----- Original Message -----
From: Ian Walthew
To: 'A well-known author'
Sent: Friday, October 24, 2008 12:59 PM
Subject: Re: SOAF contact
Hi 'Well Known'
We live in the Puy de Dome and we absolutely love it here. I don't feel remotely isolated, and can't think why one would think one might. Companionable people meet companionable people wherever they go.
I too quit the city and moved to the countryside for the first time in my life, to the Cotswolds and we made many good friends as I am sure it would be for you in the Haute Loire. (You might find my book about this experience interesting to read if you have never lived in the countryside before, because the isssues your email and my book addresses hold true to the English as well as the French countryside. It's called A Place in My Country.
Check out my blog if you'd like a sense of daily life here. (It's a one year only photo, no text save world news project which I am running until December 31st 2008) However on the blog you can also find an article I was asked to write L'Express this summer which you can find in the right hand column - about living here, how we found it and how we decided to live here etc. . www.aplaceintheauvergne.blogspot.com There's another article too in that column that I wrote for the International Herald Tribune, related to here, and indeed I was interviewed by some living in France site which you could check out. There might be a link at www.ianwalthew.com
Can I just say one very important thing.
If you don't speak very good French very quickly who will be as isolated as a Frenchman living in Yorskshire who didn't speak very good English. Language is critical and I am constantly amazed at how many people move to France without speaking the language and complain when they are lonely or that they can't integrate and only have a circle of not very companionable expat friends who don't speak very good French either.
I am sure there are thousands of people one might crack a bottle or two with for companionable episodes from time to time in the Haute-Loire, but not many of them will speak good English.
We have no Anglophone friends here, pretty much by choice, who do not speak French as well or better than we do. Otherwise, it would be impossible to have them over with our French friends, and the idea of having one group of friends we see because they don't speak the language of another group of friends in the country we all live in, isn't something that clicks for us.
Also: having children of school age is I think also a valuable asset.
Good luck with your move and don't hesitate to get in touch before, during or after if I can help you in any way.
With kind regards,
Which comes first? Chicken rights or Californian egg farmers
By Jesse McKinley
Friday, October 24, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO: In the end, it all comes down to eggs.
On Nov. 4, California voters will be asked to decide on Proposition 2, an animal rights ballot measure that would grant the farm animals in California the opportunity to spread their hooves and claws, rather than being confined to restrictive cages, as many chickens, pigs and cows now are.
But because veal and pork are not major industries in California, the battle over Proposition 2 is focused almost exclusively on henhouses, which opponents say would be hard hit by higher production costs if the measure passes.
"This is a well-intended initiative for animals with some very negative unintended consequences for people," said Julie Buckner, a spokeswoman for Californians for Safe Food, the leading anti-Proposition 2 group. "It's going to wipe out the California egg farmers, and it's going to raise the food costs for consumers. And this is at a time when our economy is hurting."
Supporters of the proposition, the first of its kind in the United States, reject those arguments, casting the ballot measure as an act of kindness for animals whose bodies and byproducts usually end up on dining room tables.
"If animals are going to be killed for food," said Wayne Pacelle, the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, "the least we can do is treat them with decency and give them a semblance of life."
Both sides do agree that the ballot issue is sure to be the most expensive - and quite likely the most bruising - animal rights campaign ever. The Humane Society alone has already given about $4 million toward the campaign for Proposition 2, about half of what Pacelle says his side will probably spend before Nov. 4.
Californians for Safe Food had raised more than $6.7 million by the end of September, according to U.S. election documents, with scores of donations from agricultural operations around the country, including egg companies in Colorado, Georgia and Minnesota.
California is the fifth largest U.S. producer - and No. 1 consumer - of eggs, producing an estimated $337 million worth in 2007. The United States produces about 77 billion table eggs a year - 250 per American - valued at about $6.7 billion.
Considering the market at stake, it is not surprising that Proposition 2 has supplied some of the election season's most emotionally charged advertisements. One, by supporters, shows images of abused animals on factory farms, while opponents' commercials have warned that the measure would lead to the importation of unsafe eggs from Mexico.
Opponents have pressed a line of attack that suggests that Proposition 2 - which would require that animals be provided room to turn around, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs - could expose birds, via contact with their own waste and that of other animals, to dreaded diseases like salmonella and avian influenza.
They also argue that standard egg-laying cages - a little more than eight inches, or 20 centimeters, square - actually protect hens from aggression by other birds and predators.
Pacelle calls such arguments "far-fetched and ridiculous."
Still, the proposition, which would take effect in 2015, has led to a division between some small-animal "pet vets" and large animal agricultural veterinarians. In September, several agricultural veterinarians formed a group separate from the 6,000-member California Veterinary Medical Association, the state's leading veterinary group, over the association's support for Proposition 2.
One of those who split was Nancy Reimers, a poultry veterinarian who has been paid for work for Californians for Safe Food. Reimers said people often do not understand the work that veterinarians do on farms.
"The folks that are involved in the food supply know what we have to do to keep the animals and the food safe," Reimers said. "And they are, by and large, opposed" to Proposition 2.
Supporters, meanwhile, question why Proposition 2 opponents have drawn so much financial support from out-of-state egg producers, who presumably would benefit if California egg farmers failed. "You think those egg companies would be chomping at the bit" to see the measure pass, Pacelle said.
Those companies, he said, fear a "ripple effect" of similar legislation in other states or a demand from big retailers like Wal-Mart Stores if consumers seek more humane products.
Mitch Head, a spokesman for United Egg Producers, a farmers' collective that represents 95 percent of the U.S. commercial egg producers, said some out-of-state support was a reflection of the fact that an outbreak of disease in eggs anywhere leads to bad press for the industry as a whole.
Head also noted that California was traditionally a trend-setter.
"I think they believe that if a few states start doing these things," he said, "it will come to their states."
As often happens with California ballot measures, the fight over Proposition 2 has drawn the attention of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, who recently devoted an episode of her television show to the issue, complete with mock-ups of animals in cages.
For Buckner, such endorsements have only codified her sense that the ballot measure is being pushed by "wealthy, narrow-minded elitists" who do not understand its real-world consequences.
"This is an organization raising money from upper-middle-class white women writing $100 checks," she said.
North Korean food crisis worsens
By Neil MacFarquhar
Friday, October 24, 2008
UNITED NATIONS, New York: North Korea is facing its worst food crisis in a decade, with a large shortfall expected this year, according to a new report released by the United Nations. At the same time, the number of children suffering from diarrhea has increased sharply.
Millions of people in the country are facing "severe deprivations" not seen since the mid-1990s, the report said, with the shortfall of food expected to reach more than one and a half million tons this year.
While the military and the elite are not suffering from cutbacks, more than three-quarters of all households have reduced their food consumption and more than half are eating only two meals per day, the report said.
"Sadly, even though the harvest was getting better, we have had devastating floods in 2006 and 2007," Vitit Muntarbhorn, the author of the report, said Thursday. "Over the past year we have had very worrying information of a very chronic food shortage."
Muntarbhorn, a Thai law professor who serves as the special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, has not been allowed to enter the country.
Child malnutrition and illnesses have been rising, with nearly twice as many children suffering from diarrhea than the number recorded in the last United Nations nutritional survey conducted with the government in 2004, the report said. Two-thirds of the country's 23 million people have a poor diet, it said.
The World Food Program, which started a special program to reach 1.9 million North Koreans in 2006, is expanding it in the hopes of helping 6.5 million people, Muntarbhorn said. The government has been more cooperative with the program, he said, allowing the agency to monitor the distribution of aid and to conduct some random checks at the local level.
The report painted a grim picture of other human rights issues in North Korea. Government permission is required to own a cellphone or computer, and radios come preset to the government station.
Muntarbhorn said that continuing talks aimed at halting the North Korean nuclear weapons program excluded human rights issues, but should be used to provide some leverage for improving the human rights situation. The talks are being conducted by a group of nations that include the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
Army drills heighten Brazil-Paraguay Tensions
By Alexei Barrionuevo
Friday, October 24, 2008
RIO DE JANEIRO: Tensions between Brazil and Paraguay, already high because of land invasions of Brazilian-controlled farms inside Paraguay, intensified this week after Brazil's army began exercises in the border region.
Paraguay's president, Fernando Lugo, responded sternly, warning Brazil in a news conference in Asunción, Paraguay's capital, that "not even one millimeter of the territorial sovereignty of the country can be bothered." If that happens, he added, "the Paraguayan reaction will be swift."
Paraguayan television this week showed armed Brazilian troops occupying the "Friendship Bridge" separating the countries at Ciudad del Este. It was a chilling scene for Paraguayans, who are bitterly aware of how their country was torn apart by Brazilian invaders in a war 140 years ago.
Brazil's maneuvers come as the Paraguayan countryside has become increasingly violent. Newspapers have been filled with accounts of deadly conflicts between the police and peasants and between peasants and armed militias controlled by Brazilian farmers. The issue is complicating the countries' relationship and the nascent presidency of Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop and a champion of the poor.
A senior Brazilian diplomat in Brasília denied Thursday in an interview that the military operations, being carried out in the state of Alto Paraná, were related to the land confrontations involving peasants. The diplomat said periodic exercises took place in the border area, which is known for illicit commerce.
"The last thing the Brazilian government is going to do is use its troops to intervene in an internal Paraguayan issue," the diplomat said. Still, Brazilian officials expressed concern. A statement by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said the landless peasants' movement "threatened to unleash violent actions against communities of Brazilians living in Paraguay." The statement added that the "threats" by the peasants had been the subject of "apprehension on the part of Brazilian authorities," and that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, had mentioned the concern last month in a meeting with Lugo.
The Paraguayan peasants say that land is being occupied illegally by Brazilian farmers and that corrupt officials have allowed the outsiders to acquire it for decades. The election in April of Lugo, who spent 11 years working with landless peasants in the countryside, has emboldened them to invade farms controlled by Brazilian soybean producers.
Lugo acknowledged this week that Paraguay's sovereignty had not been violated. But he underscored that the military operations had touched a nerve in Paraguay, which was devastated in the 1865-1870 War of the Triple Alliance, which led to years of Brazilian military occupation.
While Lugo is seemingly beholden to the peasants who believe in him, he also must show he can enforce the rule of law. And a key part of his platform involved efforts to renegotiate contracts with Brazil for the Itaipú hydroelectric plant, along the two countries' border. Paraguay wants more money for power that is produced at the jointly owned plant.
Fears were heightened last weekend when Paraguayan news outlets replayed an interview from July with the commander of Brazilian border forces, General José Carvalho Siqueira.
Referring to a hypothetical occupation of hydroelectric plants by a foreign social movement, the general was quoted as saying that the Brazilian Army existed to "carry out whatever mission in whatever part of the national territory; if the president determines that an action should be undertaken, then it should be carried out."
EU food name system creaks under mass of paperwork
Friday, October 24, 2008
By Jeremy Smith
Europe may risk devaluing the reputation of its treasure trove of high-quality foods as ever more product names win protected status, joining the ranks of hams and cheeses like Parma, Roquefort and Stilton.
Since the scheme began in 1992, the EU has registered around 830 agricultural products and foods -- not to mention several thousand European wines, mostly protected under bilateral trade agreements with other countries.
The range of protected names is vast: from meat products, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, seafood, eggs, honey and olives to biscuits, pastries, ice-creams and cakes. Some non-food products are also covered, like cork, wool, essential oils and even hay.
But the process to obtain protected EU status is exhaustive and exhausting. It takes an average of two years for Brussels to process an application, which must be backed by a large dossier of evidence. And not all are accepted anyway.
At present, there are more than 320 applications filed for approval, although some have been sent back for more data. The danger, officials say, is that the value of the EU protection may get diluted, just because of the sheer numbers involved.
"When we look at the number of applications coming in, it is obvious that taking in 12 new member states (since 2004), we have seen an increase," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told a news conference on quality foods last week.
"I'm definitely not in favour of watering down the quality of GIs (geographical indications)," she said. "But I do agree with those that say that if we have too many, then the value of this tool becomes less important."
There are three EU quality logos, two with a strong geographical element, for example Shetland lamb where the animal must be born, raised and slaughtered in the Shetland Islands.
The third category is more general, relating to traditional ingredients and production methods -- Spain's Serrano ham and Belgium's cherry-flavoured Kriek beer are examples -- although a minimum of 25 years' proven EU usage is usually required.
Privately, some European Commission officials say while it is hard to compare the reputations of, say, Italy's Parma ham or Chianti wine -- both have established export markets around the globe -- with relatively unknown sausages or meat pies from some of the newer EU countries, no application should be discouraged.
"The fact that we have several hundred names from member states that have a reputation for this kind of instrument should not be used as a reason to inhibit applications from northern or new member states, for which this excellent mechanism is still largely unfamiliar ground," one said.
Other officials have voiced doubts about whether certain products are well known enough outside their particular region to justify EU-wide name protection, since the risk of imitation or competition from similarly named items produced in other countries is minimal -- as is their level of export trade.
