Russian food inspectors have found nearly two tons of Chinese dry milk believed to be contaminated with melamine, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported Friday, the same day that the list of tainted products grew in other nations as well.
ITAR-Tass quoted Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, as saying that the milk was seized in the eastern city of Khabarovsk, on the Chinese border.
The Vietnamese Health Ministry has discovered the industrial chemical in 18 food products imported from China and three other countries, and has ordered them recalled and destroyed, officials said Friday.
And health officials in the Philippines found melamine in 2 of 30 milk products from China tested for the chemical. The Philippine government had halted imports and sales of Chinese milk products pending inspections last week.
Australian food regulators recalled Chinese-made Kirin Milk Tea after tests found that the drink contained melamine. It is the fourth product withdrawn from the country's stores as a result of the tainted-milk scandal.
Milk containing melamine has been blamed for killing four babies and sickening more than 54,000 with kidney stones and other illnesses in China. The contamination has sparked global concerns about food products made with Chinese milk or milk powder and recalls in several countries of Chinese-made products.
The Chinese authorities believe suppliers trying to bolster output diluted their milk, adding melamine because its nitrogen content can fool tests aimed at verifying protein content.
The tainted food has also spread to the United States, where melamine has been found in Chinese-made White Rabbit Creamy Candy sold in California and Connecticut.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that trace amounts of melamine are safe in most foods, except for baby formula. A safety assessment by the agency concluded that 2.5 parts per million - a tiny amount - does not raise concerns. A week ago, the FDA warned consumers not to consume White Rabbit Candy and Mr. Brown coffee products because of possible melamine contamination.
Scientists learn space lessons from Antarctic bases
In the depths of the Antarctic winter, expeditioners at Australia's research bases might as well be on the moon. Or on their way to Mars.
"When you are in Antarctica you know you can't get out -- there's no rescue during winter. And that changes one's mentality," said Des Lugg, head of polar medicine at the Australian Antarctic Division from 1968-2001 and now a consultant to NASA.
"You can get back faster from the international space station than you can from the Antarctic in the depths of winter," he said.
It's that very isolation that makes Australia's Antarctic bases and their expeditioners perfect for planning long-term space missions, he said.
Since 1993, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States has run a joint program with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) studying human health and how small groups adapt to many months of isolation working in the coldest place on earth.
"Australia's Antarctic program has some of the most isolated stations in Antarctica where we have total isolation for up to nine months of the year," said Jeff Ayton, the division's chief medical officer.
He said Australia's Antarctic stations were good analogues for space travel and figuring out how people get along in close environments.
"It's an extreme environment and we've got real people in real hazardous situations and their survival is dependent on technology and complex systems not too dissimilar to survival in space.
"We also have wide experience of the medical conditions that can occur in Antarctic stations and they are of interest to people planning for long-term missions to Mars and other exploratory missions," Ayton added.
PREGNANCIES, BRAIN SURGERY
In particular, NASA has shown interest in the division's decades-old experience in using super-generalist doctors at its bases. Some of these have been recruited from rural Australia, home of the traditional country doctor who are adept at tackling just about any medical challenge.
Doctors down south have conducted brain surgery, fixed fractures and given counselling on mental health problems.
"We have managed pregnancies in Antarctica. That is part of the medical spectrum we have to deal with," Ayton said.
Such broad experience would be crucial on a long-term mission to Mars or beyond.
Other medical conditions also present challenges.
Studies have shown Antarctic expeditioners suffer vitamin D deficiencies through lack of sunlight, depression as well as weaker immune systems.
Ayton said studies have shown the reactivation of latent viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus or other members of the herpes virus family.
"It's not fully known to date what causes immune suppression. We've looked at psychological factors on the immune system. We've looked at vitamin D effects on the immune system and the stresses in small, confined environments," he said, adding studies have shown similar changes to the immune system in space.
Lugg said viruses tend to lie dormant in the body and then reactivate in space or in Antarctica.
"No one has exhibited any clinical disease. This is the other interesting thing. Although they have altered their immune status, there is no clinical disease that we've been able to detect in Antarctica to show for the altered immune response," he said.
Mental health is another top issue.
Being confined to a small base with a dozen or so colleagues for months away from family and friends can be a major source of stress for some expeditioners.
Lugg and Ayton said the vast number of people adapted well to life in Antarctica with only very rare cases of expeditioners suffering mental breakdowns.
Lugg did a 25-year study of documented behavioural health problems in Antarctica and said the incidence rate was four percent of all primary consultations to the base doctor.
"You have sleep problems, but what you are looking for are the classic psychosis episodes," Lugg said.
"There was a guy one year who heard babies cry. He came to the doctor and he said 'I'm hearing voices'. Fortunately, he was able to be got out because it was just before the close of winter."
While such cases were rare, having just one episode in Antarctica or in space could be disastrous.
"However many you have going to Mars in a tin can and someone has a major psychotic event, they are going to have great difficulty handling that."
Pre-expedition health and psychological screening, and possibly genetic testing in the future, were crucial.
"We don't take asthmatics, you don't take anyone who's epileptic, who's on cardiac medication or had a cardiac problem, hypertension -- you screen out a vast number of people," said Lugg, who spent five years working in Washington with NASA's Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer until 2006.
Also crucial were the "niceties," said Lugg, such as understanding human nature as well as cultural differences.
"When you are dealing with humans, you've got to get back to the very basics, and that is their ability to live together, to work together and the health side of it."
This included fighting boredom by providing a good variety of food. It also meant understanding that sex and a glass or two of wine with dinner were normal desires.
Ayton said there were no restrictions on expeditioners when it came to sex. Whatever amorous liaisons occurred between expeditioners were their own business during the nine months or more away from families.
"Australia's Antarctic stations are no different to any other Australian community," said Ayton, echoing Lugg's view that it was crucial to keep base life as normal as possible.
GM hopes new car has international appeal
PARIS: Accompanied by break dancers, executives at Chevrolet unveiled a car on Wednesday that the company hoped would lure American consumers out of Toyota and Honda showrooms and broaden the American carmaker's appeal in international markets.
General Motors' decision to show the car here, on the eve of the Paris auto show, reflected its increasing dependency on its international markets for its sales and car development.
With fuel prices hovering near record levels, GM and its Detroit rivals, Ford and Chrysler, have been struggling to respond to a shift in demand from consumers, who are abandoning gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles in favor of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. To fill the gaps in their United States lineups, the Big Three American automakers are turning to their European and Asian operations or foreign partners.
"As soon as the market went into a 180-degree turn over the last 18 months, it was unsurprising to learn that the Detroit carmakers had empty cupboards," said Peter Schmidt, managing director of Automotive Industry Data, a research firm in Britain. "No carmaker can respond overnight to such a change in demand, so they had to turn elsewhere."
The Cruze, a compact car with an arched roofline, slanted headlights and a two-tier grille, was engineered and designed in Europe and Asia, with GM tapping resources from the former Daewoo Motor, which it acquired in 2001.
The car will be built in South Korea as well as in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Lordstown, Ohio. Chevrolet plans to start selling the car in Europe next year, with other regions, including the United States, to follow in 2010.
The Cruze will be the "ambassador" for Chevrolet's approach to globalization, Wayne Brannon, executive director of Chevrolet Europe, said. "It's essential to be able to compete on a global basis."
Ford has taken a similar approach with a new version of the Fiesta, a subcompact car that was largely developed in Europe, on a platform shared with Mazda of Japan, in which Ford owns a strategic stake. Manufacturing has begun in Cologne, Germany; the Fiesta will also be built in Valencia, Spain, and in China, Thailand and Mexico. It is scheduled to be introduced in the United States in 2010.
GM, which lost $15.5 billion in the second quarter, is trying to turn Chevrolet, an iconic American brand, into a bigger global player. While Ford sells cars under its flagship brand everywhere, GM cars, including the Opel and the Vauxhall, are sold under different brands in different countries.
But more important, American automakers expect to make a profit on the stylish new models — something that has eluded them with other compacts, at least in North America.
At an event in August at the Lordstown plant, Rick Wagoner, GM's chairman, said the Cruze's fuel economy and stylish package should allow the company to charge a higher price than it had for previous compacts.
Industry analysts also see the Cruze as a forerunner in the industry's shift to better-equipped, fuel-efficient small cars that can actually be profitable.
Another American automaker, Chrysler, has stopped short of its bigger rivals in global product development. Instead, Chrysler is looking to outside suppliers to try to compete in small cars. Chrysler has reached agreements with Nissan of Japan and Chery Automotive of China to export cars to the United States and sell them under Chrysler brand names.
The Cruze and the Fiesta are not the first "world cars" from the Big Three. After the oil crises of the 1970s, Ford took a similar approach in the development of the Escort, a small car that was adapted for American consumers from a European model.
But the idea fell out of favor in Detroit as global auto markets diverged, with Americans opting for minivans and other light trucks. A European-developed car from Ford, the Mondeo, had only limited success when it was sold in North America as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique in the 1990s. Moreover, the car cost $6 billion to develop and became a symbol of the fractured state of Ford's global operations.
Another small sedan, the Focus, has done better globally: Ford executives project that the automaker will build two million cars off the platform by 2012, making it the largest volume for any single platform in the industry.
The new Fiesta was originally intended primarily for European and Asian markets. But as oil prices rose and American started looking at smaller cars again, the high-mileage Fiesta was added to Ford's North American plans. The Fiesta will give Ford its first entry in the pint-size B-car segment in the United States, which Ford sees as an essential part of its worldwide growth. The company's product development chief, Derrick Kuzak, said recently that the global B-car segment would grow to 21 million vehicles by 2014, nearly double what it was five years ago.
While Europeans have long paid far more than Americans to fill up their tanks, largely because of higher taxes on oil, European consumers have been moving toward more fuel-efficient models this year.
In France, where the government imposed a tax on gas guzzlers on Jan. 1, sales of sport utility vehicles fell 28 percent in the first seven months, even as the overall market grew by nearly 4 percent, Schmidt said. Germany and other European countries are considering similar taxes, he added.
"The likelihood is that the patterns we are seeing in the French market today will be echoed elsewhere — small cars!" Schmidt said.
Regal denies bid approach from Shell
Ukraine-focussed oil and gas explorer Regal Petroleum denied newspaper reports on Friday that it had received a $1.2 billion (679 million pound) takeover approach from oil major Royal Dutch Shell .
"No such approach has been received," the company said, following reports in the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.
Regal shares rose 36 percent at one point, before falling back to trade up 22 percent at 102 pence at 9:13 a.m. The reports had predicted a bid at 300 pence/share.
A Regal spokesman said while Regal staff did have regular contact with Shell staff in Ukraine, discussions had been only about operational matters such as the possibility of Shell using one of Regal's drilling rigs.
Regal believes it can add more value by developing its reserves independently, the spokesman said, and pointed to analyst target prices for Regal shares in excess of the reported 300 pence/share level.
Analysts at Fox Davies said Regal's sizeable reserves and low market valuation made it a bid target.
"We believe that at the current price at which the stock trade (below one quarter of our Target price of 3.70 pounds/share), the company is a very attractive target .. it would be a material addition to a large independent or even a major," the brokerage said in a research note.
Regal has previously received approaches from third parties proposing to buy part or all of certain of its assets, but the spokesman said none of these was at an advanced stage.
Shell declined to comment on the reports.
In November Regal agreed to sell Shell a 51 percent stake in its Ukrainian gas fields in return for funding the development of the assets, but days later former Shell executive David Greer was appointed as chief executive and ditched the deal.
Instead, Greer raised cash by selling shares so that Regal could fund the assets' development itself.
Creating a gentle revolution in Champagne
SINGAPORE: Cécile Bonnefond doesn't look like a revolutionary, but this 54-year-old Frenchwoman sounds a little like one when she describes some of the ways in which she has marketed Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, the Champagne house of which she became chief executive in 2001.
There was the collaboration with Emilio Pucci, who dressed a 9,000-bottle limited series in his flamboyantly colored prints. The interior designer Andrée Putman made a Champagne box that doubles as an ice bucket, decorated with her signature checkerboard pattern. Karim Rashid, a designer from Egypt, created the Globalight, an orb-shaped lamp that is also an Isotherm bottle carrier.
Innovation of any kind is tricky when the company you are running dates to 1772, and it can seem superfluous when your sales are rising even in tough economic times.
Yet Bonnefond, who has managed some of the best-known brands in Europe at companies like Groupe Danone and Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo), sees innovation as necessary to preserving Veuve Clicquot's place in a changing world.
"I see my job as really managing a paradox," Bonnefond said on a recent business trip to Singapore. "With Veuve Clicquot, you have history, but we also want to be the most edgy, modern, audacious, 'in' name in Champagne."
Audacity is part of Veuve Clicquot's heritage. In 1814, Barbe Nicole Ponsardin, the original Veuve, or Widow, Clicquot, defied Napoleon's nautical blockade of Russia by secretly shipping 10,550 bottles of Champagne to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). By the 1860s, the czarist court and aristocracy were drinking 700,000 bottles per year, or 75 percent of Clicquot's production.
With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, sales of Champagne to Russia abruptly halted. It wasn't until recently, with the rising wealth in Russia, that sales have picked up to the point where Bonnefond can say that "for the first time, this year, we've finally sold more bottles in Russia than Madame Clicquot."
Despite the emerging global economic slowdown, Bonnefond said the company had record sales in 2007 and was "only feeling a small pinch" this year, an accomplishment she attributes to " a very loyal core consumer group."
Marlous Kuiper, head of alcoholic beverages research at Euromonitor International, said Veuve Clicquot had outpaced growth in the global Champagne market in recent years, sometimes by as much as five percentage points.
Veuve Clicquot comes under the umbrella of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, along with the Champagne brands Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Krug, Mercier and Ruinart. Although LVMH does not release a breakdown of production or sales among its wine and spirit brands, the division had total net sales of €3.2 billion, or about $4.4 billion, in 2007, up 7 percent over the previous year, with 62.2 million bottles of Champagne sold in 2007, a 3.8 percent increase over 2006.
According to the latest LVHM results report, Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon have had so far this year a "good performance." Bonnefond said, "I have to make my shareholders happy and they are very happy."
A native of Paris and a graduate of the European Business School with a degree in marketing, Bonnefond joined Danone's marketing division in 1979 before moving to Kellogg's in 1984 as marketing manager for France. Over the next 10 years, she held growing responsibilities across Europe in sales, marketing and general management. In 1995, she joined Grand Metropolitan as chairman and chief executive of a new unit overseeing the activities of Grand Met food brands including Brossard baked goods, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Green Giant frozen foods and Old El Paso Mexican products.
When Grand Met sold its bakery business to Sara Lee in 1997, she joined that company as chief executive of the bakery division in France and Italy.
At Veuve Clicquot, Bonnefond has shown some of the qualities that helped the original owner propel the company, including a knack for seizing the moment. Soon after she joined, she introduced a Veuve Clicquot Rosé nonvintage Champagne. "Knowing that 90 percent of the rosé Champagne drunk in the world was nonvintage, there was a feeling that we were missing a business opportunity," she said.
Bonnefond chose Japan as a test market for the first limited production of the new Champagne. The response was so enthusiastic that the company did not have enough bottles to test it in Hong Kong and Belgium as planned. After increasing production, she took nonvintage rosé international in 2006. Today the product represents around 10 percent of the company's overall sales.
Bonnefond has also moved into other product extensions. There's the Clicquot gift carton that unfolds into an insulated Champagne bucket, a neoprene jacket to keep the bottle cool, and an ice bucket in the bold orange of the brand.
