iraq on Monday. Some of the commanders believe that the patrols have done more to quiet the country than the increase in troops known as the surge.




McCain and Iraq

McCain's rival, Barack Obama, once was a lonely voice demanding the withdrawal of all combat forces by mid-2010. Now, Iraq's leaders are pushing a timetable that would have American troops out in 2011.
Even President Bush - who had long scorned the notion of a withdrawal deadline as defeatist - looks set to go along. Iraq's leaders are demanding that Bush accept that deadline in exchange for legalizing the continued American military presence in the country. That leaves McCain as the stubborn man out.



For Toronto film festival, a pragmatic approach

Another gala (on Sept. 10) celebrates "The Lucky Ones," about returning Iraq veterans on a bittersweet road trip back home. Directed by Neil Burger, it stars Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña, who are expected to appear at the festival in support of a film finally set for a U.S. release on Sept. 26, and Canada on Oct. 3, by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Confronted by Iraq-theme box-office disappointments like "Stop-Loss," "Redacted" and "In the Valley of Elah," the filmmakers and distributors have struggled for months to come up with the best way to market a movie in which the word "Iraq" is not mentioned though the war infuses every scene.

In at least some cases the Toronto festival will instead throw its weight behind films that are still edging their way off the shelf.
One such is "The Lucky Ones." Formerly called "The Return," it tells the story of three soldiers thrown together on a cross-country trip from New York to points west. Shot on a budget of about $15 million more than a year ago, it was scheduled for release as early as last December but drifted as a cluster of Iraq war films failed to find an audience.


Economists look to expand GDP to count 'quality of life'
NEW YORK: For decades, the gross domestic product has been the premier means of measuring a country's economic vitality. It is a celebrity among statistics, a giant calculator strutting about adding up every bit of paid activity. In the United States, the $14 trillion total marks the country as the world's most prosperous - measured in money.

In the absence of any statistic of comparable cachet, however, the GDP is regularly asked to do more than it was designed to do. It measures output just fine, but as a stand-in gauge for a country's overall well-being, this supernumber is less than perfect. Or, as Robert Kennedy put it 40 years ago while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, the GDP "measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

How else to explain, for example, that just when many Americans are not feeling so good about their circumstances, the gross domestic product is going up? Last week, markets surged after the U.S. government announced that the GDP had risen at an annual rate of 3.3 percent from April to June. But with all the turmoil in the U.S. economy, the question is whether that one number provides the most meaningful barometer.Kennedy may have been particularly eloquent about the GDP's shortcomings, but he wasn't alone in his concern.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, recently appointed a commission to come up with a better measure for France, chaired by two Nobel laureates, Amartya Sen at Harvard and Joseph Stiglitz at Columbia. While Sarkozy's goal is to showcase a "quality of life" at odds with the country's more modest GDP gains, the high-profile effort might yield dividends elsewhere as well.
For years now, analysts have been seeking ways to improve the statistic. Instead of capturing only output, like cars rolling off an assembly line, why not also try to capture - in an expanded GDP or some parallel indicator - things like educational attainment or successful child rearing or life expectancy? A half-dozen research groups in the United States are also tackling the question. In good times, none of this effort gets much attention, but in times like these, when well-being and the economic indicator are so plainly out of sync, there's plenty of talk of repair.

"We may be in the early stages in the United States of recognizing that the gross domestic product is very misleading and something must be done to get better measures of well-being," Sen said.

The gross domestic product was invented in the United States during the Depression to measure just how much and how quickly the economy was shrinking and whether President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal efforts at revival were working. The invention was a success, and other countries gradually adopted the new system.

"If you just want to know what is going to happen next in the business cycle, then GDP as it exists today is enough," said Katherine Abraham, a former bureau commissioner, now a University of Maryland economist. "But if you are trying to figure out where we are headed as a society, then this sort of data is a must."



Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

By Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

293 pages. $26. Yale University Press.