To address these and other concerns about GIs, Fischer Boel recently published a green paper that asks a series of questions about the European Union's name protection system, including whether existing criteria need to be strengthened or changed.
Her department at the European Commission is expected to present legal policy proposals in this area later next year.
EU countries like Italy, France and Spain were quick to make use of name protection for their agricultural products when the system began. Now, countries like Britain and many of the 2004 intake of EU member states are filing streams of applications.
And it is not only EU member countries that are keen to take advantage of the strict criteria for name protection.
From April 2006, non-EU countries were allowed to apply: Colombia was the first to win EU protection, in September 2007, for its Cafe de Colombia coffee, while India may be the second -- probably next year, officials say -- for its Darjeeling tea.
(Editing by Sue Thomas)
An American official hails the counternarcotic campaign as succeeding, but U.S. predictions of a 31 percent decline in opium production do not jibe with the United Nations' modest forecast of a 6 percent drop.
Partying helps power a Dutch nightclub
By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Friday, October 24, 2008
ROTTERDAM: If you felt that the atmosphere in the new, hip Club Watt was somehow electric, you would be right: Watt has a new type of dance floor that harvests the energy generated by jumps and gyrations and transforms it into electricity. It is one of a handful of energy-generating floors in the world, most still experimental.
With its human engineering, Watt partly powers itself: The better the music, the more people dance, the more electricity comes out of the floor.
At Watt, which describes itself as the first sustainable dance club, that electricity is used to power the light show in and around the floor. "For this first club, we thought it was useful for people to see the results," said Michel Smit, an adviser on the project. "But if the next owner wants to use the electricity to power his toaster, it can do that just as well."
Watt is in large part the creation of the Sustainable Dance Club, a quirky company formed last year by a group of Dutch ecological inventors, engineers and investors now headed by Smit. More than a year in the making, Watt is a huge performance space with not just the sustainable dance floor, but also rainwater-fed toilets and low-waste bars. (Everything is recycled.) Its heat is harvested in part from the bands' amplifiers and other musical equipment.
"Our idea is that there's enough energy in this world, you just have to use it the right way," Smit said. "If you have a full dance club, there's lots there, you just have to turn it into a usable product."
Greener clubbing will obviously not solve the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are responsible for global warming. With their woofers and strobes, nightclubs are electricity guzzlers, unlikely ever to be carbon neutral even if scientists could harness the energy of a mosh pit. (The club's lights do use low-energy bulbs, however.)
Still, the energy produced by an average person dancing is about 20 watts' worth, so two people could light a bulb, Club Watt's scientific consultants have found. Aryan Tieleman, one of the club's owners, hopes his sustainable dance floor will ultimately produce 10 percent of the club's electricity. Green innovations at the venue will reduce energy use by 50 percent and water use by 30 percent, compared with the previous club in the building, he said.
The United Nations has said the world must reduce greenhouse gases between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020 to prevent dangerous warming. Some of that reduction could come from large changes, like the closing of coal-fired plants and better protection of rain forests. But sustainability experts emphasize that much of the gain should come from doing the things everyone does now, but in ways that are a bit more efficient and green.
"The concept is you party like you always do, but here it will be better for the earth," Smit said.
Watt is the clubbing equivalent of driving a hybrid.
Customers seem to like it. "Sure, I care about the environment, and I'm happy to do my bit in this way," said Bas Muller, a student, emerging from bathrooms that feature waterless urinals and rainwater-fed toilets, with tanks that show how many liters are used per flush. Muller was attending a concert of the Norwegian band Motorpsycho, but had also been at the club in September.
Club Watt, which holds about 1,400 people, is part consciousness-raising, part green-energy experiment — and in large part simple entertainment. (Indeed, Tieleman offered the British pop singer Amy Winehouse hundreds of thousands of dollars to perform at the club's opening. It opened without her.)
"The first thing is, I wanted to do my little something for the planet," said Tieleman, who decided to build an entirely green club after seeing a presentation by Sustainable Dance Club on the dance floor, which functions through a technology called piezoelectricity.
But he added: "I'll be very happy with whatever energy the floor produces for the club. And as a businessman, I know it attracts attention."
Tieleman spent about $257,000 on the floor, an investment that will not be recouped from the energy it saves, he said, because as a first-generation model it is fairly inefficient. He lends out parts of the roughly 270-square-foot floor for demonstrations. (Part of it will be flown to New York in December.)
It is perhaps natural that this concept has taken off in Rotterdam, a gritty port city with a booming club scene where young residents have a strong vested interest in controlling global warming.
Located at sea level, Rotterdam would be one of the first cities to go under if global ice melted and sea levels rose significantly. And the Netherlands — which has reclaimed substantial tracts of territory from the sea — has gained a reputation for environmental innovation.
In 2006, a group of local architects, academics and engineers was convened by Döll architects and Enviu, an environmental research group, to brainstorm on the eco-club idea. They ultimately created the Sustainable Dance Club company to develop a blueprint for a greener party place that included what they called "spectaculars" (elements like the no-waste bars that customers could see) as well as hidden elements, like a promise to consider sustainability in purchasing.
The most spectacular "spectacular" is, of course, the dance floor. It takes advantage of the piezoelectric effect: certain materials, when squeezed, develop a charge and produce electricity. When people are dancing, the sustainable dance floor yields by about 1 centimeter — less than half an inch — compressing cells containing piezoelectric material underneath.
In theory, piezoelectric floors can take the energy of any step or jump and convert it into electricity, although that process is now expensive and inefficient, converting just a fraction of human energy to usable power. But the technology is evolving, and the world's first sustainable dance floor is being reprogrammed and electronically adjusted to improve output.
The company hopes to sell the dance floor technology to other clubs and is offering green certification to those that reduce emissions 30 percent. Sustainable Dance Club is now getting an inquiry a day from clubs about the floor. "You can use it anywhere there's movement, but the question now is when does it become cost-efficient?" Smit said, noting that the company was working to develop cheaper, more effective materials.
Energy-generating sidewalks? Subway platforms? Recently, the company identified the next frontier: Gyms and fitness centers.
EU votes to limit airlines' emissions
By James Kanter
Friday, October 24, 2008
European Union governments on Friday gave formal approval to a potentially costly system capping greenhouse gases from any airline flying into or out of the trade bloc - just as the airline industry reported new evidence of its business being hit by a worsening economy.
Airline chiefs immediately blasted the EU decision, saying it would cost the industry at least €3.5 billion each year to comply. The EU was "acting in a bubble - even in the middle of a global economic crisis," said Giovanni Bisignani, the director general of the International Air Transport Association.
EU justice ministers meeting in Luxembourg approved the greenhouse gas measures, which oblige airlines, regardless of nationality, landing or taking off from an airport in the EU to join the emissions trading system from January 1, 2012.
The system, created in 2005, already includes heavy industries like cement makers and electricity generators in Europe.
Industries have complained bitterly about the costs of complying with the system, especially as the global economic situation has worsened. Many airlines also have fought hard to avoid inclusion in the system, saying they could ill-afford the extra costs after a period of record high fuel costs.
The United States has also harshly criticized attempts to apply the EU rules to U.S.-based carriers, insisting the rules violate international aviation agreements.
The decision Friday was expected, however, after European governments reached a political agreement with the European Parliament in June.
It came as the International Air Transport Association reported global airline-passenger traffic fell 2.9 percent in September, compared with a year earlier. It was the first monthly drop since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003.
A drop in air freight of 7.7 percent was the first since the market for technology stocks crashed in 2001, the transport association said.
In another sign of gloom in the industry, the largest European airline, Air France-KLM, warned its earnings would suffer as a result of the financial crisis, sending its shares down sharply.
The airline said it was struggling to reach a full-year operating-profit goal of €1 billion for the 12 months through March 2009. Air France-KLM vowed to curb capacity and freeze costs, but said it would "remain comfortably in profit as long as market conditions do not deteriorate any further."
The inclusion of aviation in the carbon trading system will raise costs for airlines, which pay for a portion of their emissions permits to comply. The system also will raise costs for passengers if airlines, as expected, pass on the costs by raising ticket prices.
EU climate officials say it is vital to regulate greenhouse gases from aviation because the sector is growing so quickly.
Low-fare carriers like Ryanair, based in Ireland, have made short hops by air accessible for many more Europeans. Even so, the measures approved on Friday include special provisions that could ease the rules on start-up airlines in faster growing EU economies, like those in Eastern Europe.
New airlines or airlines growing at more than 18 percent annually would be eligible for a once-only limited supply of additional free permits. That measure would ensure that countries "with initially very low but increasing mobility rates are not penalized by the scheme," EU governments said in a statement. The airline industry says its gases represent a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions and that the European measures will be ineffective without a global agreement. Environmentalists say the effect of vapor and emissions from jet engines at altitude could magnify their effect on the climate.
After 30 slow years, U.S. nuclear industry set to build plants again
By Matthew L. Wald
Friday, October 24, 2008
WASHINGTON: After three decades without starting a single new plant, the American nuclear power industry is getting ready to build again.
The U.S. nuclear industry's announcement several years ago that it would resume plant construction was met with deep skepticism. Not since 1973 had anybody in the United States ordered a nuclear plant that actually got built, and the obstacles to a new generation of plants seemed daunting.
But now, 21 companies are seeking permission to build 34 new power plants across the United States, from New York to Texas. Factories are springing up in Indiana and Louisiana to build reactor parts.
The trend echoes what is under way in Britain and parts of Eastern Europe, where concerns about climate change are beginning to outweigh those about the risks of nuclear accidents. Unlike most sources of power, nuclear plants do not emit the gases that cause global warming, once they have been built.
Other countries, like France, Japan and China, have been building nuclear plants for a long time.
On Thursday, the French company Areva, the world's largest builder of nuclear reactors, and the U.S. company Northrop Grumman announced an investment of more than $360 million in a Northrop shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, to build major components for seven proposed U.S. reactors.
Also in the United States, workers are clearing a site in Georgia to install reactors. Starting in January, millions of electricity customers in Florida will be billed several extra dollars a month to fund four new reactors.
The change of fortunes for the nuclear industry in the United States has come so fast that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington has had to hire hundreds of new engineers to handle the sudden increase in applications.
It is still unclear how many of the 34 proposed plants will actually start operating one day, and how many billions of dollars they might cost. It is uncertain if financing can be found in today's troubled credit markets, and how the overall cost might compare with those of other power sources. But experts who follow the power industry increasingly think that it is likely that at least some of the plants will produce nuclear energy one day.
"The climate for introducing new plants is probably the best it's been since the industry started canceling plants" 30 years ago, said Brian Balogh, a history professor at the University of Virginia. The public is increasingly concerned about global warming and also can point to an international record of safe and reliable nuclear plants.
In the United States, new orders for reactors essentially ended in October 1973. That is the month that an Arab oil embargo started, heralding an age of economic problems that drove up construction costs and suppressed demand for power. More than 100 nuclear reactors, some in advanced stages of construction, were canceled, and tens of billions of dollars were squandered.
Support for nuclear power dwindled further after the accident in 1979 at the Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, reactor and after the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine in 1986.
Indeed, nuclear energy has met with a series of roadblocks in Europe. Austrians voted in a 1972 referendum to scrap the country's single nuclear plant, just before it was scheduled to open. Italy finished shutting down its two remaining nuclear plants, of four, after the explosion in Chernobyl. Germany and Belgium have enacted laws to phase out locally-generated nuclear power.
But nuclear power never went away, in Europe or in the United States, where there are now 103 operating commercial reactors that generate almost 20 percent of the country's electric power.
With mounting concern over the past few years about global warming and fuel supplies, support for new nuclear reactors is growing, including in the U.S. Congress.
Investment for U.S. nuclear efforts is starting to flow. "We have a long-term vision," Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of Areva, said in an interview in Washington on Thursday. The American market, she said, is the world's largest, and "we think that this market is so important itself, and has the capacity to be competitive in exports."
Areva is also planning to build nuclear plants in Britain and China and hopes to sell nuclear energy in the Gulf.
China currently operates eleven nuclear plants, but based on its electricity needs and its desire to increase the share of nuclear energy, it will need 20 or more new nuclear plants by 2020. Even Middle Eastern countries that have large oil reserves have expressed interest in nuclear reactors.
To help spur a similar revival, the U.S. Congress provided $18.5 billion in loan guarantees in a 2005 energy law, in addition to operating subsidies similar to those available for solar and wind power and insurance against regulatory delays.
The new reactors have confronted little effective political opposition so far. While few advocates of environmental change are avid supporters of nuclear power, a handful acknowledge that it could play a role in countering global warming.
"There is no question that some of the passion of the anti-nuclear movement has drained away," said Balogh, the author of a 1990 book on opposition to nuclear power.