She said that she was not recruited to Veuve Clicquot to "bring in a revolution" but that she was "accelerating" business.
"We've just pushed the boundaries further," Bonnefond said.
Paris is enchanted by some northern lights
PARIS: As the days get colder, and the economic climate even frostier, the world of fashion might be expected to look nostalgically toward Southern climes for some much-needed escapist inspiration. Instead, it seems that this autumn, Paris is turning toward northern lights.
November will see the first fruits of the much-hyped fashion collaboration between the Swedish company Acne Jeans and the quintessentially French luxury brand Lanvin. Last month Emilio Pucci, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, announced that its new artistic director will be the Icelandic-Norwegian designer Peter Dundas, whose success at Revillon has been attributed largely to the strong Nordic edge he brought to the furrier's collections.
And the Finnish women's wear label Ivana Helsinki recently made its second appearance on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar. The label is the first Finnish company and, according to the designer Paola Suhonen, one of the first Scandinavian designers to do a major catwalk show in Paris - plus, a much coveted collaboration with Topshop followed the label's spring 2008 show, with Ivana Helsinki for Topshop to be available from Oct. 10.
On Paris streets, the trend also seems to be turning northward.
This summer, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs held an exhibition of contemporary Finnish design, showcasing Marimekko fabrics, while shops dedicated to Scandinavian clothes designers are cropping up in the city's hip quartiers.
On Rue Charlot in the Third Arrondissement, Plagg, a boutique dedicated to Scandinavian fashion, draws the style-conscious by the droves. And a few streets down, on Rue Commines, the achingly hip Norden boutique opened in May with a manifesto to sell "clothes exclusively from Scandinavian designers" and "to promote the new Scandinavian fashion scene and the new wind blowing there."
"There is a buzz around Scandinavian fashion right now," said Barbara Kurdziel, the owner of Plagg. "I see more and more of the brands I carry here coming to fashion fairs during fashion week; it's definitely happening."
Kurdziel, who grew up in Sweden, opened her store in 2006 and now also works as an agent for two of the labels she carries - the Swedish designer Camilla Norrback and the Danish duo Best Behavior - after receiving, she says, "lots of requests from boutiques in Paris and outside of Paris for Scandinavian fashion."
Some of the new names to look for on the Paris fashion radar include the Swedish designer Stine Goya, who graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2005, and whose graphic designs and sharply tailored silhouettes already have led to her working with design houses like Hussein Chalayan and Eley Kishimoto, and the Danish designer Henrik Vibskov, a fellow Saint Martin's graduate, whose designs can be found in Colette.
Also, there are the Swedish couturière Sandra Backlund, who, following a collaboration with Louis Vuitton went on to win the top prize last year at the prestigious Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography in France for her intricate knitwear; and the edgy Swedish label Dagmar, which has a cult following in Britain and the United States.
For Kurdziel, the growing interest in Paris marks a new benchmark of acceptance for Scandinavian designs. "There is so much fashion here already and there are so many fantastic French designers so I think that it is very hard to break through to this market," she said.
The current trend away from fast fashion and toward more sustainably and independently produced designs might explain, at least in part, the rise of Scandinavian designers.
Ivana Helsinki and Norrback, for example, exemplify the current mood for ethical luxury, producing their clothes with locally made and, where possible, organic fabrics. In Scandinavia, "environmental, ecological things, the social security things, are pretty organized and have been in place for many years, so I think it provides a basic platform for many designers," said Suhonen. "It's a pretty Scandinavian way of thinking, because it is just part of our social culture."
For Kurdziel, meanwhile, the quirky simplicity of Scandinavian design lies at the heart of its appeal. "It's a combination of minimalistic fashion with a sort of twist to the styles," she said. "It makes it exciting and nice to wear - and the fabrics are beautiful."
Certainly, the vibrant prints, clean designs and innovative approach of Scandinavian designers - from Backlund's knitted couture, to the edgy films, directed by Suhonen, that formed the backdrop to Ivana Helsinki's show during fashion week - seem to be working their magic in a fashion world renowned for its blasé, seen-it-all-before hauteur.
"It's the return of beauty," Suhonen said. "We Finnish people, we are a bit romantic and classical; joyous, closer to poetry in a way than to commercial fashion, and I think that it's time for that, maybe."
France follows Ireland into recession
PARIS: France has entered a recession, with economic contraction expected in the third and fourth quarters of 2008, the country's national statistics agency said Friday.
The Insee statistics agency said it expects the economy to shrink by 0.1 percent in both the third and fourth quarters.
Following on a 0.3 percent fall in the second quarter, that would bring growth down to 0.9 percent for 2008.
Insee said its forecasts, which are based on the premise that the current financial crisis does not worsen, also expect unemployment to rise to 7.4 percent by the end of the year, from 7.2 percent in the third quarter
The projections have sparked a debate over the definition of recession, which economists generally define as two consecutive quarters of falling gross domestic product. Government officials have been quick to insist France is experiencing very slow growth but is not in a true recession because growth for the year is still expected to be positive and is close to the government's projection of 1 percent growth for the year.
The French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, who has until now rejected suggestions that the country was headed for recession, said "the risk of negative growth this autumn for the second consecutive quarter is now real."
Lagarde blamed high oil prices, the strength of the euro earlier this year, and the worsening financial crisis for the recession.
The finance minister said the government is "totally mobilized" to protect French consumers' spending power, and said that the priority should now be on re-establishing confidence on the financial markets, "so that this weak economic conjuncture remains temporary."
Other European countries are not faring much better.
Forecasts issued by the EU last month pointed to a possible recession for Germany, Spain and Britain - predicting their economies will shrink for two consecutive quarters. The EU predicts that the 15 euro nations will grow 1.3 percent this year and the entire EU will grow by 1.4 percent.
Ireland and Denmark have both declared themselves to be in recession, with their economies shrinking in both the first and second quarters this year.
Ireland's economy has been ravaged by a crash in house prices, which has contributed to a fall in consumer spending and a massive drop in overall investment.
In Denmark, growth returned in the second quarter, with GDP expanding 0.9 percent year-on-year.
The economic downturn is now putting pressure on European governments' finances. France last week said it would not keep a promise to its European counterparts of eliminating the budget deficit by 2012 - but vowed to keep the budget gap under the EU's 3-percent limit this year and next.
France had originally promised to eliminate its budget gap in 2010, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy backtracked on that deal, proposing a deadline of 2012.
Now it looks like he won't even make that engagement, as new budget plans forecast a deficit of 0.5 percent of GDP in 2012.
France's economy has been tripped up by slowing global growth and the financial crisis, and Sarkozy is struggling to keep his books in order as welfare spending rises and tax receipts shrivel amid slower than expected economic growth.
The budget is based on a growth forecast for this year and next of 1 percent, less than half the 2.2 percent of 2007.
Date: 03 October 2008 09:28
To: Ian Walthew
Subject: l'hopital fonctionne
hello mister walthew,
comme on en parlait... voici la parole dl'hopital
bonne journée à toi,
Halte aux fausses rumeurs !
Il existe toujours dans notre hôpital un service de Chirurgie, un Bloc-Opératoire, un service de Médecine, un service d’Urgences - SMUR, un service de Radiologie, un service de Moyen-Séjour, un service de Long-Séjour, une Maison de Retraite, un Hôpital de Jour, un centre de Péri-Natalité, un centre Médico-Psychologique une unité d’Auto-Dialyse (rein artificiel), une Pharmacie Hospitalière. Il n’est absolument pas prévu de fermer ces différentes unités, mais au contraire de développer de nouvelles activités en leur sein .
Le service de Chirurgie accueille toujours les patients opérés à Ambert et fonctionne 24h sur 24 et 7 jours sur 7 ; le bloc opératoire fonctionne tous les jours ouvrables, et un anesthésiste est présent chaque journée, du lundi au vendredi pour les interventions programmées par les chirurgiens qui consultent à l’hôpital, et pour les interventions urgentes adressées par le service des urgences qui peuvent être opérées en sécurité à Ambert. Une équipe de gastro-entérologues de Riom pratique toujours deux fois par semaine des endoscopies et des consultations spécialisées de gastro-entérologie. Une activité de gynécologie médicale et chirurgicale est de nouveau ouverte depuis cet été, et des activités d’urologie, chirurgie viscérale et orthopédique spécialisées sont dans la trame du projet d’établissement pour les mois qui viennent. Des interventions de chirurgie dentaire sont régulièrement pratiquées.
Le service de Médecine fonctionne toujours, 24h sur 24 et 7 jours sur 7 ; il accueille les patients envoyés par les médecins traitants et les patients passés par les urgences dont l’état justifie une hospitalisation ; les examens complémentaires nécessaires sont obtenus rapidement grâce à un bon réseau de correspondants; une hospitalisation pour le traitement du diabète se met en place, la pneumologie et la cancérologie se développent, …
Il n’est pas vrai que les urgences soient fermées le week-end, ni aucun autre jour !Les Urgences, ouvertes 24h/24 et 7 jours sur 7, le SMUR, disponible 24h/24 et 7 jours sur 7, sont là pour mettre notre population en sécurité; ce service a déjà sauvé et sauvera encore beaucoup de vies ! Il ne faut pas hésiter à le mettre à contribution à toute heure en se rendant directement aux urgences ou en appelant le 15 qui enverra hors de l’hôpital l’équipe du SMUR (infirmier-anesthésiste, aide-soignant et médecin urgentiste) ou adressera une ambulance pour amener le patient à l’hôpital.
Le service de Radiologie permet de disposer 24h sur 24 et 7 jours sur 7 d’examens radiologiques et d’une échographie. Il donne de précieux renseignements aux médecins de l’établissement pour affiner leur diagnostic, mais est également ouvert sur rendez-vous aux patients externes, pour exécuter une prescription d’un médecin de ville.
Le service de Moyen-Séjour ne désemplit pas ! Il permet à des patients hospitalisés en court-séjour (en Chirurgie ou en Médecine) mais également à des patients hospitalisés ailleurs et désirant se rapprocher d’Ambert, d’effectuer leur convalescence pendant quelques semaines avant de rentrer à leur domicile, ou d’être orientés si leur état le nécessite vers un établissement de long séjour.
L’activité de gériatrie de notre établissement est importants : elle regroupe actuellement le Long-Séjour (Pré-Bayle) et la Maison de Retraite Vimal Chabrier. Cette activité pourrait prochainement s’étoffer par la création de lits de court-séjour et de moyen-séjour spécifiques aux personnes âgées, permettant de faire des bilans complets de la santé et de l’autonomie de nos seniors.
L’Hôpital de Jour n’est ouvert que les journées du lundi au vendredi. Il accueille les patients bénéficiant d’une endoscopie (fibroscopie gastrique ou coloscopie), de petits gestes de chirurgie ou d’examens invasifs de médecine (ponctions), de transfusions sanguines, et bien sur de séances de chimiothérapie, activité très importante en plein développement, qui évite à des patients parfois bien fatigués de nombreux et épuisants trajets.
Le centre de Péri-Natalité prend en charge les futures mamans et celles qui ont accouché récemment, ainsi que leur nourrisson. Il est géré par une équipe de gynécologues- obstétriciens, de pédiatres, et des sages femmes.
Le centre Médico-Psychologique est ouvert chaque journée du lundi au vendredi, et accueille des patients ayant besoin d’une aide psychologique. Malgré le départ à la retraite de son chef de service, des solutions sont en cours d’élaboration pour que ce soutien puisse toujours être assuré aux patients de notre bassin de population. Une consultation d’addictologie (alcool, tabac, drogues) va de nouveau voir le jour dans les prochaines semaines.
L’unité de rein artificiel dépend d’e l’association AURA de Chamalières, et est chapeautée par les néphrologues clermontois. Son fonctionnement est assuré par des infirmières formées de notre hôpital, et elle permet à de nombreux patients de notre bassin de population (et à des touristes l’été !) de bénéficier de leurs séances de dialyse à l’hôpital d’Ambert plusieurs fois par semaine.
La Pharmacie de l’Hôpital assure au sein des services la distribution des médicaments et du matériel médical, mais vend également sur ordonnance à des patients externes des médicaments spécifiques non disponibles dans les pharmacies de ville.
Des consultations de cancérologie, pneumologie, gastro-entérologie, gériatrie, diabétologie, médecine du sport, dermatologie et ORL sont assurées régulièrement, sur rendez-vous, pour les patients externes.
L’hôpital possède des points forts, qui permettront de relancer son activité ; mais il doit s’adapter au contexte actuel du monde de la santé. Tout ne se fera pas comme avant à l’hôpital, mais il s’en fera encore beaucoup, pour que nos concitoyens puissent disposer d’un bon accès aux soins de proximité.
Cet hôpital n’est pas une abstraction : environ 400 familles de l’arrondissement ont un de leur membre qui y travaille. Chaque patient admis connaît personnellement plusieurs membres du personnel, ce qui rend les soins plus conviviaux et chaleureux. Ceux qui ont connu l’ambiance des grands CHU n’ont qu’une hâte: revenir à l’hôpital d’Ambert.
Pour autant, c’est de la confiance de chacun que l’hôpital a besoin : à chaque fois que nous avons un problème de santé, posons nous la question, posons la à notre généraliste : l’hôpital d’Ambert possède t’il la compétence nécessaire pour résoudre mon problème ? Dans un grand nombre de cas, la réponse sera oui.
Ne gaspillons pas cette ressource locale. Faisons la prospérer, elle se maintiendra ; Méprisons la, ne faisons pas appel à ses services, et elle dépérira. Tout le budget de l’hôpital est maintenant conditionné à l’activité des services.
Contrairement aux rumeurs, l’Hôpital d’Ambert ne ferme pas. Il se métamorphose. Accompagnons le avec confiance dans cette tache difficile ! Utilisons le !
Docteur Olivier DelormePrésident
PARIS: A coded French diplomatic cable leaked to a French newspaper quotes the British ambassador in Afghanistan as predicting that the NATO-led military campaign against the Taliban will fail. Not only that, but the best solution for the country will be the installation of an "acceptable dictator," the British envoy reportedly added.
"The current situation is bad, the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust," Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British envoy is quoted by Jean-François Fitou, the deputy French ambassador to Kabul and the author of the cable, as saying.
The two-page cable - which was sent to the Élysée Palace and the French Foreign Ministry on Sept. 2, and was leaked to the investigative and satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, which printed excerpts in its Wednesday edition - said that the NATO-led military presence was making it harder to stabilize the country.
"The presence of the coalition, in particular its military presence, is part of the problem, not part of its solution," Cowper-Coles was quoted as saying. "Foreign forces are the lifeline of a regime that would rapidly collapse without them. As such, they slow down and complicate a possible emergence from the crisis."
Within 5 to 10 years, the only "realistic" way to unite is for it to be "governed by an acceptable dictator," the cable said, adding that "we should think of preparing our public opinion" about such an outcome.
Cowper-Coles, as quoted, was critical of both U.S. presidential candidates, who have vowed in their campaigns to substantially increase U.S. military support to fight the Taliban for Afghanistan if elected president.
In the short run, "it is the American presidential candidates who must be dissuaded from getting further bogged down in Afghanistan," he is quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, General David McKiernan, the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, called on NATO to send more troops and other support as soon as possible to counter the insurgency.
British officials said that the comments attributed to Cowper-Coles were distorted and did not reflect official British policy.
"It's not for us to comment on something that is presented as extracts from a French diplomatic telegram, but the views it quotes are not in any way an accurate representation of the government's approach," said a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, who, like other French and British officials, spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.