Yes, there is such a thing as common sense and thank goodness for that. At least that's this reader's reaction to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's "Nudge," an engaging and insightful tour through the evidence that most human beings don't make decisions in the way often characterized (some would say caricatured) in elementary economics textbooks, along with a rich array of suggestions for enabling many of us to make better choices, both for ourselves and for society.
Few people will be surprised to learn that the setting in which individuals make decisions often influences the choices they make. How much we eat depends on what's served on our plate, what foods we pick from the cafeteria line depends on whether the salads or the desserts are placed at eye level, and what magazines we buy depends on which ones are on display at the supermarket checkout line.
But the same tendency also affects decisions with more significant consequences: how much families save and how they invest; what kind of mortgage they take out; which medical insurance they choose; what cars they drive. Behavioral economics, a new area of research combining economics and psychology, has repeatedly documented how our apparently free choices are affected by the way options are presented to us.
The main insight from which Thaler and Sunstein proceed is that no decision setting is "neutral." Whether it's a restaurant laying out food or the government presenting different Medicare options, whoever presents choices must frame them in some way. And the framing will affect the decisions. Even "small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on people's behavior," the authors write. Some ways of presenting the choices may give a gentler "nudge" than others, and we may think some settings are neutral only because we're so used to them. But whoever is presenting the choices will inevitably bias decisions, in one direction or another.
As a result, Thaler and Sunstein argue, many of the familiar arguments for why people should simply be left to make choices on their own, and especially for why government should stay strictly out of the way, have little practical force. In many important areas of choice that matter both to the individual and to the rest of us (for example, when overuse of medical care drives up our insurance premiums and our taxes), the operative question is not whether to bias people's decisions, but in which direction.

Thaler, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Sunstein, a law professor formerly at Chicago but now at Harvard, apply this line of argument to a wide array of familiar areas: saving, borrowing, energy consumption, smoking, teenage pregnancy and many others.
Along the way they present fascinating findings about how people actually make decisions, together with lots of personal advice: save more, diversify your investments, don't invest much in your employer's stock, don't pay points on mortgages, buy insurance with the biggest deductible you can afford, don't pay for extended warranties.
But their main objective is to reshape public policy (Sunstein is an informal adviser to Barack Obama, who has advanced some "Nudge"-like policy ideas), and it's clear that the suggestions they care most about apply to ways in which governments can do a better job of guiding the choices made by their citizens. The goal, in part, is to nudge people toward healthier, safer, more prosperous lives while also addressing pressing issues like environmental damage and the rising cost of health care.
If all this sounds paternalistic, that's because it is. Thaler and Sunstein adopt the deliberately oxymoronic label "libertarian paternalism" to describe their general approach. It's libertarian in that people retain the right to make their own choices: they're free to select the savings plan with the lowest projected return if that's what they really want. But the government - or an employer, or the person in charge of laying out the food in the cafeteria - is nonetheless nudging people in the direction that somebody thinks will make them better off.
The conceptual argument is powerful, and most of the authors' suggestions are common sense at its best: Set up 401(k) programs so that employees have to opt out if they want, rather than making them opt in. Offer investment vehicles that provide automatic portfolio rebalancing. Most of these ideas work because of the human tendency, widely documented, toward what Thaler and Sunstein call "inertia."

Thaler and Sunstein also seem naïve in hoping that their program of libertarian paternalism will be equally appealing to those on the left and the right. Their entire line of argument - that people frequently make decisions that are not in their own best interest, that often "free markets and open competition will tend to exacerbate rather than mitigate the effects of human frailty," and especially that in many important contexts "it is pointless to ask government simply to stand aside" since no way of presenting decisions can truly be "neutral" - is deeply subversive of standard free­market, anti-regulation, small-government thinking but supportive of many interventionist inclinations.
But regardless of whether Thaler and Sunstein's ideas are ideologically neutral, most of them are the essence of common sense. For that we should all applaud loudly.

Benjamin M. Friedman is a professor of economics at Harvard University. His latest book is "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth."