Overcoming hurdles to rent in Paris
By Sharon Reier
Friday, October 24, 2008
PARIS: With her gamin good looks, hip-hop baggy jeans and power-lunch-size diamond earrings, Wiam Loukili, 28, is a determined young lady.
Trained as a pharmacist, Loukili was able to land a job in Paris just four days after her arrival from Corsica. And while she recently managed to rent a minuscule furnished studio in a respectable and diverse neighborhood, the road to such a foothold was frustrating and circuitous.
Before finding the studio, the best she could afford was a furnished bedroom in the apartment of a consultant who traveled a lot. Before that, she stayed on a temporary basis with friends.
Loukili's situation resembles that of many young professionals trying to get established in the French capital, stymied by an undersupply of apartments and compounded by landlords who fear that tenant-friendly laws could result in years of litigation with feckless tenants who won't pay the rent and won't move out.
Trying to avoid such situations, real estate agents and owners demand that prospective tenants prove that their after-tax income is at least three times - and sometimes four times - the amount of rent. That typically requires a dossier of work history, tax filings, personal references and frequently, in addition to satisfying the income requirements, a guaranty from a wealthy relative. Many landlords also demand hefty security deposits.
As a result, it is not unusual for Parisians to remain home with their families until they are 28 or older, a phenomenon that was the basis for the 2001 film "Tanguy," in which the well-to-do parents are driven to seek psychiatric treatment because their son won't move out.
Loukili had reckoned that her current monthly net of €1,850, or $2,400, would at best allow her to move into a cramped chambre de bonne, traditionally a separate-entrance room for a servant, many of which are now used as investment properties by wealthy Parisians.
Even small one-bedroom apartments in raffish neighborhoods rent for at least €800 a month and are out of her reach, Loukili said. The rent for her room in the shared 16th Arrondissement apartment was €600 a month.
Loukili left her native Morocco 10 years ago to study pharmacy in France. She was following in the footsteps of her mother, who a generation before had won a scholarship to the pharmacy school at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse.
After finishing a seven-year course of study and receiving her doctorate in pharmacy, Loukili moved to Nice, where she had close friends. She worked in a pharmacy and rented her own apartment for €450 a month, although she needed a guarantor to co-sign the lease. "But here in Paris, a guarantor is not enough," she said.
A romance that ended in heartbreak motivated her to spend eight months in Corsica, where she worked as a pharmacist, enjoyed the sea and nature, and met another man. They plan to marry next summer. She headed for Paris because the jobs in Corsica were seasonal. The two indulge in hours of telephone conversation each week, a habit that once cost as much as €200 a month but diminished when her landlord let her use an Internet phone.
Paris, she finds, is expensive. A lunch salad at a snack bar in the smart suburb where she works runs €6 a day. "It is just egg and a tomato and bread," she complained. She buys some extra bread and sometimes economizes by buying lunch from a supermarket. Dinner, she cooks at home, usually pasta with tomato. She finds meat too expensive.
Her biggest expense besides rent is the €500 to €600 she sends each month to her sister in Toulouse, who is seeking a law degree. In Morocco, Loukili said, people are either rich or poor. Her family, she said, is on the rich side. But there are laws that prevent her father, who owns a construction company, from sending sufficient funds abroad.
Loukili says she does not go out often. She sees a film once a week, but is daunted by the admission price of around €10. She joins friends once a week at a restaurant, usually for Asian or Italian food.
Her biggest extravagance, she said, was spending on clothes and makeup. She hit the July sales with gusto.
She said her employers underpay her because she lacks a European Union certificate. Her work contract describes her as a salesgirl, although she functions on a higher level as a pharmacist. She has applied for the certificate, which could help to raise her net salary to €2,800, but even that would limit her budget to €900 for rent.
For now, she has reached her goal of an apartment in the €600 range, but her future, she said, may lie elsewhere. After marriage, she said, she and her husband may move south to Toulouse, Nice or Bordeaux.
'Serious holes' found in French bank's controls
The Associated Press
Friday, October 24, 2008
PARIS: An initial investigation into how the French mutual bank Caisse d'Épargne lost €600 million trading derivatives during the worldwide stock market plunge discovered "serious holes" in the bank's system of controls, the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said Friday.
The bank's losses, the equivalent of $760 million at current exchange rates, came in complex trades far removed from the bank's core business, Lagarde said, citing a preliminary report by the French banking commission. The final report will be ready in several months, Lagarde told a news conference.
The loss, revealed Oct. 17, drew comparisons with a scandal this year at another French bank, Société Générale. That bank reported a €4.9 billion loss in closing what it said were unauthorized positions taken by former trader Jérôme Kerviel.
Caisse d'Épargne's top three executives quit after the losses came to light shortly after the government announced a €360 billion plan aimed at unblocking credit markets and keeping French banks afloat. The package, part of a wider European banking rescue plan, includes a €10.5 billion fund to allow the government to buy debts from France's largest banks. The fund is expected to start operating soon, Lagarde said.
"It's a question of days because the work is already well advanced," Lagarde said at a news conference.
Lagarde also responded to German criticism of another part of the French rescue plan that was designed to protect domestic companies from unwanted predators and to help small companies in difficulty.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France proposed the "strategic investment fund" on Thursday - but the German government said Friday that it saw no need for such a state-run investment fund.
"I don't think the fund should be seen as a defensive move," Lagarde said. "It's a way to support small businesses and invest in strategic sectors."7 French banks seek loans
Seven French banks have requested a total of €5 billion in loans from a state refinancing vehicle, the body's chief said on Friday, Reuters reported. Michel Camdessus, whose organization was set up as part of the French government's response to the financial crisis, did not name the banks or give a breakdown.
Calder's Paris Years: A performer with a playful sleight of hand
By Holland Cotter
Friday, October 24, 2008
NEW YORK: Is art basically glorified child's play, extending into adulthood, through a lifetime, picking up ideas and gaining finesse as it goes? That's one way to think of "Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933" at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Few exhibitions have focused so intently on one artist's child within. It's a Peter Pan syndrome show.
It's also a large show, with a chunky, charming catalogue. Yet it feels intimate and light, not to say lightweight. Gallery by gallery, it's as suspenseful and insubstantial as a magic act: what will the artist pull from his sleeve next? The story it tells is like a child's version of early 20th-century Modernism, with a grown-up surprise at the end.
Calder didn't start out with ambitions to be an artist; if anything, he was pulled in the opposite direction. He watched his father, a professional sculptor, fret over commissions and struggle with money. So when it came time for college the young Calder chose an engineering school in New Jersey over art school.
But of course he was an artist, a natural. He may just not have known at first what that meant. Even as a child he was astonishingly inventive. The tiny figure of a rocking-horse-style bird shaped from brass sheeting is, for economy of form and conceptual daring, one of the more radical works in the show. He made it when he was 11. He made stuff all the time. He was one of those people with nonstop eyes and hands: every scrap of stray matter was a candidate for transformation. Give him some wire, clothespins and a scrap of cloth and, presto chango, you had a bird or a cow or a circus clown: nothing, then something, which is what magic is.
There's a hyperactive pace to his early career. While working at engineering jobs after college, he was also drawing like crazy and designing toys. In 1923 he enrolled at the Art Students League to study painting; John Sloan and George Luks were his teachers. At the same time he took on illustrating gigs for publications like The New Yorker and The National Police Gazette.
His academic drawings from the time are gauche and ordinary. Much fresher is the dashed-off, manic-looking magazine work. And his Ashcan School-type paintings of New York scenes - a drunken party; a trip to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - have a gawky spark of life. Then there are his pen-and-ink drawings of zoo animals. They're in a different category, almost by a different artist, one more relaxed and assured. Often done as one continuous line, they are like an effortlessly sophisticated form of penmanship.
So are some of the openwork sculptures of bent and twisted wire that he began to experiment with at this time.
In 1926, with all these balls in the air, he suddenly moved to Paris, because motion for him was a stimulant and because he felt that Paris was the hot place to be, which it was. With its crowded cafés, charged thinking, endless talking and jumpy personalities, the city was hyperkinetic. Calder fell in love with it. Although he continued to return to New York for long stretches, he made Paris his home base for seven years.
His wire sculpture took off there. Several examples in the form of portrait heads are the first thing you see when you step off the elevator on the Whitney's fourth floor. They're an arresting sight, in a gently wow-inspiring way. Wows were what Calder was after, along with chuckles and satisfied ahs. He was a showman, a performer. "See what I can do?" his art seems to say.
For his purposes industrial steel wire was an ideal medium. It was cheap, malleable, portable and equally adaptable to precision work and doodling, which to him were almost the same thing. Wire was like three-dimensional ink.
In the Paris years he used it for portraiture. His first subject was a star he admired from afar, Josephine Baker. She was the toast of the town in the 1920s. One look at film clips of her dancing a semi-nude Charleston tells you why. Calder made five small Baker figures; four are in the show. With their tiny heads, spiraling breasts and long, long single-strand legs, they catch something of the image Baker wanted to project: that of an ethnographic specimen come to irrepressibly self-amused life.
He made other figures too, of the tennis champion Helen Wills, of John D. Rockefeller playing golf. They are the work of a pop illustrator, clever but nothing special. But for people he actually knew, portrait heads were the form of choice. Of the 18 examples in the show, most depict people Calder had met in avant-garde circles in Paris, including celebrity friends like Edgard Varèse, Joan Miró and Alice Prin, the multitasking muse better known as Kiki de Montparnasse. You can see why Calder did these likenesses: they were an attention-getting novelty; they advertised his skill; they gave him a pretext to network.
They also look as if they were fun to make. One of the attractive features of Calder's art from this period is its gee-I-could-do-that unpretentiousness. At the same time each is a fabulous little virtuosic feat, abstract but exacting. Set on bases or freely suspended, and casting subtle shadows - Jennifer Tipton, the theatrical lightning designer, was in charge of illumination - the portraits have the wit and refinement that will show up again in Calder's first abstract sculptures.
Refinement is not a quality associated with the famously funky tabletop assemblage known as Calder's Circus. A prime draw of the Whitney's permanent collection, it has rarely been off view since the museum acquired it 25 years ago. But it gets a rethinking here.
Up to now it has been exhibited as a compact, one-ring affair with its many tiny handmade figures - clowns, acrobats, animal trainers and so on - doing all the varied things they do at once. The show's curators, Joan Simon of the Whitney and Brigitte Leal of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, have separated the components into individual acts meant to be seen as taking place sequentially, a format that corresponds to the way Calder himself presented the work in live performances.
You can see him giving one in a 1955 film by Jean Painlevé, which is in the show. Calder introduces the figures silently one by one, manipulating them and activating the low-tech mechanisms (cranks, pull-strings, air hoses) that animate their activities. If, like me, you've always found Calder's Circus a little too cute for comfort, the film may change your mind.
When at one point Calder slowly and carefully removes layer after layer of hand-sewn costumes from a clown figure until he arrives at what looks like a skeleton, it's hard to known whether you're seeing a circus or a medieval morality play.
The Whitney show's real shock comes a bit later, though, in the last three galleries, when Calder the polymath entertainer becomes Calder the Modern sculptor. The shift happened almost literally overnight. In October 1930 he visited Mondrian's Paris studio; instantly he became an abstract artist. And for some people Calder starts to become interesting only at this point. No more Kikis and tennis players. Now everything is floating circles and curving lines anchored by balls in space.
But two things stayed constant: motion and play. For conservation reasons only one sculpture in the Whitney show is now motorized as intended; others can be seen in action on film. And action is the essence in a piece like "Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere" (1932-33), which consists of two suspended wooden balls and, set out on the gallery floor, a wooden box, four wine bottles, a can and a gong.
Nothing much, right? Until - as seen on film - the balls, attached to a motorized bar, start to move in a slow circle, hitting a bottle, then the can, then the gong. Music! (Varèse loved this piece.) Yet move a bottle a bit this way or that and the performance changes. Turn on a fan or open a window and you could create a new score. The game Calder is playing is a finely tuned, verging on magical, game of chance.
Global market sell-off driven by grim economic outlook
The imperative of collaboration
By Felix G. Rohatyn and Allison Stanger
Friday, October 24, 2008
The White House has wisely heeded the European Union's call for a new Bretton Woods and invited leaders from 20 nations to a summit meeting in Washington on Nov. 15. It was important that President Bush act quickly and it is equally important that the president-elect be represented at the summit. The health of the global economy is neither a partisan nor a national issue, and a window of opportunity exists now for creative multilateral action that will not be open indefinitely.
Global financial markets have not been in greater disarray since the Great Depression. We all know what that downward spiral meant for world politics: Economic chaos bred political extremism, countries and individuals alike searched for scapegoats for their sudden turn of fortune, and world war served as the ultimate arbiter. Out of the ashes of destruction, the institutions of the international economy - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - were created in 1944 at Bretton Woods and played a significant role in taming financial markets, ushering in an era of unprecedented economic growth.