The official confirmed, however, that the two men did have a meeting, but said that the British ambassador's comments were taken out of context. The ambassador's deputy was also present at the meeting, according to the French cable.
But Cowper-Coles, a British career foreign service officer who has served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Israel, is known for his frank talk, and other British officials who know him say that his words rang true.
Fitou, meanwhile, is considered a responsible and precise diplomat who would be unlikely to misreport a conversation, a senior French official said.
It is unclear whether the two men spoke in English or French.
French officials, who said they were deeply embarrassed about what they called a serious leak, criticized the broad diffusion of the cable and have started a leak investigation.
The senior French official described it as a "diplomatic disaster" that could put French soldiers at more risk.
Claude Angeli, an executive editor of Le Canard Enchaîné and the author of the article, defended its publication.
"This is not the first time we have been the target of a leak investigation," he said in a telephone interview. "The cable is authentic and we reported its contents accurately."
The pessimistic British analysis comes as France has increased its troops in Afghanistan amid concern despite a further erosion of popular support for French troops being present there.
At the last NATO summit meeting in April, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he would send an additional 700 French soldiers to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, bringing the total to about 3,000. He was criticized by the Socialist opposition for being too close to the Bush administration, criticisms that grew louder after the deaths of 10 French soldiers in a Taliban ambush in August.
The attacks were the most for France since the 1983 bombing of a barracks in Beirut killed 58 French paratroopers.
In his cable to Paris, Fitou quoted the British ambassador as saying that the reinforcement of military troops "would have perverse effects: it would identify us even more strongly as an occupation force and would multiply the targets" for the insurgents.
The cable also quoted the British envoy as saying that despite public statements to the contrary, "the insurgency, although still incapable of a military victory, has the capacity to make life more and more difficult, including in the capital."
Acknowledging that there is no option other than supporting the United States in Afghanistan, the ambassador reportedly added, "But we must tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one."
The U.S. strategy, he is quoted as saying, "is destined to fail."
OTTAWA: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has committed to pulling out Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011, said on Thursday some other Western leaders wrongly believed NATO forces could stay there forever.
Canada has around 2,500 troops based in the southern city of Kandahar, in a region where the Taliban is strong. It has lost 97 soldiers and a diplomat since late 2002.
Harper initially said Canada would not leave Afghanistan until the country was able to cope for itself. Earlier this year, amid increasing public and political pressure, he agreed to bring the troops back by the end of 2011.
"I think that's wise. One of the things I disagree with some other Western leaders is that our plan can be somehow to stay in Afghanistan militarily indefinitely," he said during a televised election campaign debate.
"If we are to truly pacify that country and see its evolution, we have to train the Afghan army and police so that they are credibly able to take greater responsibility for their own security ... we won't achieve such a target unless we actually set a deadline and work to meet it."
Harper said he had made the same point to U.S. President George W. Bush as well as the two men vying to be his successor -- Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.
Polls show that Harper's Conservatives are set to retain power in Canada's Oct 14 election.
"2011 is three more years off. By then Canada will have been in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years ... we will have been in Kandahar for six years," he said.
"If we never leave, will the job ever get done?"
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: War has come to Pakistan, not just as terrorist bombings, but as full-scale battles, leaving Pakistanis angry and dismayed as the dead, wounded and displaced turn up right on their doorstep.
An estimated 250,000 people have now fled the gunship helicopters, jets, artillery and mortar fire of the Pakistani Army, and the assaults, intimidation and rough justice of the Taliban who have dug into Pakistan's tribal areas.
About 20,000 people are so desperate that they have flooded over the border from the Bajaur tribal area to seek safety in war-torn Afghanistan. Many others are crowding around this northwest Pakistani city, where staff members from the UN refugee agency are present at nearly a dozen camps.
The International Committee of the Red Cross flew in a special surgical team from abroad last week to work alongside Pakistani doctors and help treat the wounded in two hospitals, so urgent has the need become.
"This is now a war zone," said Marco Succi, the spokesman for the Red Cross.
Not since Pakistan forged an alliance with the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has the Pakistani Army fought its own people on such a scale and so close to a major city. After years of relative passivity, the army is now engaged in heavy fighting with the militants on at least three fronts.
The sudden engagement of the Pakistani Army comes after months in which the United States has heaped criticism, behind the scenes and in public, on Pakistan for not doing enough to take on the militants, and has increasingly taken action into its own hands with drone strikes and even a raid by Special Operations forces in Pakistan's tribal areas.
But the army campaign has also unfolded as the Taliban have encroached deeper into Pakistan proper and carried out far bolder terrorist attacks, like the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last month, which have generated high anxiety among the political, business and diplomatic elite and a feeling that the country is teetering.
In early August, goaded by the American complaints and faced with a nexus of the Taliban and Al Qaeda that had become too powerful to ignore, the chief of the Pakistan military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, opened the front in Bajaur, a Taliban and Qaeda stronghold along the Afghan border.
The military was already locked in an uphill fight against the militants in Swat, a more settled area of North-West Frontier Province that was once a middle-class ski resort. Today it is a maelstrom of killing.
"Swat is a place of hell," said Wajid Ali Khan, a minister in the provincial government who has taken refuge in Peshawar. Khan said he was so afraid that he had not been to his house in Swat for a month.
On a third front, south of Peshawar, around the town of Dera Adam Khel, the army recently recaptured from Taliban control the strategic Kohat Tunnel, a road 1.9 kilometers, or 1.2 miles, long that carries NATO supplies from the port of Karachi to the American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The new president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, spoke in New York, during a visit to the UN General Assembly, about how the fight against terrorism was Pakistan's war, not America's.
But even as the gruesome effects of the battles slam the national consciousness, there has been scant effort to prepare the public for the impact of the fighting. Public opinion has soured on Pakistan's alliance with the United States and has strongly opposed military campaigns that inflict heavy civilian casualties.
Pakistani law enforcement officials and residents of Bajaur and Swat say there have been many civilian deaths, but so far, no agency or government body has offered an estimate of those killed.
Hanging in the balance in the fighting is the allegiance of the civilians who have seen their homes wrecked, their cattle and crops abandoned, and their loved ones killed and wounded.
Pakistani Army commanders have said that in order to put down the Taliban, the government must win the hearts and minds of the Bajaur tribesmen. But in interviews in the camps, and in villages around Peshawar where the displaced are bunking with relatives, many of the people of Bajaur say they are fed up with both sides of the conflict.
In the Red Cross hospital ward, two young brothers, Haseen Ullah, 5, and Shakir Ullah, 8, lay immobile on their hospital beds, their limbs tightly bound in white bandages covering what Dr. Daniel Brechbuhler, a Red Cross surgeon, said were shrapnel wounds.
In another ward, Amin Baacha, 13, lay with only one arm; his right arm had been amputated. An army helicopter had circled his family's pickup truck as they were fleeing their village and fired on them, the boy said.
The father of the two wounded boys, Hajji Sher Zaman, a relatively well-to-do used-car dealer in Bajaur, said he had no patience with the Taliban.
But Zaman said he was furious with the government for not holding anyone responsible for killing and wounding civilians.
"In Bajaur, innocent people are being killed as infidels, the dead cattle are lying on the road, the roads are tainted with the blood of the people who have been killed," he said. On return trips in recent weeks, he said, his village was "full of the rotten smell of dead animals."
At a briefing at army headquarters in Rawalpindi on Monday, the military said it believed that Fakir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur, had taken sanctuary in the neighboring Mohmand district. Another important commander, an Afghan Taliban, Qari Ziaur Rehman, had moved back to Afghanistan, it said.
From their side of the fighting in Bajaur, the Taliban have mounted a brutal show of intimidation, money and deep support from across the border in Afghanistan and Mohmand, according to interviews with the displaced and with law enforcement and military officials.
Recently, the Taliban leader, Mohammed, stormed into a gathering of tribal leaders, arriving in a convoy of 20 vehicles, said Habib-ur Rehman, a trader from Bajaur who now lives in a camp for the displaced in Timergara in the nearby district of Dir.
Mohammed, who is described by the army as one of the most skilled Taliban tacticians, told the tribesmen, "I'm here to get you to stop the meeting. If you don't stop, you will have a coffin over your heads,"' Rehman recalled.
The Taliban were well financed, some of the displaced tribesmen said.
In Swat, the Pakistani Army has been fighting the Taliban for more than two months, and still the Taliban hold the upper hand, according to accounts from people who have fled the area. Reports of Taliban terrorism are widespread.
The one hope in the gloom of war, said civilians and law enforcement officials, has been the formation of small private armies by tribal leaders, known in the region as lashkars. They have traditionally served as a way of dealing with squabbles in Pakistan's tribal society, but are now being formed in some cases to stand up to the Taliban.
In Salarzai, in the northern corner of Bajaur, a local private army has attracted several thousand anti-Taliban fighters, said Jalal-Uddin Khan, a tribal leader.
But whether the fervor of the tribesmen and their ancient equipment can be a match for the ideological zeal, modern weaponry and sophisticated tactics of the Taliban is an open question.
In other places, like the Dir district, just outside Bajaur, these private armies have pledged to keep both the Pakistani Army and the Taliban from entering their territory.
"Where the army comes, the Taliban comes," said Sher Bahadar Khan, a tribal leader from Upper Dir. His community had organized a militia and persuaded the army not to put up checkpoints. The army was of little comfort because when the Taliban killed civilians, soldiers stood by as a "silent spectator," he said.
Closer to Peshawar, in the village of Shabqadar, where the Taliban have held sway for months, the local police organized civilians to join them in a display of force against the militants.
The Taliban had terrorized women who did not wear the burqa, and killed men they characterized as "pimps," throwing their bodies into a river.
The police chief of North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, said he had encouraged the new police chief in Shabqadar to organize a "popular movement."
Last week, about 500 people, led by the local police chief, marched toward a fort controlled by the Taliban in Shabqadar, Khan said.
A 15-hour battle ensued, leaving nine Taliban fighters dead and 28 wounded, the police chief said. On the government side, one man was killed and five wounded, he said.
In revenge, the Taliban threatened to blow up Warsak Dam, the main water supply for Peshawar. But Khan said he was not deterred. He would not back down. "I told the governor: 'Open many fronts. We are more than them."'
A U.S. missile strike in a Pakistani tribal region known as a haven for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters killed at least nine people on Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
A television report put the toll as high as 21.
Intelligence officials said a pilotless drone aircraft launched the attack at around 9:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. British time) in the village of Mohammad Khel, 30 km (20 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
"One missile hit the house of Daud Jan," said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said he had no information.
One intelligence official said nine people were killed, including foreigners. Taliban sources in the area later told Reuters eight were killed and seven wounded.
Dawn News reported 21 were killed, including 16 foreigners.
Frustrated by an intensifying Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have in the past month carried out eight missile strikes by pilotless drones and a commando raid on the Pakistani side of the border.
The U.S. strikes into Pakistan, in particular a September 3 raid by ground troops, have angered Pakistan, straining ties between the allies and leading to tension along the border which Pakistani forces have vowed to defend.
Earlier on Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials reported another U.S. airstrike on the North Waziristan village of Datta Khel, closer to the Afghan border.
Abbas contradicted that account, saying the airstrike was carried out by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force on a target across the border in Afghanistan.
"ISAF informed us at around 4:00 p.m. (11 a.m. British time) that they were conducting an operation in Afghanistan, across from North Waziristan," Abbas said. "There was no violation, no incursion or intrusion on our side."
Intelligence officials in the region had told Reuters a U.S. warplane bombed two houses in Datta Khel, a village 60 km (40 miles) west of Miranshah.
"A jet fighter bombed two houses in different parts of Datta Khel. Two women and one child were killed," said one of the officials.
He said five men were also wounded in the attack that took place at around 5.30 a.m. (12:30 British time). Drone aircraft were seen circling the village after the attack, officials said.
On Wednesday, a U.S. pilotless drone fired two missiles at a house in northwest Pakistan, killing five people.
The government says the strikes are an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty, and undermine long term efforts to bring militancy in the region under control.
U.S. commanders have spoken of respect for Pakistan's sovereignty but have suggested they will not stop cross-border strikes on militants.
The Pakistan army meantime is fighting fierce battles against militants in Bajaur, at the north east extreme of the tribal belt, and Swat, an alpine valley in a more settled region close to the tribal lands.
Stabilizing Afghanistan will require regional help with political and economic support from countries like India, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.
U.S. ties with India should flourish now a nuclear pact between the two countries has been approved, Rice said, adding that Afghanistan, where violence has risen over the past two years, was one of the areas where cooperation could expand.
"Afghanistan in the future is going to have to be regionally integrated in order to be successful economically," Rice said, speaking to reporters on her plane before it stopped to refuel in Germany on the way to New Delhi to mark the clinching of the nuclear trade deal.
India already had significant investments in Afghanistan and was contributing to its stability, she said.
But there should be a "regional integration strategy" of closer economic ties between Afghanistan and Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan -- where Rice will also visit this weekend -- as well as Pakistan and India, she said.
"I would emphasise the political and economic support for Afghanistan, and that's a discussion I would hope to have in Kazakhstan as well," she said.
In recent months, Afghanistan has become a deadlier place for U.S. troops than Iraq, and U.S. officials have warned that time is running out to muster the massive development effort necessary to stabilise the country.
The Bush administration is conducting a review of the war in Afghanistan, encompassing a range of government bodies including the Defence, State, Treasury and Agriculture departments.
The U.S.-India nuclear trade deal, which Congress approved earlier this week, was "symbolic of a relationship with India that is now at a very, very different level," Rice said.
"At that different level, one would expect that economic relations, defence relations, a whole range of relationships, including business relationships, will flourish, but they will flourish on their own terms," she said.
The United States and India were already discussing military sales, and they should also boost cooperation in economic, educational, and agricultural programmes and humanitarian aid to other countries, Rice said.
The nuclear deal, which was a top foreign policy priority of the Bush administration, overturned a three-decade U.S. ban on nuclear trade with India. It is expected to unleash billions of dollars of investment and draw the world's biggest democracy closer to the West.
Rice, who is scheduled to arrive on Saturday in India for her talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other officials, was unclear as to whether she would actually sign the nuclear trade deal while there, saying there were some unspecified "administrative" details to be worked out.
She said India had produced a letter of intent with "a firm set of commitments" regarding legal liability and a framework for U.S. companies that would do business in India.
Critics say the nuclear pact damages global efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, by letting India import nuclear fuel and technology even though it has tested nuclear weapons and never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
U.S. critics of the deal said there was nothing in it to prevent India, which last detonated a nuclear device in 1998, from resuming nuclear testing. But Rice suggested that during her one-day visit she did not need to repeat U.S. warnings against such tests.
"I think we've been very clear about U.S. views on this issue," she said.
The accord opens up a market worth billions to U.S. companies such as General Electric and Westinghouse Electric, a unit of Japan's Toshiba Corp. But there is global competition with France's Areva, General Electric, Japan's Hitachi Ltd and Russia's atomic energy agency Rosatom.
"I'm confident that American companies will compete. We are free traders," Rice said.
NEW DELHI: Even by the standards of this fractious and sprawling country, a victim of terrorism for at least 20 years, the spate of recent strikes has been unusual and unsettling: seven separate attacks in four months, with a death toll of about 150.
It has also prompted the law enforcement authorities to begin an aggressive manhunt that has gripped the nation and raised anew questions about India's police tactics, the place of its large Muslim minority and the effectiveness of its overburdened courts.
