Thursday, 4 September 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Wednesday, 3rd September 2008


IW: Governor Palin named her children as follows:

  • Track
  • Bristol (soon to be married to Levi)
  • Willow
  • Piper
  • Trig

Indian flood victims hunker down in camps
JANKINAGAR, India: Soldiers and aid workers increased their efforts Wednesday to rescue hundreds of thousands of people still stranded after weeks of flooding in northern India, as those safe on dry land settled in at camps that were likely to house them for months.
The three refugee camps housing 7,000 people in Jankinagar town - one near a train station, the other two in schools - had an air of semipermanence Wednesday as women washed clothes and other people set up stalls to sell cigarettes.
In other parts of the flood-ravaged northern state of Bihar, thousands of soldiers and aid workers continued to try to save those still stranded on rooftops, trees and islands of dry land more than two weeks after monsoon rains caused the Kosi River to burst its banks and turn hundreds of square kilometers of Bihar into a giant lake.
Officials say more than half of the 1.2 million people stranded have been rescued. They have only confirmed 38 deaths, but it is widely believed the final toll will be significantly higher.
The situation was slowly beginning to improve, with the Kosi River cutting new channels and water draining into the Ganges River, which cuts across the Subcontinent, but authorities have cautioned that many areas would likely remain flooded until the monsoon rains tapered off in November. That meant survivors would likely be stuck in relief camps for the next few months.
"How can I go back? The houses are gone, everything is gone," said Kakhrun Lal, 65, who watched four of his cows - his most valuable possessions - drown in the flooding. He sold the other two so his family could have a little money. But when that runs out, he will have nothing.

Residents of New Orleans allowed to return home
NEW ORLEANS: Mayor C. Ray Nagin announced Wednesday that all residents of New Orleans would be allowed to return to their homes immediately, reversing a decision that would have prevented them from returning until Thursday following the evacuation of the city in advance of Hurricane Gustav.

Setback at Tata plant reflects Indian divisions over land
MUMBAI: The Tata Nano, an Indian creation soon to hit the market as the world's least-expensive car, accelerated head-on this week into the world's largest democracy.
Some farmers in eastern India who sold their land to make way for the Nano factory have since been agitating to get it back. With the protest swelling in recent days, Tata Motors decided this week to stop construction of the plant and shifted start-up production elsewhere. But it is not only a setback for the $2,250 car.
In a country where 740 million people - two-thirds of the population - live scattered through 660,000 villages, the closing of Tata's factory deals a cruel blow to a widespread hope among policy makers and business people: that India will find a peaceful way to wean these millions from their land and move them into productive alternative livelihoods.
"As each generation develops, the children of the rural economy must decide whether they want to continue to work on the farms," Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, said Wednesday in an interview by telephone, his first since it was announced Tuesday that operations in Singur, about an hour's drive from Calcutta, would be suspended.
To enthusiasts of a "new India," the choice of staying on the land or leaving is not a tough one. There is, after all, only so much value that can be wrung from a cow's udders or a cob of corn. Millions of village dwellers have already migrated to cities.
Goldman Sachs, which publishes projections about the Indian economy, has predicted that 31 villagers will continue to show up in an Indian city every minute for the next 42 years.
During the interview, Tata said the violent protests did not reflect the true sentiments of farmers who he believes want a different way of life, using new skills in new jobs. Instead, he blamed the main opposition party in West Bengal State for stirring up protest against a project that its political rival, the governing Communist Party of India (Marxist), fought to establish.
"This is something between two political opponents, and we're caught in the middle," said Tata. Yet he seemed to leave a door open to restarting the plant. "We've made a huge investment. We'd like to stay," he said, although only if tensions cooled, he added.
Whether or not these particular farmers were paid enough for their land, whether or not the protests were politically manufactured, one thing is clear: It is easier to produce a car for the cost of a Lexus surround-sound stereo system than it is to separate Indians from their land and from the idea of land.
Ever since the Indian economic boom began, family after family have wrestled with various stages of this rural transformation, harboring every sentiment from misery to elation.
It is not simply a battle between industry and the little guy. It is also a division that slices through households: fathers and sons, sisters and brothers, torn over whether to sell their land or to cling instead to safe, known soil.
In the village of Nandi Ivaram, in the deep south of Tamil Nadu State, a factory with 2,600 mostly women employees was churning out brassieres for Victoria's Secret. The women came from houses in which they were cooped up at home and routinely abused.
The factory, which had been built by buying out villagers' land, had made divas of these women, dropping them to and from their homes, making many of them the family breadwinner, providing day care for their children on the factory grounds and giving them $50 bras for $1 or $2.
In the village of Jhajjar, outside New Delhi, in the northern state of Haryana, a company called Reliance Industries was trying to do the same thing: buy farmland and put it to industrial use.
But there, under a bright morning sky, a village elder sat in his front yard, offered his visitors spicy tea, explained his deep attachment to the soil and noted that he had shotguns in his house and would fire them at any Reliance land scout who came his way.
This dilemma does not belong to India. Every nation that has industrialized has had to reconcile these conflicting feelings. But in China, Russia, South Korea and elsewhere, fiat has helped to suppress naysayers.
As the United States urbanized a century ago, it did so in a politically insulated world where many Americans still could not vote, and no one had a television beaming potential new grievances into their home night after night. In present-day India, by contrast, "everyone has a veto," in the words of Aroun Shourie, a former cabinet minister.
But the dilemma is also acute here because land has meanings and resonances in India that it does not possess everywhere else.
At the poshest cocktail parties in Bangalore or Delhi, an Indian-looking interlocutor will inevitably be asked her "native place" - not the place you were born, the place you live now, or the place where your parents live. It is the village where your family last tilled the soil - even if they left in 1838.
Land is status. Throughout history, and in many parts still today, Dalits, known once as untouchables, have been confined to land on the outskirts of villages, on the theory that their nearness would pollute the others.
Without a sacred commitment to a particular patch of earth, the entire caste system could not have worked. No one would have been untouchable anymore if it was so easy to sell land and move to where no one knew you.
"They derive their identity from land," said Suhel Seth, a longtime adviser to the Tata Group and the managing partner of Counselage, a strategic branding firm in New Delhi. "It also ties them to a certain social acceptability. Their entire societal being relates to the land that they own."
And so, even where farmers consent to sell their land, he added, "you're creating a sense of displacement, and through that displacement you're creating a sense of insecurity. This is why land has become an emotional issue."
Tata says it has tried to help villagers succeed in a new world, training them, sending them to other plants to learn skills and making plans to employ them on the Nano.
But Arundhati Roy, the novelist and a frequent critic of India's economic policy, said that such efforts touched too few people.
"People have understood that clinging to even the tiniest of landholdings will offer them a better chance of survival and dignity than all the false promises of jobs and prosperity that the government and big companies make before evicting them," Roy added. "For these reasons, the battle for land in India is increasingly becoming a fight to the death."

Dwindling forests pose a severe threat to Kenya
NAROK, Kenya: Joseph Nkolia, a Maasai goatherd, pointed dismissively at two shallow pools, the only water in a parched stream west of the Kenyan town of Narok.
"It rained yesterday and look at it," he said. "Two years ago it used to flow strongly through here. Now I often have to get a lorry to bring water from Narok for us and our animals, and it costs a lot." His flock went by without bothering to drink the scant brown water.
The stream is a tributary of the Ewaso Ngiro, one of 12 rivers fed from the Mau Complex, the biggest Kenyan forest and a vital water collection basin in the west of the country.
Destruction of the woodland by rampant illegal settlement, logging and charcoal burning threatens severe damage to the Kenyan economy with an impact on energy, tourism, agriculture and water supplies for cities and industry.
A familiar Kenyan saga of corruption, illegal land grabs and the use of state resources to buy votes has destroyed a quarter of the 400,000-hectare, or 988,000-acre, forest in the past decade, with an impact that may be felt as far away as Egypt.
The Mau was broken into 22 blocks by human settlement over the past century but the real destruction began in 1997, when large plots were given away by the government of former President Daniel arap Moi to win votes in an election.
"My life will be completely ruined if I cannot get water for us and our livestock, our land will turn into a desert. We will all die," said another Maasai, Moses Mundati, standing on sunbaked ground that the Ewaso Ngiro once flowed across. As he spoke, people brought yellow containers to gather water from the narrowed river beside him.
But if the saga is familiar, the recent reaction is not.
Kenya's new coalition government set up a task force in July to reverse the destruction of the forest, which the United Nations Environment Program says could cost the tourism, tea and energy sectors alone at least $300 million.
"Such an extensive and ongoing destruction of a key natural asset for the country is nothing less than a national emergency," Prime Minister Raila Odinga said.
So drastic is the problem, the inauguration of the 60-megawatt Sondu Miriu hydroelectric project in western Kenya has been delayed because of inadequate water flow. The $260 million Japanese-financed project was designed to depend on water from the Mau and has only a small storage reservoir.
As high oil prices push Kenya to look for alternative energy, experts say water from the Mau, if it is preserved, could generate nearly 60 percent of current national capacity.
Lake Nakuru, center of a popular game park, and Lake Natron in Tanzania, breeding ground for the Rift Valley's famous flamingos, are both receding. "If we don't take action, in 10 years Lake Nakuru will be gone," said Francis Nkako, head of the local development authority.
The rivers fed by the forest's giant moisture reservoir and generation of rain also supply Lake Victoria, source of the Nile, and two other Kenyan lakes.
Revenue from tea, a leading export for Kenya, has declined while tourism, is also under threat, after already suffering a 23 percent drop because of a bloody post-election crisis earlier this year.
"This is destabilizing the environment to such an extent that it has a huge impact on economic development at a national level," said Christian Lambrechts, a forestry expert with the UN Environment Program. "It is basically a suicide process."
The government stance changed drastically this year when first the finance minister, John Michuki, and then Odinga, the prime minister, were flown over the forest. Officials say they were shocked by the huge scars in once densely wooded areas.
Officials say Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki - bitter rivals until their power-sharing deal ended the political crisis - are united on the issue. But saving the forest is likely to be painful: Lambrechts estimates there are 25,000 squatters in the forest.
"We are not going to go anywhere," said Nicodemus Yegon, one of thousands of people living in the southern Maasai Mau block who say they have title deeds to land in what officials say is protected forest. "When God descends, he will find us here."