The global economy has outgrown these institutions in their present form. Rather than requiring war, conflict and hardship before acquiescing in multilateral action as an act of desperation, we should seize the opportunity to work together on new institutions before the politics of economic despair are undeniably back in business.
It may sound alarmist to speak of the necessity of cooperation to pre-empt bloodshed, but the way in which our current economic predicament differs from that of the inter-war period only increases the need to act immediately and decisively.
The globalization of finance, technology and information mean that the fates of countries and of individuals are interwoven in unprecedented fashion. The unraveling of those connections could be more disruptive and more devastating, and on a more massive scale, than anything we have ever collectively experienced. We have no way of knowing just how bad it could get or what countries will be hit the hardest, simply because the potential chain reactions of market forces have never before been so long or so all-encompassing. The enormity of what the developed economies could collectively lose creates a powerful incentive for international cooperation, especially before it becomes clear who the biggest losers are likely to be.
2008 is not 1944 for another important reason. In 1945, the United States had unmatched global power. Today, the United States is the world's biggest debtor nation and one of many serious contributors to world order. The financial meltdown provides the perfect opportunity for the United States to acknowledge that changed world and, in so doing, officially end the age of unilateralism that has played no small part in America's present economic predicament. A new Bretton Woods would provide as much a symbolic new beginning as a substantive one, and for that reason alone, Europe's call should be heeded.
The substance of the global economic order's refounding must be worked out collaboratively, but collective acknowledgment that the global economy has outgrown the regimen designed to keep it healthy is an important first step.
A new agreement must insist on transparent procedures and limits on leverage so that the possibility of responsible financial action is restored. It must also consider ways to augment the powers of the IMF and World Bank. But the acknowledgment of the importance of collaboration at this critical moment is imperative. That's why it made no sense to squander good will arguing over whether the White House or the UN should sponsor the meeting. It can be both.
The antiquated notion that the world needs one leader must itself be put to rest. For collaboration to produce a new rule set that binds all the players, all the players must be present at the creation. This is indeed the right time to invite China, Russia and India to join the conversation.
Some Americans may be reluctant to follow Europe's lead rather than charting the course. It should not be unpatriotic to admit that Americans do not have a monopoly on good ideas. To believe that multilateral collaboration will bind the U.S. to some variant of European socialism also fundamentally misunderstands the constructed character of free markets. Markets may spontaneously arise, but they are inevitably framed by choices governments make. Since there is no global government to play this role for the global economy, governments must collaborate to approximate it. Participating in a new Bretton Woods simply means acknowledging the consequences of globalization and the urgent need for a sustainable financial architecture that encourages long-term over short-term thinking.
Market fundamentalists may resist this call to unprecedented international cooperation, insisting that with just the right injection of capital, markets will govern themselves in the long run. But as John Maynard Keynes wisely pointed in 1923, in the long run, we are all dead. The risks of inaction were too high and the potential for corruption too great to have left the matter to bankers and markets alone.
The U.S. government has an important role to play in a global partnership for peace and prosperity that seems within reach. We must rise to the challenge.
Felix G. Rohatyn is an investment banker and a former U.S. ambassador to France. Allison Stanger is the Russell Leng Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College and author of the forthcoming "Empire of the Willing: The Privatization of American Power."
By Robert B. Zoellick
Friday, October 24, 2008
September and October are shaping up to be hard months in a precarious year. A meltdown in financial, credit and housing markets. The continuing stress of high food and fuel prices and the dangers for poverty and malnutrition. Anxieties about the global economy.
The events of September and October could be a tipping point for many developing countries. As always, the poor are the most defenseless. Voices around the world are blaming free markets. Others are asking about the failures of government institutions. We cannot turn back the clock on globalization. So we must learn the lessons from the past, as we build for the future. We must modernize multilateralism and markets for a changing world economy.
Today's globalization and markets reflect huge changes in information and communications technology, financial and trade flows, mobility of labor, and vast new competitive forces. New economic powers are on the rise, making them stakeholders in the global system. They want to be heard.
Private financial markets and businesses will continue to be the strongest drivers of global growth and development. But the developed world's financial systems, especially in the U.S., have revealed glaring weaknesses. The international architecture designed to deal with such circumstances is creaking.
The New Multilateralism will need to be a flexible network. It must maximize the strengths of interconnecting institutions, public and private. It should be oriented around pragmatic problem-solving that fosters cooperation.
Our New Multilateralism must build a sense of shared responsibility for the health of the global political economy and must involve those with a major stake in that economy. We must redefine economic multilateralism more broadly, beyond the traditional focus on finance and trade. Today, energy, climate change, and stabilizing fragile and post-conflict states are economic issues. They are already part of the international security and environmental dialogue. They must be the concern of economic multilateralism as well.
The New Multilateralism will rely on national leadership and cooperation. But the G-7 is not sufficient. We need a better group for a different time; a core group of finance ministers who will assume responsibility for anticipating issues, sharing information, mobilizing efforts to solve problems, and at least managing differences.
We should consider a new steering group including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the current G-7, that holds regular formal and informal dialogues. The group should not just replace the G-7 with a fixed-number G-14, and should evolve to fit changing circumstances. We need this new network so that global problems are not just mopped up after the fact, but anticipated. The steering group will still need to work through established international institutions, but the core group will increase the likelihood that countries draw together to address problems.
Just as the financial crisis has been international because of worldwide interconnectedness, reforms must be multilateral. Whether through an expanded Financial Stability Forum with the International Monetary Fund or the steering group, these financial supervisory issues will need to be addressed in a broader multilateral context.
The New Multilateral Network must also interconnect energy and climate change. We need a "global bargain" among major producers and consumers of energy. There could be a common interest in managing a price range that reconciles interests while transitioning toward lower carbon growth strategies, a broader portfolio of supplies and greater international security.
A climate change accord also will have to be supported by new tools. We need new mechanisms to support forestation, develop new technologies and encourage their rapid diffusion, provide financial support to poorer countries, assist with adaptation, and strengthen carbon markets.
Dealing with the economic aftermath will be one of the foremost responsibilities of the next U.S. president. But this work is not about America alone.
Multilateralism is a means for solving problems among countries, with the group at the table able to take constructive action together. Fate presents an opportunity wrapped in a necessity: to modernize multilateralism and markets.
Robert B. Zoellick is president of the World Bank Group.
Stay or quit? Wall Street's young face tough decisions
By Cara Buckley
Friday, October 24, 2008
NEW YORK: This is how Aidan Menzul's dream fell apart. He was laid off in September, barely three months into a $65,000-a-year job at a private equity firm. He was supposed to move this month from Brooklyn Heights to the East Village in Manhattan, but instead has rented a room near Sheepshead Bay in the Brooklyn borough.
Now, facing credit card debt and student loans, he is eating at McDonald's and contemplating a return to Florida, where he grew up the son of a supermarket manager and a shipping dispatcher.
"I've thought about the possibility of putting my stuff in storage, and moving back to my parents' and studying two months for the GMATs," said Menzul, referring to the tests for entry into business school. He is hanging on with a $10-an-hour part-time job with a political action committee and the $4,000 he managed to save during the summer. "But I really don't want to leave New York."
Menzul, 22, is among the untold numbers of young finance types caught in limbo by the economic crisis, yearning to stay in the center of U.S. finance, yet fearful that no market rebound is in sight. It is impossible to gauge how many such strivers are leaving New York or considering it. But interviews during the past two weeks with affected workers and recruiters revealed an emerging portrait of newly minted college graduates suddenly jobless in a frightfully expensive city, and forced to contemplate a change in career, or address.
Severance packages, for those lucky enough to get them, have allowed some to cover steep rents, at least in the short run. Others are collecting unemployment checks, living off shrinking savings or relying on family largess. Still others are subletting their apartments and going backpacking.
Adjina Dekidjiev, a manager at Manhattan Apartments, said she had been seeing more people trying to break leases, some leaving the city, others just looking for cheaper places to live.
Win Hornig, who started the blog bankergonebroke.com after being laid off from JPMorgan in September, said, "A lot of people are doing their math, asking, 'How can I stay in the city, for as long as possible, and try to find a job?' People are definitely going to leave the city if the market doesn't come back. It's just too expensive."
Unlike their laid-off bosses, many of whom have their children's private-school tuition and suburban mortgages to pay, many of the younger workers have flexibility on their side and can consider graduate school. "The more junior people are more willing to get out, and a lot more nimble," said Gustavo Dolfino, president of WhiteRock Group, a global recruiting firm.
One former investment banker, who asked not to be identified because of the confidentiality clause in his severance deal, said in an e-mail message: "There's a large divide among the single guys (much more open to relocating/school) vs. the married/committed relationship guys."
About 12 percent more people registered to take the Graduate Management Admission Test through Sept. 30 this year than last, and 3.5 percent more people have signed up for the 2008 Law School Admission Test compared to the 2007 exam. Attendance at informational sessions for prospective applicants to the Stern School of Business at New York University is up 20 percent to 30 percent compared with last year, according to Isser Gallogly, executive director of MBA admissions.
The blogger Hornig, who is among those considering business school, fears the increased competition. "There's going to be such a flood of banker applications this year, it's going to be ridiculous," he said.
Staring in the faces of even the most optimistic financial-sector strivers is the fact that the city's job market is awash with people just like them: young, well-educated and hungry for work.
"In this sort of job market, you need to keep an open mind, and start thinking of going wherever the opportunity takes you," said Jonathan Miller, 24, who lost his job as an investment banking analyst in September and is looking for work in Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Israel.
"You can either say to yourself, 'No thanks, I know zero people there, I hate the rainy weather in Seattle, I hate the Red Sox in Boston, I don't want to go,' " Miller said, "or you can say to yourself, 'These are good opportunities to advance my career.' "
The trouble, of course, is that although few financial job markets are as saturated as that in New York, the sector is shedding jobs the world over.
"People were thinking of going into international at first, a year ago, when things started shaking up in the U.S.," said Hornig. But, he added, "the rest of the world is blowing up, too."
Ariel Litvin, 34, survived three rounds of layoffs at Bear Stearns, only to lose his job as a real estate underwriter in August. He took advantage of the break, visiting friends in other cities.
But job hunting in New York proved fruitless, and he lost half of his severance money after investing it in Lehman Brothers. Litvin grudgingly decided to move with his girlfriend to Chicago, where housing prices are lower.
Earnings at New York Times fell 51%
By Richard Pérez-Peña
Friday, October 24, 2008
The New York Times Co. reported a 51.4 percent decline in third-quarter profit on Thursday and swung to a loss on continuing operations as deeper-than-expected expense cuts could not keep pace with falling revenue.
The company said it might cut its dividend and planned to write down the value of assets in its New England Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe, by as much as $150 million.
"Our board of directors plans to review our dividend policy before the end of this year to determine what is most prudent in light of the overall market conditions," the company's chief executive, Janet Robinson, said in a statement.
The company raised its quarterly dividend last year to 23 cents a share from 17.5 cents. Analysts have criticized that move in light of the company's dwindling profits and said that the dividend was a chief source of personal income for members of the Sulzberger family, who control the company.
After the release of the earnings report, Standard & Poor's lowered the Times Co.'s credit rating below investment grade, a move that would increase borrowing costs. Moody's Investors Service said it was considering doing the same. Several newspaper companies have been lowered to junk status.
Standard & Poor's had the company rated BBB- and Moody's gave it an equivalent Baa3 grade — the lowest investment-grade ratings in their respective systems. S&P downgraded the company three notches on Thursday, to BB-.
Print newspaper advertising revenue — the bulk of the company's revenue — fell 18.3 percent in the quarter as the weak economy and the long-term shift away from print created the worst period for the industry since the Depression.
"Half of the decline in ad revenues at the News Media Group was attributable to classified," Robinson said in a conference call with analysts. Among national display advertisers, she said, the biggest declines came from movie studios, hotels and technology companies.
Advertising from banks and financial services companies actually increased as they sought to reassure jittery investors.
Online revenue rose just 2.5 percent for the company's newspapers, which include The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune and 17 smaller papers. But the company's other online businesses, including About.com, increased revenue by 16.1 percent, despite the economic downturn.
In the conference call, executives warned that the near future could bring weak performance in Internet display ads, one of the few bright spots in recent years.
The company reported a loss on continuing operations of $2.1 million, or 1 cent a share, in contrast to a profit of $14.1 million, or 10 cents a share, in the period a year earlier.
Excluding after-tax severance costs, the company had earnings of 6 cents a share last quarter, slightly ahead of 4 cents that analysts had projected.
An unusually large $12.8 million tax expense, up from $9 million in the year-earlier quarter, contributed to the loss. Including one-time income from the sale of discontinued operations, the company posted net income of $6.5 million, or 5 cents a share, compared with $13.4 million, or 9 cents, in the period a year earlier.
The Times Co. reported operating profit of $10 million for the quarter, down 64.5 percent from $28.1 million in the quarter a year earlier.
It cut operating costs 6.8 percent from the year-earlier quarter, to $677 million. But overall revenue fell faster, 8.9 percent, to $687 million.
The company said its annual expense reductions would be significantly more than the $130 million this year and $230 million for 2008 and 2009 that it had predicted earlier, but it declined to say by how much. One indication of those cuts was severance costs, earlier estimated at $40 million to $50 million for the full year, which reached $57 million for the first nine months.
In addition, the earlier savings estimates did not include the company's recent decision to shut down its City and Suburban unit, a major wholesale deliverer of newspapers and magazines in the New York metropolitan area. The company has declined to say how much it will save from that move, which is scheduled for completion in January, or from the consolidation of sections in its flagship newspaper, which occurred this month.
Shares of The New York Times rose 2 cents Thursday, to $10.70.
Central Europe takes a hit, but bankers see it avoiding recession
The 'new poor' join immigrants at Italian soup kitchens
By Marie-Louise GumuchianReuters
Friday, October 24, 2008
MILAN: An empty plastic bag in hand, Stefano G. stands in line with hundreds of others waiting to collect handouts of food he says he can no longer afford.
The 43-year-old shop assistant, who supports his retired parents and declined to give his full name because he did not want to be recognized, has been coming to the Pane Quotidiano, or Daily Bread, charity in Milan for the last seven months, taking home free bread, milk, fruit and vegetables and other staples.
Charities in Italy say a rising number of Italians of working age or retired are seeking their help. According to the World Bank, gross national income in Italy was $33,540 per person in 2007.
The Italian first-timers like Stefano, known as "the new poor" to some, still represent a minority of those seeking help, compared with immigrants going to charities.
But humanitarian groups say the first-timer charity trend is spreading as an economic slowdown and high prices push many people with low incomes or without jobs into hardship.
"This is something that cannot be ignored and will probably rise further," said Marina Nava of the charitable center Opera San Francesco in Milan, which also offers free meals.
"These are people who have a home and up until a little while ago lived above the poverty threshold. But with things changing," she said, they "quickly fall below."
Italy was already on the brink of recession before double-digit price rises for staple foods and the latest spasms of the financial crisis.
Stefano said he was earning "a few hundred euros" a month, or about $380.
"Things are getting worse and worse," he said. "It's a crisis. With prices rising, what can I do but this? I can't steal. Every little bit helps."
Exactly how many people are joining the food queues is hard to say.
Officially, 6.8 percent of Italians are unemployed. The Roman Catholic charity Caritas says 13 percent of the 58 million people in Italy are considered poor, living on less than €500 to €600 a month, or less than half the average salary.
In a report, it also highlighted the "nearly poor," those above the poverty threshold by only €10 to €50 a month.
"Among first-timers, a third are Italians," and the percentage is slowly increasing, said Mario Marazziti of the San Egidio Church soup kitchen in Rome.
Italy, the third-largest euro-zone economy after Germany and France, has been one of its most sluggish performers for years, suffering more than most from high oil prices, a strong euro and the global slowdown.
Statistics show Italy is growing older and poorer while the economy underperforms its European peers.
Inflation is above the euro zone average, with shoppers still pinched by price hikes that producers say are unavoidable because of higher commodity and fuel prices. Pasta was almost 25 percent more expensive in September from a year ago , while bread was up 8.6 percent.
Last month, consumer groups staged a "bread strike," trying to persuade Italians not to buy bread for a day in protest.
The government has so far not taken specific steps to ease the strain on those with low incomes.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that Italy would "not take advantage" of the recent market turmoil to dilute its long-term goals to reduce the national debt.
At Pane Quotidiano, which gives out the equivalent of 2,500 calories of food each to about 2,000 people a day, groups of all ages wait in line as volunteers distribute bread, packs of tiramisu, risotto, peaches and milk.
"In the last year, we've had an increase of over 30 percent in the number of visitors a day," said Ercole Polline, a counselor there. "About a year and a half ago, there were about 80 Italians who came every day. Now there are about 350."
Maria Piacere, 62, is retired and lives on about €800 a month. Piacere has been coming to Pane Quotidiano for a year.
"I have gas and electricity to pay, rent and fuel for the car," she said. "That leaves only a little for the rest."
Among the crowd, a neatly dressed 28-year-old student waited for her turn to collect some food.
"I do not come here voluntarily, but I have no choice," she said, also declining to be identified. "I never imagined I would have to come here but I manage to save some money, say a few euros."
Ad blitz exhorts Italy, 'Meet the Romanians'
By Elisabetta Povoledo
Friday, October 24, 2008
ROME: In desperation to try to mend its image with Italians weary of mass immigration, Romania seems to have borrowed a line from Donald O'Connor in "Singin' in the Rain" - "make 'em laugh!"
Nelu, an artist who lives in Milan, opens a documentary about Romanians living in Italy with a joke that plays easily with Italian audiences.
The son of Dracula asks his father what he does for a living. Dracula answers: "It's simple, I suck people's blood." The son: "You mean like politicians?" And Dracula says: "Hey, let's not exaggerate."
That touch is at the core of a €4.2 million campaign sponsored by the Romanian government and introduced last month to counter lurid media accounts of crimes said to be committed by Romanians. Branded "Romania, pleased to meet you!" the campaign has taken out ads in print and on television.
In a globalized world, it seems somewhat unreal that one European people should have to spend money like this to introduce itself to another. After all, both are among the 27 nations in the European Union, and the Romanians are proud of their Roman heritage.
The Emperor Trajan colonized Dacia, as Romania was anciently known, in the second century, and the Romanians' national anthem boasts that Roman blood flows in their veins.
What remains is the fact that the Romanians have such a bad reputation here (and in Spain, where a similar campaign - Hola Soy Rumano - was also started) that the Romanian government had to call in professional spin doctors to counter it.
The bright-eyed, relentlessly cheery Romanians featured in the ads - Nelu, but also the owner of a gym, a nurse and two very young cooks so adorable that you can already envision them as contestants in the next edition of "Big Brother," are presented as a counterpoint to the grimmer images of their compatriots in the headlines every time a crime involving a Romanian takes place.
The sensationalist media attention paid to crimes committed by immigrants has had a huge political windfall for the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which has made fighting crime, which it largely attributes to foreigners, one of its priorities. A poll this month by the center-left newspaper La Repubblica gave Berlusconi a 62 percent approval rating.
(The European Union has been less approving and has challenged a law approved by the Italian Parliament this year, and widely believed to be directed at Romanians, that would allow the automatic expulsion of EU citizens found guilty of crimes that carry prison sentences of more than two years.)
Market research studies carried out in April for the Romanian government indicated that 57 percent of Italians did not have a good opinion of immigrants in general and that 33 percent did not want Romanians to live in Italy. But the same study showed that only one Italian in 10 actually had close dealings with Romanians, and of those Italians 81 percent said they got along very well with the Romanians they knew.
Hence the to-know-them-is-to-love-them campaign.
"We wanted to give a voice to real Romanians, who are integrated in Italy, and have homes, pay taxes," explained Gianbattista Giannoccaro, managing director of Playteam, the Italian ad agency that conceived the ad campaign, which will run until December.
A collateral event is scheduled for November when a "typical Romanian house" will be set up in squares in Rome and Milan so Italians can have a "one-to-one experience," he said.
Earlier this autumn, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also held meet-and-greet cultural events in several Italian cities to "show to the Italian public opinion that Romanians and Romania mean much more than criminality," said Oana Marinescu, general director at the General Directorate for Communication and Public Diplomacy in Bucharest.
The public diplomacy campaign will be ongoing, she said, "because the credibility of a country cannot be restored with a one-off action." One campaign "cannot fix things. It can only be the start of a long road to come."
It's too soon to know whether the efforts have an impact, Giannoccaro said, but response so far has been positive.
Some longtime residents of Italy, like Emilia Stoica, president of the League of Romanians in Italy, think that the Romanian government "could have acted sooner."
For years, it's been up to groups like hers, she said, to painstakingly build bridges with their host country. Last week, for example, her organization opened a blood drive among Romanians living in Lombardy in favor of Italy's national blood donors' association.
But the blood drive isn't trying to make that point. It's a "gesture of solidarity, to show Italy that we live here and are an active part of this society," said Stoica, who became an Italian citizen 11 years ago. "So now I have three citizenships: Romanian, Italian and European."
Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 8,000 Romanians in Italy, and now there are more than a million, according to a dossier presented in June by the Catholic aid agency Caritas, which also claims that Romanian labor contributes 1.2 percent of Italy's gross domestic product. Four of 10 men work in the construction business, while one woman in four works as a cleaner or caregiver for Italy's increasingly aging society. Seventy-two percent of Romanian immigrants here have a high school education or higher.
If there is fault with the campaign it's that it sidesteps the issue of the Romanian Roma, or Gypsies, who are especially vilified in Italy (according to the study carried out for the Romanian government, 61 percent of all Italians do not approve of their presence in Italy). Does the omission imply subtle racism? Is the point being made that not all Romanians are Roma?
"It would have been nice to include them," because awareness campaigns should aim to overturn intolerance in general, not toward one specific group, said Pietro Vulpiani, of UNAR, the national council for fighting discrimination, who nonetheless praised the ads.
"Otherwise, all it takes is the next incident to nullify the whole thing."
Twenty hurt in India migrant violence
Friday, October 24, 2008
PATNA, India: At least 20 people were injured in clashes with police in eastern India Friday in protests over attacks on migrants in the financial hub of Mumbai, police said.
Protesters blocked roads, smashed cars and burnt tyres in the eastern state of Bihar, as police struggled to control street violence for a fifth day in a row.
Migrant workers from Bihar said they were attacked and thrown out of Mumbai over the last week by supporters of the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS), a militant Hindu group.
The MNS is fuelling anti-immigrant rhetoric ahead of national and local elections due next year and trying to hold on to its Marathi votebank, some political commentators say.
That in turn has provoked tit-for-tat violence in northern and eastern India, a sign of the strains that inequality is placing on society as parts of the country's economy booms.
In Patna, Bihar's state capital, the protesters, mostly students who were barred by MNS from taking job interviews and tests, threw stones at police.
(Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)
ECB policymakers call for calm
Iceland requests $2 billion from IMF to rescue economy
Oil falls $4 as OPEC cut fails to halt slide
Familiar scenario casts chill in South Korea
U.S. futures market frozen after hitting maximum dropping point
Stocks in India hit 4-year low
Bank's Bean says crisis may be worst in history
Europe and UK seen plunging into recession
Grainger shares plunge after convertible bond offer
Pound hits record low
U.S. stocks slide after global fall
Airlines on rack as Air France-KLM issues warning
Economy shrinks in third quarter
Economy shrinks more than expected
FTSE ends down 5 percent
Bank's Sentance says severe recession more likely
John Lewis weekly sales down 7.6 percent
OPEC discussing two supply cut options
GDP seen falling as recession looms
South Koreans reliving nightmare of last financial crisis
HSBC shares plunge 10 percent
Up to 30 percent of hedge funds could close
Asia stocks tumble further
Wall Street joins stock market rout
Tech results show resilience but future more gloomy
UNITED STATES: US capitalism enters period of change
Friday, October 24, 2008
Successive Treasury and Federal Reserve moves to avert a systemic collapse, which gathered pace last month after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, raise questions about the future of US capitalism. The structure of the system is clearly being somewhat recast, but there is increasing speculation that it could be more profoundly transformed:
•Temporary action? Supporters of the current federal interventions in the marketplace defend it as 'government action to free the markets' -- an idea that even conservative economists such as Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman might have accepted. Indeed, President George Bush has emphasized the temporary character of these initiatives, and characterized them as intended to "preserve" rather than "weaken" free markets.
•More lasting change? However, there are already signs that such massive government intervention in the marketplace may have a lasting legacy. The policies introduced by the exigencies of the moment could potentially transform institutional framework of US capitalism, regardless whether the next administration headed by a Republican or a Democrat.
New social contract? Besides recording record or near-record discontent about the US economic situation and outlook, public opinion polls have revealed considerable anxiety about income inequality and economic insecurity. The rising costs of a college education (the ticket to middle-class status in the United States) and health care underline these fears. How these latter costs are addressed by the new administration may determine whether the United States responds to the crisis through a new social contract between individuals and the state.
Barriers to change. Nevertheless, several factors may limit the degree to which US capitalism changes:
•Pragmatism and prudentialism. Former President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal reforms significantly changed US capitalism and the relationship between the state and society. However, they left untouched the basic principle that the United States is and would remain a market-based society that put faith in price adjustments and signaling over central government planning. Defenders of the recent dramatic federal measures make claims of pragmatism and prudentialism that echo Roosevelt's rhetoric, and signal that change has limits.
•Faith in innovation. The 'innovation engine' of the US economy has generated massive new wealth over many generations. Policymakers, from both parties, will be reluctant to inhibit this dynamism through overly strong regulation -- regardless of the depth of the current crisis.
•Perceived global role. New social spending, of the magnitude necessary to create a European-style social-welfare state, is almost certainly unaffordable given the strong US commitment to its global role. Although the pace of defense spending increases may slow under the incoming administration, there is unlikely to be a major rollback.
US capitalism is entering a period of change, which is likely to involve a greater state role in the economy and increased regulation of the financial services sector. However, this change will be incremental, rather than transformational: public faith in the US economy as an 'innovation engine' and wealth creator, and US international priorities, preclude the creation of a European-style regulatory or social welfare state.
China seen overtaking Germany as top exporter in 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
By Rene Wagner
China will overtake Germany to become the world's biggest exporter of goods this year, earlier than previously expected, the DIHK German chambers of industry and commerce said on Friday.
Germany has held the top spot since 2003, but the DIHK said the rise in the value of the dollar against the euro would help China to take over this year, rather than in 2009 as expected previously.
"We will lose the top position to China this year already, even if only closely," Axel Nitschke, head of the DIHK's external trade department, told Reuters.
Nitschke said German exports were set to be worth more than 1 trillion euros (806.2 billion pounds) for the first time this year. But China would beat this sum slightly, even though many of its exporters are suffering badly from the global economic slowdown.
"The reason is the rise in the value of the dollar. That's why Chinese exports, which are mainly billed in the U.S. currency, are simply worth more," he said. Two thirds of German exports went to other EU countries and were mainly paid for in euros, he added.
The euro has fallen to about $1.25 from levels of around $1.60 in July.
Germany's foreign trade success has played a key role in supporting growth of Europe's largest economy.
The DIHK said China was set to strengthen its lead position as the world's top exporter next year. "The financial crisis will only hit our exporters with all its force next year, Nitschke said.
Germany has traditionally has focused on expensive investment exports, which tended to have long-term order contracts, Nitschke said. This meant many exporters could still achieve high growth rates this year despite the crisis.
China, by contrast, mainly specialised in the export of consumer goods, such as textiles and electronics, which were set to suffer less in the next few months than expensive investment goods, Nitschke said.
However, the closure last week of a big toy company in southern China which employed 6,500 people showed the problems which exporters there face. Half the firms in the toy sector that sell overseas have gone out of business this year, according to the customs administration.
(Reporting by Rene Wagner; Writing by Kerstin Gehmlich)
After London's Frieze Fair, setting out, again, to ponder these troubling times
By Roberta Smith
Friday, October 24, 2008
LONDON: It's something of a London tradition: the scrum of events, exhibitions and gallery shows timed to coincide with the Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park. That is true this year as well, and luckily many of the outlying shows last long after the fair is over.
The overall effect is of contrasts. If the 2008 Frieze, which ran for five days, ending Oct. 19, offered a glimpse of a plush, moneyed-to-the-gills art world that may soon be history, the outlying shows in many cases seem more reality-based. By turns apocalyptic, brooding or sardonic, some of them make palpable the challenges and anxieties of contemporary life. Others introduce a deeper kind of art-about-art that feels relevant to the moment and can show artists alluding to older art in fresh and revealing ways. And there is Charles Saatchi's new gallery, which reflects his latest area of collecting: contemporary art from China.
For apocalyptic, nothing beats this year's Unilever Commission, which the Tate Modern has unveiled as usual in its vast Turbine Hall. The work, "TH. 2058," is a capacious installation piece by the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. An effective pastiche of largely received ideas and familiar strategies, especially appropriation, it exemplifies the accessible (even obvious) Conceptual installation art that museums so often favor these days. By turns didactic, theatrical and hokey, the piece takes us 50 years into the future, to a time of ceaseless rain when the Turbine Hall (the "TH." of the title) has become a public shelter.
The sound of rain pervades the space, which is filled with about 200 bare metal bunk beds painted blue or yellow. It might resemble the set of an environmental-disaster movie, except for the assortment of books, film and art available for perusal. In the brochure Gonzalez-Foerster alliteratively describes the situation as "a culture of quotation in a context of catastrophe."
You can lounge around on the bottom bunks and page through the books, which range from science fiction classics like "War of the Worlds" and "Fahrenheit 451" to chilling assessments of contemporary life like Mike Davis's "Dead Cities." Things look even more hopeless in "The Last Film," which is projected on a looming screen. It alternates snippets from films by avant-garde artists like Michael Snow, Robert Smithson and Chris Marker with others from more mainstream end-of-the-world movies, including "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Last Wave." Most are scary or wet, or both.
This land-locked Ark also accommodates some slightly freakish works of outdoor sculpture. Towering above the bunks are enlarged versions of well-known pieces - some familiar from past Unilever commissions - that create a daisy chain of mutating ideas, bodies and species.
Some are monstrous, like a giant Louise Bourgeois spider and "Flamingo," a red stabile by Alexander Calder. Others are truncated, like Bruce Nauman's merry-go-round of trussed animals and the more benign shapes of Henry Moore's "Sheep Piece." By contrast, Maurizio Cattelan's "Felix," a giant skeleton of a cat, is all there, in detail. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's "Apple Core" is another skeleton - the one created when Eve took her famous bite.
In another instance of sculptural remakes, there was a one-time performance of "Drama Queens," a droll play full of art world in-jokes by the Berlin-based art team Elmgreen & Dragset, with text by Tim Etchells. Staged as a benefit for the Old Vic theater, it brought together robotized versions of modernist sculpture, including Giacometti's "Walking Man," a Sol LeWitt grid, Jeff Koons's silver "Rabbit," Barbara Hepworth's biomorphic "Elegy III" and a granite stele by Ulrich Rückriem. All scooted around the stage arguing, commiserating and lamenting, as their lines were spoken by a starry cast seated at microphones in a box above the stage.
The actors included Joseph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons (as the Giacometti's dreamy, French-accented bass voice) and Kevin Spacey, who made the Koons sound a bit too much like Bugs Bunny. Their talk traced a progression of aesthetic viewpoints, from postwar existentialism to post-Pop disco decadence and turned art-about-art into a highly entertaining form of art education.
Old-time existentialism - the philosophical crisis of an earlier era - prevails in two prominent exhibitions devoted to modern masters of pictorial angst, overt and covert. Overt angst suffuses the Tate Britain's large retrospective of Francis Bacon's paintings, making an exceptional case for the artist's vision of psychic suffering, gorgeous color and bravura brushwork. A gallery devoted to Bacon's notes, drawings, magazine images and staged photographs reveals the deliberation behind his art.
Across the Thames, the Tate Modern is showing a selection of paintings by Mark Rothko, all from the dozen years before he killed himself, in 1970. In the show's enormous third gallery, 14 works from Rothko's famous Four Seasons commission hang in hushed, slightly dim splendor (much too high on the wall if you ask me, but in keeping with Rothko's instructions, it turns out). Executed in deep reds and blacks with occasional jolts of orange, these works show Rothko forsaking his stacked volumes of color for a more flexible, suggestive vocabulary of verticals, open squares and double rectangles. Their archaic resonances evoke symbols, masks, calligraphy and post-and-lintel architecture.
The accessible art-about-art witnessed in the Gonzalez-Foerster piece at Tate Modern and the Elmgreen & Dragset sculpture drama re-emerges in the Tate Britain's show of this year's finalists for the Turner Prize, awarded annually to an artist under 50. The 2008 finalists - Runa Islam, Mark Leckey, Goshka Macuga and Cathy Wilkes - are making new inroads into the tired strategy of appropriation, giving it a new delicacy that includes the temporary matings of images and objects. Together, their works in video, sculpture and photography make the most cohesive Turner finalists show of recent memory.
As for galleries, the new ones scattered about Mayfair and adjacent neighborhoods give London something it has not had in years: a walkable gallery scene.
On the King's Road in Chelsea it was possible to enter yet another art dimension, this one created by the collector Saatchi, the longtime patron of the young British art scene that emerged in the early 1990s (he paid for the fabrication of Damien Hirst's first shark) and, given the amount of art he has sold, a dealer in his own right.
Saatchi's new passion is contemporary Chinese art, which, as usual, he has acquired in bulk and will probably try to sell off in the not-too-distant future. It is now on display in his latest architectural setting, the former Duke of York's Headquarters, which Saatchi has elegantly refurbished in partnership with Phillips de Pury & Company. The space is amazing: filled with light and air, and a vast improvement over his previous digs in County Hall, on the Thames.
Most of the art, however, is not ready for prime time. Like much derivative Western art of recent years, it is preoccupied with skill, narrative and some form of realism. In painting, that largely means a form of Photo Realism that is sometimes agitated with heavy brushwork and reminiscent of Malcolm Morley or Chuck Close. In sculpture it means either Surrealist or lifelike verisimilitude: Ron Mueck versus Duane Hanson, who was one of the first artists Saatchi collected.
Only occasionally is there an artwork that does not bring a raft of precedents to mind. One is Fang Lijun's enormous woodblock, an oceanic field of waves or hills; the other is Zeng Fanzhi's rawly Expressionist depiction of a crowded hospital waiting room. Tellingly, these works date from the mid-1990s, before the Chinese art boom began heating up, while the others date from the last few years. They very much look as if they were made to meet a demand that may soon not exist.
The fashion report of 1920
By Guy Trebay
Friday, October 24, 2008
WHEN the going gets tough, the tough shop the hardware aisle. That, at least, is where Ruben and Isabel Toledo, the artist and designer, obtain the carpenter pants they like so much that Toledo once pinned the revival of the Anne Klein label on this basic item of blue-collar gear.
"Hardware stores are my background," said Toledo, whose dad had a hardware store in Cuba, where the designer was born. These days Toledo relies on her father-in-law, who lives in West New York, New Jersey, to stock up for her and her husband on the kind of stuff you'll never see at Barneys New York.
"You can count on them," Toledo said, referring to her carpenter pants, the light denim trousers with a high-rise waist, wide legs, topstitched seams, side pockets and loop for holding a hammer. "You know how they feel. You're confident in them. And the construction tells me that a pair is going to be around a long time." There is one other thing in their favor besides utility and longevity; they cost about $25 a pair.
It is a truism of fashion that the more time you spend following it, the more interested you become in clothes. What sounds like a redundancy is not when you consider that by clothes one means not the hyped-up goods cranked out by the global luxury machine but the work or sportswear that is resolutely immune to vogues and seldom featured in Vogue.
By clothes one means the kind of garments seemingly designed after the architect Louis Sullivan's famous and overused dictum that "form ever follows function" — that is, if "designed" is not too pompous a term for a plain white T-shirt from Hanes. One would have a tough time naming the anonymous genius behind the nearly perfect cotton crew-neck shirt or, for that matter, the person who came up with the auto mechanic jumpsuits, the thermal undershirts, the engineer's boots, the moccasins and tin cloth jackets and gum boots that so neatly marry form and function that no one has found the need to alter their design for many decades.
Like the Levi's jeans that designers as unalike as Yves Saint Laurent and Calvin Klein referred to as the most nearly perfect article of clothing, the Filson tin cloth jacket dates from the time of a Gold Rush, in this case the race for glittering ore in the Klondike at the end of the 19th century. It was in 1897 that its founder opened C. C. Filson's Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers to outfit fortune seekers stampeding to Alaska. He made jackets and blankets, as well as boots and shoes for miners like the one whose diary recorded that even by amplifying the sensation of "the most bitter ice blast that has ever pierced your marrow" a thousand times, one could still scarcely conjure the depth of a springtime chill in the Chilkoot Canyon, never mind the bitterness of midwinter on the Yukon.
New York rarely sees conditions like that or, for that matter, weather that calls for a coat of oil-finished cloth to ward off chilblains. But that is no deterrent to certain knowing fashion insiders, who form a small cult of worshipers of clothes from the Seattle retailer.
"There's an editor here who's obsessed with Filson," said Kim France, the editor of Lucky, the shopping magazine, and the author, with Andrea Linnett, of the newly published "Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style." "There are all these great standbys that don't really have anything to do with the lifestyle we lead here in New York and are totally underappreciated," she added, referring to things like Red Wing engineer boots, Aran sweaters, Barbour jackets, Sperry Top-Siders, Woolrich jackets, Alden cordovan loafers and Pendleton shirts.
It would not be altogether accurate to suggest that those classics have gone unnoticed by fashion. Engineer boots are a perennial staple of tough-girl chic. For a while Carhartt jackets were a hip-hop uniform. Marc Jacobs recently made his own $1,100 version of the Irish fisherman's sweater, and the superbly stolid Grenson brogue, revived by a British entrepreneur, is once more ready to take one stalking across the misty moors or, anyway, along 57th Street.
For a moment or two, Top-Sider boat shoes restyled in bright colors became the footgear of choice among the fashionably scrawny Williamsburg types who have Conor Oberst haircuts, black Acne jeans and iPods programmed to shuffle Department of Eagles with Grizzly Bear and Gang Gang Dance.