In the past several weeks, under intense popular pressure to show results, the police across India have made about two dozen arrests, killed a man they described as the "mastermind" of several recent blasts in a dramatic shootout in the capital and presented to the public a rare and swiftly assembled portrait of a spectacularly well-oiled, homegrown Islamist terrorism network.
The network, Indian Mujahedeen, was described by the police as having recruited disaffected Muslims from a rural north Indian district famous for exporting hit men for the Mumbai underworld. It trained them in southern jungles, the police said, and even lured in urban educated youths. Its members were inspired as much by Osama bin Laden as by specifically Indian Muslim grievances, particularly the anti-Muslim attacks in Gujarat in 2002, they said.
Those arrested have ranged from a scrap dealer to a preacher to several ambitious, accomplished college students, including one described by his family of having dreamed of joining the Indian civil service. Three of those arrested, and the suspect killed in the shootout, were students at the acclaimed Jamia Millia Islamia, a predominantly Muslim university in New Delhi.
But the official account of events has divided the nation, in part along religious lines, failed to withstand the scrutiny of newspapers and civil rights groups, and in turn revealed a general distrust of law enforcement.
More worryingly, it has uncovered a deep well of anger among India's Muslims, who complain bitterly of being wrongfully singled out every time bombs go off.
In addition to the Jamia students arrested, several others have been picked up for questioning and then released. The mood on the campus was "angry but quiet," Ali Hashmi, 21, a Jamia economics major, said last week.
The discrepancies in the police accounts have been most glaring, critics say, in the case of the Sept. 13 blasts in the capital, which killed 25 people and wounded several dozen in three shopping areas in three corners of the city, just as Hindus and Muslims went shopping in preparation for their biggest festivals of the year.
Six days later, the police announced the first breakthrough. They stormed a fourth-floor apartment in the Jamia university neighborhood and killed a 24-year-old college student, Atif Amin. They said he had planned at least three recent terrorist attacks, including one in eastern Varanasi as far back as March 2006.
The police also killed one of his suspected accomplices, arrested another and seized what they called incriminating evidence inside the apartment: two pistols, a laptop computer and a mobile phone, in which, they later said, they found photographs of the Delhi blast sites.
The city's joint commissioner of the police, Karnail Singh, said in an interview that the laptop contained "motivational" material from Al Qaeda, but offered no details.
One of New Delhi's most celebrated police officers, M.C. Sharma, who led the raid, was also killed in the shootout. The day after his death, the local papers reported that he had "a kill tally" of 75 suspected criminals, a measure of how suspects are routinely killed in encounters with the police before they can be brought to trial.
Within hours, the police arrested three Jamia students from the area. The police said that they confessed to having planted two of the five bombs on Sept. 13, and that two of them were also involved in a strike on Ahmedabad, a western city and site of the 2002 Hindu-Muslim clashes, two months ago.
Two suspects escaped the raid.
Within days, civil rights groups, and Muslims in particular, began to question the police account. How had two suspects escaped the raid, when the building and the streets below were crawling with officers and national guardsmen? Why had Sharma not worn a bulletproof vest on a raid seeking such a high-value terrorism suspect?
Also, it later turned out that one of those arrested, Saquib Nisar, a business school student, had been taking an exam on the day of the Ahmedabad blasts.
Six days after the Delhi arrests, in a dramatic news conference of their own, the police in Mumbai announced five additional arrests.
Their suspects, they maintained, were responsible for most of the terrorism strikes around the country since 2005, including the ones that the Delhi police had pinned on Amin.
Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine, drew up a list of contradictory police narratives under the headline "Sleuths in Wonderland."
Then, on Monday, two small bombs went off in towns in western India. They appeared to target Muslim-dominated areas and together killed five people. The police said that they could not rule out the involvement of Hindu radical organizations.
Whether the police account of the Sept. 13 plot will hold up in trial is anybody's guess. Confessions to the police are not admissible in court, and the judiciary is so woefully overburdened that the case could take years to resolve; it took 15 years, for instance, to secure a verdict in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts that killed more than 260.
But in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of New Delhi called Shaheen Bagh, the boys on Nisar's street were seething with disbelief at everything the police announced.
Nisar, 25, the son of a test-tube salesman, seems to have been one of the neighborhood's best-known strivers. H.G.S. Dhaliwal, the city's deputy police commissioner, described him as a "chilled-out kind of guy" who was a strong academic performer and nursed big ambitions.
The 2002 anti-Muslim violence bred his rage, Dhaliwal said, and a friend from high school, Mohammed Shakeel, had lured him into the terrorist cell.
His brother, Shariq Nisar, 18, offered a different portrait, however. The elder Nisar had graduated with an economics degree from Jamia and was pursuing a master's in business administration from a private university.
He worked full time at an employment agency, exercised at a gym nearby and was determined to join the competitive Indian Administrative Service. Shariq Nisar said his brother had met Amin at college and because Amin was looking for a room to rent, referred him to another friend, Zia ur-Rahman, whose father managed the apartment.
Rahman and Shakeel are both under arrest. The apartment was the scene of the shootout.
Shariq Nisar said his brother had been framed.
"My brother was studying," he said. "Look what kind of dreams he had. Look what he got."
BHUBANESWAR, India: The Indian authorities arrested four people and suspended a police officer Friday following a medical report indicating a Catholic nun had probably been raped in an attack by a Hindu mob during religious clashes, a state government spokesman said.
The government of eastern Orissa state also ordered an investigation by a senior police officer into the incident, said Chittaranjan Pati, the spokesman for the state's top elected official.
The nun filed a police complaint on Aug. 25, alleging she was raped when a large Hindu mob attacked a prayer hall in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, where she worked. She told the police she was paraded naked after the rape.
The state government suspended K.N. Rao, the police inspector, for not acting promptly on the complaint, Pati said.
Doctors conducted a medical examination after the nun filed the complaint in August, but the police did not receive the report until Thursday, Rao said. He blamed the local hospital for not sending the police the report sooner.
Rao said that "the doctors say there are signs and symptoms of rape," but he had not read the entire medical report.
The nun did not name her attacker in the complaint, Rao said.
The doctors, however, put the blame on the police for not collecting the report.
"We prepared the report immediately and called up the inspector the next day and even sent a reminder to him to collect the report," Sangeeta Mishra, one of the doctors who examined the nun, told The Indian Express newspaper.
The doctor could not immediately be reached for independent verification, and other details were not immediately available.
Clashes between Hindus and Christians in Kandhamal district began Aug. 24 following the killing of a Hindu religious leader. At the time, the police blamed Maoist rebels active in the area, but conservative Hindu groups blamed Christian residents and set fire to a Christian orphanage. The violence then escalated as Hindu mobs attacked churches, shops and homes.
According to the state government, 32 people have died in the subsequent violence. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has said at least 40 Christians have been killed.
Early Thursday, the violence spread to Kandhamal's neighboring district of Boudh, where a group of nearly 150 people torched over 100 houses, according to Manoranjan Kanar, a local police officer. He gave no other details about the attack, but added that there were no casualties or injuries.
The attacks against Christians also have spread to the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and to the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Relations are usually peaceful between Christians, who make up 2.5 percent of India's 1.1 billion people, and Hindus, who account for more than 80 percent. However, hard-line Hindu groups claim Christian missionary groups are forcing or bribing people to convert to Christianity. Christian leaders deny the charges.
From the rape of a nun to arson and killings, Christian leaders in India accuse Hindu nationalist groups of deliberately targeting Christians in eastern India to support their political agenda and shore up their support base.
The accusations come as authorities in Orissa state say they have arrested four people and ordered a probe into reports of the gang rape of a nun in August, and suspended the officer who was in charge of the investigation for dereliction of duty.
A string of attacks on Christians in three states has killed at least 34 people and forced thousands to flee to government camps or hide in forests.
The troubles have been sparked by controversial conversion campaigns by Christian groups in poor tribal areas.
"(There is) a hidden agenda to (make) the entirety of Orissa into a Hindu state," said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in Orissa, where most of the violence has been concentrated.
Cheenath compared the violence to the slaughter of over 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002.
He said that hardliners were "following the Modi style," referring to the state's Chief Minister Narendra Modi from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who has been accused of giving Hindu mobs a free run to carry out the carnage.
Orissa police say they have arrested more than 300 people over the clashes, including local leaders of the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Hindu nationalist groups have denied their involvement.
While over 4,000 federal police have been deployed in Orissa, Christian leaders and human rights groups say the violence has not been brought under control, and called on the state government, run by Hindu nationalists, to do more.
"The state government has not rooted out the violence - that is quite disconcerting," a spokesman for Amnesty International told Reuters.
"The people in the relief camps who wanted to return have been told they have to re-convert to Hinduism. That should be taken very seriously by the state government."
Cheenath said Hindu activists are trying to scare Christians into leaving the camps by throwing bombs nearby, aiming to forcibly reconvert them to Hinduism once they are outside. The All India Christian Council has listed assaults against Christians it says were carried out since August, including murder, rape, and attacks on churches and schools.
The Hindu, a respected national newspaper, this week carried reports a nun was stripped naked and gang-raped. It said a priest who tried to stop the attack was beaten and doused in kerosene in full view of the police.
According to Orissa authorities, a medical report has confirmed a rape took place.
"We were not impressed by the reaction of the state government," said A.M. Chinnappa, Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore.
Pope Benedict has condemned the attacks and Roman Catholic bishops have urged the European Union to treat persecution of Christians as a humanitarian emergency.
Hindus have opposed missionaries' conversions of lower-caste Hindus, which they said were sometimes carried out by force.
A BJP spokesman in Orissa blamed clashes on the murder of a prominent Hindu missionary belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and a vocal opponent of Christian proselytising.
"Police failure to arrest the criminals who killed Swamiji and others has angered the local people," the spokesman said."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the violence a "national shame," and on Friday the Home Minister Shivraj Patil called on the Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to do more to control the violence.
Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq.
Gen. David Petraeus says that he has no desire to meddle in politics, but he may have more to do with the outcome of the presidential election than any other nonpolitician. As commanding officer in Iraq throughout 2007 and much of this year, Petraeus has served as the chief architect and champion of the "surge" policy there. (He has now moved on to become commander of the American military's Central Command.) As the number of both American and Iraqi deaths has plunged, and as the prospects for real political change have improved, it has become increasingly difficult for Barack Obama to argue that the surge, which he opposed and John McCain passionately supported, has been a failure. Obama may have to hope that after five years of mayhem and empty promises, the American people are past caring.
Linda Robinson's "Tell Me How This Ends" is the first book about this new Iraq. It's a first-rate piece of work, probing and conscientious, though reading a good-news book about one of America's all-time bad-news stories can take some getting used to. The Iraq calamity has been a colossal boon to journalists, and the scenes that Robinson's predecessors have etched into readers' minds combine equal elements of tragedy and farce. The hopelessly unprepared Jay Garner, the first head of civilian reconstruction, cheerfully informing a group of anxious sheiks that they're on their own - that's the Iraq we know. Robinson forces us to look again.
"Tell Me How This Ends" is scarcely a bouquet to the administration. Robinson, author in residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, describes President Bush as blindly, and ruinously, attached to Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's slow-moving leader. She does give Bush credit for supporting the few military thinkers who in late 2006, in the face of opposition from the State Department and the civilian Pentagon, argued that 30,000 additional troops could make a decisive difference. But this is a book about military strategy and tactics; and the president and his entourage do not linger long.
Indeed, you cannot help being struck by the radical difference between Bush and his world, and Petraeus and his. The 55-year-old general is a superachiever who took on all the toughest training assignments and came away with the -medals, a perfectionist who demands as much from others as from himself and a deeply reflective figure - he has a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton - who continually adapts to the lessons of experience. Petraeus puts no special store by his gut intuitions; in Iraq, he surrounded himself with junior officers as analytical, and as driven, as he is. Robinson singles out as his greatest gift not leadership but "intellectual rigor," which compelled him "to mount a sustained effort to understand the problem."
The problem, which had thoroughly eluded Bush and his chief aides, as well as prior commanding officers up to and including Gen. George Casey, Petraeus's immediate predecessor, was that no number of American troops would make a lasting difference unless they could affect the Iraqis' own political calculations. While serving as a commanding officer at Fort Leavenworth in 2006, Petraeus had brought together leading civilian and military thinkers to produce a new version of the Army's counterinsurgency manual. The document's central theme was political rather than military: A counterinsurgency can succeed only if it makes the government legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. This requires economic aid, governance reform, improvement in basic services and the like. And it requires an act of understanding, even empathy: "Knowing why an insurgent movement has gained support," the manual states, "is essential in designing a counterinsurgency campaign."
Petraeus proceeded to implement his strategy with relentless focus (and those 30,000 extra troops). A correct strategy forcefully executed will take you a long way - but not all the way. As we know now, Petraeus's arrival in Iraq coincided with the fateful decision of Sunni tribal sheiks to stand up to the extremists of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who had worn out their welcome by, for example, throwing acid in the faces of women deemed insufficiently veiled. Thanks to the "Anbar Awakening," as it was called, 100,000 Sunni men joined the fight against extremism. The fallback position among Democrats, which Joe Biden articulated last month on "Meet The Press," is that it wasn't the surge that worked, but the Awakening.
Robinson makes it clear that this simply isn't so. She describes in exacting detail the tactics used by field officers in some of the most terrifying battlegrounds of Iraq. When the First Battalion, Fifth Cavalry Regiment of the First Cavalry Division was assigned in late 2006 to Ameriya, in western Baghdad, the commander, Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, moved his headquarters out of the base camp and into a local police station. He and his staff officers had read up on "battalion-led counterinsurgency," and were eager to put its precepts into effect. Kuehl began building contacts with local sheiks, and spreading money around by paying for trash pickup and road repair. Then he began "clearing" operations against insurgents. The cost was high: 14 deaths in May alone.
Robinson lingers on the heroic self-discipline of officers who denied their men the catharsis of revenge, knowing that they were fighting for the sympathies of civilians. And finally, that discipline paid off. In late May, a local sheik called Kuehl to say that his tribesmen would be going after an Al Qaeda cell. When the sheik called back in a panic to ask for help, Kuehl joined the fight. His men weren't sure which Iraqis to shoot at, but the battle went well, and later Kuehl reached an understanding with the commander of the tribal force: he promised to pay the Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, if they submitted to fingerprinting and agreed to work with the Iraqi Army. When Petraeus learned of the deal, his only advice was, "Do not let our Army stop you," and "Do not let the Iraqi government stop you." Counterinsurgency theory holds that military action can only be a precondition for political success. And Robinson readily concedes that President Maliki and other Iraqi national leaders have so far refused to pursue compromise. Indeed, journalists and policy analysts have been reporting that Maliki has reneged on promises to induct Awakening members into the Iraqi Army and police, threatening a return to the Hobbesian violence of 2006. Robinson holds out hope that coming elections will produce a more legitimate government. She supports Petraeus's preference for a gradual draw-down of forces as the Iraqi Army assumes control of ground-level operations. And she argues that a swifter withdrawal would jeopardize the fragile gains of the last year.
Petraeus has come in for a great deal of abuse from opponents of the war, most notoriously when he testified in September 2007 that the surge was working, and Moveon.org took out a full-page ad in The New York Times whose headline read, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" At the time, the military top brass, worried about stretching the Army to the breaking point, continued to oppose the surge; Democratic congressmen, progressive organizations and many pundits mocked Petraeus as a Bush administration shill. But Petraeus was right; and Moveon's question sounds almost repellent in retrospect. Indeed, Robinson leaves the reader feeling that, however the war turns out, our country owes David Petraeus a debt of gratitude.
BAGHDAD: Suicide bombers killed about two dozen people on Thursday in attacks on two Shiite mosques in east Baghdad during a holiday to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The attacks were the second wave this week during a lengthy public holiday for observances of Id al-Fitr, which is celebrated at different times by different Sunni and Shiite congregations.
The two attacks happened around 8 a.m. as followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric, were attending prayers for the first day of the feast. In one area, the relatively poor and overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniya, Iraqi soldiers said a car bomber rammed his Russian-made Volga taxi into an armored Iraqi Army Humvee, which was guarding the entrance to a Shiite mosque. Interior Ministry officials said 14 people were killed.
In the other area, the much more middle-class district of New Baghdad, a bomber wearing a suicide vest tried to slip past the security cordon around the Rasoul mosque, according to the head of security, who gave his name as Abu Mustafa. The congregation had overflowed from the ornate 50-year-old prayer hall, he said, and many people were praying in the street.
"He was behaving irrationally," Mustafa said. "One of our people told him to stop, he refused to obey the order and when one of the guards tried to grab him he blew himself up." The Iraqi police and mosque officials estimated the death toll to be around 10.
In a separate attack, gunmen fatally shot six Sunnis as they traveled in a minibus in the mainly Shiite town of Wajihiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Outside the mosque in Zafaraniya, on a dusty street, shattered car windows and damaged building facades bore witness to the attack. Jamal Tawfiq, 28, who had a black plastic bag closely tied around his right hand to protect it, collected body parts and placed them in a separate yellow bag. "They were targeting the prayers in the mosque," he said. "Nobody expects anything like this on Id al-Fitr."
But in truth, the Iraqi security forces had predicted just such an attack, after numerous Sunni insurgent bombings during previous Shiite festivals. Iraqi and American officials said the Humvee was posted there for just that reason.
Haider Khadum Hassuni, a member of the Iraqi Red Crescent in Zafaraniya, said that the day before the blast "the Iraqi police came to us and told us that they were expecting something tomorrow, so they asked me to inform them in case I had suspicions about outsiders or visitors."
As he looked at the damaged buildings, he said: "I think Al Qaeda are targeting Shiites because they want the Iraqis to go back to sectarian war." He was referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the home-grown terrorist group that the United States says is foreign-led.
However, many in the crowd immediately said they suspected American involvement. Such sentiments — apparently out of the desire to blame outsiders rather than Iraqis — have become increasingly common in recent months. The crowd offered no evidence to support those assertions, claiming only that an American patrol had passed nearby a few minutes before the blast. They also displayed no obvious signs of hostility to a group of American soldiers who remained at the scene for some time, overseeing the Iraqis' efforts to tow away the bombed Humvee.
But the sentiments reflected deep levels of antagonism toward American forces, in an area where the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has much support.
Major Jade Hinman, an American adviser to the Iraqi Army, said that while it was regrettable that the Iraqis sustained losses, the Humvee had done its job, protecting a soft target.
"This Humvee prevented mass civilian casualties of a holy shrine, of a mosque," he said. "Unfortunately Iraqi soldiers gave their lives to protect this mosque. But I guess that's what we are here for. We are here to protect the populace, and the Iraqi Army did their job."
At the scene of the other bombing, many were convinced that the attackers were Sunni insurgents.
Some voiced concern about loyalties of former Sunni insurgents in civilian patrols, called Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils. Only a day before the bomb, the groups in and around Baghdad were transferred from the American to the Iraqi government payroll.
But others said that in the complex political and military transitional period between the American troop increase and a likely American troop decrease, any number of criminal, terrorist or personal motivations could have been factors in the attack.
Meanwhile, those celebrating Id al-Fitr carried on. Across Baghdad children and adults danced and sang in parks, as parents handed out balloons and candy. Iraqi girls dressed in brightly colored dresses and boys played with imitation plastic handguns and fake automatic weapons.
At one riverside garden, a woman who gave her name as Umm Hussein, from Shuala, explained the festive atmosphere, despite the attacks:
"We are used to this," she said. "We are fed up with grief. We want to have fun, even if it is once in our lifetimes."
Last year on Id al-Fitr, her mother-in-law was killed by a bombing in the center of Baghdad, and the year before, her father-in-law died in Hurriya amid a spate of sectarian killings.
SAMARRA, Iraq: Bombs go off infrequently now in Samarra, and they are mostly small, nothing like the explosion that two years ago toppled the golden dome of the famous Askariya shrine in this ancient city, setting off a wave of sectarian bloodletting across Iraq.
A bakery and a schwarma shop recently opened in a heavily guarded central neighborhood. This past week, dozens of children rode a creaky Ferris wheel and took wagon rides on a center-city street to celebrate Id al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
The shrine itself is slowly being rebuilt. This past week, for the first time in two years, hundreds of worshipers attended morning prayers for Id al-Fitr under the delicately blue-tiled dome of the mosque next door.
"It is better now," many residents say if asked. "Today is better than yesterday."
Yet in Samarra, as in many parts of this ravaged country, better is a relative term. The city's name is derived from an Arabic phrase meaning "a joy for all to see." But joy, or even basic satisfaction, remains a scarce commodity.
The violence that once raged throughout the overwhelmingly Sunni city has quieted in the past few months. In August, there were only nine small-weapons attacks, compared with 44 in November, according to the U.S. military. One homemade bomb exploded in August; in November there were 13. The curfew for residents has been pushed back to midnight or even later if there are religious events.
Yet the costs of greater safety are also apparent. At almost every corner there are checkpoints staffed by members of the Iraqi security forces or guards from the Awakening Councils, the citizen patrols that the U.S. military paid and trained to fight the insurgents. Blast walls line the streets. And to stray outside the nine "safe" neighborhoods that U.S. military officials say have been secured by the Awakening guards is still to invite violent death.
The worshipers at the mosque - where the Imam Mahdi, viewed as a savior by many Shiite Muslims, is believed to have gone into hiding from the world - were thoroughly searched by special guards who report directly to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's office.
One of Iraq's most famous historical sites, a spiral minaret built in the ninth century known as the Malwiya, remains off limits because snipers can too easily pick off anyone who climbs the tower.
And two Westerners and several Iraqis from Baghdad who traveled to Samarra this week were not allowed to enter the center-city area without an Iraqi Army escort.
Still, new reconstruction projects for the city are planned, including the building of a water treatment plant, the refurbishment of five schools and the repair of an asphalt factory.
"Progress has been made, some of it has been significant, some of it has been slow, some of it has been mixed," said Lieutenant Colonel J.P. McGee, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry stationed in the area, who added that there had been a "complete security transformation" in Samarra.
The local council is finally able to meet. A court has reopened, making it no longer necessary for couples who wish to marry to travel to another district to register.
But the streets of newly opened shops are ringed by blocks of bombed-out buildings fronting on deserted sidewalks piled with broken glass, crumbled pillars, tin and rebar.
Residents complain that there are few jobs available, that the water is not potable, that the electricity is intermittent at best, that they have not received their pensions and that there are shortages of medicine.
Omar Abbas, 32, said that rebuilding the Askariya shrine was important, because "it is our heritage." He added: "But more important than rebuilding the shrine is employment."
The money from the thousands of tourists who once flocked to the Askariya shrine - where two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, are buried - provided income for one-fourth of Samarra's residents, Abbas said.
Scheherazade Shihab, 29, an English teacher from Baghdad, said that she now felt safe in Samarra, safe enough to visit her family for Id al-Fitr, something she has been unable to do for two years.
Even the shrine's wounds, like those of the city, are slowly healing but still raw.
Small craters left by the bombing are still visible in the interior. The two minarets destroyed by another bombing in 2007 have not yet been rebuilt.
The architect in charge of the reconstruction, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the project, said the most difficult challenge was working without blueprints. "We don't have any map of how it was built to work from," he said, "so we establish a survey and we depend on ourselves to rebuild."
"We have a good deal of comfort about the capital cushions at these firms at the moment."
- Christopher Cox, chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, March 11, 2008.
As rumors swirled in March that Bear Stearns faced imminent collapse, Christopher Cox was told by his staff that Bear Stearns had $17 billion in cash and other assets - more than enough to weather the storm.
Drained of most of that cash three days later, Bear Stearns was pushed into a hastily arranged merger with JPMorgan Chase - backed by a $29 billion dowry of taxpayers' money.
Within six months, other lions of Wall Street would also either disappear or transform themselves to survive the financial maelstrom - Merrill Lynch sold itself to Bank of America, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley converted themselves into commercial banks.
How could Cox have been so wrong?
Many events in Washington, on Wall Street and elsewhere around the United States have led to what has been called the most serious financial crisis since the 1930s.
But decisions made at a brief meeting on April 28, 2004, explain why the problems could spin out of control. The Securities and Exchange Commission's failure to follow through on those decisions also explains why regulators did not see what was coming.
On that bright spring afternoon, the five members of the SEC met in a basement hearing room to consider an urgent plea by the big investment banks. They wanted an exemption for their brokerage units from an old regulation that limited the amount of debt they could take on. The exemption would unshackle billions of dollars held in reserve as a cushion against losses on their investments. Those funds could then flow up to the parent company, enabling it to invest in the fast growing but opaque world of mortgage-backed securities, credit derivatives - a form of insurance for bond holders - and other exotic instruments.
Five investment banks led the charge, including Goldman Sachs, then headed by Henry Paulson Jr. Two years later, he left Goldman to become the U.S. Treasury secretary.
A lone dissenter - a software consultant and expert on risk management - weighed in from Valparaiso, Indiana, with a two-page letter to warn the commission that the change would be a grave mistake. He never heard back from Washington.
One commissioner questioned the staff about the consequences of the proposed exemption. It would only be available for the largest companies, he was reassuringly told - those with assets greater than $5 billion. "We've said these are the big guys," said one commissioner, Harvey Goldschmid, provoking nervous laughter, "but that means if anything goes wrong, it's going to be an awfully big mess."
Goldschmid, an authority on securities law from Columbia University in New York, was a behind-the-scenes adviser in 2002 to Senator Paul Sarbanes when he rewrote U.S. corporate laws after a wave of accounting scandals.
"Do we feel secure if there are these drops in capital we really will have investor protection?" Goldschmid asked.
A senior staff member said the commission would be hiring the best minds, including people with strong quantitative skills, to parse the banks' balance sheets. Annette Nazareth, the head of market regulation, reassured the commission that under the new rules, the companies for the first time could be restricted by the SEC from excessively risky activity.
"I'm very happy to support it," said Commissioner Roel Campos, a former U.S. government prosecutor and owner of a small radio broadcasting firm in Houston who then deadpanned: "And I keep my fingers crossed for the future."
The proceeding was sparsely attended - none of the major media outlets, including The New York Times, covered it.
After 55 minutes of discussion, which can be heard on the Web sites of the agency and The Times and its international edition, the International Herald Tribune, William Donaldson, then the SEC chairman and a veteran Wall Street executive, called for a vote. It was unanimous. The decision, changing what was known as the net capital rule, was completed and published in the Federal Register a few months later.
With that, the five big independent investment firms were unleashed.
In loosening the capital rules, which are supposed to provide a buffer in turbulent times, the SEC also decided to rely on the firms' own computer risk models, essentially outsourcing the job of monitoring risk to the banks. Over the following months and years, all would take advantage of the looser rules.
The leverage ratio - a measurement of how much the companies were borrowing compared to their total assets - rose sharply at Bear Stearns, to 33 to 1. In other words, for every dollar in equity, it had $33 of debt. The ratio at the other companies also rose significantly.
The 2004 decision gave the SEC, for the first time, a window on the banks' increasingly risky investments in mortgage-related securities. But the agency never took true advantage of that part of the bargain. The supervisory program under Cox was a low priority.
The SEC assigned seven people to examine the parent companies- which last year controlled financial empires with combined assets of more than $4 trillion. Since March 2007, the supervisory office has not had a director.
And as of September 2008, the office had not completed a single inspection since it was reshuffled by Cox more than a year and a half ago.
The few problems the examiners preliminarily uncovered about the riskiness of the companies' investments and their increased reliance on debt - clear signs of trouble - were all but ignored.
The SEC's division of trading and markets "became aware of numerous potential red flags prior to Bear Stearns's collapse, regarding its concentration of mortgage securities, high leverage, shortcomings of risk management in mortgage-backed securities, and lack of compliance with the spirit of certain" capital standards, said an inspector-general report on Sept. 26.
But the division "did not take actions to limit these risk factors."
The commission's decision to effectively outsource its oversight to the companies themselves fit squarely in the broader Washington culture of the past eight years under President George W. Bush.
As with other agencies, the SEC's decision was motivated by industry complaints of excessive regulation at a time of growing competition from overseas. The 2004 decision was aimed at easing new regulatory burdens that the European Union was about to impose on the foreign operations of U.S. investment banks. The Europeans said they would agree not to regulate the foreign subsidiaries of the investment banks on one condition - that the commission became the regulator of the parent companies, along with the brokerage units that the SEC already oversaw.
A 1999 law, however, had left a gap that did not give the commission explicit oversight of the parent companies. To get around that problem, and in exchange for the relaxed capital rules, the banks volunteered to let the SEC examine the books of their parent companies and subsidiaries.
A lone voice of dissent in the 2004 proceeding came from the software consultant from Indiana, who said that the computer models run by the companies - and that the regulators would be relying on - could not anticipate moments of severe market turbulence.
"With the stroke of a pen, capital requirements are removed!" the consultant, Leonard Bole, wrote to the SEC on Jan. 22, 2004. "Has the trading environment changed sufficiently since 1997, when the current requirements were enacted, that the commission is confident that current requirements in examples such as these can be disregarded?"
He said that similar computer standards had failed to protect Long-Term Capital Management, the hedge fund that collapsed in 1998, and were unable to protect companies from the market plunge of October 1987.
The SEC's most public role in policing Wall Street is its enforcement efforts. But critics say that in recent years it has failed to deter market problems.
"It seems to me the enforcement effort in recent years has fallen short of what one Supreme Court justice once called the fear of the shotgun behind the door," said Arthur Levitt Jr., who was SEC chairman in the administration of President Bill Clinton. "With this commission, the shotgun too rarely came out from behind the door."
Cox was a close ally of business groups in his 17 years as a member of the House of Representatives from one of the most conservative districts in Southern California. Cox had led the effort to rewrite securities laws to make investor lawsuits more difficult to file. He also fought against accounting rules that would give less favorable treatment to executive stock options.
Under Cox, the SEC responded to complaints by some businesses by making it more difficult for the enforcement staff to investigate and bring cases against companies. The commission has repeatedly reversed or reduced proposed settlements that companies had tentatively agreed upon. While the number of enforcement cases has risen, the number of cases involving significant players or large amounts of money has declined.
Cox dismantled a risk management office created by Donaldson that was assigned to watch for future problems. While other financial regulatory agencies criticized a blueprint by Paulson that proposed to reduce their stature - and that of the SEC - Cox did not challenge the plan, leaving it to three former Democratic and Republican commission chairmen to complain that the blueprint would neuter the commission.
In the process, Cox has surrounded himself with conservative lawyers, economists and accountants who, before the market turmoil of recent months, had embraced a far more limited vision for the commission than many of his predecessors.
On Sept. 26, the commission formally ended the 2004 program, acknowledging that it had failed to anticipate the problems at Bear Stearns and the four other major investment banks. "The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work," Cox said.
Cox declined requests for an interview. In response to written questions, including whether he or the commission had made any mistakes over the past three years that contributed to the current crisis, he said, "There will be no shortage of retrospective analyses about what happened and what should have happened."