Swiss farmers keep tradition of charcoal-burning
ROMOOS, Switzerland: In the remote hills and valleys of central Switzerland, mountain farmers are still making charcoal to a centuries-old method.
Charcoal, formed by removing water and tar from wood, burns with almost the same intensity as coal, and was once the main fuel for medieval glassmakers and blacksmiths, and a source of energy for Switzerland as it industrialized in the 19th century, until imported coal became available.
Its controlled production can be traced back globally at least 3,500 years. Now mostly used by the world's poor, charcoal in Switzerland serves mainly to grill food, for instance in barbecues.
Charcoal-burning, once a major cause of deforestation in Europe, largely disappeared from Switzerland in the 20th century, but experienced a temporary revival during World War Two when neutral Switzerland was unable to import coal.
It was never interrupted in the Napf region, some 30 km (20 miles) east of the lakeside resort of Lucerne, where it dates back to the middle ages, when glassmakers practiced their craft in the 13th and 14th centuries.
But the back-breaking lonely work is far from being a quaint tradition revived for tourists. Also practiced in some remote parts of former East Germany like the Harz mountains, it is for smallholding farmers a vital source of income.
The little village of Romoos, whose name goes back to an ancient Germanic word for tree-trunk, is at the heart of the area of steep hills and valleys, where tractors crawl along the slopes as the farmers and their wives mow and rake rich mountain grass for winter hay.
In hollows in the woods, farmers build charcoal kilns, the shape and size of small igloos.
Willy Renggli, head of the charcoal burners' association, shows how a kiln is built up.
On a spider-web base of tree trunks, one-meter long logs are stacked up in two layers around a central shaft or flue.
The best wood for charcoal is beech, but pine and other timber will do.
The kiln is topped off with smaller pieces of timber, then covered with branches of fir needles, and finally coated with a thick paste of charcoal grindings, ash and water.
A typical kiln uses about 60 "Ster" of timber, Renggli says. A "Ster" is a Swiss measurement corresponding to one cubic meter (10 cubic feet) of wood, weighing about 600-700 kilos.
Each "Ster" of timber yields about 100 kilos of charcoal.
It takes two men about three weeks to build the kiln, which will then burn for 12-18 days.
The charcoal-burner will spend the entire time by the kiln, camping out under canvas while it burns, says Renggli, 51.
Every few hours he feeds the kiln with charcoal chips, letting in air by piercing the charcoal paste covering and regulating the heat by sealing it again.
Around 50 barrels of chips will be used up in a single kiln.
"I can sleep 2-3 hours at a time. But I sleep as well as I do when I'm in my white bed up there," he said pointing up the hill towards his flower-bedecked traditional farmhouse.
Once the kiln is burning it can generate a heat inside of up to 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 degrees Fahrenheit).
But the charcoal-burner can walk barefoot on the kiln if the charcoal paste has been applied properly.
"I need about 500 degrees to get the charcoal process going," Renggli said.
If the charcoal-burner neglects tending the kiln every few hours, or misjudges feeding or aerating it, the fire may go out -- or the charcoal itself will catch fire, burning out with an intolerable heat.
As a result, the work is best done by a single burner who can monitor his kiln precisely.
"The charcoal burner who lights the kiln must burn it through to the end," Renggli said.
The Swiss authorities have tried to get unemployed people to work as burners in shifts, but they only produced one third of the charcoal a professional would have done, he recalled.
The work, though tough, is a useful sideline, even if it brings in only about a quarter of the earnings he gets from his farm -- a 10 hectare smallholding producing milk from nine cows and seven goats.
In addition, to make ends meet, Renggli and his wife have joined the agrotourism trend, taking in guests who want to experience life on a farm, and he helps out as the local postman.
The craft of charcoal-burning is usually passed down generations although Renggli, one of a dozen active burners in Romoos, says he learnt it from his neighbours.
But his son has already built and fired some small kilns with 5 or 6 "Ster" of timber.

Bush's blue legacy
President Bush may be on the brink of doing something at odds with his record as one of the worst environmental stewards ever to inhabit the White House. He is considering setting aside three vast, remote corners of the Pacific Ocean for protection.
In a memo last month, Bush directed his administration to develop a plan for creating sanctuaries in the waters around the Northern Mariana Islands, including the Mariana Trench, the world's deepest; Rose Atoll in American Samoa; and parts of a long, sprawling collection of reefs and atolls known as the Line Islands.
The waters are as isolated and pristine as any part of the globe can be these days, home to countless species of fish and plants, rare turtles and seabirds and glorious reefs. The Mariana Trench is a staggering place; it could swallow Everest. The islands are mostly coral flyspecks, but if the waters around them are protected to the fullest extent possible - to the 200-mile territorial limit - the sanctuaries would total nearly 900,000 square miles. That is bigger than Mexico.
Bush has done something nearly as spectacular once before. In June 2006, over the strident objections of some commercial-fishing interests, he created the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, a no-fishing sanctuary covering 140,000 square miles.

Dutch draw up drastic measures to defend coast against rising seas
THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The Netherlands needs a massive new building program to strengthen the low-lying country's water defenses against the anticipated effects of global warming for the next 190 years, an important panel advised Wednesday.
The plan by the Delta Commission includes more than €100 billion, or $144 billion, in new spending through the year 2100 to take measures such as broadening coastal dunes and strengthening sea and river dikes. It is expected to be the central reference point for policymakers for decades to come.
"We're not trying to scare people, because there's still time to act," said the panel chairman Cees Veerman, handing the report to Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in a nationally televised news conference. Balkenende promised to immediately begin drafting its recommendations into law.
"Whatever social or economic hardship this country faces, water runs through it," he said.
Among its key findings, the commission revised earlier estimates of how high seas may rise and said current safety norms were inadequate.
Dutch policymakers have, until now, prepared for a rise in sea level of around 30 inches, or 80 centimeters, by 2100, regardless of the continuing scientific debate on the causes and likely impact of global warming and climate change.
The commission said the country must plan for a rise in the North Sea by as much as 4.25 feet, or 1.3 meters, by 2100, and 6.5-13 feet by 2200.
Two-thirds of the Netherlands' 16 million people already live below sea level, mostly on land reclaimed from the sea over the centuries and protected by high banks of sand.

Thomas L. Friedman:
Then there was one
Going into this election, I thought that - for the first time - we would have a choice between two "green" candidates. That view is no longer operative - and college students (and everyone else) need to understand that.
With his choice of Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change, for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.
Given the fact that McCain deliberately avoided voting on all eight attempts to pass a bill extending the vital tax credits and production subsidies to expand America's wind and solar industries, and given his support for lowering the gasoline tax in a reckless giveaway that would only promote more gasoline consumption and intensify our addiction to oil, and given his desire to make more oil-drilling, not innovation around renewable energy, the centerpiece of his energy policy - in an effort to mislead voters that support for drilling today would translate into lower prices at the pump today - McCain has forfeited any claim to be a green candidate.
So please, students, when McCain comes to your campus and flashes a few posters of wind turbines and solar panels, ask him why he has been AWOL when it came to Congress supporting these new technologies.
"Back in June, the Republican Party had a round-up," said Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club. "One of the unbranded cattle - a wizened old maverick name John McCain - finally got roped. Then they branded him with a big 'Lazy O' - George Bush's brand, where the O stands for oil. No more maverick."
"One of McCain's last independent policies putting him at odds with Bush was his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," added Pope, "yet he has now picked a running mate who has opposed holding big oil accountable and been dismissive of alternative energy while focusing her work on more oil drilling in a wildlife refuge and off of our coasts. While the northern edge of her state literally falls into the rising Arctic Ocean, Sarah Palin says, 'The jury is still out on global warming.' She's the one hanging the jury - and John McCain is going to let her."

Greenpeace proposes giant North Sea windfarm grid
BRUSSELS: North Sea nations could link their offshore windfarms via a giant electricity grid on the sea bed and bring huge benefits for Europe, according to a Greenpeace report gaining interest from the European Commission.
The environment group said on Wednesday the grid would build on existing infrastructure to link tens of thousands of turbines located offshore, helping to smooth out power fluctuations caused by turbulent weather around the stormy North Sea.
"A dip in wind power generation in one area could be balanced by higher production in another area, even hundreds of kilometres away, providing clean power for millions of European homes," said Frauke Thies, Greenpeace EU renewables campaigner.
The grid of huge power cables on the sea bed would cost up to 20 billion euros (16 billion pounds) but they could be used to trade power between North Sea nations, earning a swift payback.
The European Commission's head of renewable energy Hans Van Steen called the project "ambitious but realistic."
"It's a very important answer to those critics of wind power who say it is too variable," he added.
The European Union plans to get a fifth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 as part of an ambitious plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth by the same date, compared to 1990 levels.
The report assumes around 118 offshore windfarms will be built in the North Sea by 2030 in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, pumping out around 68 gigawatts of power.
"Variable windpower in the North Sea could be supplemented by despatch-able power, such as hydro power in Norway, which can be switched on and off," said Greenpeace campaigner Jan Vande Putte.
To illustrate the ease with which it could pay for itself through power trading, the report gave the example of a 600 million-euro link between Norway and the Netherlands that now carries 800,000 euros a day of cross-border power trading.
Greenpeace said a wind power network would help render nuclear power and coal-fired plants obsolete.
But the Commission's Van Steen disagreed, pointing to rising EU power demand, especially as transport systems move away from petrol and diesel towards electricity in a bid to cut CO2 emissions.
Asked whether such a huge scheme of windpower could replace nuclear, he said: "No, not in the short term."

Solar power companies face end of Spanish subsidies
VALENCIA, Spain: Growth in solar power installations in Italy may not be enough to offset shrinking global demand, Italian industry experts say.
Part of that reduced demand could come in Spain, where solar power companies face a drastic slowdown next year because the government is preparing to sharply reduce subsidies.
Some companies are now pinning their hopes on the Italian market, but manufacturers and government officials in Italy are cautious over growth prospects.
Gerardo Montanino, operations director at Gestore dei Servizi Elettrici, the agency overseeing the rates paid for electricity fed into the grid, said he expected modest growth.
The agency forecasts that no more than 450 megawatts of solar power will be installed in Italy by the end of next year, and Montanino told an energy conference here that a 1,200-megawatt cap on Italian subsidies would probably be reached in 2012. A megawatt, or MW, is equal to a million watts.

Unwed French justice minister is pregnant

PARIS: Justice Minister Rachida Dati of France, one of the stars of President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet, announced Wednesday that she was pregnant but declined to identify the father.
The daughter of North African immigrants, Dati, 42-year-old and divorced, has become the public face of Sarkozy's drive to add diversity to French politics.
Since taking office last year, she has appeared almost as often in the glossy magazines as in the serious political press, prompting criticism that she was seeking celebrity status rather than concentrating on her job.
On Wednesday, she confirmed rumors that she was pregnant after the weekly magazine VSD splashed her on the front page saying she was expecting a child.
Being a single mother carries no social stigma in France, and a census released this year showed that in 2006, for the first time, more children were born out of wedlock here than to married couples.

"I want to stay careful, because it isn't safe yet," the Web site of Le Monde quoted Dati as saying, referring to the risk of a possible miscarriage. "I'm still in the danger zone."
"I am 42 years old and have always said that was fundamental for me," she said, referring to having a child. "If it goes ahead, I will be happy."
Dati is photographed alone when she goes out for evening parties.
"My private life is complicated and I'm keeping it off-limits to the press," she said when asked about the father. "I won't say anything about it."


Sarkozy meets Assad in Syria

DAMASCUS: President Nicolas Sarkozy of France met the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday on a visit meant to help ease the international isolation of Syria and to explore prospects for direct peace negotiations between the country and Israel.

Assad visited France in July and pledged to open diplomatic relations with Beirut. Sarkozy urged Assad then to free political prisoners who had campaigned for more democracy. Human Rights Watch said the French leader's visit came at a time of increased repression of dissidents.
Paris has promised Assad economic incentives in return for political progress. It also wants Syria to break its alliance with Iran, but Assad has shown no sign that he is willing to do so.

On Thursday, the French president is to join the prime minister of Turkey and the emir of Qatar for a summit meeting with Assad.

2 former brokers at Credit Suisse charged with fraud in subprime investigation
NEW YORK: Two former brokers at Credit Suisse were charged Wednesday with fraud and conspiracy over deceptive sales of subprime-related auction-rate debt, U.S. government officials said.
The arrest sprang from an industrywide investigation of the securities.
The U.S. prosecutor's office in the Brooklyn borough of New York and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused the former brokers, Eric Butler and Julian Tzolov, of misleading customers into believing that auction-rate securities in their accounts were backed by federally guaranteed loans and were a safe and liquid alternative to bank deposits or money market funds.
Credit Suisse said that it was cooperating with the authorities.
"In September 2007, these former employees resigned after we detected their prohibited activity and promptly suspended them," the bank said. "Credit Suisse immediately informed our regulators."

Kerviel asks judges for access to Société Générale records

PARIS: Lawyers for Jérôme Kerviel, who is blamed by Société Générale for its €4.9 billion trading loss, on Wednesday asked investigators for help accessing the bank's accounting records to see what it knew of his activities.
Kerviel, 31, and his former assistant, Thomas Mougard, are at the center of the investigation into how Kerviel amassed €50 billion in trading positions. Société Générale has said it uncovered the bets in mid-January and unwound them over three days, resulting in the record loss.
"We want to have access to the bank's accountants to verify how the bank tracked Jérôme Kerviel's trades and how his accounts were reconciled," his lawyer, Bernard Benaiem, said outside the financial investigations headquarters.

U.S. offers $1 billion to bolster Georgia
BAKU, Azerbaijan: President George W. Bush proposed $1 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance Wednesday to help rebuild Georgia after its short, disastrous war with Russia last month, but he stopped short of committing the United States to re-equipping its battered military.
Bush announced the infusion of aid as Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in the region in what he described as a demonstration that the United States had "a deep and abiding interest" in keeping Georgia and other neighboring states free from a new era of Russian domination.


Cheney says U.S. has deep interest in Caucasus allies

BAKU: U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney said on Wednesday the United States had a "deep and abiding interest" in its allies' security in the Caucasus, while Russia said U.S. support for Georgia was stirring up instability.

On a visit to Azerbaijan, Cheney also said the United States must work with the oil-producing ex-Soviet republic to create additional energy export routes to Western markets.
Cheney made his comments on the first leg of a tour including Georgia and Ukraine which analysts say is designed to signal that Washington has not turned its back on former Soviet allies following the conflict in Georgia.


Georgians eager to rebuild army

TBILISI, Georgia: Just weeks after Georgia's military collapsed in panic in the face of the Russian Army, its leaders hope to rebuild and train its armed forces as if another war with Russia is almost inevitable.
Georgia is already drawing up lists of options, including restoring the military to its prewar strength or making it a much larger force with more modern equipment, like air-defense systems, modern antiarmor rockets and night-vision devices.
Officials at the Pentagon, State Department and White House confirmed that the Bush administration was examining what would be required to rebuild Georgia's military, but stressed that no decisions had been made. The choices each pose difficult foreign policy questions.
Georgia's decision to attack Russian and South Ossetian forces raises questions about the wisdom of further United States investment in the Georgian military, which in any case would further alienate Russia. Not doing so could lead to charges of abandoning Georgia in the face of Russian threats.
In Moscow, President Dmitri Medvedev said Tuesday in an interview that he no longer considered President Mikheil Saakashvili to be Georgia's leader, calling him a "political corpse."


Attacks on reporters flare in Russia; 2 are dead

MOSCOW: A television reporter has been shot and killed and a newspaper editor severely beaten in the north Caucasus region, making a total of three such attacks on journalists in three days in the volatile area.
Telman Alishaev, a reporter for Islamic TV in Dagestan, died Wednesday after being shot while sitting in his car, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. Miloslav Bitokov, who edits a weekly newspaper in Kabardino-Balkaria, was hospitalized for brain injuries after being attacked outside his home.
The incidents came on the heels of a high-profile killing in nearby Ingushetia. On Sunday, Magomed Yevloyev, a prominent critic of the Ingush president, was arrested and shot in the head in what the police said was an accident. A rights official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the killing an "assassination."
There was no apparent connection between the incidents, but they all occurred along the southern border of Russia, where the local authorities have battled separatist movements for years. The region has been further unsettled by the war between Russia and Georgia, which could breathe new life into a number of long-simmering disputes.
Dzhamila Khagarova, who has worked as a reporter at Bitokov's newspaper, said the timing of the attacks was suspicious.

"My own opinion is that this is a provocation that aims to destabilize the situation in the Caucasus," said Khagarova, who is now the chief of the presidential press service in Kabardino-Balkaria. "A coincidence can happen once, or maybe twice, but when it happens three times, it is no longer a coincidence."
Yevolyev, a former prosecutor, ran a Web site that was critical of President Murat Zyaznikov, a former general in the Russian Federal Security Service.

Serbia could be EU candidate next year
BRUSSELS: Serbia was told Wednesday that it might become a candidate for European Union membership next year and could get trade concessions even sooner, in the most upbeat and specific statement yet on its prospects of joining the 27-nation bloc.
The comments, by José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, conveyed a message to the government in Belgrade that things could move speedily if Serbia removed the chief remaining obstacle to EU membership: the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.

War in Georgia exposes NATO's fault lines

BERLIN: As a signal to Russia that NATO will not be intimidated, its ambassadors will travel to Georgia this month. They want to see the aftermath of a war in which Russian troops last month occupied parts of Georgia, gained control of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and then recognized them as independent states. The envoys also want to assess whether Georgia is ready to be offered, in December, a road map to join the alliance.

But inside NATO, despite the show of unity over the Russia-Georgia crisis, there is no consensus as to whether the alliance should expand deep into the Caucasus, or admit Ukraine, birthplace of Russian Orthodoxy. Indeed, Georgia is just the latest challenge to the alliance's identity: since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been trying to reinvent itself.
Inside the alliance, there are three competing tendencies. First is the legacy of the Cold War. NATO claims it is a collective security organization committed to Article 5 of its charter in which its members pledge to defend another member if attacked. Before 1991, it was assumed a Soviet Army onslaught would activate Article 5. For some in NATO, Russia's actions in Georgia recall this East-West standoff.
Then there is the enlargement process begun in the late 1990s. It was designed to complete the reunification of Europe by bringing the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe into the Euro-Atlantic orbits of NATO and the EU. But while countries from the Baltic states to Bulgaria are now members of both organizations, NATO has gone further. It has established special partnerships with countries stretching as far as Azerbaijan and now appears determined eventually to admit Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics.
NATO diplomats say the point about creating membership road maps and partnerships is to expand security by encouraging the democratization of armed forces, to increase political transparency and to introduce accountability into the intelligence services. But Henning Riecke from the German Council of Foreign Relations says expanding democracy through partnership agreements runs counter to the possible commitments of Article 5. "They contradict each other. It is as if Article 5 is still about containing Russia," he said.
The third element is NATO's involvement in the fight against terrorism. After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Article 5 was in fact invoked for the United States - which rejected help - and the battle against Al Qaeda and its allies was supposed to transform NATO into an agile organization capable of dealing with new threats.

Can the West tame Moscow's behavior through Russia's oligarchs?
LONDON: As Russia's war with Georgia threatens to become a colder, drawn-out conflict with the West, the global ambitions of politically connected, controversial Russian billionaires could suffer a setback.
The oligarchs, as they are widely known, have already paid a price: The Russian stock market recently hit a two-year low as foreign investors, spooked by the Kremlin's saber rattling, have exited in droves.
Given their extreme wealth, however, even the sharpest of stock market swoons will only nick the oligarchs' giant fortunes. Of more lasting effect, perhaps, is the threat that their close relations to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his handpicked president, Dmitri Medvedev, will become a millstone around their necks, reinforcing a view in major financial circles that doing business with Kremlin-favored oligarchs is now fraught with increasing levels of risk.
"This is a big blow, a shock for all these people," said Anders Aslund, a critic of the Russian government who is an expert in Russian and East European studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. "Relations with the West will be difficult. There will be sanctions, the stock market is down and governance is going down the drain, and it is all Putin's doing."

One who professes no surprise at Putin's action is Boris Berezovsky, the exiled oligarch who has known Putin since the 1990s, when the two were competing courtiers for the shifting attentions of then President Boris Yeltsin. There is no love lost between the two.
"The West plays with the rules of a democrat, but Putin is a gangster," he declared, sitting at the head of a boardroom table in his London office. "He understands only power."
Since his 2000 escape to London, where he was granted asylum, Berezovsky has been a ceaseless, if not slightly self-interested, scold, calling for the United States and Europe to cut ties with Putin.
Now he argues that the best way to punish Russia is to seize the assets of those he calls Putin's favored oligarchs, like Abramovich and Deripaska. "They are part of his regime," Berezovsky said.

Russia's deal-making in Africa raises alarms in Europe
RABAT, Morocco: Russia is reviving an interest in Africa that collapsed along with the Cold War, and its growing appetite for deals in oil and natural gas is an added cause of unease in an energy-hungry Western Europe.
Companies from Russia say their goal is to diversify energy interests and secure raw materials for a fast-growing economy, but the businesses are also seen as tools of an increasingly assertive Kremlin foreign policy.
The fact that Russian companies have yet to make major progress in Africa has not assuaged Western concerns, particularly because the Russian intervention in Georgia raised new questions about the reliability of energy supplies from the east.
Northern Africa is already an especially important alternative source for European countries that fear over-reliance on Russian energy.
"Quietly, but with rising amounts of panic, we're hearing officials from major European governments complain about what the Russians are doing," said Jon Marks, editorial director of the industry newsletter Africa Energy.
Russia's push goes beyond traditional allies that it supplied with weapons and money during the Cold War.
One of its biggest trading partners in Africa is Morocco, a staunch U.S. ally that supplies Russia with mineral phosphates consumed in large quantities for fertilizer.
But Russia also has shown that it wants to keep strong ties with Algeria, a former ally and a neighbor and rival to Morocco. The Kremlin agreed in 2006 to write off $4.7 billion of Cold War-era debt in exchange for a deal to sell Algeria combat jets, submarines, warships and missiles.
Russian companies, like counterparts from China and other Asian countries, are spending billions of dollars for better access to the mineral wealth of countries across the continent. Such interest is particularly welcome to those African governments that balk at conditions on democracy, human rights and openness that can be attached to dealings with Americans or Europeans.
The big concern in Western Europe is that Russia's tentative deals with African members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are an attempt to get a stranglehold on Europe's natural gas supplies. The Russian company Gazprom, which already provides a quarter of Europe's gas, agreed with the Algerian oil company Sonatrach to seek out and commercialize natural gas together after Vladimir Putin visited Algiers last year as Russia's president, before he became prime minister.
Sonatrach is the European Union's third-biggest supplier of gas, after Russia and Norway.
This week, Gazprom signed an oil and gas exploration agreement with Nigeria, although details are yet to be determined, Nigerian National Petroleum announced Wednesday.
Gazprom said in April that it was in talks to take part in a multibillion-dollar project to pipe Nigerian gas to Europe across the Sahara.
In July, Gazprom said it could build a pipeline to pump Libyan natural gas to Europe. Libya has also agreed to sell some of its oil and gas to Russia.
"There is a distinct strategy here," said Marks, the Africa Energy editorial director. "Gazprom doesn't necessarily get a controlling stake, but the Russians are getting a place at the table."
He said a deal Italy signed last weekend to compensate Libya for misdeeds during its colonial rule was partly intended to maintain Italy's critical energy relationship with Libya.
Elsewhere in Africa, Lukoil, Russia's largest oil company, plans to explore for hydrocarbons in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and Sintezneftegaz has acquired oil exploration rights off Namibia.

NATO accused of raids inside Pakistan
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan: Two helicopters carrying NATO forces landed in a Pakistani village in South Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan early Wednesday morning and the soldiers opened fire on villagers, killing seven people, a spokesman for the Pakistani military said.
The account by the spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, broadcast on Pakistani television Wednesday evening, described what appeared to be a first commando attack by NATO forces against the Taliban inside Pakistan.Pakistan has lodged a "strong protest" to the U.S. government and reserved the right of "self defense and retaliation," Abbas said. Local residents said most of the dead were women and children, but this could not be immediately confirmed.