"It's been a pleasant surprise for me, being from Texas, that some of the things I grew up with, and realized with regret I'd discarded along the way, fearing they would hopelessly reveal the hayseed in me, have come back," said Jay Fielden, the editor of Men's Vogue. In the November issue, Fielden features a loving pictorial paean to such intact artifacts of a hunting and fishing boyhood as Barbour's invincible $279 quilted hunting jacket and Filson's $89 tin cloth pants.
Versions of this stuff are popping up everywhere from Ralph Lauren to Rag & Bone to the neo-traditionalist collections Alex Carleton designs under the Rogues Gallery label, Fielden said. Anonymous, eminently functional and reasonably priced, the clothes seem perfectly attuned to times like these. That they are cool besides seems to derive not from any sartorial irony or nostalgia for the manual labor fast vanishing from the American landscape or even from a conservative cultural atmosphere. It is more simple than that. They do the job.
"In terms of fashion, it's not a moment to be too flashy," said Thomas Persson, the editor of Acne Paper, the quarterly produced by Acne, the Swedish label that Interview recently characterized as "fanatically popular."
"We've been in a time of extreme consumerism, and at a certain point, you want to withdraw from the celebrity, flash and razzle," said Persson, whose new issue is organized around a theme of tradition. "Luxury has changed so much that craftsmanship is what we're moving toward now. People want to be more subtle and comfortable, and these kinds of traditional items of clothing bring a certain sense of assurance and familiarity."
And somehow, because, as Bill Kulczycki, the president of Filson, said — "We don't do things for a season and then drop them; we do things for 50 years" — these anonymous garments convey another sort of cool, drawn from the ineffable aura of continuity.
"Those clothes are always going to look right," said Linnett, the Lucky creative director, referring to Filson Mackinaw jackets or Aran Island sweaters or footwear like the Wellington made by Hunter, a field boot that essentially weds the cobbler's craft to bicycle-tube technology to create footgear so resolutely practical and clunky it is, contradictorily, chic.
"I have a friend who says that when you see those things on someone, you know they know what they're doing," she said. Given that the best-known fan of the Wellington is Queen Elizabeth II, that friend is doubtless correct.
But Hunter Wellingtons are far from the only classics lying around waiting to be redeployed, the men's wear designer Michael Bastian said by phone from Umbria, where his own stylish improvisations on American staples are manufactured. Featured among the updated bomber jackets and nipped-waist blazers and frayed Bermudas in Bastian's current collection are hand-sewn $69 moccasins from L. L. Bean.
"I love that shoe," Bastian said, referring to the company's Camp Moc. "Certain things are just so perfect I can't do it any better." Rated high among his other choices for stuff best left alone are Champion gym shorts, 501 Levi's and the aviator sunglasses Randolph Engineering makes to United States military specifications and that cost $99.
"There are things that are perfection in their genericness," Bastian said.
"I'm not going to touch them," he added."It's like Coke. You can't improve it. I give it to you. You win."
Friday, October 24, 2008
Hyperbole is the currency of U.S. presidential campaigns, but this year America's future truly hangs in the balance.
The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush's failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens - whether they are fleeing a hurricane's floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.
As tough as the times are, the selection of a new president is easy. After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States.
Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation's problems.
In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in the U.S. Congress.
Given the particularly ugly nature of McCain's campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong. But there is a greater value in looking closely at the facts of life in America today and at the prescriptions the candidates offer. The differences are profound.
McCain offers more of the Republican every-man-for-himself ideology now lying in shards on Wall Street and in Americans' bank accounts. Obama has another vision of government's role and responsibilities.
In his convention speech in Denver, Obama said, "Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: Protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology."
Since the financial crisis, he has correctly identified the abject failure of government regulation that has brought the markets to the brink of collapse.
The American financial system is the victim of decades of Republican deregulatory and anti-tax policies. Those ideas have been proved wrong at an unfathomable price, but McCain - a self-proclaimed "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution" - is still a believer.
Obama sees that far-reaching reforms will be needed to protect Americans and American business.
McCain talks about reform a lot, but his vision is pinched. His answer to any economic question is to eliminate pork-barrel spending - about $18 billion in a $3 trillion budget - cut taxes and wait for unfettered markets to solve the problem.
Obama is clear that America's tax structure must be changed to make it fairer. That means the well-off Americans who have benefited disproportionately from Bush's tax cuts will have to pay some more. Working Americans, who have seen their standard of living fall and their children's options narrow, will benefit. Obama wants to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation, restore a climate in which workers are able to organize unions if they wish and expand educational opportunities.
McCain, who once opposed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy as fiscally irresponsible, now wants to make them permanent. And while he talks about keeping taxes low for everyone, his proposed cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the top 1 percent of Americans while digging the country into a deeper fiscal hole.
The U.S. military - its people and equipment - is dangerously overstretched. Bush has neglected the necessary war in Afghanistan, which threatens to spiral into defeat. The unnecessary and staggeringly costly war in Iraq must be ended as quickly and responsibly as possible.
While Iraq's leaders insist on a swift drawdown of U.S. troops and a deadline for the end of the occupation, McCain is still taking about some ill-defined "victory." As a result, he has offered no real plan for extracting U.S. troops and limiting any further damage to Iraq and its neighbors.
Obama was an early and thoughtful opponent of the war in Iraq, and he has presented a military and diplomatic plan for withdrawing U.S. forces. Obama also has correctly warned that until the Pentagon starts pulling troops out of Iraq, there will not be enough troops to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
McCain, like Bush, has only belatedly focused on Afghanistan's dangerous unraveling and the threat that neighboring Pakistan may quickly follow.
Obama would have a learning curve on foreign affairs, but he has already showed sounder judgment than his opponent on these critical issues. His choice of Senator Joseph Biden - who has deep foreign-policy expertise - as his running mate is another sign of that sound judgment. McCain's long interest in foreign policy and the many dangers the U.S. faces make his choice of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska more irresponsible.
Both presidential candidates talk about strengthening alliances in Europe and Asia, including NATO, and strongly support Israel. Both candidates talk about repairing America's image in the world. But it seems clear to us that Obama is far more likely to do that - and not just because the first black president would present a new American face to the world.
Obama wants to reform the United Nations, while McCain wants to create a new entity, the League of Democracies - a move that would incite even fiercer anti-American furies around the world.
Unfortunately, McCain, like Bush, sees the world as divided into friends (like Georgia) and adversaries (like Russia). He proposed kicking Russia out of the Group of 8 industrialized nations even before the invasion of Georgia. We have no sympathy for Moscow's bullying, but we also have no desire to replay the Cold War. The United States must find a way to constrain the Russians' worst impulses, while preserving the ability to work with them on arms control and other vital initiatives.
Both candidates talk tough on terrorism, and neither has ruled out military action to end Iran's nuclear weapons program. But Obama has called for a serious effort to try to wean Tehran from its nuclear ambitions with more credible diplomatic overtures and tougher sanctions. McCain's willingness to joke about bombing Iran was frightening.
The Constitution and the rule of law
Under Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the justice system and the separation of powers have come under relentless attack. Bush chose to exploit the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the moment in which he looked like the president of a unified nation, to try to place himself above the law.
Bush has arrogated the power to imprison men without charges and browbeat Congress into granting an unfettered authority to spy on Americans. He has created untold numbers of "black" programs, including secret prisons and outsourced torture. The president has issued hundreds, if not thousands, of secret orders. We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated.
Both candidates have renounced torture and are committed to closing the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
But Obama has gone beyond that, promising to identify and correct Bush's attacks on the democratic system. McCain has been silent on the subject.
McCain improved protections for detainees. But then he helped the White House push through the appalling Military Commissions Act of 2006, which denied detainees the right to a hearing in a real court and put Washington in conflict with the Geneva Conventions, greatly increasing the risk to American troops.
The next president will have the chance to appoint one or more justices to a Supreme Court that is on the brink of being dominated by a radical right wing. Obama may appoint less liberal judges than some of his followers might like, but McCain is certain to pick rigid ideologues. He has said he would never appoint a judge who believes in women's reproductive rights.
It will be an enormous challenge just to get the nation back to where it was before Bush, to begin to mend its image in the world and to restore its self-confidence and its self-respect. Doing all of that, and leading America forward, will require strength of will, character and intellect, sober judgment and a cool, steady hand.
Obama has those qualities in abundance. Watching him being tested in the campaign has long since erased the reservations that led us to endorse Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries. He has drawn in legions of new voters with powerful messages of hope and possibility and calls for shared sacrifice and social responsibility.
McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries, has spent the last coins of his reputation for principle and sound judgment to placate the limitless demands and narrow vision of the far-right wing. His righteous fury at being driven out of the 2000 primaries on a racist tide aimed at his adopted daughter has been replaced by a zealous embrace of those same win-at-all-costs tactics and tacticians.
He surrendered his standing as an independent thinker in his rush to embrace Bush's misbegotten tax policies and to abandon his leadership position on climate change and immigration reform.
McCain could have seized the high ground on energy and the environment. Earlier in his career, he offered the first plausible bill to control America's emissions of greenhouse gases. Now his positions are a caricature of that record: Think Palin leading chants of "drill, baby, drill."
Obama has endorsed some offshore drilling, but as part of a comprehensive strategy including big investments in new, clean technologies.
Obama has withstood some of the toughest campaign attacks ever mounted against a candidate. He's been called un-American and accused of hiding a secret Islamic faith. The Republicans have linked him to domestic terrorists and questioned his wife's love of her country. Palin has also questioned millions of Americans' patriotism, calling Republican-leaning states "pro-America."
This politics of fear, division and character assassination helped Bush drive McCain from the 2000 Republican primaries and defeat Senator John Kerry in 2004. It has been the dominant theme of his failed presidency.
America's problems are simply too grave to be reduced to slashing "robo-calls" and negative ads. The country needs sensible leadership, compassionate leadership, honest leadership and strong leadership. Barack Obama has shown that he has all of those qualities.
'Most important is to be able to enter a word like a continent," the 22-year-old Ted Hughes wrote his sister, Olwyn. And in his first two collections of poems, dealing with animals and the natural world, he did. Each word, each hurtle to the next word, each jarred angle between them, had the solidity of a crag, the cloud spray of a waterfall.
Of the glitter of a hawk at roost: "My feet are locked upon the rough bark/It took the whole of Creation/To produce my foot, my each feather:/Now I hold Creation in my foot."
The early poems were his best. After the gas-oven suicide of his wife Sylvia Plath in 1963, when he was 32, and the mirroring suicide of his lover Assia Wevill six years later, Hughes' writing changed. He tried to enter the continent straight away, leaving the words to loosen and turn hortatory. No longer did he hold Creation in his foot. Creation - a mystical, grandiose, legend-ridden kind - held him in its foot.
The 738 pages of Hughes' letters just published, about a third of the total, make his shift clear. It was a comedown in the guise of an expansion: from a jewel-hard artificer whose metaphysical vision spoke entirely through the disciplined beat of line and image, to a gurulike discourser drawing upon shamanism, folk beliefs, hermetic philosophy and Jung.
Undoubtedly it is his letters to and about Sylvia Plath that will hold the widest interest; they also contain some of his most directly expressive writing. Before getting to them, though, there are some splendid perceptions among the mass of explicating, along with biographical material that is useful, though not especially revealing.
The story of Hughes and Plath - their passionate early relationship, their exuberant poetic collaboration and bitter quarrels, his adulteries and abandonment and her suicide - has been endlessly related. Hughes has been variously cast as the villain and the victimized; as suppressor of parts of her writing; and as Plath's most faithful curator. He refused to make his version public until he published the poems, "Birthday Letters," in 1998, a few months before his death.
The real letters, which the "Birthday" volume draws from, represent his voice, not hers. It is, frequently, an eloquent and moving voice. There is anguish over Plath's death, the confession to Olwyn that their quarrels had blinded him to her need of him.
There is his stiffening over the years in the face of attacks by feminists and others; and an angry insistence that the living - himself, their children, Sylvia's mother - were being injured by them.
There is a weariness with having to live among a cloud of opinions, even those that came to his defense. "The dogs in the street seem to have more ideas about me than I have."
Earlier, while Plath was still alive and they were together, there is his unstinting reassurance, rejoicing in her successes and praising her work. Above all, after her death there is his searing defense of her shattering "Ariel" poems. To Donald Hall, an admirer who nevertheless found "Ariel" too sensational to be first-rate poems, he wrote: "Whatever you say about them, you know they're what every poet wishes he or she could do," Hughes wrote. "When poems hit so hard, surely you ought to find reasons for their impact, not argue yourself out of your bruises."
By Katherine Zoepf
Friday, October 24, 2008
BAGHDAD: A suicide car bomber drove into a Shiite government minister's convoy in the Baghdad morning rush hour on Thursday, killing 11 and wounding 22, according to Iraqi government and hospital officials.