U.N. says humanitarian aircraft goes missing in Congo

KINSHASA: A humanitarian plane went missing during a storm in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday, U.N. humanitarian coordinator OCHA said.
"We have a missing plane. We don't know if it's landed or crashed," Christophe Illemassene, spokesman in Congo for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told Reuters.
"We don't have the manifest so we don't really know how many people were on board," he said.
The plane was on its way from the city of Kisangani to the town of Bukavu, on Congo's eastern border with Rwanda, when it lost contact with ground control.
"The last contact that we had was as they were approaching Bukavu ... Apparently the weather was pretty nasty in Bukavu," Illemassene said.


South African rugby offers reward to find racists

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: South African rugby officials are offering a cash reward to try to track down three white men who attacked a black fan at an international test at the weekend.
The South African Rugby Union said Monday in a statement that it is offering 10,000 rand (US$1,290) to identify the men who shouted racist taunts as they assaulted a black woman during halftime of South Africa's match against Australia on Saturday.
SARU president Oregan Hoskins expressed outrage at both the attack and the failure of passers-by to intervene.


U.K downturn seen as feeding radicalism
London: An economic downturn in Britain could aggravate the racial tensions and grievances that help feed terrorist recruitment, according to a leaked government document.
The draft letter from the Home Office warned that a recession could create conditions likely to increase support for radical Islamist groups.
As jobs become more scarce, "we should expect increased public hostility to migrants," said the memo titled "Responding to Economic Challenges." The warning came after the chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, said the slump could be the worst for 60 years.
Source: Reuters, p4 IHT 4 Star Atlantic Edition Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Schoolgirls vaccinated for cancer-causing virus
London: Thousands of schoolgirls are to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cervical cancer cases as part of a national program starting this month, the British National Health Service said Monday.
All girls aged 12 or 13 will be offered the vaccination at school, while older teenagers will take part in a catch-up program over the next year. The NHS said the vaccine was most effective i it was given when girls are aged 12 or 13, before they start having sex.
Critics have described the injection as a "sex jab" that may encourage under-age sex and promiscuity. But the public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, said the routine vaccination of teenage girls against the human papillomavirus was a crucial step that could save up to 400 lives a year.
Source: Reuters, p4 IHT 4 Star Atlantic Edition Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Taking the 'United' out of the United Kingdom
NEW YORK: A decade ago, when I started visiting my wife's Scottish-Canadian relatives in the wilderness of northern Canada, her gritty Glaswegian grandmother welcomed the English guest by raising a Scottish flag on a pole above the Peace River, humming "Loch Lomond" and whispering under her breath, "Not to forget Bannockburn," the decisive battle in which the Scots drove out the English in 1314.
In return, I whistled "God Save the Queen," and we smiled. It was a good-natured family squabble that never got out of hand.
Imagine my dismay then as I gaze from New York at the drama unfolding back home in the British Isles over the last 12 months, in which suddenly there are signs that the family tiff may finally be spiraling out of control.
Last year, on the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union between England and Scotland, Scottish nationalists became the dominant party in Scotland. A month ago they trounced Britain's governing Labour Party in a formerly Labour-dominated inner-city Glasgow district. Now, they promise to hold a Scotland-wide referendum on independence from England by 2010 and believe they just might win - so lowering the curtain on a union that is older than the United States.
"For the first time, the union is perceived to be in danger," said Robert Hazell, professor of government and director of the constitution unit at University College London, though he cautioned that the obstacles to Scottish independence were such that he did not think it would happen, at least not yet.
Pound hits all-time low against the euro
LONDON: The pound fell to an all-time low against the euro on Monday after Alistair Darling, chancellor of the Exchequer said Britain was facing the worst economic conditions in 60 years.
Darling's comments, reported over the weekend, were underscored by new economic data covering such things as house prices, mortgage lending and manufacturing that indicated that Britain is on the brink of a recession.
The euro, which was introduced in 1999, hit a record high of 81.40 pence in morning trading. The euro eased later to 81.56 pence.
Around the same time, the pound fell to its lowest level in over two years against the dollar, to just under $1.80.
A survey by the research firm Hometrack revealed Monday that house prices fell 5.3 percent in August to £167,000, or $305,000, a year-to-year decline that was the biggest since the index was introduced seven years ago.


Rural France

No comments: