IW: Chilly at night, a heavy dew, leaves line the lane already. It is 0817 before the suns rays make it over the Col and whiten my computer screen through my study door. But it is still 28 degrees today at its hotest.
Popular hallucinogen faces growing legal opposition in U.S.
DALLAS: With a friend videotaping, 27-year-old Christopher Lenzini of Dallas took a hit of Salvia divinorum, the world's most potent hallucinogenic herb, and soon began to imagine, he said, that he was in a boat with little green men.
Lenzini quickly collapsed to the floor and dissolved into convulsive laughter.
When he posted the video on YouTube this summer, friends could not get enough. "It's just funny to see a friend act like a total idiot," he said, "so everybody loved it."
Until a decade ago, the use of salvia was largely limited to those seeking revelation under the tutelage of Mazatec shamans in its native Oaxaca, Mexico. Today, this mind-altering member of the mint family is broadly available for lawful sale online and in head shops across the United States.
Though older Americans typically have never heard of salvia, the psychoactive sage has become something of a phenomenon among the country's thrill-seeking youth. More than 5,000 YouTube videos - equal parts "Jackass" and "Up in Smoke" - document their journeys into rubber-legged incoherence. Some of the videos have been viewed half a million times.
Yet these very images that have helped popularize salvia may also hasten its demise and undermine the promising research into its possible medical uses. Pharmacologists who believe salvia could open new frontiers for the treatment of addiction, depression and pain fear that its criminalization would make it burdensome to obtain and store the plant, and difficult to gain government permission for tests on human subjects.
In state after state, however, including here in Texas, the YouTube videos have become Exhibit A in legislative efforts to regulate salvia. This year, Florida made possession or sale a felony punishable by 15 years in prison. California took a gentler approach by making it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute to minors.
"When you see it, well, it sure makes a believer out of you," said Representative Charles Anderson of Texas, a Waco Republican who is sponsoring one of several bills to ban salvia in the state.
When the U.S. government this year published its first estimates of salvia use, the data astonished many: some 1.8 million people had tried it in their lifetimes, including 750,000 in the previous year.
Pakistan considers asset sales to bolster economy
NEW DELHI: Pakistan plans to sell valuable energy assets, beginning with a major gas field, as it tries to reap billions of dollars from deals with investors in industries like banking and farming.
The list of state assets for sale may not necessarily be followed by deals, analysts warned. "Talk of investing huge sums of money doesn't always materialize, because people are put off by the political machinations" in Pakistan, Price said.
Pakistan's "economic curse" is that the ruling elite — civil servants, politicians and the military — have worked in their own interest, not that of the wider population, limiting how much capital the country can raise, he said.
One possible source of new investment is the Middle East.
"There is a cultural and long-term affinity between the two regions," said Youssef Nasr, the chief executive of HSBC in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, in particular, have been strong supporters of Pakistan.
Investors from the Middle East have already bought stakes in telecommunications, banking and industrial companies in Pakistan and have been pleased with the results, he said.
One area of cooperation between Pakistan and the Middle East may be agriculture. The arid climate of the Middle East, coupled with rising food prices, has ignited fears about food security. Pakistan, meanwhile, has swaths of arable land that is lying fallow. Government officials on both sides are exploring links that could lead to joint farming ventures, Nasr said.
"It's not going to be a huge industry, by international standards," he predicted, but it could be large enough to make a difference to Pakistan's economy.
With millions under threat, inaction is unethical
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is president of the Republic of Maldives.
In a world preoccupied with issues of national sovereignty, global security and human rights, it is surprising that the international community remains so ambivalent in the face of a phenomenon - climate change - that threatens to rewrite borders, cause conflicts, and violate individual fundamental rights on a scale at least comparable with the major wars of the 20th century. It is also curious that in a world order built upon concepts of international law, solidarity and justice, the international community sits idly by while the Earth's greatest natural resource - the shared global ecosphere - is being critically undermined by the actions of a few privileged countries at the expense of the underprivileged many.
Oxfam International's groundbreaking report on "Climate Wrongs and Human Rights," published Tuesday, highlights these contradictions and couches them in demands for greater climate justice. The report demonstrates how climate change is violating the rights and freedoms of millions of people around the world, especially in vulnerable countries like the Maldives that bear almost no responsibility for a problem that threatens to consume them. In so doing, the report also responds to a call made this year in a United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution, sponsored by the Maldives, for information on how human rights such as the right to food, the right to water, the right to a culture, the right to housing, the right to work, the right to self-determination and even the right to life itself, are being undermined by climate change in communities around the world.
The Maldives is in a position to realize better than most the malign power of global warming. Our beautiful island nation comprises 1,190 tiny coral islands that stretch like a string of pearls across the Indian Ocean. Yet, the beauty of the Maldives is undermined by our acute vulnerability to climate change. As well as being small, all our islands are very low-lying, meaning that sea-level rise poses an existential threat to our civilization - a civilization that has existed for at least three and a half millennia. The fact that the sea is now perceived as a slowly encroaching threat to the Maldives is a tragic paradox when one considers that throughout our history, the sea and the life that it supports has been the life-blood of the nation. Yet today, rising sea temperatures and increased salination are slowly killing our coral reefs as well as the diverse ecosystems that they support.
For the last 20 years, other leaders of small island nations and I have tried to warn the world about the threat posed by climate change. Yet today, emissions, temperatures and sea levels continue to rise at ever faster rates. Soon we will pass a point of no return, and yet this colonial-style "rush for the ecosphere" shows no sign of abating. World leaders - especially leaders of the rich industrialized nations - appear content to allow countries like the Maldives to disappear beneath the waves, while they continue to make a deeply unethical trade-off between human lives and rights on one hand, and economic growth.
I hope that Oxfam International's new report will help to move the world from this tragic status quo to quick action in order to achieve a better future based upon international and intergenerational solidarity and climate justice.
Mining ambitions threaten Lake Baikal
LAKE BAIKAL, Russia: The stark beauty of this Russian lake, the world's deepest and oldest, is under threat from the race to develop nearby zinc mines, environmentalists say.
The lake is downstream from rich mineral deposits, and the prospect that exploiting those resources will poison the lake has created a conflict that pits industrialists and officials in Siberia against environmentalists and government agencies in Moscow.
Geologists say the Kholodninskoye deposit, which sits in a watershed that flows straight into the lake, is one of the world's largest lead and zinc fields, holding an estimated 13.3 million tons of zinc and two million tons of lead.
Zinc is used in the production of galvanized steel, car parts, household batteries, vitamin supplements and fireworks and as an ingredient in some cosmetics.
MBC Resources, a subsidiary of Metropol Group, a privately owned Russian company, has a license to develop Kholodninskoye. It has drafted a plan to develop the field and other metals in the region at an estimated cost of $4 billion.
But environmentalists in the Buryatia region in Siberia, where Baikal lies, say development would ruin the lake, which is already threatened by tourism and other industries.
"For us right now, this is problem No.1," said Sergey Shapkhayev, director of the Buryat/Baikal Land Use Program in Ulan Ude, Russia.
"The geo-hydrological structure there is very complex," he said. "Lots of underground springs, subsoil water at different temperatures that would increase tailings volumes into the lake."
Tailings are unrecoverable mining waste discharged as slurry.
In July, the Russian Natural Resources Ministry proposed a ban on developing half of the Kholodninskoye deposit, saying mining would damage the lake, considered a national environmental reserve.
The government of Buryatia hopes development will bring investment and jobs to the region and has strongly opposed the proposed ban.
At its deepest, Baikal is 1,637 meters, or 5,370 feet, and it is about 25 million years old. It holds about one fifth of the world's freshwater and is about 9,200 kilometers, or 5,700 miles, east of Moscow.
The shoreline runs along an ancient rift valley for about 2,100 kilometers, roughly the distance from Moscow to Düsseldorf.
The authorities in Buryatia are eager to promote Baikal, which is home to some of the world's rarest types of fish and plants, as a tourist destination. But they also want mining development.
The Buryatia president, Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, appointed in 2007 by Vladimir Putin, then the Russian president, served as a crew member on a highly publicized but ultimately unsuccessful submarine dive aimed at reaching the bottom of Baikal.
The dive was financed by Mikhail Slipenchuk, Metropol's general director. He said that failure to develop the zinc and lead deposits would constitute a missed opportunity for Russia, already flush with cash from an energy and commodities boom.
The region holds 20 percent of the zinc reserves in Russia, he said, and "If we cross it off the list, Russia will be the poorer for it."
Zinc prices have been sliding on weak demand and global oversupply, ranking among the worst performers in the metals complex this year. In August, the price of zinc dropped to its lowest level since November 2005. The metal is now trading around $1,735 a ton, down almost 25 percent this year. Zinc stocks at the London Metal Exchange have jumped 80 percent this year to 160,000 tons. A Reuters survey of analysts showed an expected surplus of about 281,250 tons this year, growing to 328,758 tons in 2009.
The industry downturn, which has resulted in mine closings and output cuts - has led some analysts to question the ultimate profitability of the Kholodninskoye project.
Undeterred, MBC recently signed a memorandum with Rusinvestpartner, a joint venture of the state conglomerate Russian Technologies and the metals-to-oil company Renova. Rusinvestpartner said it intended to buy stakes in projects to develop Kholodninskoye and another lead and zinc deposit nearby.
Even if the ban on development does not proceed, there is cleanup work to be done before any mining begins.
Buryatia's Natural Resource Ministry said in July that MBC would have to spend 2 billion rubles, or $78.5 million, on cleanup of tailings plumes caused by Soviet-era prospecting.
Slipenchuk says the company will finance the cleanup but wants this to be written into the licensing agreement. He said Soviet test shafts sent underground water laced with tailings into the Kholodnaya River which feeds Lake Baikal.
"Either we spend several hundred million dollars setting the Kholodninskoye deposit aside as a nature reserve, or we tighten regulations in the licensing agreement to make the holder responsible for these deficiencies," Slipenchuk said.
Lake Baikal is such a powerful symbol of environmental purity for Russians that in 2006, Putin ordered a giant oil pipeline to be routed away from the lake, citing great risk to the environment.
But in spite of this, the environmentalist Shapkhayev said unregulated logging and careless tourism construction were already causing damage, that would only be intensified by mining.
2 years on, Indonesian city still mired by disaster
PORONG, Indonesia: Mud tourism is about the only thing that is flourishing in Porong, a suburb of Surabaya that two years ago became a disaster zone when hot volcanic mud began spewing from the site of a gas exploration well.
Today, the inland sea of mud is twice the size of Central Park in New York. Enough mud to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools spews out every day and has already displaced 50,000 people and submerged homes, factories and schools.
The local economy has been devastated by the disaster, although, there are a few minor exceptions like a local pharmacy that has seen sales soar as people seek treatment for allergies. The stench of sulfur hangs in the air from the grey, watery mud, although the authorities say it is not a health hazard.
"Business is good," said a cashier at Porong Pharmacy. Nearby, motorbike taxis charge high prices to drive curious tourists to the towering levees of rock and earth that hold back the mud. Others hawk DVDs of the disaster.
But they are a rarity in a district that has seen its economy swallowed up by the expanding mud lake covering about 6.5 square kilometers, or 2.5 square miles. The mud has badly affected communications and transport links between the key port city of Surabaya and the rest of East Java Province.
The whole mess has become a big embarrassment for the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The energy company Lapindo Brantas, whose drilling is blamed by some top scientists for the disaster, is partly owned by businesses linked to the family of the chief social welfare minister, Aburizal Bakrie.
Lapindo disputes that its drilling caused the disaster, linking it instead to tectonic activity after a powerful earthquake in Central Java two days before the mud flow started in May 2006.
However, a team of Indonesian, American, Australian and British scientists, writing in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, said they were certain the gas drilling caused the disaster as pressurized fluid fractured the surrounding rock. Mud spurted out of cracks instead of the wellhead.
The government has ordered Lapindo to pay more than $400 million in compensation to the victims and to cover the damage.
Bakrie, the richest man in Indonesia with a net worth over $9 billion, according to Globe Magazine, an Indonesian publication, said the company was not responsible but would still pay compensation and build housing.
That is little consolation, though, to businessmen like Mursidi, whose factories were buried in the mud and who has yet to receive much help as he struggles to pick up the pieces.
"The office has vanished, the factories have also vanished," said Mursidi, who goes by one name like many Indonesians. "So we have to start this business from zero.
"The biggest impact is on mental recovery. We don't have any will any more."
Mursidi, 43, added that out of 96 of his former workers, only 13 remained while the others had scattered since the disaster.
Mud volcanoes occur in other parts of Indonesia as well as in places like China and Italy, but the one in Porong is thought to be world's biggest, and there appears to be little that can stop it.
Richard Davies, a geologist at the University of Durham, in Britain, who co-authored the journal article on the causes of the disaster, said that the mud flow could affect the area for years to come and warned that the central part of the volcano was collapsing.
There is simmering anger among those that remain.
On a street facing the mud zone, a sign says: "Put Lapindo on trial! Confiscate Bakrie's assets!"
Sporadic protests involving hundreds of people include calls for Lapindo to pay the remaining 80 percent of compensation after an initial 20 percent payment and for the company to compensate residents in areas newly affected by the mud.
The company is obliged to pay compensation in an area designated under a presidential decree, but responsibility outside this area is murky, and some locals have also refused to accept what they regard as derisory compensation.
Yuniwati Teryana, a spokeswoman for Lapindo, said the firm was only obliged to compensate residents but detailed in an e-mail message the 163 billion rupiah, or $18 million, of aid that the firm had made to businesses and workers affected by the mud.
Energi Mega Persada, owned by the Bakrie Group, indirectly controls Lapindo, which holds a 50 percent stake in the Brantas field from which the mud came. Medco Energi International holds a 32 percent stake and Santos, an Australian energy company, holds the rest.