He said that by last March, he had concluded that the monitoring program's "metrics were inadequate."
LOS ANGELES: With the credit crisis cutting off access to short-term financing, California officials said this week that the state might be forced to ask the federal government to lend it $7 billion, warning that the state could run out of money in a few weeks without it.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a letter Thursday night to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., said that with credit markets essentially frozen, the state had no access to short-term financing that normally supports day-to-day operations.
"California and other states may be unable to obtain the necessary level of financing to maintain government operations and may be forced to turn to the federal Treasury for short-term financing," Schwarzenegger wrote in the letter.
Treasury officials said they were reviewing the letter.
California's precarious finances underscore the depths of the financial crisis. The emergency handout, the equivalent of $192 for each resident, would rival the federal government's bailout of New York City in 1975 as it teetered on bankruptcy.
Bill Lockyer, the state treasurer, warned Wednesday that with Congress debating a national recovery plan, the state had been locked out of credit markets for the previous 10 days.
"The credit market is frozen because financial institutions are afraid to commit capital amid enormous uncertainty," he said then.
In an interview on Friday, Lockyer cast the emergency loan as a measure of last resort in the event the recovery plan is defeated or does not compel credit financiers to begin lending money again.
"We want to make sure we exhaust every avenue," he said.
Typically, he said, the state gets routine short-term loans in the fall to cover its bases until state coffers refill in the spring from tax revenue and other sources. But the shuttered credit market has upended the budgeting. And Lockyer said that even if the credit markets loosen, it could cost more to borrow.
As recently as three weeks ago it was still possible to argue that the state of the U.S. economy, while clearly not good, wasn't disastrous - that the financial system, while under stress, wasn't in full meltdown and that Wall Street's troubles weren't having that much impact on Main Street.
But that was then.
The financial and economic news since the middle of last month has been really, really bad. And what's truly scary is that we Americans are entering a period of severe crisis with weak, confused leadership.
The wave of bad news began on Sept. 14. Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, thought he could get away with letting Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, fail; he was wrong. The plight of investors trapped by Lehman's collapse - as an article in The New York Times put it, Lehman became "the Roach Motel of Wall Street: They checked in, but they can't check out" - created panic in the financial markets, which has only grown worse as the days go by. Indicators of financial stress have soared to the equivalent of a 107-degree fever, and large parts of the financial system have simply shut down.
There's growing evidence that the financial crunch is spreading to Main Street, with small businesses having trouble raising money and seeing their credit lines cut. And leading indicators for both employment and industrial production have turned sharply worse, suggesting that even before Lehman's fall, the economy, which has been sagging since last year, was falling off a cliff.
How bad is it? Normally sober people are sounding apocalyptic. On Thursday, the bond trader and blogger John Jansen declared that current conditions are "the financial equivalent of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution," while Joel Prakken of Macroeconomic Advisers says that the economy seems to be on "the edge of the abyss."
And the people who should be steering us away from that abyss are out to lunch.
The House will probably vote Friday on the latest version of the $700 billion bailout plan - originally the Paulson plan, then the Paulson-Dodd-Frank plan, and now, I guess, the Paulson-Dodd-Frank-Pork plan (it's been larded up since the House rejected it on Monday). I hope that it passes, simply because we're in the middle of a financial panic, and another no vote would make the panic even worse. But that's just another way of saying that the economy is now hostage to the Treasury Department's blunders.
For the fact is that the plan on offer is a stinker - and inexcusably so. The financial system has been under severe stress for more than a year, and there should have been carefully thought-out contingency plans ready to roll out in case the markets melted down. Obviously, there weren't: the Paulson plan was clearly drawn up in haste and confusion. And Treasury officials have yet to offer any clear explanation of how the plan is supposed to work, probably because they themselves have no idea what they're doing.
Despite this, as I said, I hope the plan passes, because otherwise we'll probably see even worse panic in the markets. But at best, the plan will buy some time to seek a real solution to the crisis. And that raises the question: Do we have that time?
A solution to America's economic woes will have to start with a much better-conceived rescue of the financial system - one that will almost surely involve the U.S. government taking partial, temporary ownership of that system, the way Sweden's government did in the early 1990s. Yet it's hard to imagine the Bush administration taking that step.
We also desperately need an economic stimulus plan to push back against the slump in spending and employment. And this time it had better be a serious plan that doesn't rely on the magic of tax cuts, but instead spends money where it's needed. (Aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, which are slashing spending at precisely the worst moment, is also a priority.) Yet it's hard to imagine the Bush administration, in its final months, overseeing the creation of a new Works Progress Administration.
So we probably have to wait for the next administration, which should be much more inclined to do the right thing - although even that's by no means a sure thing, given the uncertainty of the election outcome. (I'm not a fan of Paulson's, but I'd rather have him at the Treasury than, say, Phil "nation of whiners" Gramm.)
And while the election is only 32 days away, it will be almost four months until the next administration takes office. A lot can - and probably will - go wrong in those four months.
One thing's for sure: The next administration's economic team had better be ready to hit the ground running, because from day one it will find itself dealing with the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Hypocrisy on Main Street
On Monday, in a vote that will go down in history, the House of Representatives said no to a $700 billion plan to bail out the teetering financial system. Members of Congress chalked the rejection up to populist rage over the idea of rescuing Wall Street while helpless homeowners flail, and some representatives who voted no say they'll vote no again when the version of the bailout passed by the Senate on Wednesday comes up in the House.
I'll say this upfront: I hope the titans of finance who expect us little people to save them are ashamed of themselves. But at the same time, in painting Main Street solely as a victim of a rapacious Wall Street, we are being hypocritical.
We are all to blame.
Step back. The securities that are poisoning the financial system are made up of mortgages and home equity lines that are going sour. They may soon consist of sick credit card and automobile debt as well.
"Innovation" on Wall Street meant that the institution that made the loans could sell them off, and bankers could carve up those loans into new instruments, which they in turn sold to investors around the globe, with the result being that no one felt responsible for ensuring that the person who got the mortgage or the credit card or the home equity loan could actually pay for it.
But who made the decision to take on that mortgage she couldn't really afford? Who lied about her income or assets in order to qualify for a mortgage? Who used the proceeds of a home equity line to pay for an elaborate vacation? Who used credit cards to live a lifestyle that was well beyond her means? Well, you and I did. (Or at least, our neighbors did.)
In other words, without the complicity of Main Street, Wall Street's scheme never would have flowered. Some would argue that the modern sales machinery - remember those ads telling you to let your home take you on vacation? - is to blame. And it is.
But we're supposed to be adults, not children who can't keep our hands out of the cookie jar. (Those who were lied to by brokers about the reset rates on adjustable-rate mortgages and other elements of their loans are in a different category.)
Just as many of us deserve a share of the blame, many of us also got a share of the profits. No, not the kind of profits that Wall Streeters got, at least individually. But if you sold your house over, say, the last five years, you got an inflated price because of the proliferation of credit made possible by the Street's practices.
If you bought a house, then you got a lower mortgage rate than you would have if it weren't for Wall Street.
If you made money on the shares of Merrill Lynch or Lehman Brothers or another participant in this mess, then you shared in the profits.
One could even argue that the overall stock market wouldn't have achieved the heights it did were it not for our housing and debt-fueled economy. So if you cashed out at all, then you got some of the profits.
This isn't an argument in favor of the bailout plan. There are big questions that need to be answered. When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson argues that the plan can't impose onerous requirements on financial institutions because otherwise they won't participate, I think, "Well, if they are in good enough shape that they actually have a choice, then why are we offering them a costly lifeline?"
This also isn't an argument that a bailout would be fair to ordinary Americans. We are to blame, but we don't deserve all the blame. We profited, but we didn't get anywhere near the lion's share of the profits - and from the sound of things, a bailout would stick us with a disproportionate amount of the bill.
But it's also true that if the experts are right, a failure to act will stick us with most of the pain as the economy seizes up. The Wall Streeters who pocketed million-dollar bonuses can handle a layoff.
Most Americans can't.
Didn't your parents teach you that life isn't fair?
Bethany McLean, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, is the co-author of "The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and the Scandalous Fall of Enron."
LONDON: A long while back, in the drafty cobbled squares of small towns across postwar Britain, men - and they were usually men - would sell their stock of knives and forks, pots and plates and skillets to their customers, and that was how many people grew to understand a word that has been much parsed in recent weeks: the market.
The patter was always the same. "I'm not asking for a pound, I'm not even asking 15 shillings," the traders said in those days of predecimalized currency, reversing the rules of the auction to pry open the most slender, blue-collar purse rather than the bulkiest wallet.
The deal was the same, too: The buyer sought something for as close to nothing as possible, prepared to pay a modest premium for the risk that the pot or pan or skillet might be of dubious quality or provenance; the seller sought the margin between wholesale and retail, plus a little to cover the overhead.
And the lesson most people learned from these Saturday morning transactions was that it was the purchaser who took the chance of paying good money for shoddy goods: Caveat emptor, as the overworked Latin expression puts it - let the buyer beware.
Bemused by the global financial crisis, people - including this writer - might be left to wonder how this notion of the "market" with its simple dynamics of supply and demand came to denote quite so much smoke and quite so many mirrors and quite so much menace.
In these roller-coaster times, when stocks rise and fall giddily, then fall some more, when American bailout plans are counted with almost as many zeroes as hyper-inflated prices in Zimbabwe, it is easy enough to argue that the lessons have not changed with the advent of swaps, short-selling and subprime mortgages: Still, it is the buyer who must beware.
But there are other factors to grapple with in these new markets that, willy-nilly, have brought unimagined peril to the lives of those with something to lose.
Clearly enough, for many living on a dollar or two a day in Zimbabwe or elsewhere, the concerns are far more immediate, more existential and less luxurious. Rather than fretting over what will happen to the pension plan or the next vacation, Celia Dugger of The New York Times reported this week, Zimbabweans are engaged in "a Darwinian struggle to get by."
Compare, for example, these complex financial transactions with any of the markets that travelers encountered in the souks and casbahs of the Middle East, or the "antiques" emporiums of the flea markets in Paris or Portobello Road in London.
Buying a carpet in any of the stores around the old caravansary in Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey, the customer had it within his or her power to beware, to evaluate, to walk away. "Last price, last price," the seller might insist loudly until the potential buyer threatened to break off the negotiation, at which point the last price usually proved less final.
Maybe there was deception - heaven forbid! - in these old markets, but the buyer at least had the chance to gauge the quality of the goods to be purchased: the nature of the dyes in the rug, or the density of the weave, or the grade of steel in the pot or pan or skillet.
There was, in other words, a notion of value, not simply greed. And, since many of those old markets were conducted in cash, there was a certain transparency, both in the availability of financing and the products to be purchased.
It is, perhaps, in the absence of visible value that modern markets have failed to fulfill the promise of their liberal proponents that they will bring themselves into equilibrium between supply and demand and in the balance between risk against profit. In the end, it is value that creates confidence.
Markets can be self-regulating only if they are not fogged in opacity, if buyers have the option not to buy because of the poor quality of the goods to be purchased, be it a rug or a skillet or a stock portfolio or a "mortgage-backed security."
Traders have long drawn benefit from what economists call asymmetric information: It is the auto dealer, not the car buyer, who knows that the car's engine is unlikely to run for more than a mile or two more before expiring. (Caveat emptor.) But, in the current, crisis, asymmetry has burgeoned.
Most ordinary people are only now discovering how their money was spent - or put at risk. Indeed, there is growing evidence that the financial bosses drawing plump bonuses did not themselves understand the way these Midas-markets turned so much speculative risk to gold for the few and to peril for the rest.
How shocking it has been for depositors whose money was supposedly safe in the care of august banking houses to discover that those same institutions are under speculative attack, their stock prices falling, bankruptcy looming. And how closely the fragility of those institutions now seems to recall the not-to-be-trivialized Mary Poppins moment when, in the movie, a small boy sparks a run on the bank by proclaiming that he can't get his tuppence back.
The fear for many in the prosperous world is that their tuppence, too, will be lost. And, increasingly, it seems that those who lost it on their behalf will emerge with impunity from the wreckage of confidence in the global financial system.
A cynic might observe that we have been here before, and that, when markets crash, there is much demand for the masters and mistresses of the universe to be brought to heel, only for those calls to become muted when the initial shock recedes and a new false dawn of prosperity spreads its pale rays over the marketplace.
Perhaps the scale of the crisis this time will make a difference, but who would stake money on that - and how much would they be prepared to wager?
"I'm not asking for a pound," that distant echo might resound. "I'm not even asking 15 shillings."
NEW YORK: John Thain, the chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch, will remain at Bank of America after the merger of the two financial giants.
The announcement settled a question circulating around Wall Street of what was next for Thain, a longtime executive at Goldman Sachs who led the New York Stock Exchange before joining Merrill Lynch last autumn.
Bank of America said Thursday that Thain would become president of global banking, securities and wealth management at the combined company, essentially retaining control of the businesses that were run by Merrill.
Similar units currently run by Bank of America will be merged into Merrill's far larger and more established operations.
"I am delighted that John has agreed to join Bank of America," Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "His experience and expertise will be invaluable as we put our two companies together and move forward as the premier financial services company in the world."
Thain engineered Merrill's sale to Bank of America nearly three weeks ago in an emergency deal struck amid the collapse of Lehman Brothers. That agreement will create one of the world's largest financial companies, with a strong presence in investment and consumer banking and wealth management from the combination of Bank of America's consumer banking network and Merrill's corps of 16,000 financial advisers.
"This is an opportunity to create what will be the leading financial institution in the world," Thain said in a statement. "Combining these two companies will create great value for our shareholders and clients around the world."
Separately, Bank of America said that Brian Moynihan, the bank's president of global corporate and investment banking, would remain in that post during the merger transition period. After that, he will have a new role.
WASHINGTON: The U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval Friday to the $700 billion bailout for the financial system, reversing course to authorize what may be the most expensive U.S. government intervention in history.
The vote was 263 to 171, with a number of Democrats and Republicans switching sides to give the rescue package a majority. More Republicans continued to oppose the measure than support it, however.
The Senate approved the plan Wednesday night by 74 to 25, after adding a portfolio of popular tax provisions. The bill now heads to President George W. Bush, who has promised to sign it.
Financial markets had a positive but hardly exuberant response to the House action and the prospect that the Federal Reserve would also move to cut interest rates to help the ailing economy. Just after the bill was approved, the Dow Jones industrial average was up about 115 points.
The move to rescue the financial industry came as the United States was weighed down by another round of bleak economic data, including a report showing 159,000 jobs were lost in September. It is the last jobs report to be issued before the Nov. 4 election. (Page 18)
After the surprise defeat of the bailout package Monday, congressional leaders took no chances Friday. Democrats had said they would not bring the bill back to the floor unless they were certain of victory.
Even before the vote, however, there was evidence that the prospect of the rescue package was encouraging further consolidation in the banking industry. On Friday, Wells Fargo, a big bank concentrated in the western United States, announced that it would buy another bank, Wachovia, without a government guarantee, grabbing it away from Citigroup, which said it might try to block the deal. (Page 15)
Policy makers and investors worldwide were closely watching the outcome of the vote because they believed the measure was critical to prevent a further weakening of the U.S. and global economy. Leaders of some of the largest countries in Europe planned to meet Saturday to discuss dealing with the credit crisis there.
The revolt this week by the House rank and file was quelled both by fears of a global economic meltdown and by old-fashioned political inducements added by the Senate to sweeten the deal.