According to an earlier description of the military action Wednesday given by a Taliban commander and local residents, the latest attack was aimed at three houses in the village of Jala Khel in the Angoor Adda area of South Waziristan, near a known stronghold of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and less than a mile from the border with Afghanistan.
The governor of the North-West Frontier Province, Owais Ahmed Ghani, said the helicopter attack had occurred at about 3 a.m. and killed 20 people.
The governor, the most powerful civilian leader in the province, which abuts South Waziristan, condemned the attacks and called for retaliation by Pakistan.
A U.S. military spokesman at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan declined to comment on the reports. The spokesman did not deny that the attack had occurred. Often, a statement of no comment by American and NATO spokesmen in Afghanistan, where NATO and U.S. forces are fighting militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda, indicates that the coalition forces were involved in a cross-border attack.
Abbas said the Pakistani military was angered by the NATO raid because it had created trouble for the army in the region.
In a telephone interview, Abbas said the soldiers from NATO's International Security Assistance Force had created "new problems" for the Pakistani soldiers based along the border.
By killing civilians, Abbas said there was now a great risk of an uprising by the tribesmen who supported the Pakistani soldiers in the border area. These tribesmen, who were opposed to the Taliban and supportive of the Pakistani forces, would now be extremely angry, he said.
"Such action are completely counterproductive and can result in huge losses because it gives the civilians a cause to rise against the Pakistani military," he said.
The Taliban commander, known by the nom de guerre Commander Malang, said that the attack had taken place close to a Pakistani military position on the border and killed 15 people. The Pakistani military took no action, he said.
According to Commander Malang, three helicopters flew into Pakistani and one of them, carrying soldiers, landed. Soldiers who came out of the helicopter opened fire on people in the village, he said, while the other two helicopters hovered overhead.
The commander, who is based in the town of Wana, said he was not at the scene. He had received the description via radio, he said. The soldiers "killed innocent people," he said, in the village located adjacent to a security post of the Pakistani Frontier Corps.
There was no way to immediately independently confirm the account from the Taliban leader.


German army pays compensation for Afghan shooting

BERLIN: Germany's army has paid compensation to the family of an Afghan woman shot dead at a checkpoint in northern Afghanistan last week, the defence ministry said on Wednesday.
The woman and two children were killed when security forces, including German troops, opened fire on a vehicle at the checkpoint near Kunduz.
"The family in question and another member of the tribe had threatened revenge," a spokesman for the ministry said. Officials had talked to a brother of the dead woman and arranged the payment, he said, declining to reveal the amount.
"This payment is no admission of guilt," he said.
Germany said on Tuesday prosecutors were investigating a German soldier on suspicion of manslaughter after the incident.

The defence ministry has said two civilian vehicles had stopped at the checkpoint but the forces fired warning shots when one of the vehicles started moving.


U.S. 'mistaken fire' kills 6 Iraqis, officials say

BAGHDAD: American troops on boats in the Tigris River mistakenly killed six Iraqis on Wednesday in an exchange of fire between the two sides north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
The clash began when Iraqi troops at a checkpoint fired at approaching U.S. military boats near Tarmiya, about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, north of Baghdad, police and security officials said. They did not realize the boats, which had their lights off, were American.
The American soldiers fired back, killing two Iraqi soldiers, two police officers and two U.S.-backed Sunni tribesmen, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information to the media.
Two U.S. helicopters later fired on a one-room house on an island in the river near the site of the clash, the Iraqis said.
The U.S. military confirmed there was an incident of "mistaken fire" between U.S. and Iraqi forces while the U.S.-led coalition was conducting an operation in the area against suspected militants from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown extremists that U.S. intelligence agencies say are foreign-led. A U.S. spokesman said aircraft were also involved but did not give more details.


2 police convicted in death of Palestinian teen

JERUSALEM: Two Israeli border policemen have been convicted of manslaughter in the 2002 kidnapping and death of a Palestinian teenager.
The men face up to 20 years in prison, the Justice Ministry said Wednesday.
According to prosecutors, Shachar Botbeka, Denis Alhazov and two other officers spent their last day of service in the West Bank city of Hebron by going on a rampage, throwing tear gas and stun grenades, and abducting Palestinians off the street.
In all, they seized four Palestinians, hustled them into a jeep and beat them with truncheons and rifles, prosecutors said. Two of the Palestinians were hurled from the vehicle as it moved at a high speed. One of them, 17-year-old Amran Abu Hamadiya, struck his head on the road and died, court documents said.
Abu Hamadiya was tossed out of the jeep after he resisted his tormentors' order to jump, the two policemen have acknowledged.

Botbeka "pried the deceased's hands" from the straps of the jeep as it traveled at 70- to 80 kilometers (45- to 50 miles) an hour, and helped to throw him out of the vehicle, Judge Orit Efal-Gabbai of Jerusalem District Court wrote in her ruling Tuesday.
One of the officers shouted, "He's dead, he's dead," but the police officers "abandoned the deceased and continued on their way," while Alzahov videotaped the incident, she said.
Botbeka and Alhazov initially denied the allegations against them, then acknowledged varying degrees of culpability, according to the ruling. They have been discharged from the border police, the ministry said.
Their lawyers were not immediately available for comment on the conviction.
No date for the sentencing has been set.

Pakistan begins inquiry into deaths of 5 women
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Pakistani government's inquiry into the deaths of five women buried alive in so-called honor killings in the southwestern Baluchistan Province is taking place against a backdrop of widespread protests and a dispute over a politician's defense of the practice.

The case ignited widespread protests last week after an opposition senator, Yasmeen Shah, accused the government of turning a blind eye to the killings and then trying to cover up the episode. She was interrupted by a Baluchistan senator, Israr Ullah Zehri, who defended honor killings as "our norms" and said they should "not be highlighted negatively."
After widespread public uproar, the government moved to support a Senate resolution condemning the killings. Various critics said the Pakistan Peoples Party was trying to ignore the episode while trying to secure Baluchistan's support for the leader of the party, Asif Ali Zardari, in Saturday's electoral college vote for president.
A senior Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, said Monday that he had ordered an inquiry that would be completed within a week, and that three people had already been arrested.
In an interview, he denied the alleged link to the provincial minister and raised questions about descriptions of the case. "I have my doubts it is honor killing," he said.
"There is a dispute whether it was due to honor killing or dispute over land. Let the final report come."


Shots fired at Pakistani PM's motorcade

ISLAMABAD: Taliban gunmen fired shots at Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's motorcade near Islamabad's airport on Wednesday, but officials and police said he was not in it at the time.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack days ahead of a presidential election, which is bound to compound the fears of investors and allies, who worry about chronic political instability and Islamist violence in the nuclear-armed country.
Senior police official Rao Mohammad Iqbal said the motorcade was heading to the airport to pick up Gilani when it was attacked. "The car was going towards the airport when it was fired upon from a small hill ... two bullets hit the driver's window," Iqbal said.
Earlier, the prime minister's spokesman, Zahid Bashir, said shots were fired at Gilani's motorcade but he was not hurt.
The prime minister's office said multiple sniper shots had been fired and television pictures showed two bullet marks a couple of inches apart on the cracked bullet-proof window.


Pakistani Taliban say they will not kill Chinese and Pakistani hostages

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Taliban said on Wednesday they would not kill two Chinese engineers and two Pakistanis they have been holding since last week, but they would not release them unless unspecified demands were met.
Two Chinese telecommunication engineers and a Pakistani driver and guard were kidnapped near the Afghan border on Friday when they were returning to a guest house after repairing a telecommunications tower.
A Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday they were holding the four.
China is a staunch ally of Pakistan and a major investor. The safety of Chinese nationals is a priority for any Pakistani government.
A Taliban spokesman in the northwest said the four would be held until Taliban demands were met, although he declined to say what the demands were, adding that the Taliban were awaiting an approach from the government.

"There's no plan to kill them. If the government does not listen to us or contact us, then they'll remain detained," said the militant spokesman, Muslim Khan.
The militants have been pressing for enforcement of hardline Taliban-style rule and have in the past demanded an end to military operations against them and the release of their captured comrades.
The four were abducted in Dir, a mountainous region that borders Afghanistan as well as the Pakistani tribal region of Bajaur and the Swat Valley, where security forces have been fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the government was seeking to clarify what happened.
"We have already asked Pakistan to make every effort in a search and to ensure the safety of the lives of the two individuals," a ministry spokeswoman said.
Militants have targeted Chinese nationals in Pakistan's northwest in the past.
Two Chinese engineers working on a hydro-electric project were kidnapped by militants in October 2004. One of the hostages and a militant commander were killed in a rescue operation.
Such incidents add to worry among foreigners about their security in Pakistan but there has been no rush to leave.

EU to propose caps on fees for text messages
BERLIN: The European Union's telecommunications minister plans to propose a new set of price controls that would sharply cut the roaming fees charged by mobile operators to send short text messages while also reducing the cost of surfing the Internet on a cellphone.
Details of the proposal, obtained by the International Herald Tribune on Wednesday, show that the minister, Viviane Reding, will seek to cap retail roaming fees for short text messages, or SMS, within the European Union at 11 euro cents, or 16 U.S. cents, a message.
That would be a 62 percent reduction from the current average of 29 cents, according to the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU.
Reding also intends to recommend a cap on the wholesale cost of using mobile phones to access the Internet - the fees operators charge each other - that would halve the average cost to €1 a megabyte from €2.
SMS roaming prices range from 6 cents in Estonia to 80 cents in Belgium, according to the European Regulators Group, a panel of the European Union's 27 national telecommunications regulators.