Norway oil fund exits Rio Tinto on ethical grounds
OSLO: Norway on Tuesday excluded iron ore miner Rio Tinto from its $375 billion (212.8 billion pounds) sovereign wealth fund due to environmental concerns over its activities in Indonesia, as part of its drive for ethical investment.
Norway's Government Pension Fund -- Global, familiarly known as the "oil fund", invests under ethical guidelines set by the government. In the past it has excluded companies producing nuclear arms or cluster munitions and ones deemed to have caused environmental damage or abused workers' or other human rights.
The fund invests Norway's oil and gas wealth in foreign stocks and bonds, is Europe's biggest equity investor and holds on average over 1 percent of European listed shares.
Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said the problems with Rio Tinto, the world's second-largest iron ore miner, concerned a joint venture with Freeport McMoRan , a group excluded by the fund in 2006, at their Grasberg mine in Indonesia.
Rio Tinto has a 40 percent stake in the mine, which is operated by Freeport McMoRan, a Rio Tinto spokesman said.
"We do not want to contribute to serious environmental damage," Halvorsen told a news conference.
"The Grasberg mine discharges very large amounts of tailings directly into a natural river system; approximately 230,000 tonnes or more per day," the finance ministry said in a statement, adding that it did not foresee any change.
Rio Tinto's spokesman Nick Cobban in London said: "Our immediate response is one of surprise and disappointment."
"We have an exemplary record in environmental matters, world leading in fact, and they are given the very highest priority in everything we do," Cobban said.
"The current system of tailings is unquestionably the most appropriate given the high rainfall and seismically unstable geology in the area," Cobban said.
"We are very comfortable they (Freeport) do indeed have very high standards and that the accusations that are being put across are not accurate," he said.
More than 50 dead after China mudslide
XIANGFEN, China: More than 50 people were killed and hundreds more may be missing in north China after a reservoir of mining waste collapsed, burying cars and homes under a wall of sludge.
Torrential rain triggered Monday's avalanche of mud and rocks after the holding pond at the Tashan mine in Shanxi province was apparently filled beyond capacity, state media said.
The torrent was several metres high and destroyed houses and a three story office building in minutes, witnesses told the official Xinhua agency. It said on Tuesday the death toll had risen to 56, with another 35 injured.
State radio said in a report on its website that "several hundred" were missing, though it did not provide details. Xinhua said the number of missing had yet to be determined.
Heavy downpours in Xiangfen county on Tuesday hampered rescue efforts by more than 1,100 police, firefighters and villagers who were hunting for survivors.
"We're busy trying to rescue people but it's very hard work with all the mud and rocks," said Hu Yanzai, Communist Party secretary of Chongshi, which is next to the villages that were wiped out.
"It's hard to estimate how many died. It's all mud and we don't know how many escaped," Hu told Reuters by telephone. "I'd estimate at least 100 (dead). It's a big area ... I don't know what to feel. I feel numb."
Many victims are thought to have been migrant mine workers. Without their families nearby, it could be harder to identify the dead or even pin down exactly how many are missing.
Officials rushed to direct rescue efforts and find the cause of the disaster. The area has several other ore mines.
"Our preliminary investigation found that this accident was caused by illegal enterprises who discharged waste sand into a mine tailings dam," said deputy work safety chief, Wang Dexue.
"When the dam reached its capacity, it burst. Heavy rain accelerated the process," he told state television.
The mine owner and eight others had been held, Xinhua said, and several officials sacked for failing to prevent the disaster.
Pictures showed overturned vehicles covered in a sticky sludge and parts of houses buried under several metres of dark mud. Rescuers clambered over the scene looking for survivors, some using excavators, others their hands.
On an Internet chatroom hosted by popular portal Baidu (http://www.baidu.com) for residents of Linfen, near where the accident happened, one user said word from the mudslide site was that "the situation was much worse than imagined".
Another said: "The black-hearted mine bosses make their fortune and leave, and leave behind a deadly mess."
China's mining industry is the world's deadliest, killing nearly 3,800 people last year, as high demand for raw materials from a booming economy pushes managers to cut safety corners.
Most victims are coal miners. Because iron ore mines are generally open pits, they are less likely than coal mines to collapse and kill miners trapped inside, and so have not attracted as much regulatory attention.
But newspapers reported in April that Shanxi had launched a three-year campaign to lower hazards from mines and tailings. Officials said 676 villages were threatened by subsidence, building damage and other geological hazards.
Strong iron ore prices and China's desire to limit imports have allowed miners to dig up even very low-grade deposits, often with little regard for safety or environmental measures.
The stuff of nightmares for 21st century kids
My 12-year-old supports Barack Obama, and after the Democratic National Convention I expected euphoria, but he surprised me. "Actually," he said, "Schwarzenegger is the one I really want for president."
"What? You want the Terminator in the Oval Office?"
"Who's the Terminator?" my son asked. "Schwarzenegger's good on the environment, and that's my number one issue. It doesn't really matter as much for you, because you'll be dead," he said, "but I'm going to have to live through global warming, and I'm afraid by the time I can vote, it will be too late."
My son's fatalism amazes me, but he's not alone in worrying that time is running out. Recently, one of my friends told me that her son can't sleep because he is so anxious about global warming. Other friends try to shield their children from watching storms on the evening news. Was it so long ago that weather was the safe subject for conversations? For our children the forecast evokes the horsemen of the apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine and Death. It's not clear to me that global warming causes every natural disaster, but in a child's mind, climate change and horrific weather go together. Icebergs are melting. The sea level is rising. Entire island chains are disappearing. Tsunamis wipe out villages.
"I take out books on global warming from the library," my friend told me, "and I always turn to the back and show my son the section where it says 'How you can help.' But he doesn't find any of the suggestions comforting.
No, our children are not easily comforted, and our attempts - reduce, reuse, and recycle! - don't speak to their profound fear. During the Cold War, children worried about nuclear annihilation. Today they believe we will destroy the planet before we have a chance to destroy each other. My son is convinced that in his lifetime he will see the world thawed, warmed and thoroughly cooked.
Where does environmental awareness come from? The Internet, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," lessons about ecology at school. Yes, all of these play their part, and I'm proud of my children for knowing and caring about the planet. But where does environmental anxiety come from? That's a more complicated question. Storms and sudden earthquakes are terrifying, but I think it's the aftermath that really frightens children. Tsunamis drown families in Indonesia. Classrooms bury students in China. Levees fail. The evacuation plan doesn't work. Billions in federal funds cannot fix New Orleans, where the mayor admitted to citizens that there were no safeguards in place against Hurricane Gustav. Apparently the best recourse for natural disaster is to run for our lives. Our government proves ill prepared. The junta in Burma looks downright evil - refusing international aid after a cyclone, and starving its own citizens. Watching the resulting chaos erodes our children's belief that adults will protect them.
What's a parent to do? Ironically, even as we become fastidious on the micro-level with seat belts and supervised play, we can't secure the climate or supervise the planet. Some parents become politically active. Some join their children in consciousness-raising bike rides. As for me, I began writing a novel imagining the world after global warming, and how children might survive. I told my son the book was just an experiment, and he couldn't tell anyone that I was writing it. He said, "We need a code. I'll call the book laundry." Occasionally, over the next year, he would ask me, "How's the laundry coming?"
I always forgot the code. "We're behind again. Why do you ask? Are you out of clean clothes?"
"No, the laundry," he repeated, and I realized he meant my book - his book.
Now if I were also logging miles on a major bicycle trek, and composting, and advocating for reduced emissions, I'd do more good. But my son knows that I'm a lousy biker. Anxious about his anxiety, I reacted like Astrophel in Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet. "Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite / Fool, said my Muse to me, look in thy heart and write."
One party, still poor: Angola as democracy
JOHANNESBURG: The governing party in oil-rich Angola won a landslide victory in the country's first elections in 16 years, official results show, prompting a remarkable concession of defeat by the leading opposition party, which just six years ago was the government's enemy in a brutal 27-year-long civil war.
The decisive win for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, known as the MPLA, in last week's legislative elections will give it the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed to change the constitution and further entrench its dominance of Angolan politics, senior officials in both parties said Tuesday.
It will also confer a measure of legitimacy on a government that has been in power since Angola gained its independence from Portugal in 1975. While U.S. and European election observers concluded the political playing field was hardly level given the MPLA's control of state media, they also said the election itself was evidence of democratic progress.
"Again, we congratulate the people of Angola on their participation in this important step in strengthening their democracy," the U.S. Embassy's election observation team said Tuesday.
The tranquillity that prevailed as millions of Angolans went to the polls last week and, even more so, the acceptance of the outcome by the opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, set this election apart from Angola's calamitous last vote in 1992.
At that time, Unita's guerrilla leader, Jonas Savimbi, refused to accept his second-place finish and the civil war that had already killed hundreds of thousands of people resumed for another decade, ending only when Savimbi was killed in a gun battle in 2002.
Shadowed by that woeful history, Unita accepted its defeat this time despite what observers said were flaws in the voting process in Luanda, the capital.
"We don't want to create a situation where this drags on for weeks and weeks," Jardo Muekalia, Unita's representative for electoral issues, said in an interview on Tuesday. "We want to make sure for peace and stability's sake we end this on a high note."
The official tally, posted Tuesday on the election commission's Web site, showed the MPLA with about 82 percent of the vote to Unita's 10 percent, with more than 80 percent of the vote counted. The rest of the votes were divided among a dozen other parties and coalitions. Officials in both the main parties agreed the MPLA would have a two-thirds legislative majority.
The European Union's election observer mission found that Angola's elections fell short of international standards because the state-controlled radio, television and daily newspaper were biased in favor of the government and because of flaws in some election procedures.
Voter lists were distributed too late to be posted in most areas, making it impossible to check who had voted, though the use of indelible ink on voters' fingers helped guard against double voting, the European Union mission found. There were also widespread delays in the opening of many polling stations in Luanda and a failure to deliver sufficient ballots to them. Election authorities also did not accredit hundreds of trained election observers in Luanda.
Still, the European Union's report said, the elections had been peaceful and showed the Angolan people's "clear commitment to the country's democratic process and desire to leave behind a past marked by decades of war and civil conflict."
The MPLA's margin of victory leaves Unita even more marginalized - a situation that some analysts worried could weaken the much-needed development of an effective political opposition. The public money each party receives is based on its number of seats in Parliament, and Unita will have fewer now. It could regain a foothold if the government follows through on plans to hold local elections in two years.
The country faces huge challenges. While it is one of the world's fastest-growing economies, now pumping almost two million barrels of oil a day, its people are among the poorest on earth. Even with this election victory, its governing elite will still be stuck with a reputation for self-dealing and corruption that shows up in studies by Transparency International and the World Bank Institute.
"There's a risk they will become more arrogant," said Indira Campos, a researcher for Chatham House, London policy research organization.
Or as Isabel Emerson, Angola country director for the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said, "The fact that they won such a vast majority will translate into a one-party state practically. I hope they see it as a wake up call."
Manuel Fragata de Morais, the MPLA's information secretary in Luanda, said Tuesday that the party feels the weight on its shoulders.
"If Angola's a one-party state, it would be for the first time by popular vote," he exclaimed. "So we're not worried by that. But seriously, we have to be very humble, serene and serious or otherwise we could pay seriously in public support."
OPEC unites behind maintaining oil output at current levels
VIENNA: With oil prices headed back down to $100 a barrel, Saudi Arabia and other producers meeting here Tuesday suggested that OPEC would keep pumping at full tilt, even as some members of the oil cartel expressed concerns about rapidly declining prices.
Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, who account for 40 percent of the world's oil exports, were scheduled to meet in a late-night session to consider how to respond to a 30 percent drop in prices since July.
Before the meeting, its members appeared deeply split, with one camp, led by Iran and Venezuela, advocating reductions in output to stem further price drops, and another, led by the Saudis, wishing to allow prices to fall somewhat further.
Ending a day of speculation as the group's representatives arrived in the Austrian capital, OPEC's current president, Chakib Khelil, said that the cartel was likely to keep its production unchanged, at least for the moment. He pointed to a strengthening dollar, which helped lower oil prices in recent weeks, even as it also increased the purchasing power of oil producing nations in the global economy.
"What we're seeing now is a re-equilibration of the market," Khelil, who is also Algeria's oil minister, told a group of reporters gathered in his hotel room a few hours before the meeting. "We are producing at a certain level, we will probably stay at that level."
Only a day before, Khelil seemed to endorse the opposite view, saying he believed that the market suffered from an oil "overhang."
Saudi Arabia, the cartel's de facto leader, seems to have dashed talks of any reduction in output.
The Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, who kept everyone guessing until he arrived early on Tuesday morning in Vienna, said that the market was currently "fairly well balanced." The kingdom is OPEC's biggest producer.
"We have worked very hard since June to bring prices to where they are now," Naimi told reporters as he arrived just hours before the meeting. "We have been very successful."
Naimi was referring to a pledge Saudi Arabia made in June at a meeting of producers and consumers in Jidda to keep pumping at full throttle to bring prices down. The kingdom is producing about 9.5 million barrels a day, 600,000 barrels a day more than its official OPEC quota. Without Saudi support, other producers will not reduce production on their own.
Oil prices peaked at $147.27 a barrel on July 11, but have been falling lately because of slowing global demand for oil. On Tuesday, the price of oil for delivery in October was down $1.91, or 1.8 percent, at $104.43 a barrel in New York, their lowest level since April.
Pakistan considers asset sales to bolster economy
NEW DELHI: Pakistan plans to sell valuable energy assets, beginning with a major gas field, as it tries to reap billions of dollars from deals with investors in industries like banking and farming.