Many lawmakers who changed sides said they had agonized over the decision amid a torrent of telephone calls and e-mail messages from voters, and several referred to a provision added by the Senate increasing the amount of bank savings insured by the federal government to $250,000 per account from $100,000.
Several Democrats in the Congressional Black Caucus said they were persuaded to support the bill by Senator Barack Obama, the party's presidential nominee. But many lawmakers said they were motivated most by fears of economic calamity.
"Nobody in East Tennessee hates the fact more than me that I am going to vote 'yes' today after voting 'no' on Monday," Representative Zach Wamp, a Republican, said in a speech on the House floor. "Monday I cast a blue collar vote for the American people. Today I am going to cast a red-white-and-blue collar vote with my hand over my heart for this country, because things are really bad and we don't have any choice. We're out of choices and our backs are up against the wall."
The action Friday capped an extraordinary two-week dénouement to the 110th Congress. Lawmakers, eager to get home for the autumn campaign season, had intended to wrap up by adopting a budget bill to finance government operations through early March.
Instead, they found themselves still in Washington just five weeks before Election Day, facing the most important vote of the year - the most important vote of their lives, many lawmakers said. They were under extreme pressure from the White House, the presidential nominees and congressional leaders of both parties to make a quick decision.
Last week they balked, defeating the bailout package by 228 to 205 and sending the Dow down 777 points.
Supporters said the bailout was needed to prevent economic collapse; opponents said it was hasty, ill-conceived and risked too much taxpayer money to help Wall Street executives, while providing no guarantees of success.
In the Senate, lawmakers who opposed the plan Wednesday warned that it still did not address the root problems in the U.S. financial system, including lax regulation.
The rescue plan allows the Treasury to buy troubled debt from financial institutions in an effort to ease a deepening credit crisis that is choking off business and consumer loans, the lifeblood of the global economy, and contributing to a string of bank failures in the United States and Europe. The hope is that clearing the balance sheets of bad debt will keep credit flowing and prevent normal economic activity from stalling.
Whether the plan succeeds or fails, elected officials and business leaders alike said it stands to fundamentally alter the relationship between government and the private markets - perhaps in ways that are not immediately clear.
At the White House, Bush hailed the vote. But it was a hollow victory for the administration. After long favoring a hands-off approach and relentlessly pursuing deregulation of the financial industry, the Bush administration, along with the Federal Reserve, found itself interceding repeatedly in the private market this year to avert one calamity after another.
And after proposing perhaps the biggest government intervention in decades, Bush found himself abandoned by fellow Republicans in the House.
When the House rejected the plan Monday, the Senate stepped in and attached a $150.5 billion package of popular provisions, including tax breaks for the production and use of renewable energy, and protection for millions of U.S. families from paying the alternative minimum tax, which was initially aimed at the wealthy but now effects growing numbers of upper-middle-income taxpayers.
The approval of the bailout plan came just 13 days after the administration put forward a three-page proposal that would have given the Treasury secretary unfettered authority to run the $700 billion effort, in what the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, called "czar-like powers."
Tense negotiations over eight days, including an extraordinary and contentious meeting at the White House between Bush, top lawmakers and the two presidential candidates, Senator John McCain and Obama, produced a compromise measure that all sides said they could support, albeit unenthusiastically.
The final agreement called for the $700 billion to be disbursed in parts: $250 billion at first, to get the program started, followed by $100 billion at the discretion of Bush and the remaining $350 billion upon the request of the Treasury, with Congress empowered to block the last installment by acting within 15 days.
It is impossible to predict the final cost of the bailout to taxpayers, but officials insist it will be far less than $700 billion. The Treasury will purchase and then resell assets, potentially at a higher price than it paid, making it likely the program will recover much of the initial outlay.
The deal provides for tight oversight of the rescue program by two boards, including an independent congressional panel. And it requires the government to use its new status as an large-scale owner of distressed, mortgage-backed securities to take more aggressive steps to prevent home foreclosures.
The bill also seeks to limit the pay of executives of some companies that sell bad debt to the government, including restrictions on "golden parachute" retirement plans.
It also provides several taxpayer protections, including a mechanism for the government to take an equity stake, in the form of stock warrants, in some of the companies that seek government help, which will give taxpayers a chance to make money should the companies profit in the months and years ahead.
And, if the rescue plan has lost money after five years, the bill requires the president to submit a plan to Congress for recouping those losses from the financial industry, perhaps through new fees or a tax on securities transactions.
WASHINGTON: Senators who voted against the $700 billion financial rescue plan make up one of the most curious coalitions of lawmakers ever to share common ground.
It included arch-conservative Republicans like Jim DeMint of South Carolina, liberal Democrats like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, who is regarded as the Senate's resident socialist.
Taken together, the speeches of the 25 senators who voted against the plan on Wednesday amount to the congressional equivalent of a dissenting opinion by the Supreme Court — impassioned, well reasoned, carefully articulated views on a landmark question of public policy that ultimately reflected the position of a minority of their fellow arbiters. If the bailout plan flops, they are the lawmakers who will be positioned to engage in a chorus of "I told you sos."
Their concerns spanned a panorama of issues: frustration over the lack of long-term regulatory changes in the legislation; alarm that $700 billion in taxpayer money would be at risk; anger that the Treasury secretary would not be subject to more stringent oversight; skepticism that executives of firms that seek help would face limits on their pay; and dismay that such an important bill was being rushed through Congress.
And, perhaps most pointedly, they expressed skepticism that the bailout proposal would be able to restore liquidity to the credit markets, prevent the collapse of additional banks and safeguard the economy from a long recession.
"This package is just a very costly Band-Aid for big banks that will do very little to help patients who need major surgery," Senator Michael Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, said in his speech on the Senate floor.
"Had Congress been able to use the regular committee process to craft a bipartisan and comprehensive legislation, the resulting bill may have gained my support," Enzi said. "Unfortunately, Congress has been pressured into passing this bill in two weeks by Treasury and Wall Street. A rescue plan of this scale requires a clear plan of action with a substantial chance of success. This plan has neither."
Some of the harshest criticism was leveled by Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate banking committee, who normally would have been his party's lead negotiator on the bailout bill but removed himself because he opposed the administration's proposal at its very core.
"The choice we faced was between pursuing an informed response or panic," Shelby said. "Unfortunately, we chose panic and are now about to spend $700 billion on something we have not examined closely. Yes, in the end, we will have 'done something.' At the same time, however, we will have done nothing to determine whether it will accomplish anything at all."
Shelby, in his speech, laid out a modern history of the American housing, mortgage and securitization markets, explaining how a bubble in home values was fueled by loose lending standards, exotic mortgage products and complex financial instruments, pushed by financial firms that were leveraged heavily to maximize profits.
And in many ways, he was already dishing out "I told you sos."
"We did not get to where we are today by accident, it was a path we chose," he said. "My warnings about the risk of basing credit decisions on well-intended social mandates rather than sound, fact-based underwriting were dismissed. My concerns about the inadequacy of the regulatory structure put in place in the financial modernization legislation went unacknowledged. My efforts to ensure that bank capital standards were designed to ensure safety and soundness, rather than industry concerns, were conducted largely alone."
Sanders, the Vermont independent, complained that the bill did not put any limits on the types of distressed debt the Treasury could buy, that it did not provide enough oversight, that it did not include adequate provisions to limit home foreclosures, that it did not really limit executive pay at firms that seek help.
"Under this bill, the CEO's and the Wall Street insiders will still, with a little bit of imagination, continue to make out like bandits," Sanders said.
He said the bill also did not do anything to prevent financial institutions from becoming "too big to fail," effectively leaving open the potential need for future bailouts.
Sanders also said he could not fathom giving Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. such broad authority over so much money.
"Maybe I am the only person in America who thinks so, but I have a hard time understanding why we are giving $700 billion to the secretary of the Treasury, who is the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, which, along with other financial institutions, actually got us into this problem," he said. "Maybe I am the only person in America who thinks that is a little bit weird, but that is what I think."
He added: "This bill does not address the major economic crises we face — growing unemployment, low wages and the need to create decent-paying jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us to energy efficiency and sustainable energy."
In one of the more remarkable colloquies of the day's discourse, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, and one of the most conservative members of Congress, took to the floor to express solidarity with Sanders.
"I would like to say to Senator Sanders a couple things," Sessions said. "First, I think it is indeed breathtaking that this Senate would authorize basically one person with very little real oversight, a Wall Street maven himself, and allocate $700 billion in America's wealth, which I would have to say would be the largest single authorization of expenditure in the history of the Republic."
Sessions added: "So I have to say, fundamentally, I think we have not done a good enough job in creating an oversight mechanism that will work, so I am not going to vote for the bill; I am not."
Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, said he opposed the bill because it did not do enough to help average Americans.
"This bill sends a message to Wall Street that if they play fast and loose in the name of short-term profits, the government will actually make up for their losses," Nelson said. "And the bill does very little to help individual homeowners. Until we stabilize the housing market, which is the underlying ability to restructure the economy from this crisis — until we stabilize the housing market, and until we stem the record number of foreclosures, our market simply is not going to improve."
Nelson continued: "The bottom line is, ultimately, this bill forces taxpayers to bail out investment banks that caused the crisis in the first place, and it does nothing to address the real problem, which is home foreclosures."
The extraordinary volatility gripping the markets culminates a year in which wrenching price swings have become almost commonplace. Stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies have made moves in minutes and hours that in normal trading only occur over the course of days or weeks.
Investors, well off and humble alike, must cope with the turbulence, but those in the first group often pay professionals to do the coping on their behalf. Private bankers, uptown financial planners and others who cater to wealthy clients employ various strategies to help insulate them from, or even profit by, extreme volatility.
The safest approach is to try to sidestep the ups and downs by maintaining especially well-diversified portfolios. Further insulation can come from adjusting holdings to limit exposure to inherently more volatile asset classes, like stocks and commodities, and increase investment in high-quality bonds and cashlike instruments, which normally have smaller fluctuations.
"A very broad-based asset allocation" is the first step in dealing with volatility, said Chris Cordaro, a partner at the financial planning firm RegentAtlantic. He acknowledged, though, that when conditions become acutely difficult, as they have been lately, and volatility spikes, diversification becomes less effective.
"Correlations go to one in a crisis," he said, meaning that everything goes down together. But they do not stay down for long, he assured: "Coming out of this, diversification is going to work, so there's no reason to abandon it."
Rather than trying to parry away the effects of heightened volatility, many advisers tackle it head on in various ways. A safe, straightforward approach, one that is available to investors who have modest portfolios and no outside help, is to rebalance the weightings of various investments.
It is essential when building a portfolio to establish risk parameters and allocate money to different assets accordingly, said Harold Evensky, a financial planner at Evensky & Katz. As markets rise and fall, certain holdings will occupy greater or lesser proportions of the overall portfolio than desired, a process that is exaggerated when volatility rises.
Rebalancing involves adjusting the weightings to bring them back in line with the original plan. An investor who wishes to maintain 55 percent in stocks and 45 percent in bonds, for instance, might sells stocks and buy bonds whenever the ratio goes to 60/40 or do the reverse when it hits 50/50, Evensky said.
That is one way to get the preferred result. Another, said Brett Hammond, chief investment strategist at the fund manager TIAA-CREF, is to do it periodically, say every year or two. "But whatever rule people follow," he advised, "they should look at their portfolio now because it is likely to look significantly different from how it looked a couple of years ago."
Another way to manage volatility is to treat it as an asset in itself. There are securities, amounting to cocktails of derivative instruments, that provide higher returns when markets have endured big swings and investors anticipate more of the same.
These structured products, as they are known, are created by investment banks and are not publicly traded. That usually makes them available only to wealthy investors.
Alexandre Zimmermann, head of advisory and investment solutions for SG Hambros, a British boutique private bank, has been increasing his use of structured products since the beginning of the year as a way of "selling volatility." One vehicle he mentioned pays 10 percent a year for three years as long as the FTSE-100 index of British stocks does not end the three-year period 50 percent below where it started.
If the index does drop that much, investors will be on the hook for the loss, he said, but that would have been the case if they had simply put their money in stocks. Mitigating the loss is the 10 percent they would still pocket for each year that the index did not experience that steep decline.
The protection comes at a price, Zimmermann said; investors are giving up any gain in the index. But he said his clients did not mind.
"They are happy to move from a capital-appreciation strategy to an income strategy while keeping the same underlying risk," he said.
But it is precisely because the climate is so iffy that Cordaro, the RegentAtlantic planner, would think twice about using these vehicles. They work only if the banks that invent them, and take the other side of the trade, pay up, and that is by no means certain these days.
"With the whole structured-products market, you've got counterparty risk," he warned. "That was extremely evident" last month.
One way for small investors to avoid counterparty risk and profit from volatility is to sell exchange-traded call options against stock they own. In return for cash, shareholders take on an obligation to sell their stock at a fixed date and price in the future. Volatility is a significant component of an option's price, so this strategy is likely to be more profitable in a climate like today's, all else being equal.
Another approach that Zimmermann takes to manage, or even embrace, volatility is to put his clients into hedge funds that make sizeable bets on macroeconomic developments. These funds crave action, of which there has been plenty lately, and they have capitalized on it.
"These are ultra-opportunistic investors," he said. "They go from foreign exchange to equities to credit the next day. That's why global macro hedge funds are performing so well."
They also have become easier for more modest investors to own. Trading platforms introduced in recent years have enhanced liquidity, enabling the funds to be bought and sold more readily, Zimmermann said. That has also made it possible for their portfolios and performance to be approximated by managers of funds with much smaller minimum stakes.
Cordaro acknowledged that hedge funds held up well during the frantic trading last month. Even so, he thinks the best way for investors to cope with volatility is to take actions that allow them to ignore it altogether.
"The future is unknowable, and what has been happening lately reminds you how unknowable it is," he said. "That's why you diversify and take a long-term perspective."
Explosion kills 7 Russians in South Ossetia
MOSCOW: A car bomb in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on Friday killed seven Russian peacekeepers and two others, raising tensions in the separatist enclave days before a scheduled pullback of Russian troops from Georgian territory.
President Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia said he had "no doubt" that Georgian special forces were behind the explosion. The acts, he said, "undermine international efforts to stabilize the situation and torpedo the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan."
The blast comes six days before a Russian deadline to pull back from the so-called "buffer zone" outside South Ossetia, yielding a large swath of land back to Georgian control. European Union monitors began patrolling the buffer zone on Wednesday, in accordance with a cease-fire agreement brokered by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and agreed to by Russia. President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia agreed to adhere to the timetable for withdrawal.
"The last terrorist act in South Ossetia proves that Georgia has not abandoned the policy of state terrorism," Kokoity told the Interfax news agency.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Russian peacekeepers in an ethnic Georgian village stopped two cars carrying firearms and grenades on Friday, detaining four men who had no documents. They escorted the men to their headquarters to search the cars, one of which exploded during the search. Two of the detained men were killed, and eight others were wounded.
Shota Utiashvili, head of the analysis department for Georgia's Interior Ministry, said Georgia was not involved.
"It's completely unclear how it could have been done by the Georgians, as Kokoity has said," Utiashvili said. "There is no way we can know where this car came from and why it was taken to a Russian military base."
Utiashvili said the explosion was part of a strategy to delay the planned withdrawal.
"They have tried to create tensions several times by killing Georgian policemen, and we didn't respond to any of the actions. They just did it themselves," he said.