According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the attack left its chief unhurt, but killed his nephew, who was in the minister's security detail. The dead included a total of four bodyguards and three police officers, according to a police officer at the scene. The blast left a crater 12 feet wide and damaged dozens of the photography shops that the Tahrir Square area is known for.
The fuller casualty count was given by hospital officials, who spoke in return for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Reuters said one of its television cameramen saw a car plow into a convoy of "six or seven" S.U.V.s near Tahrir Square in central Baghdad.
The bomber's car, a white 1979 Toyota Land Cruiser filled with explosives, burst into flames and chaos ensued as police and bodyguards opened fire and other vehicles in the area crashed into each other or sped away.
The attack on the minister, Mahmoud Muhammad al-Radhi, was the second in four months against a member of the 40-person cabinet, underlining the continued perils confronting Iraqis despite a sharp reduction in overall violence.
Salam Rzoki, 35, was walking to work at a nearby photo developing center and said he was about 100 yards away when the vehicle exploded.
"Iraqi security forces deployed around the scene and started shooting randomly to keep people away," Rzoki said. "I tried to cross the street to help the victims but a policeman told me to stay away. I explained that I just wanted to help the victims, and he refused me again, then pulled out his gun and fired a warning shot over my head."
A spokesman for the labor minister, Abdullah al-Lami, was quoted by The Associated Press as telling Al Arabiya television that the bombing was "the latest in a series of criminal attacks that are targeting the development process in Iraq."
Also Thursday, American troops handed over control of Babil Province, a predominantly Shiite central province, to Iraqi forces.
Babil was once so strife-torn that the northern part of it was dubbed "the triangle of death" by United States forces. It is the 12th of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed over to the control of Iraq's own security forces.
Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the second highest-ranking commander of American forces in Iraq, spoke at the handover ceremony, calling the event a "milestone" in a province where militant attacks have dropped by more than 80 percent in the last year.
Anxieties over the transfer of power rose earlier this week when, early Tuesday morning, the departure of United States troops from Sakhreya, a disputed area between Babil and Anbar provinces, prompted a firefight between rival factions of the Sunni al-Bouisa tribe, one supporting the United States and the other sympathetic to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the domestic terrorist group that the American military says is foreign-led.
Security sources in Diwaniya Province announced that a Wednesday night raid conducted by American and Iraqi special forces had succeeded in arresting two men near a cemetery in Najaf, saying that they were members of the so-called special groups, or Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
Three suspected members of such groups were also arrested Thursday morning in Baghdad, the United States military said.
Militia members currently in custody have said that these groups receive training, funding, and weapons from Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Friday, October 24, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police have arrested four suspects in connection with a suicide truck bomb attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad last month and produced them in an anti-terrorism court on Friday, an official said.
Fifty-five people were killed when a truck loaded with explosives blew up outside the hotel in the heart of the capital on September 20.
Police said earlier the four men had been arrested at different times in different places.
"The court has given us a seven-day remand for these men and we will continue our investigation," said senior police official Altaf Ali Khattak.
Khattak said the four men, one of them a doctor and another a lawyer, were being held under various sections of the penal code and the anti-terror act. They have yet to be formally charged.
The suspects were brought to court in the city of Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, under tight security. They were handcuffed and chained to policemen and their faces were covered with hoods.
Islamist militants are suspected of organising the attack on the hotel.
Pakistan has been hit by a wave of suicide bomb attacks, many of them on the security forces and politicians, since last year.
Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi in December. Authorities suspect a Pakistani Taliban leader based in a remote region on the Afghan border was behind that attack.
(Reporting by Aftab Borka; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)
The Associated Press
Friday, October 24, 2008
WASHINGTON: U.S. and UN experts agree that Afghanistan will harvest fewer poppy plants bound for the drug trade in 2008 after two years of record crops. They have radically different estimates, however, about what the decline will mean for opium production.
In a report obtained by The Associated Press before its planned release Friday, the Bush administration contends that production of the heroin precursor will plunge by 31 percent, from 8,000 metric tons in 2007 to 5,500 metric tons this year. That is more than five times the drop in production predicted by the United Nations in late August.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy maintains its estimate is accurate. Its director, John Walters, said the UN report may contain "methodological anomalies" related to on-the-ground surveys of poppy fields and stocks and not factor poor weather into its production estimate.
The Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which compiled the UN report, was not immediately available for comment, but an official at its New York branch defended its estimate, calling the discrepancy "surprising" and "not logical." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak out on the matter.
When the UN report was released on Aug. 26, officials said that despite a 19 percent drop in cultivation, opium production would go down only 6 percent because of a rise in yield.
The U.S. report estimates that poppy cultivation is down a similar amount, 22 percent, but says yields also have fallen. Walters's office noted that the United States and the United Nations use different data collection and analysis techniques to compile their estimates.
Walters said the U.S. estimate included factors affecting opium production, such as drought, that the United Nations might not have used. Both reports, however, did factor the weather into cultivation.
UN experts said the drought was a crucial reason, along with anti-drug campaigns, for the significant decline in poppy cultivation from 477,000 acres, or 193,000 hectares, in 2007 to 388,000 acres in 2008. The U.S. report estimates that cultivation fell from 499,000 acres in 2007 to 388,000 acres in 2008.
Regardless of the difference in opinion over what the drop will mean for opium production, Walters said the decline in cultivation, particularly that 18 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces which are now poppy free, up from 15 in 2007 and 12 in 2006, is "good news" and a sign that counternarcotics efforts are working after years of failure.
"It gives us a clear indication that we can do this, we just need to sustain it," he said, noting that anti-drug campaigns were working especially well in Afghanistan's north and east where incentive programs aimed at rewarding local officials for declines in poppy cultivation have been most successful.
The Bush administration has spent $2.8 billion to fight drugs in Afghanistan since 2002, but until this year it had seen poppy cultivation on the rise and record harvests in both 2006 and 2007.
Friday, October 24, 2008
MADRID: Spain's government formally approved Friday the extradition of Hassan el Haski, who was convicted for his part in a 2004 train bombing, to face charges in his native Morocco.
Haski was sentenced to 15 years as a leader of an armed group following the bombing of four commuter trains in or near Madrid on March 11, 2004, in which 191 people died and another 1,800 were injured.
The Supreme Court later reduced the sentence by one year.
Haski was transferred to Morocco on October 10, but without the formal extradition he would have to have returned to Spain after proceedings against him in the North African country were concluded. Spanish officials did not say what charges Haski faced in Morocco.
Under the terms of an extradition treaty, Haski may now stay in Morocco to complete his sentence for the Madrid bombing.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Writing by Martin Roberts; Editing by Dominic Evans)
Friday, October 24, 2008
MANILA: Jihadis escaping from crackdowns in Indonesia and Malaysia continue to flee to the Philippines' southern island despite tightening border controls, the head of Manila's counter-terrorism unit said Friday.
Arturo Lomibao, a former national police chief, said Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members had shown greater "capacity for resilience in the face of successful counter-terrorism efforts against them" and remained a major security threat to the region.
Lomibao said the Philippines and its two closest Southeast Asian neighbours -- Indonesia and Malaysia -- had not fully stopped the movement of Islamic militants across their common maritime borders despite the increasing number of arrests in recent years.
"Jihadis associated with Umar Patek continue to arrive intermittently in Mindanao," Lomibao said at a counter-terrorism forum at an army base in Manila, adding the governments in the region must do more to step up border cooperation.
Umar Patek and Dulmatin, both Indonesians, are key suspects in the 2002 Bali bombing that killed nearly 200 people. They are believed to be hiding out in the southern Philippines with members of the Abu Sayyaf, a small but one of the deadliest Muslim radical group in the country.
"We need to develop and enhance our counter-terrorism responses and continue to maintain close links with our allies to ensure its adaptability to the terrorist threat at all times," Lomibao said.
Based on intelligence reports, there were nearly 60 Islamic militants seeking sanctuary or undergoing training on the southern island of Mindanao, he said.
Lomibao said the government was focussing its efforts to "neutralise" the small but highly mobile unit led by Patek and Dulmatin.
Lomibao said he was also worried about other jihadis who "are no longer visible in the intelligence radar screen."
Most of these "missing" jihadis went to Mindanao four to five years ago to undergo training on guerrilla warfare and in bomb making techniques, he said.
"They may have married locals and could be putting into good use their talents helping our own Muslim rebels in the south," he added.
(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Friday, October 24, 2008
By Matt Robinson and Niko Mchedlishvili
Georgia has outlawed investment in its breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions and imposed entry restrictions on foreigners, under legislation designed to isolate the two Russian-backed territories.
The measures were included in legislation approved by parliament late on Thursday that declared the two regions were occupied territories.
Georgia fought a five-day war with Russia in August during which Georgian security forces were driven from both regions after a failed bid to retake South Ossetia.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s in wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia recognised them as independent states after the August conflict, angering Western governments who said Moscow's military counter-strike was disproportionate.
"This law describes the reality in these territories, and the situation we face," said Givi Targamadze, head of the Defence and Security Committee of the Georgian parliament.
"If Europe shows solidarity with us, this law will work," he told Reuters.
The legislation appears targeted primarily at the Russian investment and tourism that has propped up the Black Sea resort of Abkhazia since it split from Georgia. South Ossetia too is reliant on Russian aid.
The law bans economic and commercial activities on the territory of both regions without the permission of the Georgian government. The sale and purchase of property is deemed illegal, as are banking operations.
Foreigners face prosecution if they enter the regions from Russia without the permission of the authorities in Tbilisi. Georgian permission is also required for humanitarian aid deliveries, the legislation states.
Access to the two regions from Georgia has already been curtailed by Russian forces controlling the de facto borders.
On Friday, Georgia accused Russia of bombing a railway bridge between core Georgian territory and the mainly Georgian-populated region of Gali in Abkhazia.
"It looks like they want to close off the border," a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said. "It is a deliberate policy of cutting communications." The bridge is used mainly by villagers crossing the de facto border on foot.
Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted in war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake South Ossetia.
Russia's powerful counter-strike drove the Georgian army out of South Ossetia. Moscow's troops pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks, but pulled back this month under a French-brokered cease-fire deal.
The Kremlin plans to station 7,600 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Jon Boyle)
Friday, October 24, 2008
NAZRAN, Russia: Armed men drove into Russia's Ingushetia region and abducted up to 15 people including policemen from a checkpoint and a slot machine parlour, police and witnesses said on Friday.
Witnesses said the gunmen, dressed in camouflage, entered Ingushetia from neighbouring Chechnya late on Thursday and presented themselves as police officers. Chechen authorities said they had nothing to do with the raid.
Islamist groups fighting an insurgency in Ingushetia against Moscow's rule frequently target gambling halls and shops selling alcohol, saying they contradict Islam.
The Kremlin has been struggling for decades to suppress armed rebellions in its north Caucasus region. Chechnya, scene of two wars, has been largely quelled but the violence has now shifted to Ingushetia, where shootouts and ambushes are common.
An Ingush police officer, who did not want to give his name, told Reuters the attackers drove to a checkpoint on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia at around 2300 (8:00 p.m. British time) on Thursday.
They disarmed the guards and took at least one Ingush policeman hostage, the officer said. He said they claimed to be Chechen police but did not present any documents to prove this.
They then headed to the Ingush village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya, about 1.5 km (1 mile) away, where they went into a slot machine hall and kidnapped more people, the Ingush police officer said.
"At this stage the investigation cannot give the precise number of those kidnapped. We still believe their number is between 10 and 15," the policeman said.
"It is certain that there are several policemen among them, and their life is in danger."
Some witnesses told Reuters they believed the gunmen had fled with their hostages in several cars in the direction of Chechnya, but other witnesses said they had driven deeper into Ingushetia.
Chechen authorities denied any involvement.
"The Chechen Republic's Interior Ministry units have nothing to do with this incident and we have nothing to say in this respect," a Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman said.
A duty officer at a Chechen police station at the Ingush border said "not a single security unit entered or left Chechnya last night."
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Caroline Drees)
The Associated Press
Friday, October 24, 2008
TOKYO: A 43-year-old player in a virtual game world became so angry about her sudden divorce from her online husband that she logged on with his password and killed his digital persona, the police said.
The woman, who has been jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his ID and password to log onto the popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in May, a police official in the northern city of Sapporo said Thursday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of department policy.
"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.
The woman, a piano teacher, had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.
She has not yet been formally charged. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison or a fine up to $5,000.
Players in "Maple Story" create and manipulate digital images called avatars that represent themselves, while engaging in relationships, social activities and fighting monsters and other obstacles.
In virtual worlds, players often abandon their inhibitions, engaging in activity online that they would never do in the real world. For instance, sex with strangers is a common activity.
The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married in order to kill the character. The man complained to the police when he discovered that his online avatar was dead.
The woman was arrested Wednesday and taken almost 1,000 kilometers, about 620 miles, from her home in southern Miyazaki to be detained in Sapporo, where the man lives, the official said.
The police official said he did not know whether she was married in the real world.