The move comes as Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is stepping in as president.
Because of a hefty oil bill and a slowing economy, Pakistan is struggling under its biggest budget deficit in a decade, $21 billion; inflation that hit a 30-year high, 24.3 percent, in July; and fast-rising unemployment that is projected to reach 6.6 percent in 2009. Government leaders are eager to raise money, quickly.
"The government is going through all their funding options," a banker advising the Pakistani government said. Financial advisers to the government spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to alienate their client.
The Qadirpur gas field in Pakistan, a natural gas reserve of 2.9 trillion cubic feet in the Indus River flood plain, may be one of the first big-ticket sales. The field, the second-largest in the country, is valued at about $3 billion.
Bids for the field, about 260 miles northeast of Karachi, may be submitted in the next week or so, bankers say. Likely bidders include foreign companies already involved in Pakistan's energy industry, like Kuwaiti state corporations and OMV, a private Austrian energy company.
"They're testing the market with an auction," said an energy banker who asked to remain anonymous because he was pricing the deal for a client.
The selling of the Qadirpur field could be controversial because it is considered a strategic asset. Pakistan imports more than three-quarters of its petroleum and is struggling to become less dependent on imports. But a person close to the deal said there were no guarantees that the field would be sold. He characterized the bid solicitation as an informal process. He asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the deal.
Some investors are questioning the wisdom of Pakistan's selling valuable assets and are wondering whether sales will be conducted transparently and fairly.
But there is no question that the country needs to raise money, analysts said.
Pakistan's economic situation is "a result of rising commodity and food prices, exacerbated by a lot of pre-election spending by the previous government," said Gareth Price, head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, a research center in London, referring to the general elections held in February.
In an effort to win votes, the previous government, led by Pervez Musharraf, kept subsidies high on food, electricity and oil, helping drive up the budget deficit.
The sale of the Qadirpur field is part of a full-scale review of the biggest energy company in Pakistan, Oil and Gas Development, which owns 75 percent of Qadirpur. The review is being led by Merrill Lynch.
Pakistan's privatization commission said in late August that it also planned to offer stakes in Kot Addu Power on international stock exchanges this year and to privatize Hazara Phosphate Fertilizers. It invited bidders for 51 percent of Jamshoro Power, a long-discussed privatization deal. Salt and coal mines are also scheduled to be privatized.
The list of state assets for sale may not necessarily be followed by deals, analysts warned. "Talk of investing huge sums of money doesn't always materialize, because people are put off by the political machinations" in Pakistan, Price said.
Pakistan's "economic curse" is that the ruling elite — civil servants, politicians and the military — have worked in their own interest, not that of the wider population, limiting how much capital the country can raise, he said.
One possible source of new investment is the Middle East.
"There is a cultural and long-term affinity between the two regions," said Youssef Nasr, the chief executive of HSBC in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, in particular, have been strong supporters of Pakistan.
Investors from the Middle East have already bought stakes in telecommunications, banking and industrial companies in Pakistan and have been pleased with the results, he said.
Serbia ratifies deals with EU and Russia
BELGRADE: Serbian lawmakers ratified a pre-membership agreement with the European Union on Tuesday and an oil-and-gas deal with Russia, in what the prime minister called a bid to build a bridge between the East and West.
The agreements, both considered crucial for the Balkan nation's future, were signed earlier this year but needed parliamentary approval before they could be implemented.
Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said that the ratification of the accord with the EU represented a big step toward integration into the bloc and a better life for Serbian citizens. He said that Serbia has shown that it wants to cooperate with "both East and West."
"We expect our country to become a motor of development in the region and a bridge between economies," he said.
Union calls strike to protest plan for job cuts at Renault
PARIS: Plans to cut about 6,000 jobs at Renault through voluntary layoffs met with resistance Tuesday as a union called a one-day protest strike.
"The sickness at Renault today isn't that there are too many employees," said a spokesman for the union, the Confédération Générale du Travail. "The problem is that demand is weak."
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, in keeping with union rules, said that rather than cutting jobs, the company should introduce affordable new models that customers wanted.
He said the strike to be held Thursday would be followed up with additional action in early October if workers called for it.
Renault in July cut its 2009 sales target by 10 percent and said it would reduce its European work force by about 10 percent, as "the deterioration in the macroeconomic environment has far exceeded the worst-case scenarios envisaged." The company said it hoped that by offering buyouts to workers it could avoid involuntary layoffs, as the French labor code makes firing workers expensive and difficult.
Airbus aims to cut costs, but not more jobs
PARIS: Airbus insisted Tuesday that it would not cut jobs in Europe, even as it mapped plans to squeeze out further savings by shifting more production outside the euro zone.
Since aircraft are priced in dollars, Airbus is eager to reduce its exposure to the euro. In doing so, it hopes to redress the competitive imbalance with its archrival, Boeing.
Under a plan announced in July by its parent company, European Aeronautic Defense & Space, Airbus aims to reduce its costs by an additional €650 million, or $914 million, in 2011 and 2012. The plan, dubbed Power8 Plus, is intended to save a total of €1 billion throughout EADS during those two years.
On Tuesday, Airbus executives met with worker representatives to outline the cost-saving plans. The executives ruled out more layoffs on top of the 10,000 jobs set to disappear under a broad restructuring already under way.
"It is not planned to have any job losses - it is more externalization and internationalization," said a union official present at the talks, which lasted most of Tuesday.
Airbus to open Tunisia plant
PARIS: European planemaker Airbus will build a components factory in Tunisia as part of an expanded restructuring plan targeting 1 billion euros of extra cuts spread across parent EADS, its top executive said.
The plans will be unveiled to Airbus unions on Tuesday alongside 650 million euros (522 million pounds) of extra savings which are the Toulouse-based planemaker's share of the group total, EADS Chief Executive Louis Gallois told Le Monde in an interview.
Police database angers French rights advocates
PARIS: A security database that could track anyone deemed a "possible threat to public order" - even children as young as 13 - has outraged privacy advocates and put France's conservative government on the defensive.
Critics have collected about 130,000 signatures against the database, known by the acronym Edvige, which they contend is better suited for a police state than a modern European democracy.
Its defenders say that Edvige is a measured response to France's changing security situation, particularly after an increase in youth violence and riots in 2005 that shook poor minority neighborhoods in several major cities.
Edvige is meant to replace a 1991 database that the police surveillance agency used to track politicians, labor leaders and other activists who it determined might resort to violence or who supported the use of violence.
But Edvige goes further. It is designed to gather personal information on health and sexual orientation, drops the minimum age for surveillance from 18 to 13, and casts a wider net, allowing security officials to track anyone considered a "possible threat to public order."
Some judicial officials have complained about the new language that defines how Edvige can be used.
Helene Franco, a member of a magistrates' union, was quoted as saying in the newspaper Le Monde: "This police logic is that of a society that has come to consider some of its youth, notably in poorer neighborhoods, as a threat."
The clash over Edvige has spilled into the government, with some ministers expressing alarm about possible civil liberties infringements.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie told critics who assert that tracking minors would have negative repercussions that minors' records could be removed from the database after a time.
The minister for human rights, Rama Yade, urged Tuesday that the government should rethink some of the project's tenets, such as the inclusion of sexual orientation.
The Conseil d'État, France's highest court for questions involving public administration, is examining more than a dozen complaints about Edvige. It is expected to rule on the database by the end of the year.
MEMO FROM CAIRO
9/11 rumors that harden into conventional wisdom
CAIRO: Seven years later, it remains conventional wisdom here that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda could not have been solely responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that the United States and Israel had to have been involved in their planning, if not their execution, too.
This is not the conclusion of a scientific survey, but it is what routinely comes up in conversations around the region — in a shopping mall in Dubai, in a park in Algiers, in a café in Riyadh and all over Cairo.
"Look, I don't believe what your governments and press say. It just can't be true," said Ahmed Issab, 26, a Syrian engineer who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. "Why would they tell the truth? I think the U.S. organized this so that they had an excuse to invade Iraq for the oil."
It is easy for Americans to dismiss such thinking as bizarre. But that would miss a point that people in this part of the world think Western leaders, especially in Washington, need to understand: That such ideas persist represents the first failure in the fight against terrorism — the inability to convince people here that the United States is, indeed, waging a campaign against terrorism, not a crusade against Muslims.
"The United States should be concerned because in order to tell people that there is a real evil, they too have to believe it in order to help you," said Mushairy al-Thaidy, a columnist in the Saudi-owned regional newspaper Asharq al Awsat. "Otherwise, it will diminish your ability to fight terrorism. It is not the kind of battle you can fight on your own; it is a collective battle."
There were many reasons people here said they believed that the attacks of 9/11 were part of a conspiracy against Muslims. Some had nothing to do with Western actions, and some had everything to do with Western policies.
Again and again, people said they simply did not believe that a group of Arabs — like themselves — could possibly have waged such a successful operation against a superpower like the United States. But they also said that Washington's post-9/11 foreign policy proved that the United States and Israel were behind the attacks, especially with the invasion of Iraq.
"Maybe people who executed the operation were Arabs, but the brains? No way," said Mohammed Ibrahim, 36, a clothing-store owner in the Bulaq neighborhood of Cairo. "It was organized by other people, the United States or the Israelis."
The rumors that spread shortly after 9/11 have been passed on so often that people no longer know where or when they first heard them. At this point, they have heard them so often, even on television, that they think they must be true.
First among these is that Jews did not go to work at the World Trade Center on that day. Asked how Jews might have been notified to stay home, or how they kept it a secret from co-workers, people here wave off the questions because they clash with their bedrock conviction that Jews are behind many of their troubles and that Western Jews will go to any length to protect Israel.
"Why is it that on 9/11, the Jews didn't go to work in the building," said Ahmed Saied, 25, who works in Cairo as a driver for a lawyer. "Everybody knows this. I saw it on TV, and a lot of people talk about this."
Zein al-Abdin, 42, an electrician, who was drinking tea and chain-smoking cheap Cleopatra cigarettes in Al Shahat, a café in Bulaq, grew more and more animated as he laid out his thinking about what happened on Sept. 11.
"What matters is we think it was an attack against Arabs," he said of the passenger planes crashing into American targets. "Why is it that they never caught him, Mr. bin Laden? How can they not know where he is when they know everything? They don't catch him because he hasn't done it. What happened in Iraq confirms that it has nothing to do with bin Laden or Qaeda. They went against Arabs and against Islam to serve Israel, that's why."
There is a reason so many people here talk with casual certainty — and no embarrassment — about the United States attacking itself to have a reason to go after Arabs and help Israel. It is a reflection of how they view government leaders, not just in Washington, but here in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. They do not believe them. The state-owned media are also distrusted. Therefore, they think that if the government is insisting that bin Laden was behind it, he must not have been.
Sept. 11 survivors' painful roads to normalcy
NEW YORK: Lauren Manning's handshake is strong, almost bionic. You might think it was a byproduct of decades of playing tennis and golf. But her grip has been painfully relearned, and bolstered with more titanium pins than she cares to count.
On a hot summer day, she wore creased white trousers and a long-sleeved blue blouse, leaving only feet and hands exposed. So much of her skin is still stippled with scars. "My tattoos," she said with a rueful smile, as though they were an indelible remnant of a carefree youth. Only in her case, she noted, they cannot be "lasered off."
On Sept. 11, 2001, Manning - newly married, the mother of a 10-month-old boy, at the top of her profession on Wall Street - was met by a fireball as she strode into the lobby of the World Trade Center. On a day that New York City hospitals waited to be overwhelmed by casualties, only to realize that most people either perished in the collapse of the Twin Towers or streamed out into the holocaust of ashes largely intact, she was among the oft-forgotten few who were severely wounded yet survived.
In the face of 3,000 dead, it was easy to overlook the relative handful like Manning, who was burned over 80 percent of her body and spent weeks on the brink of death, then months at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. If America's worst terrorist attack is fading in many memories as its seventh anniversary approaches, it remains an everyday reality for these victims, etched in their changed appearance, their constant pain, their consciousness that they are both deeply lucky and unfathomably unlucky.
Manning, 47, whose plight became public when the e-mail updates that her husband, Greg, sent to family and friends turned into a best-selling book, has returned to some semblance of her old life. But there are still so many things she cannot do. She cannot walk her terrier, Caleigh, who weighs just 29 pounds, or 13 kilograms, but "pulls a lot," or cook a full meal because the smallest nick in her delicately healed skin risks infection.
"Through the grace of the people in my life, I am able to conduct what appears at first glance in many ways more normal than it is beneath the surface," Manning said recently. "My husband, he's been my hands."
There is no clear accounting of how many people were seriously hurt that day. Of the $7 billion distributed by the federal government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, $6 billion went to the families of those killed at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in the plane that went down in Pennsylvania; $1 billion went to the wounded. Most of them were firefighters, and most of the payments were for respiratory ailments.
Burns accounted for 40 of the 2,680 wound payments. Eighteen of the most gravely burned were taken that day to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. A dozen of those survived.
Some, like Manning and Harry Waizer, who both worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, have regained a sense of equilibrium. For others, like Elaine Duch, who was a senior administrative assistant in the real estate department at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the before and after are clearly demarcated.
Duch, 56, has cut herself off from her old friends, partly because, as she put it, "I'm never going to be the Elaine that I used to be." Of her current friends, Duch said, "Well, see, they did not know me before, they only know me as an injured person."
"I felt like I was young when this happened, and I feel like I'm old now," Duch said. "I feel like my past life was a different life."
Unlike Duch, Waizer is back working as a tax lawyer in Cantor Fitzgerald's new Midtown Manhattan headquarters. Because of his injuries, he has reduced stamina and responsibilities; he no longer is the head of the tax department but, he said, he never cared much for titles.