Turkish president to visit Armenia

ANKARA: In a major diplomatic step, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey will visit Armenia this weekend for a soccer match, his office said Wednesday. The countries have no diplomatic relations and their border has been closed for years.
Hostility between the nations stems from Turkey's opposition to Armenian forces' occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and from Armenia's insistence that the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million ethnic Armenians under Ottoman rule be recognized as genocide. Turkey strongly denies the accusation of genocide during World War I and says that both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in the fighting.
The national teams of Armenia and Turkey will play in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Saturday in a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup.
"We believe that this match will be instrumental in removing the barriers blocking the rapprochement between the two peoples with common history and prepare a new ground," a statement on the president's official Web site said.
"We hope that this will be an opportunity for the two peoples to understand each other better," it added.


2 Virginia museums perpetuate debate over U.S. Civil War

RICHMOND, Virginia: For Northerners in the United States, the history of the Civil War seems pretty much settled. We know that from the nation's founding, economic and cultural differences - particularly those surrounding slavery - created tensions between the North and the South; that the elimination of slavery only fitfully became a Union goal during the war; and that it ultimately took a century for black Americans to glimpse the equality guaranteed by the nation's ideals.
But for all its bloodshed, we see the Civil War as necessary and Abraham Lincoln as its visionary hero; it was a preamble to the United States becoming what it always should have been.
Things are interpreted more ambiguously here in what once was the capital of the Confederate States of America. Forty-three battles took place within 30 miles, or 48 kilometers, of the "White House of the Confederacy," the mansion where this self-declared nation housed its only president, Jefferson Davis, from 1861 to 1865. And while history may be typically written by the victors, here it seems to shape a looking-glass world in which perspectives are shifted and emphases altered, jarring emotions and assumptions.
In many ways the Civil War still seems to rage. In 2003, when a statue of Lincoln was donated for display outside the Civil War Visitor Center of the National Park Service, in downtown Richmond, immediate protests erupted - not over its maudlin character, but over the very idea of honoring an oppressor. The dedication ceremony was buzzed by a plane trailing a banner proclaiming, "Sic semper tyrannis," which is not only Virginia's motto (meaning "Thus, always, to tyrants"), but also what John Wilkes Booth is said to have called out while assassinating Lincoln.
Is such ugliness, then, what is meant by the "other side" of Civil War history? At times, surely, but institutions here - the Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Center - argue that the war should be seen, at least in part, from the perspective of the losing side, and that such understanding need not be completely derailed by the moral outrage of slavery.

The Museum of the Confederacy may be facing the limitations of that position. Annual attendance, from a 1991 peak of 91,000, has been dropping, to about 48,000 in the last year. Its 1976 building, like the adjacent White House, is also hemmed in by a growing hospital complex. So the institution has put together an ambitious $15 million plan to create a system of four museums in historic Virginia areas, increasing display space for its extensive collection.
The American Civil War Center, which raised $13.6 million before opening in 2006 to much praise, has fewer apparent problems, though attendance is still low (about 25,000 in the past year). It creates a broader panorama, offering not one perspective but three: those of the Union, the Confederacy and the African-Americans.
An empathetic exposition of the Confederate perspective poses some knotty problems. Confederate symbols are more than mere artifacts. The flag was the badge of segregationists in the civil rights era; it retains that resonance. Sensitivities to such allusions are high: A controversy erupted recently over the American Civil War Center's acceptance of a statue of Davis donated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Museum of the Confederacy, then, has a daunting task. It was founded in the 1890s by the daughters of Lee and Davis and other women, who solicited memorabilia from Confederate families to create a nostalgic shrine to what was then called the Lost Cause. During the last two decades the museum has been delicately redefining itself. It has an extraordinary collection of 15,000 artifacts and 100,000 manuscripts. It has become a scholarly resource and has published valuable books like "Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South."
But whiffs of the Old South still emerge here and there, particularly in its main exhibition, "The Confederate Years." For example, in describing the war's opening battle at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, the wall text oddly states that because Lincoln was determined not to begin the war against the seceding South, he "succeeded in maneuvering the Confederacy into firing the first shot of the war."
There is also little discussion of slavery before or during the Confederacy. Instead there is a short display titled "Confederate Preparation for War: Mobilizing the African-American Population." This mobilization called up "tens of thousands of African-American laborers" described as both "enslaved and free." This is so peculiar a reference to a society in which, in 1860, one-third of the South's population - 3,950,511 souls - was enslaved, that it seems deluded or obfuscatory. The exhibition's refusal to illuminate fully the lives of the Confederacy's black inhabitants suggests that an embrace of the Lost Cause has not been fully relinquished.

The other flaw is the museum's almost exclusive attention to the war and the lives of soldiers. But an exhibition on Virginia and the Confederacy on the museum's lower level is far more frank about slavery and demonstrates how powerful a truly complete portrait of Confederate society might one day be, perhaps even showing the strains on the very institutions - plantations and slavery -that secession was meant to protect.
Despite such limitations, the museum sheds light on a dark time. Its chronological accounts of battles; its displays of uniforms with faded blood spots, of Lee's battlefield tent, of a blood-stained letter written by a dying soldier to his father - all this reveals something touchingly human. The only problem is that you never come to grasp precisely why these men were sacrificing their lives.
For greater understanding you must go to the American Civil War Center, housed in the historic Tredegar Iron Works that once supplied the Confederacy with much weaponry. A scrupulous time line, along with artifacts (some lent by the Museum of the Confederacy), chronicles the economic impact of slavery, debates about secession, westward expansion, the North's mixed motives, the Emancipation Proclamation, General Sherman's onslaught, the flawed Reconstruction, the evolving modern nation.
There are times when the tell-all-sides pose becomes intrusive, particularly since competing ideological positions are strangely called Union, Home and Freedom. Their initials - U, H and F - confusedly dot maps of battles.
But you do get a valuable sense of how differing perspectives intertwine. The evolution of Lincoln's pragmatic stance toward emancipation, for example, is subtly illuminated.
If anything, the museum's tale is too sweepingly abstract; it is so preoccupied with multiple perspectives that it does not provide a strong sense of the people who embodied them. And while the framework of multiple poses is intended to reassure local constituencies, the museum works not because it offers different historical narratives but because it creates out of many, one.
Both institutions also inadvertently provide lessons on the limits of relativism. Yes, the Confederacy is a part of American history that needs to be better understood, and slavery and race should not be the only windows through which it is viewed. But another kind of judgment is also needed here. Much depends on whether we view the Civil War as the apocalyptic end of a roseate past or the bloody beginning of a promising future. And that is what contemporary controversies over the Civil War are all about.


Rival Cyprus leaders launch reunification talks

NICOSIA: Cypriot leaders launched talks on Wednesday seen as the best chance in decades to reunite their divided island and end a conflict threatening Turkey's EU membership hopes.
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, representing the Greek Cypriot community, and Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat, met in no man's land dividing their capital Nicosia, in what diplomats and analysts described as the first opportunity for a breakthrough in years.
"It is time to end the long-lingering Cyprus problem and to give the Cypriot people the better future they deserve," Christofias said. "We have a common will and a common desire."
Cyprus's partition is a headache for the European Union. Effectively represented in the bloc by its Greek Cypriots, the island has veto rights over the membership bid of Turkey, a key western ally in the Middle East.
Leftist leaders who call each other "comrade", Talat and newly-elected Christofias have little to do with the roots of the island's violent conflict, unlike some other negotiators.

"It is widely believed that if these two moderates can't solve it, nobody can," said Hubert Faustmann, a Cyprus-based analyst.


Poland to probe mysterious death of WWII commander

WARSAW, Poland: Polish prosecutors said Wednesday they are investigating whether Poland's World War II prime minister and chief army commander, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, died accidentally in a 1943 plane crash or was assassinated.
Prosecutors of the state-run National Remembrance Institute said they plan to file a formal request asking to look into classified British WWII files as they probe the crash of the British bomber in British-ruled Gibraltar in which Sikorski, Poland's top politician of the time, was killed.
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Lech Kaczynski have spoken in favor of investigating Sikorski's death.
There is an "existing and justified suspicion of a criminal cause of the death," which has not been investigated in Poland or elsewhere, the institute said in a statement released Wednesday.
Though it did not name suspects, the institute said it was investigating a "communist crime," suggesting its suspicions fall primarily on the Soviet Union, which attacked Poland after forming an alliance with Nazi Germany at the start of the war.

Ewa Koj, a leading prosecutor in the institute's Katowice branch, which opened the probe, said on TVN24 television that it will be based on documents and new testimony from people linked to the initial investigations shortly after the crash.
Sikorski's Liberator II aircraft crashed into the sea just 16 seconds after taking off from Gibraltar on July 4, 1943.
The crash came only three months after Joseph Stalin broke diplomatic ties with the Polish government in exile, following Sikorski's demand that the International Red Cross investigate the Katyn massacre. The demand came after German forces discovered in the village of Katyn in western Russia the graves of thousands of Polish military officers, intellectuals and priests — executions later proven to have been carried out by the Soviets.
Koj said that in the coming months the investigators will open Sikorski's tomb at the Renaissance Cathedral of the Wawel Castle in Krakow, where his remains rest among those of many Polish kings and top figures.
Sikorski, who was chief commander of Poland's armed forces, made a stopover at Gibraltar as he was returning from an inspection of forces in the Middle East. He also was the prime minister of Poland's government-in-exile based in London, strongly pushing Polish interests with the Western Allies and the Soviet Union.
A British 1943 probe into the crash blamed it on jammed controls, but a separate Polish investigation did not rule out sabotage.
The British have made available to the Poles only a 23-page summary of their investigation, and prosecutors hope now to be able to see the original documents, Koj told The Associated Press. "There is an assumption that it was not an accident," Koj said.
Polish historian Dariusz Baliszewski also has said his research suggests Sikorski could have been assassinated.
For decades, Sikorski's death has generated theories that he was murdered, alternatively by British, Soviet or even Polish factions. One theory holds that British double agent Kim Philby — who was on Gibraltar at the time of the crash and who defected to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s — might have had a role in the crash.
Sikorski's death "influenced Poland's wartime fate," Baliszewski said on TVN24. "For the sake of the truth we should know what really happened."