"When you are in the hospital for as long as I was and at home for as long as I was, you think about what it is that you want to do with your life," said Waizer, 57, who spent about two and a half years recovering from his burns before returning to work. "I realized after a time that while I still had that question, and like most people I always will have some of that question remaining, I liked what I did."
In testimony before the 9/11 Commission on its first day of hearings in 2003, Waizer recounted how he had been going up to his office on the 104th floor when he felt an explosion and the elevator began to plummet. Burned as he beat out the flames, Waizer got out on the 78th floor and took the stairs to the ground, seeing looks of horror and sympathy on the faces of those who let him pass.
He was given a 5 percent chance of survival. Despite back pain, scarring and nerve damage, he has regained a sense of physical normalcy, though with gentle wit, he draws a line between his recovery and Manning's, saying, "I was never as pretty as she was."
Perhaps the most distinctive relic of his injuries is his whispery, soothing voice, possibly caused by inhaling jet fuel that left him with "a bit of vocal cord paralysis."
Waizer, who has three children aged 17, 19 and 20, said his Sept. 11 experience has strengthened his ties to his wife, Karen, and sharpened his moral compass. "It's more important for me to be a good person," he said.
"Love, Greg & Lauren" is a chronicle of the three months after the terrorist attacks, as seen from Lauren Manning's bedside. Greg Manning, who at the time was a senior vice president at Euro Brokers, in the south tower - but who was home that morning with the baby - sent daily e-mail messages to loved ones describing his efforts to connect to his comatose wife through music, poetry and baseball.
The intimate diary then details the critical moments of Lauren Manning's recovery as she regained consciousness - her first words were "Hi, Greg," on Nov. 12 - and slowly began to understand what had happened. It ends in mid-December 2001, when she left the hospital for a rehabilitation center.
The couple agreed to talk about their lives since then, in a sort of sequel, though they asked to meet at the Midtown headquarters of Random House, the book's publisher, rather than their home.
Lauren Manning burst into the glass-walled conference room a half-step ahead of her husband, smiling and thrusting out one of the hands that had been so badly burned when she pushed the lobby doors open to escape.
She spent the first month in a medically induced coma having visions, she said, of falling through space into a frightening arctic darkness, nearly missing being speared on stalagmites, only to be saved repeatedly at the last minute by landing on a ledge.
Now the nightmares have receded. "I sleep well," she said. "My dreams are of what I need to do in the future."
The worst scars are on her back, she said, yet they do not deter her from wearing a bathing suit. Her husband says her personality seems to erase the physical scars: "People look at her and they don't see it."
They declined to say how much they received from the Victim Compensation Fund. Manning, director of global market data at Cantor Fitzgerald before the terrorist attack, said she was "in the slow lane now" and felt a pang about not working, for the first time in her life. "You're allowed," her husband said.
She still follows the markets as a hobby, works with Cantor Fitzgerald's Sept. 11 relief fund and collects art.
Greg Manning left his Wall Street job in July to devote himself to writing full time. He said he had not settled on a first project.
Their son, Tyler, is learning to play Led Zeppelin on the guitar, following in the footsteps of his father, who plays bass in a band called the Rolling Bones. Tyler wants to name his band either the Bloody Eyes or the Flaming Togas. He wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Lauren Manning does not stop to psychoanalyze.
She revels in small pleasures like reading to Tyler (the apocalyptic fantasy world of "Gregor the Overlander" is his current favorite) and taking him to play dates and soccer. Sometimes, the boy asks his mother, "Why did you have to go to work in that place?"
His father answers. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime event," he tells his son. "She got through. None of us can tell the future."
OBAMA, MCCAIN AND AL QAEDA
On Election Day, remember 9/11
Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is the author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror."
The next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America. Everything else - Fannie Mae, health care reform, energy independence, the budget shortfall in Wasilla, Alaska - is commentary. The nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, or downtown Washington, would cause the deaths of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; a catastrophic depression; the reversal of globalization; a permanent climate of fear in the West; and the comprehensive repudiation of America's culture of civil liberties.
Many proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years. I am an optimist, so I put the chance at 10 percent to 20 percent. Only technical complications prevent Al Qaeda from executing a nuclear attack today. The hard part is acquiring fissile material; an easier part is the smuggling itself (as the saying goes, one way to bring nuclear weapon components into America would be to hide them inside shipments of cocaine).
We live, seven years after 9/11, in the age of the superempowered, eschatologically minded terrorist. He is motivated by revolutionary and theological concerns rather than by nationalist grievances, and he is adept at manipulating technology against its Western innovators. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union had the technical ability to eliminate America many times over, but was restrained by rational self-interest, by innate conservatism and, perhaps, by an understanding of the horror of world-ending nuclear war. Though Al Qaeda cannot destroy the world, it will destroy what it can, when it can.
That is why it was so disconcerting to hear Barack Obama, on the ABC program "Nightline" in June, commend the virtues of the federal response to the first World Trade Center attack, in 1993. "We were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial," he said. "They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated."
This is entirely true, and yet there is no better example of why law enforcement is inadequate to the demands of effective counterterrorism today than the prosecution of the 1993 bombers. The capture and the conviction of the terrorists were perfectly executed; the FBI reached all the way to Pakistan to catch the plot's mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, who is today thoroughly incapacitated at the federal "supermax" prison in Colorado.
And yet, the World Trade Center is gone. Eight years after the first attempt, Ramzi Yousef's uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, organized a more successful attack. The successful prosecution of the original bombers lulled the country into a counterfeit calm. Law enforcement was obviously unable to prevent the second World Trade Center attack; we must assume, for the country's sake, that it is also unready for the gathering conspiracies of today, ones we must believe involve nonconventional weapons.
In my conversations with Obama, he seems to understand the menace. Early last year, even while trying to secure the support of his party's left wing, he told me that the possibility of a terrorist group obtaining a nuclear weapon was "the No. 1 threat" facing America.
But does he understand that this threat cannot be neutralized mainly by law enforcement; that it must be anticipated by intelligence agencies, and eradicated by the military? The paramount goal is not prosecution, but pre-emption.
Did I say "pre-emption"? The doctrine that shall not be named? The Bush administration did the nation no service by pre-empting an Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction program that no longer existed in any meaningful way. The danger, of course, is in the ever-swinging pendulum, whose movement could lead a Democratic president to flinch when presented with intelligence ("intelligence" often being a euphemism for " President, we really don't know exactly what's going on, but ...") that a ship, or a port, or a nuclear plant faces an imminent, or semi-imminent threat.
All this is not to say that Obama resembles the squashy caricature drawn by his opponents. He is actually constructively two-minded on the issue. He caught grief for proposing unilateral action against targets in Pakistan, which now appears to be Bush administration policy. And there is spine in his language, sometimes too much. In his convention speech, he said, "McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives." I'm still not sure what this means, but it's very muscular.
Barack Obama has also made useful proposals on nuclear matters, promising to secure the world's loose fissile material in his first term. This is an over-idealistic goal, as it would require the cooperation of such countries as North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and, especially, Russia (though he's better positioned to engage Russia on this subject than is the hectoring John McCain).
There is no one in Washington more sincerely gripped by the issue than John McCain, but he comes with his own set of problems on matters of counterterrorism, not least of which are his rhetorical excess and his strange decision, given his (justifiable) preoccupation with the issue, to choose as his running mate the figurehead commander of the Alaska National Guard. Though Islamist terrorism might in fact be the "transcendent" threat of our time, as McCain says, it is tactically imprudent to build up the already huge egos of our enemies, to feed the Islamist hope that they are, indeed, engaged in a clash of civilizations.
Years ago, in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice - a leader of the Taliban's morals police - asked me to describe just how much the Taliban frightened Bill Clinton. I told him not at all. In fact, Clinton was probably not frightened enough, but I wasn't going to let on to that. Watching this man's crest fall was a rare pleasure in Kandahar.
McCain has other problems worth noting: an excess of incaution, perhaps, about pre-emption (in our conversations, the various surprises associated with the Iraq invasion had not caused him to calibrate at all his views on anticipatory defense); and a seeming inability, or unwillingness, to differentiate among Islamist terrorist groups.
I asked him not long ago whether he believes that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel's Iran problem. He said that Israel's existence was an American moral and national-security imperative. "I think these terrorist organizations that Iran sponsors, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long term, on the destruction of the United States of America," he added. "Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them ... to remove U.S. influence and to drive us out of Iraq."
There are many different things taking place inside his answer, not all of which are connected. Hamas is a disgraceful group, ideologically opposed to most of what America represents, but it is unconnected to the fight against Shiite militias. These conflations, among other things, preclude serious conversation about ideology and motivation.
So what we have is one presidential candidate who still seems to be casting about for an overarching strategy and another who is not entirely sure whom we're fighting. We can hope against hope that in the next two months, these two men will discuss, in a deliberative and encompassing way, the best ways to protect America from what some nonproliferation experts believe is a nearly inevitable attack. We should, in fact, demand that this conversation take place, because nothing else matters.
Terrorism and counterterrorism
Richard Barrett is the UN's highest ranking official responsible for monitoring the activities of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Aweek ago the European Court of Justice annulled the implementation within the European Community of the United Nations sanctions regime against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associates. Although the court's judgment affects only a Saudi businessman, Yassin Abdullah Kadi, and the Al Barakaat International Foundation, which brought their cases to its attention, the Sept. 3 ruling is likely to have far-reaching consequences, well beyond the jurisdiction of the court itself.
The main finding of the court was that the implementation of the sanctions had inadequately respected the rights of the parties concerned, in particular their right to be heard and their right to effective judicial review. It also found that the individual's right to property had been unreasonably restricted.
This is hardly the first time that national or international counterterrorist action has been questioned in the courts. There is an inevitable tension between protecting the rights of the individual terrorist, or suspected supporter of terrorism, and protecting the security of the community at large. But as is widely recognized, if counterterrorism action causes the erosion of individual rights, it is likely to give more fuel to terrorism than to the efforts to prevent it.
In June this year the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1822, which specifically addressed concerns that its sanctions against Al Qaeda and the Taliban paid insufficient regard to the rights of the people it affected. The Council decided to review the approximately 500 names on its list within two years; it decided to provide a narrative summary of the reasons behind the listings, and it strengthened its demand that UN member states notify newly listed parties of their listing in a timely manner.
Certainly these changes will satisfy some critics, though undoubtedly not all. But the new resolution is not just procedural tinkering: It is a reflection by the Security Council of the fact that effective measures to counter terrorism must be fair, transparent and supported by the public at large. It will now be up to the European Council to try to devise a new regulation for implementing the sanctions within the three-month grace period allowed by the court.
The issue of legitimacy is of concern not only to counterterrorists. Terrorists, too, must convince themselves, their sympathizers and prospective recruits that their acts are legitimate and justifiable. While debates on the meaning of defensive jihad, or the circumstances in which the killing of women and children can be considered forgivable, may seem ridiculous to the nonterrorist and irrelevant to those who just seek violence, Qaeda leaders have always tried to explain and justify their acts. If they cannot convince their supporters that their fight is legitimate according to the religion they claim to defend, they have no defense against the accusation that they are merely a group of violent criminals.
Al Qaeda leaders are not religious scholars and they are sensitive to criticism from others whose religious knowledge is better respected. Criticism of Al Qaeda from these quarters has been considerable over the last 12 months, and despite Al Qaeda's attempts at rebuttal, its spurious claims of legitimacy have been widely exposed. Although the short-term consequences may not be great, Al Qaeda's standing, particularly among the tribes on the Afghan-Pakistan border, depends in large part on respect for its finer understanding and practice of religion. In due course, the disdain of the rest of the Muslim world may seep through to affect these areas as well.
The battle for legitimacy is essential to Al Qaeda's future. Without it, there is even less likelihood that the leadership will find the secure base that it so desperately needs. At present its main hope lies in forging a lasting alliance with the Taliban in Pakistan, and maintaining a relationship with the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar, in the expectation that sooner or later one group or another will gain control of enough territory to allow it to rebuild an international network of foreign fighters under its direct control and plan new attacks across the world.
The battle for legitimacy between terrorists and those who seek to defeat them is not as one-sided as it should be. The international community must continue to undermine the specious claims of Al Qaeda, while strengthening the legitimacy of its counterterrorist actions. The ruling of the European Court will force further action toward this end, but the Security Council has already taken steps along the road.
U.S. to pull 8,000 troops from Iraq early in '09
WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush has accepted the recommendation of his senior civilian and military advisers to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq by 8,000 in the early months of next year.
The reduction will begin with a Marine Corps battalion set to leave this fall from Anbar Province, once the center of the antigovernment insurgency.
In an address on Tuesday to the National Defense University here, Bush will unveil his decision on future force levels in Iraq, which includes withdrawing a full brigade of combat troops in the first few weeks of 2009, according to a draft of the speech released late Monday by the White House.
Neither the Marine battalion nor the army brigade will be replaced, leaving the American combat force in Iraq at 14 brigades. After other support and logistics units are withdrawn under the new orders, the American troop levels in Iraq would drop to about 138,000 by March, still several thousand more than were there in January 2007, when Bush announced the "surge" that brought the total over 160,000.
"Here is the bottom line: While the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight," Bush says in the speech. "As a result, we have been able to carry out a policy of 'return on success' — reducing American combat forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve."
A Marine battalion that was scheduled for service in Iraq will instead enter Afghanistan by November. And in January, an army combat brigade that had been scheduled for service in Iraq will deploy instead to Afghanistan.
The president's speech also highlights decisions to vastly increase the size of the Afghan National Army, which will grow from its current size of 60,000 troops to 120,000, beyond the 80,000 goal of previous plans. If the progress in Iraq continues, Bush's speech says, additional reductions would be possible in the first half of 2009.
Bush accepted a consensus set of recommendations presented last week from General David Petraeus, the senior Iraq commander; Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, acting commander of the military's Central Command; Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to Pentagon and White House officials.
Bush will also announce a decision to increase American force levels in Afghanistan by about 4,500 troops, according to the draft of the speech.
"The president's decision paves the way for us to get even more troops out of Iraq this year and into Afghanistan," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "So the progress our forces are making in Iraq continues to pay big dividends for the commanders in Afghanistan."
Facing drug trial, Afghan tribal chief says he aided U.S
In May 2005, about a month after coming to New York and then being arrested on U.S. narcotics charges, an Afghan tribal leader, Haji Bashir Noorzai, sat down with United States prosecutors and offered some critical information.
Noorzai, whom President George W. Bush had designated one of the world's most wanted drug kingpins, said he knew a lot about a man the American authorities had been seeking for years: Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed cleric and reclusive leader of the Taliban who has been in hiding since the 2001 terror attacks.
"He changes locations on a daily basis to avoid capture," a federal summary of Noorzai's comments quoted him as saying. Noorzai added that Omar traveled with a small entourage of four or five people to avoid detection, and that he used an intermediary, a bodyguard, to carry letters and taped messages to the Taliban.
Noorzai described the bodyguard and the pharmacist who supplied the bodyguard's seizure medication, and said the bodyguard even had a phone number for the elusive Omar.
Noorzai apparently wanted to trade his information to avoid prosecution. The government has not said what it did with Noorzai's information, or how accurate or valuable it was.
But as far as anyone knows, Omar is still a free man, and Noorzai goes on trial Tuesday morning in New York, charged with conspiring to import tens of millions of dollars worth of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan into New York and elsewhere in the United States and other countries. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison, prosecutors say.
The trial, in Federal District Court, has been widely anticipated because it may offer a window into the shadowy Afghan opium industry, where skyrocketing production and corrupt Afghan officials have turned the country into a kind of narco-state, American officials say.
But the case has also raised questions about the murky tactics that were used to lure Noorzai into captivity.
The defense has argued in court papers that the government relied on private contractors who bribed foreign officials to gain access to Noorzai, and then promised Noorzai that he would not be arrested if he agreed to meet with American officials and provide information about terrorism financing.
The court has ruled that even if such tactics occurred, they did not invalidate the charges and could not be used as a defense during the trial. But the details of the operation, as laid out in court papers, show a side of the government's counterterrorism effort that is not often revealed publicly.
The indictment says that from 1990 to 2004, Noorzai led an international heroin trafficking group in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He also provided weapons and manpower to the Taliban, the indictment says. In exchange, the indictment says, the Taliban provided him with protection for his opium crops, heroin laboratories and drug-transportation routes.
At the time of his arrest, Karen Tandy, then chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the operation had "removed one of the world's top drug traffickers," and someone, she added, who "for too long, devastated the country of Afghanistan."
Ivan Fisher, Noorzai's defense lawyer, has painted a different picture of his client, who has pleaded not guilty and has been held for more than three years pending trial.
In papers filed by the defense, Noorzai repeatedly denies that he was involved in the drug business. He also says that a claim by a DEA agent that he admitted to such a role during a discussion are wrong, and he blamed a faulty translation by the interpreter.
Federal prosecutors declined to respond to questions about the defense allegations.
Noorzai, who is in his 40s, was the chief of the Noorzai tribe, which has more than a million members and extends throughout southern and western Afghanistan and into the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, court documents filed by the defense show.
Fisher wrote that Noorzai was an ardent supporter of the United States-supported government in Afghanistan, and cooperated with American military and intelligence agencies in the years before and after the 2001 terror attacks.
Noorzai, in his own affidavit, said that in 1982 he began to lead a small force that grew to 1,000 mujahedeen fighters in the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.
In 1990, he said, he used his network of tribal contacts to help the CIA recover Stinger missiles that the United States had provided to the Afghan rebels. He eventually turned over about 12 missiles, he said.
After 9/11, Noorzai said, he was detained by the United States military at Kandahar airport, where he talked with the Americans about the Taliban's military and political structure and its financial sources.
After his release, he said, he and his tribe collected more than 3,000 Taliban weapons, loaded them onto 15 trucks and turned them over to American officials. "We did not ask for and did not receive any payment," Noorzai wrote.
He said he continued to work with American military commanders, who wanted to capture Taliban leaders. He said that after he persuaded one former Taliban official to meet with the Americans, the man "then disappeared into one of their confinement centers for two years."
After he persuaded another tribal leader, who was hiding in Pakistan, to return home to Kandahar, he said, American forces attacked the man's home and killed him. Afraid for his own safety, Noorzai went into hiding, he said.
In August 2004, Noorzai agreed to travel to Dubai, where he met with the two contractors, who are identified only as Mike and Brian in court papers filed by the defense. The two men had worked in the Defense Department and the FBI respectively, the papers say, and were associated with a firm called Rosetta Research and Consulting.
Rosetta's goal, the defense papers say, was to collect important information about terrorist activities worldwide, and to sell that information, along with providing security services, to governments and private entities, like banks, airlines and security firms.
The court documents say the firm had "developed relationships" with high-level FBI and Defense Department officials, including Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
The firm developed a list of names, which became known as the "the Kill" or "Key Informant List," according to the defense papers. Noorzai's name was on that list, the papers say.
In that first meeting in Dubai, the documents assert, Mike told Noorzai that "the project had nothing to do with arresting anyone or apprehending anyone."
In September 2004, the papers say, Noorzai met again with Mike and Brian, in Pakistan, where they asked him about various Taliban commanders and Afghan officials. They also discussed their project to study and impede the flow of money to the Taliban resistance and al Qaeda, and sought Noorzai's help, the documents contend.
Noorzai again asked whether he was being set up.
Mike and Brian assured him that he would be "allowed to come to the United States, meet with important government officials, and then return to Pakistan," the documents say.
About six months later, the Drug Enforcement Administration began working with Mike and Brian as confidential sources in connection with what officials say was the investigation into Noorzai's drug trafficking organization, documents show.
In April 2005, Noorzai came to New York, where he met with DEA agents in the Embassy Suites Hotel for 11 days. On April 23, he was arrested.
More Afghans being killed, report says
KABUL, Afghanistan: Civilian deaths caused by United States and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan nearly tripled last year from 2006, fueling a public backlash, a report by Human Rights Watch said Monday.
The report also blamed the Taliban, who have staged a broad offensive across half the country since 2006, for endangering Afghans' lives "by deploying their forces in populated villages" and by using civilians as human shields.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, said the behavior of insurgents did not excuse those dropping the bombs and firing the missiles.
"Mistakes by the U.S. and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans," Brad Adams, the group's director for Asia, said in a statement.
The report singled out Special Operations forces for using tactics that cause civilian casualties, like working in small, lightly armed units that rely on air support for backup.
The report said that an estimated 321 civilians died from American and NATO airstrikes in 2007, compared with 116 in 2006. In the first seven months of 2008, the latest period with data available, the number of Afghans killed in airstrikes reached 119, it said.
American and NATO forces instituted tactical changes that reduced the rate of civilian casualties in the latter months of 2007 and into this year, though the numbers spiked again this summer, Human Rights Watch said. Most of the deaths occurred when troops came into contact with insurgents and requested air support, not as a result of planned strikes, it said.
Human Rights Watch said it had gathered the casualty numbers from news reports and the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, or ANSO, a nongovernmental organization that collects and analyzes information on the security situation for aid organizations. The airstrikes have also caused extensive damage to homes and displaced large numbers of people, Human Rights Watch said.
American forces serve under two separate command structures in Afghanistan: a United Nations mandate as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, and an American military command as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes counterterrorism operations and training of the Afghan Army and the police.
U.S.targets Haqqani network in Afghan east
KABUL: The U.S military said on Tuesday it had targeted the network of veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani during an operation in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, and detained two suspected militants.
The raid was launched on Monday in Khost province against militants suspected of carrying out roadside bomb attacks, the U.S. military said in a statement.
It did not refer to another operation on Monday in which Pakistani witnesses and intelligence officials said U.S. drones fired missiles at a house and religious school founded by Haqqani, just across the border in Pakistan, killing 23 people.
Several of the dead were relatives of Haqqani, who is considered close to Osama bin Laden. The ailing Taliban commander was in Afghanistan along with his son Sirajuddin, who has been leading the group, at the time of the attack, another son said.
The U.S. military said soldiers found multiple AK-47s, grenades and other military equipment during the raid in Khost.
Afghans say will open graves to show civilian deaths
AZIZABAD, Afghanistan: Relatives of Afghans killed in a U.S.-led coalition raid in western Herat province offered on Tuesday to dig up graves to support claims of large-scale civilian deaths.
The August 22 air strike in Shindand district has outraged Afghans and opened a rift between coalition forces on the one hand and the Afghan government and the U.N. on the other, which both say that more than 90 civilians were killed.
The U.S. military, which earlier disputed that figure, said it would re-investigate after new evidence had emerged about civilian casualties in the raid on Azizabad village.
"We are ready to dig out every grave to show the Americans that civilians, including women and children, were killed in the air strikes," village elder Gul Ahmad Khan, who said he lost three children in the strike, told Reuters.
But Khan, who represented the village during President Hamid Karzai's visit last week to commiserate with the families, said the U.S. must first agree it would pull out all its forces from the country if it was proved that civilians died in the strike.
"We will welcome them if they visit our bombed village to investigate. But we should have a deal first, if the Americans are proved wrong, then they should leave Afghanistan in shame," he said.
The U.S. military earlier said the raid had targeted a Taliban commander who was among 30 to 35 militants killed in the strike. It said five to seven civilians were killed.
Villagers said false intelligence about the presence of Taliban in the village had been fed to coalition forces and have urged the Afghan government to punish those responsible.
A group of women, wailing outside their ruined homes, demanded that the Afghan government hand over a man named Nadir to them. They said he had misled foreign forces.
"I don't want anything from the Americans, even if they give the whole of the Afghanistan I don't want it," screamed Mah Pari. "We want the government to hand us over Nadir alive," she said.
Pari said she lost four members of her family when bombs struck a house where people had gathered for a charity dinner to mark the death of a villager six months ago.
Wali Mohammad, another villager, said many died while fleeing the bombing. "They were shot dead by from the air," he said, adding his wife lost her sight in the strike.
Villagers showed a Reuters journalist a grainy cellphone video of a row of bodies lying in shrouds and blankets on the floor of the village mosque. It was not clear from the video how many bodies there were.
Another video showed bodies being taken to the graveyard.
At least 60 of the dead were women and children, the Afghan government says.
"Under any shape it occurred, this event must be regarded as the biggest violation by NATO forces in Afghanistan," state-controlled Afghan daily Anis said in an editorial.
The U.S. military, which has proposed a review of the operation, said new evidence in the form of "imagery" had emerged about the coalition strike in Shindand.
"There is some evidence that suggests that the evidence that the United States military used in the conduct of its investigation may not have been complete," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Monday. He did not specify.
The military said earlier that the air strike was called in after Afghan army and U.S.-led coalition forces came under intense fire during an offensive in the Shindand area.
Taliban militants had planned to attack a nearby coalition base, the U.S. military said, citing evidence such as weapons, explosives and intelligence materials.
U.S. airline watch list snags the occasional youngster
We've heard a lot about airline passengers with common names who are routinely flagged at airports because their names match or resemble ones on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list.
But it isn't just adults who get stopped, as Mila Harris, of New York City, told me the other day.
Harris and her husband - who, she said, asked that his name not be used because of concerns that he would be flagged himself on business trips - often travel with their twin sons, Alex and Julian.
On two occasions, Alex and his family were kept in a holding room upon arrival at Kennedy International Airport in New York from London because his name apparently matched a name on the list.
Alex was born in 2000.
"They hauled us out of the line and into a holding room," Harris said. "It's 8 o'clock on a Saturday night and they said, 'We have to call Washington to have him cleared.' And I'm like, 'Just who do you suppose is available in Washington at 8 o'clock on a Saturday night?"'
It took more than two hours before Alex was free to go. That was in late 2006. Six months later, the family arrived again from London, about 11 p.m.
Again, Alex was detained, his mother said, even though she carried his birth certificate and Social Security card.
"I said, 'Look at him. He's clearly not a terrorist. He's 7!"' she said.
U.S. cops to accept crime photos from public
NEW YORK: New York City crime fighting and city officials can now receive photos and videos from citizens faced with anything from a dangerous crime-in-progress to a pothole, officials said on Tuesday.
Callers to emergency telephone number 911 are now able to send photos or video from a cell phone or computer to the New York Police Department's Real Time Crime Centre, where relevant images may be used to assist in crime fighting or in responding to other emergencies.
The public will also be able to send pictures and videos from computers and Web-enabled cell phones and other devices to accompany certain quality of life complaints, which are fielded via the city services 311 telephone number.
New York police receive about 11 million 911 calls annually and the 311 number receives about 15 million calls each year.
"We are bringing government accountability and crime-fighting to a whole new level," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement. "If your cell phone is equipped with a camera ... you might be able to get a picture of something that will help the police solve a crime."
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "When it comes to crime fighting, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. This is just one more tool to help the public help the police in our powerful partnership."
Israeli airport security order dancer to prove identity with dance steps
JERUSALEM: A performer with the famed American Alvin Ailey dance troupe on Tuesday said he was twice forced to perform steps for Israeli airport security officers to prove his identity before he was permitted to enter the country.
Abdur-Rahim Jackson, an eight-year veteran of the dance ensemble, said he was singled out by Israel's renowned airport security because he has a Muslim name. He called the experience embarrassing and said at one point, one of the officers even suggested he change his name.