Abu Dhabi puts more cash on the line in Hollywood

Last September, Abu Dhabi Media, an arm of the government in the city-state capital of the United Arab Emirates, reached a $1 billion deal to make movies and video games with Warner Bros., the big Hollywood studio owned by Time Warner.
A year later, the two partners have announced just one movie: "Shorts," a family-friendly adventure film by the director Robert Rodriguez and starring William Macy.
But that has not stopped Abu Dhabi Media, flush with oil cash, from spreading even more money around the movie business.
The company, formed last year by the government of Abu Dhabi, is starting a new subsidiary that will spend about $1 billion more over the next five years making feature-length films in partnership with three U.S. producers, said Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Media.
At the same time, the new company, called Imagenation Abu Dhabi, will manage Abu Dhabi Media's side of the partnership with Warner Bros. In addition to movies, Imagenation will also create shows and short films for the Internet.

Israel to discuss relocating West Bank settlers

JERUSALEM: The Israeli government will discuss for the first time a plan to compensate Jewish settlers who agree to voluntarily leave their homes in the occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said on Wednesday.
The settlement issue has clouded U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians launched in November with the aim of reaching a statehood deal by early 2009.
A statement from Olmert's office said that at a meeting on Sunday, the cabinet would debate a plan proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon "on the issue of voluntary relocation and compensation" of Jewish settlers from the West Bank.
The issue will not be brought to a vote, the statement said.
A spokesman for Ramon said it was the first time the cabinet would discuss such a plan. He gave no further details.

Rich man's burden

Dalton Conley, the chairman of the sociology department at New York University, is the author of the forthcoming "Elsewhere, U.S.A."

For many American professionals, summer vacation probably wasn't as relaxing as they had hoped. They didn't go into the office, but they were still working. As much as they may truly have wanted to focus on time with their children, their spouses or their friends, they were unable to turn off their BlackBerrys, their laptops and their work-oriented brains.
Americans working on holidays is not a new phenomenon: We have long been an industrious folk. A hundred years ago the German sociologist Max Weber described what he called the Protestant ethic. This was a religious imperative to work hard, spend little and find a calling in order to achieve spiritual assurance that one is among the saved.
Weber claimed that this ethic could be found in its most highly evolved form in the United States, where it was embodied by aphorisms like Ben Franklin's "Industry gives comfort and plenty and respect." The Protestant ethic is so deeply engrained in our culture you don't need to be Protestant to embody it. You don't even need to be religious.
But what's different from Weber's era is that it is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most. Perhaps for the first time since we've kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do. Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.
This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn't have to.
Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).
In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy "the good life," we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.
One result is that even with the same work hours and household duties, women with higher incomes report feeling more stressed than women with lower incomes, according to a recent study by the economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jungmin Lee. In other words, not only does more money not solve our problems at home, it may even make things worse.
It would be easy to simply lay the blame for this state of affairs on the laptops and mobile phones that litter the lives of upper-income professionals. But the truth is that technology both creates and reflects economic realities. Instead, less visible forces have given birth to this state of affairs.
One of these forces is America's income inequality, which has steadily increased since 1969. We typically think of this process as one in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Surely, that should, if anything, make upper income earners able to relax.
But it turns out that the growing disparity is really between the middle and the top. If we divided the American population in half, we would find that those in the lower half have been pretty stable over the last few decades in terms of their incomes relative to one another. However, the top half has been stretching out like taffy. In fact, as we move up the ladder the rungs get spaced farther and farther apart.
The result of this high and rising inequality is what I call an "economic red shift." Like the shift in the light spectrum caused by the galaxies rushing away, those Americans who are in the top half of the income distribution experience a sensation that, while they may be pulling away from the bottom half, they are also being left further and further behind by those just above them.
And since inequality rises exponentially the higher you climb the economic ladder, the better off you are in absolute terms, the more relatively deprived you may feel. In fact, a poll of New Yorkers found that those who earned more than $200,000 a year were the most likely of any income group to agree that "seeing other people with money" makes them feel poor.
Because these forces drive each other, they trap us in a vicious cycle: Rising inequality causes us to work more to keep up in an economy increasingly dominated by status goods. That further widens income differences.
The BlackBerrys and other wireless devices that make up our portable offices facilitate this socio-economic madness, but don't cause it. So, if you are someone who is pretty well off but couldn't stop working yesterday nonetheless, don't blame your iPhone or laptop.
Blame a new wrinkle in something much more antiquated: inequality.

COLUMNIST Roger Cohen: How home became homeland

We've been spending too much on fear while others have spent on the future. And now JFK looks like LOTH - Lagos-on-the-Hudson - while Hong Kong airport shimmers the way American promise once did.
Yes, it's good to be home. As Robert Frost noted, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in."
Unless you make the wrong joke, or knock yourself out on the scaffolding, or have a weird beard.

Barack Obama put the situation this way: "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."
I reckon everyone - Democrat, Republican or independent - can agree on that. Certainly the rest of the world can. Its thirst to close the Bush chapter is bordering on the feverish.
Winston Churchill said of the United States: "It can be counted on to do the right thing, but only after it has tried every other alternative." As Roger Smith, an acute political observer and blogger, put it in an e-mail: "Well, George W. is every other alternative."
Unless you count Sarah Palin, John McCain's new sidekick, the Republican lady risen from the ice out near Russia. She's certainly alternative.
Yes, it's good to be home. But it sure could be better.

Neither respected nor feared

Geoffrey Wheatcroft's books include "Le Tour: A History of the Tour de France 1903-2007," "The Strange Death of Tory England" and "Yo, Blair!"

The theme of these past years has been American arrogance followed by American incompetence leading to American impotence.
From one side of the world to the other the story is the same, whether it's Vladimir Putin being told by Bush to leave Georgia, or Israel being told by Condoleezza Rice to desist from building more settlements on the West Bank, or China being told by Washington to behave better in Tibet, or even the European Union being told by any number of American politicians and pundits to accelerate Turkish membership.
All these American strictures are vaguely listened to. And then, as the late George Brown (a sometime British foreign secretary who shared Bush's verbal infelicity) might have said, the rest of the world treats them with a complete ignoral. After all, they come from a supposed hyperpower which in practice is neither respected not feared.
That is a direct consequence of what Washington has done. President Theodore Roosevelt said that America should speak softly and carry a big stick. President George W. Bush speaks loudly and waves a small stick. Stalin and Khrushchev had limits placed on their actions by awareness of what America might do if those limits were overstepped. Putin can do exactly what he likes in Georgia, since he knows that Washington is powerless to stop him.
One stock response from the bedraggled and diminished band of Bush supporters is that to say that all this is no more than "anti-Americanism." Prejudice against, and resentment of, America is indeed far from an imaginary phenomenon, in Europe or elsewhere, on right as well as left, and for generations past.
But today that stock response quite misses the point. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times (himself no radical extremist) has said very truly that attitudes toward America that were not long ago confined to the hard left in Europe are now found across the political spectrum. "Nous sommes tous Américains," the Monde bravely exclaimed after Sept. 11; seven years later it would be an exaggeration to say "We are all anti-Americans now," but not a wild one.

In U.S., as belts tighten, lobsters shrink and bar menus grow
The 7:30 dinner reservation that you're always trying and failing to get will become easier pickings this fall, but it may also become a con of a sort. Restaurateurs, like airlines, are overbooking. They can't afford to lose revenue to no-shows, not in an economy like this.
You'll notice more special deals, more value meals: happy-hour snacks for under $4; late-night nibbles for less; Sunday promotions; lunchtime bargains.
You'll see hanger steaks where strip steaks were once ascendant, dwarf lobsters where steroidal crustaceans once reigned. Luxury items will be scarcer, low-ticket options more ubiquitous.
You'll notice more comfort food and more straightforward food, as many restaurateurs defer to what diners are guaranteed to order, rather than what chefs are flattered to concoct.
And you'll hear the accents and see the stamp of foreigners, who are claiming an ever greater percentage of restaurant seats, their currencies more valuable than ours.
"On Tuesday a year ago the dining room would be full around 7," said Robert Bohr, the wine director at the Greenwich Village restaurant Cru. "Now the dining room is full at 8:30 or 9." That's when Europeans prefer to dine, and up to 40 percent of Cru's diners on a given night are foreigners, he said.
In 2004, when Cru opened, as few as 15 percent were. "The whole dining atmosphere has changed," Bohr said. In light of that, the restaurant the Modern, in Midtown, began printing prices on its wine list in Euros as well as in dollars this year so tourists did not have to do their own arithmetic to appreciate how good they have it.