"To be greeted like this because of my name, it took me back a little bit," Jackson said.
Israel is the first stop on a six-nation tour celebrating the New York-based dance company's 50th anniversary. Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution calling the group a "vital American cultural ambassador to the world."
Jackson said he was pulled aside from other members of the troupe when they arrived at Israel's international airport on Sunday night. He said he was taken to a holding room, where he was asked about the origins of his name. When he explained he was part of the dance group, he was asked to perform.
"I stood up. I asked what type of dance?" he explained. "He said, "Just do anything.' I just moved around."
Minutes later, he said a female officer put him through a similar interrogation and asked him to dance again.
"The only time I'm really expected to dance is when I'm performing," he said.
Jackson said he received his name because his father was a convert to Islam. Jackson said he was not raised a Muslim, does not consider himself religious and is engaged to a Jewish woman in the troupe who has relatives in Israel.
Jackson said he did not plan to press the matter further, saying the numerous apologies he has received from American dignitaries and his Israeli hosts is "enough for me." The Israel Ports Authority said it had no comment because it did not receive a formal complaint.
The incident was reported in Israel's largest newspaper and on an Israeli television news and interview program. "The security guards should be sent home or (the airport) will become a mental asylum," said Motti Kirshenbaum, a veteran commentator and host of the Channel 10 TV program.
N. Korea's Kim may have had stroke
WASHINGTON: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may have had a stroke within the past couple of weeks, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.
"It does appear that Kim Jong-il has suffered a health setback, potentially a stroke," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
She said there have been no signs of a change in governing power and that assessing whether Kim was still capable of governing would "call for a lot of speculation."
Hurricane kills at least 4 in Cuba
Hurricane Ike continued its rampage across Cuba on Tuesday, killing four people, prompting more than a million others to flee and sending jitters through those living along the already battered shoreline of the Gulf Coast.
After the storm pummeled Haiti, killing at least 58 people, Ike made landfall in Cuba late Sunday night with Category 3 winds of 111 miles an hour and greater. The storm weakened slightly as it traveled east across the island, but moved so quickly that it claimed its first lives before the government could evacuate about 1.2 million people in its path.
One woman died when her home collapsed, a man was killed by a tree, and two others died while removing equipment from a roof, The Associated Press reported, citing state television. Ike has battered some of the same areas that were walloped in late August by a Hurricane Gustav, which was more powerful. But no one in Cuba was killed by Gustav because hundreds of thousands of people had been safely evacuated.
U.S. real estate hasn't hit the bottom yet
NEW YORK: U.S. commercial real estate prices are likely to tumble over the next 12 to 18 months as more borrowers default on their loans and regulators crack down on banks, pushing even more properties onto the market.
Since the market's peak in 2007, the availability of debt - the lifeblood of commercial real estate - has dried up and choked off sales. Borrowers have resisted selling because of falling prices. Banks have not sold off their troubled loans, fearing a huge write-down of all commercial real estate loans. But it looks as if the clock is running down.
"We're going to see a whole lot more trouble going forward," said Peter Steier, vice president of Inland Mortgage Capital in New York.
Steier was speaking at the Distressed Commercial Real Estate Summit East, where about 200 investors, lenders and buyers recently gathered to discuss how to capitalize on the distress of the commercial real estate sector, as signaled by the growing number of foreclosures, sick banks and distressed loans.
From their peak last year, office prices in the second quarter were down 11.2 percent, according to the real estate research firm Reis Inc.; prices for retail spaces fell 4 percent; and warehouse and distribution center prices were off 6.7 percent. (Apartment prices, by comparison, were down 13.8 percent from their peak in late 2005.)
Commercial real estate sales in the United States are expected to fall 66 percent this year from $467 billion to an estimated $159 billion. This is because debt, especially securitized debt in the form of commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, is either unavailable or prices are too high and the terms too strict for borrowers, Reis said.
So far, many of the distressed commercial properties and loans have appeared in Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Georgia - in addition to Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio, areas that were already showing signs of trouble.
"One of our biggest problem areas is pretty much the state of Ohio," said Kevin Donahue, senior vice president Midland Loan Services, a CMBS servicer that steps in when a loan is showing signs of imminent trouble. "If we keep going, by the second quarter of 2009, I think the entire state of Ohio will become a subsidiary of Midland."
World's worst places to get a job
By Tara WeissForbes.com
'Help Wanted?' Forget It.
Hiring across the globe is down significantly, according to Manpower's Global Employment Outlook for the fourth quarter, which previews hiring trends from October through December.In Pictures: World's worst places to get a job
"It's not just finance and construction here in the U.S." says Jeff Joerres, chairman and CEO of Manpower. "The rest of the world is feeling a bit shakier."
That's the case even in China, where hiring had been rampant because of the changing nature of the economy and the growing middle class. Hiring in China grew at 13 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. For the same time this year, it's expected to grow 12 percent.
In the U.S., the outlook for the upcoming quarter is the least optimistic in five years. Hiring grew at 18 percent in the fourth quarter last year and is expected to drop to 9% in the same period this year. Last quarter it was at 12 percent.
This report echoes the employment data released by the Labor Department last week, which reported that the U.S. jobless rate jumped to 6.1 percent in August from 5.7 percent in July. The economy shed 84,000 jobs.
What about the U.S. retail sector, which historically adds seasonal jobs during the holiday season? According to Manpower, retail hiring won't be at the same level as past years. Merchants are fretting that consumers won't be spending as much money as usual this December.
Joerres says the survey confirms the economic cycle in the U.S. is similar to the recessions of 2001 to 2003 and 1990 to 1991. This will be the fourth quarter of downward hiring in the U.S.
Overall, the largest decline was in Singapore. Hiring grew 53 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 and is expected to drop to 25 percent in the same period this year.
Why the big hit there? Unlike China, which has enormous domestic demand for its products, Singapore mainly makes products for the U.S. and other countries in the west. In Pictures: World's worst places to get a job
Other countries with the toughest hiring outlooks include Japan, which is expected to drop by 13 percent year-over-year; the U.K., which is expected to drop by 14 percent; and Spain, which is expected to drop by 18 percent.
It's not all bad news. Small growth is expected in the Netherlands, where hiring is expected to grow by 3 percent; India's hiring is expected to grow 1 percent; and Belgium's is expected to increase by 2 percent.
U.N. says Asia driving new meth demand
VIENNA: Fast-growing economies in Asia and the Middle East are fuelling global demand for synthetic drugs, especially methamphetamine, as their populations work long hours and grow affluent, a U.N. report said on Tuesday.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said while the use of drugs like meth, amphetamine and ecstasy has stabilised in developed countries, people in fast-growing economies are getting a taste for the brain-damaging drugs.
They are being used as "a cheap and available tonic for our fast and competitive times, for entertainment in discos (mostly in the West), and for greater stamina in assembly lines and behind a steering wheel in the East," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said, presenting the report.
The drugs were notorious in the United States during the 1990s but health crackdowns have helped to stem usage, the report said.
Dealers have moved to new territory, targeting countries where it is harder for authorities to clamp down on the market.
UNODC said the annual global market for these drugs is worth an estimated $65 billion (40 billion pounds) and that usage exceeds that of cocaine and heroin combined. The mark-up between wholesale and retail prices can be as high as 400 percent.
In 2006, nearly half of Asian countries reported a rise in meth use, while Saudi Arabia seized 12 tonnes of amphetamine, a quarter of all synthetic drugs seized in the world that year.
A bazooka and the Treasury secretary's itchy trigger finger
"If you've got a bazooka, and people know you've got it, you may not have to take it out."
That's what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. told a congressional panel in July about his plans to stabilize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, with them, the financial markets.
The bazooka in question was his new authority to seize the two mortgage finance giants if things went horribly wrong. The thinking was, if the markets knew that Paulson was packing heat, the markets would back off and confidence would be restored. He might save Fannie and Freddie without firing a shot — sort of a Wall Street version of the theory of deterrence.
And yet the moment Paulson uttered that line, it was all over for Fannie and Freddie. Once he mentioned that bazooka — that is, the possibility that the Bush administration might take over the two companies — he virtually guaranteed that that was exactly what would happen. On Sunday, his bazooka went off, and the shot is still reverberating around the world.
The rest was just theater. For the last two months, Fannie and Freddie ran around Wall Street searching for a savior. Private equity? Sovereign wealth funds? Anyone?
But Wall Street was never really sure what Paulson would do, so no one would put money on Fannie or Freddie, said Doug Dachille, the chief executive of First Principles Capital Management. The companies never got the chance to tap people who already owned their stock for additional cash.
"We will never know whether existing shareholders would have put in money," Dachille said.
Meanwhile, the companies' bankers — Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and others — jockeyed for positions of influence, and yes, fees. (Morgan Stanley, which had been working for Freddie — and was virtually fired, according to company executives — found a pro bono role advising Paulson and the government.)
But the real question is, did things have to end this way? The answer, many on Wall Street believe, is probably not. Or at least not when they did.
Many people in financial circles can't quite figure out why Paulson pulled the trigger when he did. He insisted politics had nothing to do with it. Never mind that the news broke just after the Democratic and Republican conventions, but as far away as possible from the November election.
But as of last week, Fannie and Freddie, for all their troubles, seemed to be bumbling along O.K. Both were able to roll over their enormous debts in the capital markets. Sure, Wall Street was nervous about those debt auctions, but the sales were running efficiently, in part because Paulson's promise — or threat, depending on your view — showed that the government would stand behind the companies in the end.
What's more, Fannie had made good on its promise to raise $5.5 billion last spring, before Paulson asked Congress for his bazooka. By most analysts' accounts, Fannie had enough wiggle room to stay in business for a while longer, if not find a way out of the mess down the road.
"We are surprised that such measures are deemed necessary at this time," Bradley Ball, a research analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a research report on Sunday night.
Freddie — long considered the more troubled of the two — was capitalized enough to keep going through 2009, many analysts believe. "Even if neither raises another dollar of capital over the next year, we estimate that both companies will likely remain above their statutory minimum requirements," Bruce Harting, an analyst at Lehman Brothers wrote.
Neither company is blameless. Freddie refused to raise new money while it still could, in part, for fear of diluting its shareholders and selling too low. Freddie was convinced it could recover first; the power of optimism is a dangerous force. Indeed, it was Freddie's balance sheet that had Paulson most worried, at least in the immediate term.
Could Paulson have put Freddie into a conservatorship without bringing Fannie in too? Probably not. It would have just put more pressure on Fannie.
In the end, Paulson's decision seems to have been a philosophical one, rather than one forced by immediate crisis. Of course, for stagecraft purposes, he may have played up the potential for a crisis.
And maybe he decided that he wanted to take care of the problem himself — guaranteeing him a lasting legacy — during his time in the Bush administration. This way, had either Fannie or Freddie run into problems in the next administration, nobody could point the finger at him.
Lehman shares sink 45 percent on capital worries
NEW YORK: Lehman Brothers Holdings shares sank 45 percent on Tuesday on growing concern the fourth-largest Wall Street investment bank won't raise sufficient capital to survive the global credit crisis.
"This has been going on for a while now, and people are worried about liquidity, survival," said Rose Grant, a portfolio manager at Eastern Investment Advisors in Boston, which invests $1.8 billion (1 billion pounds) and has never owned Lehman shares.
In a sign of the deepening concern over Lehman's stability, several major Wall Street rivals issued statements that they were still trading with Lehman.
The stock closed down $6.36 at $7.79 on the New York Stock Exchange, and touched its lowest level since October 1998. The slide wiped out $4.4 billion in market value, and was a factor in broad declines in major U.S. stock indexes. Prices of safe-haven U.S. Treasuries rose.
Investors are worried that Lehman Chief Executive Richard Fuld may fail to raise enough capital to keep the company operating as losses mount from soured mortgages.
How many corporate bailouts are too many?
NEW YORK: Is the definition of what's too big to fail getting broader?
Over the past decade, Washington has thrown a lifeline to everything from Long-Term Capital Management, a troubled hedge fund, to the airline and insurance industries after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Now, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance companies whose rescue plan was announced Sunday, are the latest to join the club.
In all these cases, the overall risk to the U.S. economy of an outright collapse was judged by policy makers to be greater than what economists term the moral hazard problem - the fear that the private sector will take on greater, even foolhardy, risks in the future as investors in major businesses, and their executives, assume that government, with its essentially bottomless pockets of cash, will always be there to provide a backstop.
None of this is entirely new, of course, either in the United States or elsewhere around the world.
Still, in the wake of the help for the mortgage giants and the rescue of the investment house Bear Stearns in March by the U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Board, there is already talk among economists, Wall Streeters and politicians about which companies or industries will be the next to belly up to the bar. And experts are looking at the possibility that Lehman Brothers, the troubled Wall Street investment firm, or Detroit automakers will seek assistance from Washington to deal with their problems.
To be sure, many analysts agree that Fannie and Freddie do not necessarily set a precedent, because of their longstanding relationship with the government and the vast holdings of their debt by banks in Asia and Europe. But even supporters of their rescue make clear that it may be time formally to acknowledge Washington's ever-expanding role as the backer of last resort.
"Fannie and Freddie are a special case, but there is a bigger question," said Jonathan Koppell, director of the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at Yale University. "Do we live in a market economy or not? If we do, it seems companies have to be allowed to fail. If we say companies can't fail because they're too big or the consequences are too great, we have something else."
If the government does increasingly have to step in, Koppell said, perhaps Washington should charge companies along the lines of how banks are charged fees to provide insurance for depositors.
Or if more companies are literally judged to be too huge to go down, then antitrust regulators should reconsider allowing more mega-mergers in the future.
"It might sound radical to regulate companies on the basis of their size, but we've adopted a de facto 'too big to fail' policy, and that's also pretty radical," he said.