14 die in migrant boat journey to Spain

MADRID, Spain: Fourteen migrants died trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands in a packed boat, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
Thirteen of the dead were found along with 46 survivors aboard the vessel after it was spotted by coastal guards shortly before 8 a.m. (0600 GMT). A further body was found several hours later some 7 miles offshore, the ministry said.
The boat was escorted to Puerto de Arguineguin on the south of Gran Canaria island.
Two of the migrants, who appeared to be from sub-Saharan countries, were taken to a hospital on the island. The survivors included two women.

The ministry said some migrants on the boat told police they had set sail from the west African country of Guinea more than a week ago.

The evolution of Spore
Spore's designer, Will Wright, is best known for creating a game called the Sims in 2000. That game, which lets players run the lives of a virtual family, has sold 100 million copies. It is the best-selling video game franchise of all time - an impressive achievement in an $18 billion-a-year industry that is now bigger than Hollywood.
Spore, produced by Electronic Arts, promises much more than the day-to-day adventures of simulated people. It starts with single-cell microbes and follows them through their evolution into intelligent multicellular creatures that can build civilizations, colonize the galaxy and populate new planets.
Unlike the typical shoot-them-till-they-are-all-dead video game, Spore was strongly influenced by science, and in particular by evolutionary biology. Wright will appear in a documentary next Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel, sharing his new game with leading evolutionary biologists and talking with them about the evolution of complex life.
Evolutionary biologists like Near and Prum, who have had a chance to try out the game, like it a great deal. "I think it's a great game," said Near. But they also have some serious reservations. The step-by-step process by which Spore's creatures change does not have much to do with real evolution. "The mechanism is severely messed up," Prum said.
Nevertheless, Prum admires the way Spore touches on some of the big questions that evolutionary biologists ask. What is the origin of complexity? How contingent is evolution on flukes and quirks? "If it compels people to ask these questions, that would be great," he said.

Wal-Mart sees potential growth in Southeast Asia
HONG KONG: Wal-Mart Stores, the world's biggest retailer, is considering its first stores in Southeast Asia and expects to approach 10 percent growth in international sales to $100 billion this fiscal year despite a global economic slowdown.
The retailer, a perennial runner-up to Carrefour in China in terms of sales and stores, is enjoying a huge leap in market share as it proceeds with a $1 billion acquisition of a local chain, Trust-Mart, which is expected to be completed by 2010.
The U.S. retailer, which has about 2.1 million employees worldwide, is now looking to expand into Southeast Asia as American consumers are squeezed by a soft housing market and tighter access to credit.
"I foresee international will outpace the U.S. in terms of percentage of growth," Vicente Trius, the head of Wal-Mart in Asia, said. "We should be approaching the $100 billion mark this year for international."
Last month, Wal-Mart reported a 17 percent jump in second-quarter profit to $3.45 billion, after a 17 percent increase in international sales to $25.26 billion.

Fast Retailing of Japan to open stores in Russia and India
TOKYO: Fast Retailing said it planned to open Uniqlo casual clothing stores in Russia and India and acquire rivals as it aims to boost sales by 70 percent over the next two years.
Fast Retailing, whose Uniqlo brand has often been called the Gap of Japan, has been expanding overseas while pledging to put its $1.4 billion cash pile toward acquisitions to reach ¥1 trillion, or $9.2 billion, in revenues by 2010.
But it has so far been unable to land a big deal, losing a bidding war for the upscale retailer Barneys New York and giving up on a bid for the Hong Kong apparel firm Giordano International last year.
The chief executive, Tadashi Yanai, said he wanted to take advantage of the slide in global stock markets to snap up attractive targets. Acquisitions could be used to add about ¥200 billion to ¥300 billion to its group revenues, he said.
"We are looking for acquisitions at home and overseas," Yanai said at a news conference. "It's the opportunity of a decade. Companies are cheap in value now."

Carmakers' frustration a small price to pay in China and India

MUMBAI: Foreign carmakers chasing a larger share of fast-growing China and India are often hamstrung by patchy policy measures and overt protectionism, but they find that the size and potential of the markets make such hurdles worthwhile.
China has long protected its local carmakers by forcing foreign firms into joint ventures, and India is notorious for delays in implementing policy and for back-tracking on proposals.
But for automakers seeking to increase sales as Western markets shrink, the two Asian giants are vital.
"China and India are big markets; you can't ignore either of them," said Thomas Kaestelle, managing director and head of the automotive practice at the investment bank Rothschild. "Yes, their policies affect carmakers' decisions on investments, product lineup, joint ventures, R&D and technology transfer, but it hasn't stopped anyone from coming in."
China is already the world's second-biggest auto market, behind the United States, and annual passenger vehicle sales in India are forecast to nearly double to more than two million units by 2010.
But the path to profits is rough: New tax rates in China intended to encourage sales of smaller cars may dent sales of Toyota Motor, Honda Motor and Nissan; India is dragging its feet on planned emission and fuel norms and has also recently raised taxes on larger vehicles.
When India began opening its economy in the early 1990s, it moved quickly to liberalize the automotive industry, where restrictions on foreign investment were among the first to go.
But the government did not draw up a comprehensive policy. It took a public interest petition in the highest court to ban overloading of trucks in 2005, and automotive fuel policy has struggled because of a slow rollout, heavy subsidies for diesel and poor availability of alternatives like LPG and ethanol.
"No one can doubt the good intentions of our policy makers, but what ails us is poor implementation and politics," said Arvind Saxena, vice president of the research firm TNS Automotive.
Cutting the excise duty on small cars was one such example, he said.
India cut the tax to 16 percent from 24 percent in 2006; in February, it was reduced further, to 12 percent. The move, intended to help make the country a hub for small cars, was cheered by consumers and some producers but criticized by companies that do not make small cars, which account for more than two-thirds of sales.
Nearly every carmaker has since announced plans to build a small car for India and other markets to take on Tata Motors' forthcoming Nano, priced around 100,000 rupees, or $2,250.
But the government has not gone far enough, analysts say.
"You can't have a policy for small cars without also providing tax breaks for exports and incentives for export zones," said Ashvin Chotai, an independent auto consultant based in London.
India has also withdrawn an export incentive, angering Hyundai Motor. Trade agreements with Thailand and Southeast Asia have also enabled cheap imports of components, upsetting Hyundai and Maruti Suzuki, who have invested in parts manufacturing.
"What if you were to commit resources and then have the government do a U-turn?" Chotai said. "The lack of clarity and transparency raises the risk premium for investors and changes can undermine investor confidence."
But analysts are divided over what is a bigger hurdle: China's protectionist policies or India's poor implementation.
"In India, the rule of law applies, so investors may feel it's a safer investment bet," Kaestelle said.
Chinese policy gives the government enormous power over foreign carmakers that have ventures with local firms like SAIC Motor, Dongfeng Motor Group and Chongqing Changan Automobile, Chotai said.
Foreign companies also are vulnerable to Beijing's plans, including the aim of consolidating the fragmented auto industry and creating a few national champions to rival global producers.
"But it's a consistent policy, and everyone knows what they're signing up for," Chotai said. "Everyone knows the endgame."
Companies are trying to balance the risks and potential. Hyundai, for example, has a big manufacturing operation in China, but uses India as its export hub, Chotai said. "From a management point of view and from a strategic and financial point of view, it is far more risky to build a big export operation in China compared to India, where you have full control."

New Zealand beats Samoa 101-14

NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand : New Zealand scored 15 tries and more than a point a minute to overwhelm Samoa 101-14 in a one-off rugby test Wednesday.

Punch scraps payout as sales fall
LONDON: Britain's biggest pub company Punch Taverns scrapped its year-end dividend as it fell victim to declining sales in pubs, sending its shares and others in the sector sharply lower.
Punch, which last year paid a final dividend of 10.2 pence per share, said on Wednesday it made sense to retain cash to bolster its balance sheet rather than make a payment to shareholders.
Pubs are being hit by last year's smoking ban, rising costs, declining consumer spending and cheap alcohol offers in supermarkets -- a trend highlighted on Tuesday when , Greene King reported a decline in like-for-like sales.
In a statement on its fiscal year ended August 23, Punch said like-for-like sales at its 7,560 leased pubs fell 3.4 percent in the year to August 23, with comparable sales at its 864 managed pubs down 3.3 percent.

With fifth and final series match abandoned England defeats South Africa 4-0

CARDIFF, Wales: England won the one-day series with South Africa 4-0 after the fifth and final game of the series was abandoned Wednesday because of rain.


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