The United States must acknowledge that its deep indebtedness is especially dangerous in times of economic crisis. The level and stability of American interest rates and of the dollar are now dependent on the willingness of foreign central banks and other overseas investors to continue lending to the United States. The bailout became inevitable when central banks in Asia and Russia began to curtail their purchases of the companies' debt, pushing up mortgage rates and deepening the economic downturn.
The bailout is new evidence of the need for better regulation of the American financial system. As the housing bubble inflated, the Bush administration often claimed that America's unfettered markets were the envy of the world. But, in fact, they have sowed mistrust.
Arthur Szyk's cartoons and a reckoning with history
It means coming to terms with the past: Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a German mouthful. Every German knows the word. Generations have been raised on it. An Italian woman who used to run multicultural affairs for the city of Rome, a Jew, was complaining over a coffee the other day, apropos of rising anti-immigrant sentiment there, that Italy still sells Mussolini bobble-head dolls and other Fascist knickknacks as souvenirs. Like the French and Poles, she said, Italians have never properly reckoned with their own history.
"Germans, on the other hand," she added - and at this point she rolled her eyes the way people do when a second helping of meat dumplings is placed before them - "with them, it's maybe enough already."
Not that everyone would agree with this view. But it is a widely held sentiment across Europe, to the credit of the Germans. As part of this endless endeavor to leave no byway of guilt and self-flagellation unexplored, we now get the exhibition of Arthur Szyk's work that just opened at the Deutsches Historisches Museum.
Szyk was a Jewish caricaturist who spent roughly the last decade of his life in the United States. He's unknown here, hardly familiar in America. Born in 1894 in what is now Poland, he fought with the Russian Army on the German front in World War I, then moved during the 1920s to Paris, like many young artists. There he studied at the Académie Julian, declining Modernist abstraction for an old masterly, illuminated-manuscript, miniaturist style of eye-straining detail. Perhaps he was influenced, or fortified, by the "return to order," as neo-Classicism in that era was called.
In any case, from Paris he went to London and onward to New York, having established a reputation with several exhibitions. During the 1940s he became famous as a popular illustrator of books and magazine covers for Time, Collier's, Esquire and others, and as a political cartoonist for New York newspapers. Several generations of Americans grew up on his versions of "Mother Goose" and "Andersen's Fairy Tales."
His life's work, though, was crusading against the Nazis and, later, for Israel and civil rights.
Notwithstanding his influence on comic American artists like Art Spiegelman, and the occasional Szyk show, he has pretty much dropped down the memory hole today. Naturally, the show here, introducing him to a German audience, focuses on his antiwar agitprop. There are works about the Holocaust, about Israel and America. Most of the drawings, reproduced magazine covers and other illustrations mock Hitler and Mussolini.
They turn Goebbels into a skunk, Göring into a fat Cossack, the aged Marshal Pétain into Pierrot, the sad clown, and the Japanese into bats and gorillas.
Although a cartoonist, Szyk, it seems, had absolutely no sense of humor. This inclined him toward cloying kitsch when he extolled Israel, and triteness when the subjects were cowboys or George Washington on horseback. Szyk thrived in angry mode, tackling enemies with a sledgehammer, saving subtlety for his penmanship.
In his dexterity he recalls a bygone age of monastic scribes slaving over parchment pages. Illustrations like "Fortress Europe," "Wagner" and "Ride of the Valkyries" are more intricate than Swiss watch works and sublimely obsessive. Reproductions hardly do the original drawings justice. The wow factor lent weight to his message, never mind if the one actually had nothing to do with the other.
At the same time, however, Szyk exploited the grosser virtues of caricature to knock viewers over the head with his point so that no one could get lost in the exquisite details of a drawing, or rather so that people might lose themselves in the details only after having absorbed the main idea. One of his most potent drawings is "The Babykiller (German Airman)," a straightforward portrait of a skinny, slouching, vacant-eyed Wehrmacht soldier in an oversize uniform, hands demurely guarding his crotch. It's the banality of evil personified. In such a case Szyk rose to the level of a Daumier or a Rowlandson.
Of course he also drew those gorillas and bats. His loathed Germans never failed to be at least human. In 1941, in a cartoon for The American Mercury, he depicted a trio of half-naked black African tribesmen, toting shields and spears and fleeing a Luftwaffe squadron. The caption said: "Run for your lives! - The savages are coming!" Which is to say that while he was ahead of his day in championing civil rights, he was also a man of his times.
And times change, along with fortunes. Szyk's did. In 1949 he drew two men watching a third walk away: "He is under investigation," the caption says. "His blood is red, and his heart is left of the center. ... To think of it, we are all in trouble. ..." Two years later, after the House Un-American Activities Committee began a wrongheaded investigation into his possible Communist ties, he died at 57 - having just produced the most beautifully illuminated version of the Declaration of Independence, a testament to his patriotism.
Condemning Germans to eternal hell (he inscribed one of his illustrations, about the Polish Ghetto uprising, "to the German people, sons of Cain, be ye damned forever and ever"), he now re-emerges in a Berlin museum of German history. There's an object lesson in this about the vagaries of life and art.
On both sides of the Atlantic, in other words, Vergangenheitsbewältigung still has its benefits.
An actress-turned-director mines India's recent past
The night before "Heaven on Earth" had its premiere, Nandita Das, the popular actress and human rights advocate, showed "Firaaq," her first film as director. Das, who has played in 36 films, was the star of Mehta's "Fire," about two women in a traditional household who fall in love; and "Earth," which took place during the devastating partition when British India was divided to create Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, ending in carnage.
Mehta and Das, strong women from Delhi (Das still lives there) who have much in common, were once close. Then came "Water": Mehta was routed from Benares when she tried to shoot the historic story of exploited widows in the holy city. The project was brought to fruition four years later, outside India, and won an Oscar nomination. But Das, originally set for the lead role, was no longer part of the film. In order to keep the film under wraps, Mehta went with a new cast. "I was very sad and disappointed," Das said, "but it's over: I have let go of those feelings." She added: "Acting is a small part of what I do,"
Das, now 38, is a ravishing, very serious and very funny woman. She has been honored as a political rights activist and has served on the Cannes jury. Her debut as director made a splash at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado last month, where Salman Rushdie introduced the film. "Firaaq," for all the anger and anguish it portrays, is a surprisingly fresh film, composed around a cluster of stories.
An Urdu word that means both separation and quest, "Firaaq" is set during the aftermath of the Gujarat Province riots in 2002, when Hindus and Muslims clashed: women were raped, and families slaughtered in a stunning replay of the partition. The film was made in Urdu, Gujarati and English. The director brings intensity to her characters' plight, with sharp instinct for rooting out their hidden fears.
"I was interested in what happens when the violence subsides," Das said. "People were less ashamed of how they talked about what happened, and that shocked and disturbed me. I cut out some of the stronger stories because they divide people; if you take ordinary people it's easier to relate to. I didn't start filmmaking looking for a story, instead, the stories compelled me to become a director."
The script, co-written with Shuchi Kothari, who lives in New Zealand, is a triumph of interwoven dramas, set in Hindu and Muslim families. There is a housewife who has refused entry to a Muslim woman who knocks on her door, and turns on herself in remorse; a musician clinging to his idealism as long as he can; two girlfriends suddenly suspicious of each other; a Hindu-Muslim middle-class couple who sense each other slip away as events challenge them; and a small boy seeking shelter.
"I was in Delhi when the riots broke out," Das said. "It started with the train incident: Muslim boys on the platform weren't paid for the tea they served. Some started throwing stones at the train, and then a gasoline tank exploded. There was a fire. The media said that these boys started it and that 'Every action has a reaction.'
"That was the official attitude and when the government adopts that attitude, who can people turn to?"
Das went to the province, was invited to forums, and addressed students. "But this film isn't just about what took place historically," she said. "It's about what has happened to us as people. Look at what happened after 9/11, and not just to Americans."
The filmmaker is deeply disturbed by what she sees as blatant fear-mongering in U.S. politics and feels that her characters are distant relatives. "How sad it is to be pushed to the wall and feel that you have to prove your innocence at all times, hide your identity. That's what I see happening."
She chose actors whom she admired - "Some I knew, others became new friends; many shared my passion. As an actor you don't always have a chance to communicate your feelings."
The award-winning actor Naseeruddin Shah plays the old musician: "He is a wonderful actor: He plays a man in denial about the horror going on around him, but in a poetic way, not from ignorance, but from idealism.
"I love Brecht's line, 'Will there be singing in the dark times? There will be singing of the dark times."'
The actress thought, for a split second, that she could play the role of the Muslim's Hindu wife. "But I'm glad I didn't. Because as a director, you internalize everybody's stress; you become a parent on the set."
After the Toronto debut, "Firaaq" will be shown at festivals in Vancouver; Busan, South Korea; London; and Dubai. "I want to reach out with this film," she said. "Most people don't know what really goes on in India - they're happy with the yoga. It is a place where you find the most modern, progressive, and the most conservative and bigoted. There is violence and harmony. But it's hard to grasp. Recently someone in New York asked me, don't you have elephants there? And I said, actually, we have a parking problem, so now we have donkeys."
Das, now 38, is a ravishing, very serious and very funny woman. She has been honored as a political rights activist and has served on the Cannes jury.
She started out with art, classical music and dance. Not cinema. "I never saw a Bollywood movie and the others thought I was pompous, but it just didn't happen." After getting a degree in geography she took a year off to see what she wanted to do next.
"My parents gave me the leeway to discover things on my own. It wasn't common at all in India to take a year off. I decided to do my masters in social work. I wanted to work with people and understand the world we live in."
Das was drawn to politics doing street theater in support of workers' rights. A close friend and fellow activist was murdered. "I think I grew as a person, became more aware, responsible: it was important to have a purpose in life."
She did field work with a women's organization when she was 19. "I was very idealistic and still am. Then I started working with children. That was sheer joy."
"Then, I met Deepa, we hit it off: she was wonderful, and we did 'Fire' together, and 'Earth.' We had a deep rapport and working relationship."
Today, she says, she would love to act in an Almodóvar film, or with Kiarostami. "I also like Fatih Akin, the young German director."
Indian novelist Aravind Adiga was nominated for his debut, "The White Tiger," which tells the story of a man's dreams of escaping poor village life for success in the big city.
Australia's Steve Toltz, another first-time novelist, writes about a father-son relationship in a "A Fraction of the Whole."
Ireland's Sebastian Barry, a finalist with "The Secret Scripture," was previously nominated in 2005 for "A Long Long Way."
The other three authors in the running are Indian writer Amitav Ghosh for "Sea of Poppies," English author Linda Grant for "The Clothes on Their Backs" and England's Philip Hensher for "The Northern Clemency."
Previous studies have found an association between paternal age and both autism and schizophrenia, but this is the first time a connection with bipolar illness has been suggested. The study appears in the September issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry.
The researchers examined highly accurate Swedish government health records of more than seven million people with known biological parents to find 13,428 with bipolar disorder diagnosed at two or more separate hospital admissions. They matched each case with five controls, people of the same age and sex but without bipolar illness. They divided the fathers into five-year age categories beginning at 20.
After statistically adjusting for the age of the mother, family history of psychotic disorders, education level and other factors, they found consistently increasing risk as fathers aged. The highest risk was in fathers 55 and older. For mothers, after adjusting for the father's age, they found a statistically significant increase in only the 35 to 39 age group.
"It's a strong study from a methodological standpoint," said Dr. Alan Brown, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia who was not involved in the study. "National registries are very important because you're less likely to get bias and you can generalize findings across a whole country."
There is a possible biological explanation for the phenomenon, the authors write. The older a man is, the more often his sperm cells have replicated, and the more replications, the greater the chance for DNA copying errors. These are random changes, called de novo mutations, that are not inherited. Women are born with a complete supply of eggs that do not replicate as they age. The finding of only a small effect of mother's age on the incidence of bipolar illness in the offspring is consistent with this idea.
Emma Frans, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute and the lead author of the study, said in a phone interview that the findings applied to adult offspring only, not children. Bipolar illness is a rare disease in any age group; in community samples the prevalence varies from 0.4 percent to 1.6 percent of the population. Still, the risk of bipolar disease in the offspring of the oldest fathers was 35 percent higher than for those of the youngest, and the association was even stronger in the small number of cases in the study diagnosed before age 20.
Dr. Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University who has studied schizophrenia in the offspring of older fathers, called the new study "very important," but added: "The vast majority of children of any fathers will not get bipolar illness. At the level of the whole population, it may be important, but for the individual father it's a small risk."
Now a survey finds that depression is alarmingly common among teenage and young adult orphans there who head households and care for younger children.
The survey, conducted by Tulane University researchers working with Rwanda's national school of public health, appeared in last month's issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, part of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
While orphans in many African countries are taken in by relatives or neighbors, "such systems are increasingly overwhelmed" in Rwanda, the researchers found, and young people without parents or close adult relatives are having to form their own households or live on the street.
Their survey of 539 orphans ages 12 to 24 caring for others in one rural province found that 77 percent were subsistence farmers and 93 percent had less than six years of school. Almost half had eaten only one meal a day in the last week.
The Shop to The Valley
It happened that Russia, under Peter the Great, was expanding its reach at the expense of Persia, which was no longer the power it once was.
Peter sounded out the Christian kingdoms under Persian dominion, and encouraged them to align themselves with the new superpower. Vakhtang was thrilled at Peter's overtures, especially since he stood to gain kingship over the Christian nations under Persian control.
Vakhtang's viziers warned him not to move too aggressively. Peter might not come to Georgia's rescue. "How can a Christian emperor fail a Christian king?" Vakhtang reasoned.
The viziers advised him to meet with Russia's envoys in secret. Vakhtang replied: "How can I hide our ancient Christian banner?"
Peter, however, never showed up. The Persians counterattacked with a vengeance and overran Vakhtang's kingdom.
If you substitute democracy for Christianity, you have a parallel situation today with the Bush administration as the protector who was not really in a position to protect.
How could President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not have thought the United States would have to stand by his country even if it did attack? After all, is Bush not the great defender of democracy as Peter set himself up to be the defender of Christianity? Doesn't the Bush administration use democracy promotion to expand its power as Peter used Christianity?
What if Bush's vizier, Condoleezza Rice, and others did caution Saakashvili in private? Did she not stand beside him and swear undying support in public?
Had not Georgia's army been American-trained, and had not the Americans conducted joint military exercises with the Georgians only the month before the conflict with Russia began?
And in an administration famous for mixed signals, who knows what other of Bush's viziers undermined Rice's warnings?
According to Levan Gigineishvili, a professor at Chavchavadze Tbilisi State University and my informant on Georgian history, the modern situation was exacerbated by the lack of checks and balances in Georgia's flawed democracy.
"Decisions were taken without much, if any, public and parliamentarian discussions and debates, almost in a monarchic fashion," he writes. After the "Rose Revolution" in 2004, the motto was first a strong state, then democracy, so Parliament's powers were curtailed to broaden those of the president.
Of course Saakashvili's miscalculation played right into Russia's hands as Vakhtang's played into Persian hands, a story that every Georgian child is taught.
The great mystery is how, with American military advisers on the ground, American intelligence could have been taken unawares?
The first reports claimed that the Georgian Army slipped away without Americans noticing. This stretches credulity, and one day the whole story may be told.
The greater American miscalculation was believing that Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union, was so weak that the West could ignore all its warnings and security concerns, and ride roughshod over its interests with impunity. To create a client state prone to belligerency and foolhardiness on Russia's border appears to have been reckless. Any talk of taking Georgia into NATO should be postponed indefinitely.
Russia has gained in power and influence in the last eight years, while under the Bush administration America's standing has declined. For the Bush administration to say that invading countries and changing borders is unacceptable in the 21st century is risible, given Iraq and Kosovo.
The West is fumbling over what price Russia should pay for its hideous overreaction, but in the end it is Russia that loses by hindering its integration with the West and the collective hostility of its neighbors.
Henry Kissinger told Republicans last week that his goal with the Russians when he was secretary of state was "not to democratize them, but to normalize them."
It is going to be a lot harder than it would have been before Saakashvili's folly and Vladimir Putin's aggression, but it's not a bad goal for the next administration.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said troops would stay in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for a long time to prevent any "repeat of Georgian aggression".
Moscow's intervention in Georgia last month, in which its forces crushed an attempt by Tbilisi to retake South Ossetia, drew widespread international condemnation and prompted concern over the security of energy supplies.
Russia agreed on Monday to withdraw its soldiers from areas outside South Ossetia, and the second breakaway region of Abkhazia, within a month, but troops inside the two regions were not explicitly mentioned in the French-brokered deal.
Briefing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on talks with the separatist leaders, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said: "We have already agreed on the contingent -- in the region of 3,800 men in each republic -- its structure and location."
Despite concern about Russia's moves to roll back Western influence after intervening in Georgia, many EU states remain unwilling to offer such a pledge, given waning public support for EU expansion, Kiev's poor record on reform and a desire to avoid further straining ties with Moscow.
Political crisis in Ukraine that saw the collapse last week of a shaky coalition between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has reinforced such caution.
At a summit in Evian on Tuesday, the 27 EU states will at least hold out the prospect of gradually closer ties with a country that is a key energy transit route and seen as crucial to the bloc's long-term security and energy strategy.
A draft summit text acknowledges Ukraine's European aspirations and adds "gradual convergence of Ukraine with the EU in political, economic and legal areas will contribute to further progress in EU-Ukraine relations".
An explicit statement of future membership prospects has been blocked by the Benelux countries, with Germany and Italy also not keen, not least to avoid further straining ties with Moscow, a key supplier of energy to Europe.
Eric Edelman, the Pentagon's undersecretary for policy, was responding to questions at a Senate hearing about reports that Iran would soon acquire an advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile system.
"To the best of my knowledge, I don't believe we think the missiles referred to ... are in fact slated for delivery by the end of this year," Edelman told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"But it is something that we are watching very closely," he said. "It is a very serious capability that would be a concern to us as well as others in the region."
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. The system is also known in the West as the SA-20.
HONG KONG: 'How do you make a film about a girl who could never give you an interview, because she's in a coma?" asks the Thai artist Ing K in a recent film festival blog entry.
The answer: with the Thai contemporary art photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom and the controversial opposition senator Kraisak Choohavan. The three collaborated in producing "Citizen Juling," an intelligent and timely documentary that explores the circumstances surrounding the death of Juling Pongkanmul, a teacher from northern Thailand who was assaulted by Muslim women in a village in southern Thailand's war zone in May 2006.
The film had its world premiere last Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even with the current anti-establishment protests and political turmoil, the directors plan limited screenings in Bangkok by late this month.
Running at three hours and 42 minutes, and shot in cinéma vérité style, the filmmakers admit that "Juling" is both "intense and demanding." It is not an easy movie, but it is powerful and compelling, offering an unflinching and achingly human view of some of Thailand's social conflicts.
Manit shot about 90 percent of the footage on a small digital video camera. "Because I didn't have to look through the monitor," Manit said, "the subjects were more relaxed; people did not feel threatened. I could look at them and smile, so it is like a home movie." He let individuals tell their tales, recording many of them for the first time.
For him, "Juling," with its long single-shot scenes, is about capturing emotions. In a telephone interview, he said from Bangkok, "Now and then the media reports the facts, how many are dead, but what about the feelings of the people?" In the last five years about 3,000 people have "disappeared," died in detention or been the targets of allegedly government-sanctioned extra-judicial killings in Muslim southern Thailand. It took Manit and Ing working with Kraisak - who helped gain access to nearly all the personalities in the film, including Juling's family and school colleagues, religious and political leaders, and Muslims who have suffered under the Thai government's military rule in the south - to make the first feature-length documentary on the civilian toll of the war.
Manit, 46, first gained international fame for his conceptual "pink man" photography series, a commentary on consumerism and globalization. The artist, whose work has been shown at the Venice and São Paolo biennales, sees the project as an extension of his art. "My work has always had a political message. Working on this documentary is part of my mission," he said. He shot most of the footage over four months in 2006, ending with the coup d'état that forced Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra out of office.
The film creates an intimate portrait of a society torn apart by unequal access to opportunities and justice and plagued with violence, yet held together by an unquestioning devotion to the king.
The documentary starts off trying to understand the tragedy of Juling, whose story moved the nation. Juling taught children art in a war zone in the south. In May 2006, a mob of Muslim women kidnapped and brutally beat her, leaving her in a coma.
By the end of the film, what most leaves an impression are the myriad characters and their catalogue of injustices: personal stories of torture (a senator wrongly imprisoned for two years as a suspected Al Qaeda cell member), of grief (a father whose son died in detention), and of the long-simmering anger in Thailand's predominantly Muslim south.
Ing, an activist writer and painter, served as the director, editor and primary creative force behind the project. Speaking by phone, she said: "People in Thailand are going to expect Teacher Juling adoration in this film and it is not that." Juling is the medium that makes some of Thailand's most difficult problems accessible. "There have been more shocking killings of teachers, one was even beheaded, but there was something about Juling," Ing added.
For eight months, as Juling lay comatose, the country prayed for her, celebrities and schoolchildren visited, and she inspired poems. Her paintings and drawings were exhibited. The Thai media called her the "Sleeping Beauty" and artists - like Manit - donated works to sell to help pay her hospital bills. The only song featured in the documentary is a popular Thai country music piece about Juling. She died in January 2007.
Ing, who had not made a documentary in a decade, got the idea for the film at a fundraising art exhibit for Juling where she found a sobbing young Muslim Thai woman. She is featured in the film.
The one image Ing wishes she could have included in "Juling" was one she saw on television during the current Bangkok protests. "It was an old auntie wearing a crash helmet - people have been donating crash helmets to demonstrators - and she was Thai dancing. She was so happy, so empowered." Crowds had just forced their way into Government House, Bangkok's administrative seat.
Police found 29 spent M-16 bullets around the pickup truck of the victim, identified as 26-year-old Attapong Gonlom, after at least two gunmen opened fire on him at a school in Pattani, one of four southern provinces hit by the violence.
"After the attack, the gunmen dragged his body out of the truck and chopped his head off, to the horror of students and teachers," a police incident report said.
The incident pushed the number of people decapitated in the Malay-speaking region to 34, a Reuters calculation based on police data and newspaper reports showed.
In the nearby province of Yala, rebels raided a seven-man army outpost late on Monday, killing one ranger and wounding another, police said.
An army spokesman could not say what happened to the other five rangers.
"The attack happened when the rangers were about to have dinner and it is not clear if the rest were able to escape," Colonel Acra Tiproch told Reuters by telephone.
Since the latest violence erupted in 2004, the rebels have never revealed themselves publicly or claimed responsibility for the near daily gun and bomb attacks in the rubber-producing region bordering Malaysia.
For now, local audiences can get in training, and then some, by heading for the Barbican Theatre premiere of "Lipsynch," the latest devised work from the French-Canadian director Robert Lepage, who long ago rewrote the theatrical rules to suit his own distinctive methodology. That begins, among other things, with treating the piece at hand as an evolving organism rather than a fixed event that can be neatly replicated eight times a week, as is the Broadway or West End norm. (Part of the bite08 international season at the Barbican, "Lipsynch" is playing only through Sunday before moving to Madrid from Oct. 25-30 and to Chalons, France, for two performances Nov. 15 and 16; other foreign dates will follow.)
His protean cast, too, are collaborators who actively participate in shaping the whole. Such an aesthetic means something when you've got a daylong marathon like "Lipsynch" running just shy of nine hours - four short intermissions and a 45-minute dinner break included.
Can more, however, sometimes be less? That's the nagging question hovering over an undeniable prestige entry that, to this spectator at least, reaped diminishing returns as the play's nine sections continued counting down. I wouldn't for the world have missed the first half of a discursive meditation on identity and familial connection filtered through the metaphor of the human voice hinted at by the show's very name. But for all that remains beautiful about Lepage's empathy and engagement, "Lipsynch" doesn't build toward the catharsis one has every right to expect; its resolution comes via bathos, not transcendence.
Still, most theater buffs will want to experience "Lipsynch" first and argue about it later, and I doubt there will be much debate about the canny unfolding of narratives that Lepage and his nine-person cast - as you can see, nine is the operative number - lay out before us.
Jeremy (Rick Miller), the boy, grows up and moves to San Francisco to study film, the story proceeding from there to take us on to the fractious set of his first movie, an Oedipal exercise in self-reckoning whose fiery if neurotic leading lady becomes the fledgling director's lover. That occasion is preceded by a celebratory Los Angeles dinner gone awry that constitutes one of the funnier passages of a play that, to its credit, never succumbs to the self-importance often attached to Event Theater (and that musical snatches from the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki might suggest). If anything, a later sequence involving a burdensome, flatulent corpse is pretty silly; Joe Orton got there better, and faster, nearly a half-century ago. What's on evidence throughout is Lepage's insistence on the playfulness inherent in the word "play," which is why his productions tend to walk an intriguing tightrope between wounding seriousness and abundant wit.
He's interested, too, in ripple effects - the ways in which people collide both with one another and with history. Just when you think you've seen the last of the tremor-ridden doctor that Ada's lover eventually becomes, Thomas turns up by the side of Marie (Frederike Bedard), a jazz singer in recovery from a brain tumor whose life is in every way informed by her art: singing "April in Paris" at a late-night club in London's Soho, she offers up a familiar jazz standard as an extended howl of pain. A later section introduces us to Marie's bookish, mentally ill sister, Michelle (Lise Castonguay), whom we encounter one snowy Quebec winter, the gathering flakes creating a visual shimmer strangely absent from the most technically laborious of the various Lepage shows I have seen over the years. (Lepage turns this clunkiness to good advantage during Jeremy's filmmaking passages)
What does "Lipsynch" add up to? Perhaps inevitably, somewhat less than the sum of its nine parts, however exciting it is to see the ensemble shift gears, and indeed voices, in an instant. John Cobb is especially adroit, preceding his defining role as a Scottish detective who has had enough of London with a show-stopping, cross-gender cameo as an aging speech therapist herself succumbing to dementia.
You can while away the play's more extraneous sections pondering the resonances of the title to a show that, ironically, delivers a crucial encounter between a northern English sex worker and her posh-sounding, careerist brother so that we can't hear it, the emphasis on sound taken into the realms of film dubbing, radio broadcast, and, of course, the unfettered power of the human voice lifted into song. And the play, to its credit, delivers up the direct link between a baby's cry heard at the very start and the tears of that same child's hapless mother nearly nine hours later, whose back story emerges in time to bring the narrative full circle.
What's missing is that sense of exhilaration and release of which Lepage some while back became a master, as those who saw "Needles and Opium" or "The Far Side of the Moon" can themselves attest. At one point in the fifth of the nine "episodes," we see Marie trying to decipher the words spoken by her now-deceased father in a grainy old home movie - a task for which she has hired a deaf woman, Louise, gifted at reading lips. Louise tells Marie what she imagines the man's words to be. "That's pretty banal," says Marie. "That's life," replies Louise. The exchange encapsulates a show rich with incident and alive with feeling but not yet at the point where life's banality is transfigured into art.
Blogs about France
A Place in My Country
Farm Blogs From Around the World
Paris / Montmartre/ Abbesses holiday / Vacation apartment