Zalina Tskhovrebova, editor of South Ossetia, the city's largest newspaper, said the blast was so powerful that it broke windows and knocked pictures off the wall of her office, which is about 350 feet from the site. It frayed nerves in a city still rebuilding from pitched fighting involving Russian, Ossetian and Georgian forces in August.
Since then, aid has poured into the city from Russia, with teams of workers swarming around school buildings, and trucks distributing fresh bread and Russian newspapers.
"My windows had just been replaced," Tskhovrebova said. "People were beginning to be happy."
A low-level war had been simmering between Ossetian and Georgian forces for years, but it flared into open warfare late on Aug. 7, when Tbilisi ordered an attack on the separatist capital. Russia sent troops over the border in response, driving deep into Georgian territory. Russia has recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign nations, and promised to protect their borders.
Earlier in the day, a device exploded near a car belonging to Anatoly Margiyev, the head of South Ossetia's Leningorsk district administration, as he was en route to Tskhinvali, Interfax reported. Margiyev jumped clear of the car, which burned.
The explosion occurred in an ethnic Georgian area, and a South Ossetian government spokesman said it was an attempt on Margiyev's life. Since he took the position as head of the district administration, he has been threatened repeatedly and asked to step down, Interfax reported.
U.N. wants more troops in Congo as violence mounts
The United Nations' top official in the Democratic Republic of Congo asked the U.N. Security Council on Friday for extra troops to help halt the spread of violence in the country's eastern provinces.
U.N. special envoy Alan Doss told reporters he made the request during a closed-door briefing to the Security Council.
He also told the 15-nation council of his "deep concern" about the renewal of hostilities that began late last month in North Kivu and northern South Kivu.
He did not say how many additional troops he wanted. There are 17,000 already on the ground, the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world.
Doss acknowledged that the U.N. peacekeeping budget and countries providing troops were stretched to the limit and it would take time for any further troops to arrive.
He also asked the council for reconnaissance drones to get real-time information on the movements of rebels.
The U.N. mission in Congo, known as MONUC, has been pushing a plan to try to get rebel groups in the east to accept a cease-fire, demobilize and integrate their fighters into the country's regular armed forces.
"We believe we need to go ahead as rapidly as possible with the disengagement plan to reduce the risk of those hostilities spreading and spilling over," Doss said.
It would also require vigorous MONUC operations against active rebel groups.
But he was worried that Congolese Tutsi rebel chief Laurent Nkunda appeared to have reversed an earlier promise to consider taking part in the disengagement plan.
Nkunda on Thursday told the BBC and Radio France International that a peace process based on an agreement signed in January with the Kinshasa government was over.
A spokesman for Nkunda clarified the remarks on Friday, saying he had no immediate plans to move beyond North Kivu.
Doss said Nkunda's statements were "very troubling" and indicated he was turning his back on "any effort to move the peace process forward and that is not acceptable."
He said the comments also implied that Nkunda may want to reverse the results of the U.N.-supervised 2006 election, which put President Joseph Kabila in power in Congo, a former Belgian colony that is still recovering from a 1998-2003 war.
Nkunda has led a rebellion in North Kivu since 2004. He says his Tutsi community is threatened by Rwandan Hutu rebels he says are backed by the Congolese army and who are accused of involvement in Rwanda's 1994 genocide killings of Tutsis.
Kenya accuses West of "colonial" meddling
Kenya accused Western envoys on Friday of "shameless blackmail" and gross condescension for trying to force the head of the electoral commission to resign over a chaotic presidential poll that led to months of violence.
Diplomats said the government was exaggerating the envoys' role even though they agreed the election boss needed to go for mishandling the vote last December.
The row reflects both ongoing recriminations over Kenya's post-election crisis and foreign donor impatience with the pace of political reform in east Africa's largest economy.
Local media reported that U.S. and European Union ambassadors had this week visited Samuel Kivuitu, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), to urge his resignation. Washington had threatened a travel ban, media said.
Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said he was outraged by the "audacious and blatant breach of protocol" by the envoys.
"It is unacceptable for an ambassador accredited to Kenya to physically walk into an office of a holder of a constitutional office and directly confront him with the aim of attempting to force his resignation," he said.
"Such shameless blackmail, applied through open disregard of established norms of conduct of diplomats, in favour of a style and tone reminiscent of colonial mindset, is an insult to the Kenyan public."
Diplomatic sources said no such direct threat or confrontation took place, though Western nations do support the recommendation of an independent inquiry that the commission be totally overhauled due to its failures during the December vote.
Widespread irregularities and a disputed result led to two months of violence that killed at least 1,300 people and effectively paralysed east Africa's largest economy. Public wrath after the crisis has focused on Kivuitu.
Party political sources in Kenya predict he and his commissioners may go once the government has negotiated a severance package and possible alternative jobs for them.
The U.S. Embassy declined comment on the travel ban report, but said ECK should take blame for the poll debacle.
"Lack of transparency and accountability in the election vote tallying process seriously compromised the credibility of the results," it said.
"The ECK was responsible for oversight of this process and therefore bears responsibility for the way in which it was handled. The commissioners have lost the confidence of the Kenyan people and must be held accountable."
Wetangula said President Mwai Kibaki's government would not tolerate such "a pattern of activism" by embassies.
"I urge these individuals, who continue to demonstrate this grossly condescending behaviour, to respect the proven ability of Kenyans to deal with this internal matter."
Many Kenyans, however, share the Western donor nations' irritation with the lack of deep reforms to political institutions in the wake of the election crisis.
A power-sharing government set up to end the violence has held the peace but dragged its feet over constitutional changes.
"Chastising foreign diplomats will not solve our problems," leading local paper Daily Nation said in an editorial.
Slowly, iPhone is winning over business people
SAN FRANCISCO: Kevin Willis, a retired basketball center turned entrepreneur, has given up on the BlackBerry and now depends on an iPhone to stay in touch with buyers, suppliers and the high-profile clients who wear his custom jeans.
"It does everything I need a phone to do for me and my business," said Willis, 46, who left the National Basketball Association last year after more than two decades and now helps run the Willis & Walker clothing company in Atlanta.
That is exactly what Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, wants to hear. After more than 30 years pitching first Macintosh and then the iPod to consumers, Apple is using the iPhone to attract a new audience: business buyers.
Jobs is trying to revive a stock that has slid nearly 48 percent in 2008 and to keep momentum after revenue almost quadrupled in the past five years. Apple, based in Cupertino, California, gets at least 80 percent of sales from consumers and half of its revenue in the United States, putting the company at risk if people cut spending, Sanford C. Bernstein said this past week.
Apple already had suffered with many of technology's highfliers as investors pulled back from stocks like Apple and Google. Continuing questions about Jobs's health also weighed on the shares. Now Apple may have to cut prices to draw budget-conscious U.S. buyers, compressing profit margins and limiting the shares in the next three to six months, a Morgan Stanley analyst, Kathryn Huberty, wrote in a recent report.
When Jobs introduced a faster 3G, or third-generation, iPhone in June, he said success depended in part on Apple's ability to win over corporate customers.
Apple added business features that mimic some functions in BlackBerry, which is made by Research In Motion and occupies more than half the market for e-mail phones in the United States.
Jobs spent much of his time on stage talking up new security functions and a link to the Microsoft business e-mail message system. Thirty-five percent of the Fortune 500 companies are testing the iPhone, Jobs said. Those companies includes Walt Disney, Oracle, Genentech and Kraft Foods.
"Not so bad," Jobs said at the event.
The challenge is pulling it off. Apple has to convince companies that the iPhone can be a serious tool for business - and not just the latest hip product. And Jobs has to sidestep a flood of competitors determined to repel his advances.
The market for smart phones that send e-mail messages and gain access to the Internet may more than double to 288 million units in 2009, according Gartner, the technology research company.
In August, Gartner hedged its endorsement for the iPhone 3G, saying it was ready as an alternative to the BlackBerry if users were willing to compromise on security and battery life.
"We've seen significant interest in iPhone from enterprises," said an Apple spokeswoman, Jennifer Bowcock.
A Research In Motion spokeswoman, Marisa Conway, had no comment when asked about Apple's efforts to win business users for the iPhone.
Threats to Research In Motion abound now. The company, based in Waterloo, Ontario, said last week that it would sacrifice profit to spend more on building lower-priced products and on marketing campaigns to stop customers from defecting to other brands.
That announcement led to the biggest drop in the shares in more than eight years last week as analysts said the iPhone's $199 price might limit how much Research In Motion could charge for its latest products, making them less profitable than older models. In June, Samsung Electronics began selling an iPhone rival called the Instinct for $130, and T-Mobile USA introduced a $179 smartphone last week with programs from Google.
Apple, which reached a record $202.96 in December, was up $3.67, or 3.7 percent, at $103.77 in Friday afternoon trading in the United States.
Research In Motion, which has fallen 37 percent this year, was up $3.41 Canadian dollars, or 5.1 percent, at 70.52 dollars, or $65.24.
"The iPhone will likely be the first Apple device for millions of corporate users," said Andy Hargreaves of Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Oregon, one of 27 analysts tracked by Bloomberg who recommend buying Apple shares. "Positive impressions could drive stronger demand for Macs over time."
Sales of the Mac, which provides nearly half of Apple's revenue, climbed 40 percent to $10.3 billion in the year that ended in September 2007.
It would not be the first time Mac sales were spurred by demand from another Apple product. Consumers, enamored of the iPod players, are buying Macs in record numbers.
Apple overtook Acer in the second quarter to become the No.3 maker of PCs in the United States, behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard, according to Gartner.
Alan Weckel, an analyst with Dell'Oro Group in Redwood City, California, said he wanted to be able to use his iPhone at work one day soon.
"I do not use the iPhone for work, only because our company doesn't subsidize the phone or plan," he said. "If they chipped in, I would use it."
Web report jolts Apple shares
An Internet report saying that Jobs had suffered a heart attack sent Apple shares down Friday before it was quickly denied by the company, Reuters reported from New York.
Responding to the report, by "iReport," a citizen journalist Web site owned and operated by CNN, an Apple spokesman, Steve Dowling, said via e-mail, "It is not true."
The report said Jobs had been rushed to an emergency room after suffering "a major heart attack."
Asked for further details about the status of Jobs's health, Dowling repeated, "The story is not true."
The report has since been removed from iReport. A spokesman for CNN was not immediately available for comment.
Apple shares, which have in the past been shaken by the question of Jobs' health, climbed in early trading but retreated as the report gained momentum on blogs. The stock at one point was down more than 5.4 percent, and hit a 17-month low of $94.65.
By David Lodge.
294 pages. $25.95, Viking; £17.99, Harvill Secker.
"Deafness is comic, as blindness is tragic." So claims Desmond Bates, the retired professor of linguistics who narrates David Lodge's 13th novel, "Deaf Sentence." Bates certainly has the authority to make such an epigrammatic pronouncement ' for the last 20 years, he has been inexorably slipping into a state of "high frequency deafness," which causes him to miss (among other things) consonants as he listens to others speak. The result is that his life is becoming one long conversational pratfall, in which the simplest statement can embroil the somewhat pompous academic in low farce.
The biggest of these tumbles comes in the novel's opening chapter as Bates attends an art exhibition in the northern English city where he lives. While there, he fails to catch most of what is said to him by Alex Loom, a charming but unstable young American woman who is researching her dissertation at Bates's former university. After missing the appointment he never knew they'd made, Bates visits the attractive blonde's apartment, where she asks him to supervise her work on the linguistics of suicide notes. As an inducement, she secretly slips a pair of her underpants into the prevaricating professor's raincoat. Fortunately for Bates, he is able to hide their discovery from his wife, Fred (short for Winifred), an interior decorator who was once a student of Bates's.
When he complains to Alex about her behavior, she offers to let him spank her. He refuses (though it's a close call), whereupon she asks him to write a "pseudicide note," or fake suicide note, which she can then combine with actual notes as a way of testing the public's ability to identify the real thing. By the time Alex shows up unexpectedly at Fred's Boxing Day party, the novel seems ready to turn into a full-blown tale of closed-captioned fatal attraction.
Lodge propels this story line along with writing that is consistently witty, reinforcing that earlier assertion about the comic potential of hearing impairment. "One thing we deafies can do at a party is give people a few laughs with our mistakes," Bates maintains. He has a particular weakness for puns pertaining to his condition. "If only I had heard what she was saying when we first met it would never have started," he laments about Alex. "Deaf and the maiden, a dangerous combination." When he learns that she has defaced a library book with a turquoise highlighter, his spluttering outrage is unintentionally hilarious. "I'm afraid I could never trust someone who would make irremovable marks in a library book."
Unfortunately, having brought the conflict between Bates and Alex to a simmer, Lodge never permits it to boil over. Instead, he abruptly exiles Alex from the story, turning his attention instead to Bates's attempts to salvage his marriage with Fred. Their trip to an appalling holiday camp called Gladeworld is loaded with comic potential, but winds up being merely glum. The focus then turns to Bates's relationship with his headstrong, increasingly senile father, a former jazz musician and character actor who refuses to abandon his longtime London home for the high-end assisted-living community where Bates wants to place him. By now, the farce Lodge promised early on has given way to bittersweet domestic drama.
The novel shifts even further into solemnity when Bates embarks on a lecture tour of Poland, where an impulsive trip to Auschwitz sets the stage for a disturbing revelation about the death of Bates's first wife. Although these scenes can be quietly moving, it is hard not to wish that Lodge had listened to his hero's dictum and explored the comic potential of his affliction to its bitter end.
'One thing we deafies can do at a party is give people a few laughs with our mistakes,' Bates maintains.
The remarkable run of the Phoenix lander
In arid lands where the sightlines are long, you often see a band of rain falling and evaporating before it reaches the ground. That is a virga. It looks like a dark, slanting smudge between the clouds and the horizon. On Mars, an arid planet, NASA's Phoenix Mars lander has spotted a snow virga. Shining a green laser straight up toward a layer of clouds, the lander detected crystals of ice swirling above the planet's surface. This is a scientific scene ready for recasting in the form of a snow globe.
These Martian snows are the sign of impending winter, a season that will bring increasing darkness and temperatures around 200 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The darkness will keep the solar panels from recharging the lander, and the deep cold will crack the array, likely shutting the vehicle down for good.
Still, the Phoenix lander - the first to explore one of the planet's polar regions - has had a remarkable run since it reached the northern plains of Mars on May 25. It has not detected direct evidence of life, but it has found subsurface ice and other chemical traces of the former presence of water, a prerequisite for life.
This is NASA's sixth successful landing on Mars. It's hard to imagine a small machine packed with more tools than the Phoenix. Since late May, it has been conducting experiments of many kinds, analyzing soil samples, probing the atmosphere, studying the history of water on the planet.
What is still surprising is the visceral immediacy of the landers' ground level view of the harsh Martian geology. To that stark landscape, we now get to add the thought of snow falling in the polar night.
'Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night': Brilliantly charting an artist's metamorphosis
By Souren Melikian
NEW YORK: A new type of blockbuster art show is emerging in which a limited but rigorous selection and a spartan display free from gimmicks allow the art to deliver its full punch. The admirable exhibition "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night" on view at the Museum of Modern Art until Jan. 5 is the ultimate example.
Hung with an impeccable sense of space and pace, some of the Dutch artist's most famous pictures have a whole panel or a wall section to themselves. This minimalist representation might seem to be dictated by common sense when it comes to works with such an explosive power as the "Landscape with Wheat Sheaves and Rising Moon" of 1889 from the Kröller-Müller Museum at Otterlo, the Netherlands, or "The Starry Night" of the same year from the MoMA's own collection.
Yet the option is rarely retained because it is taken for granted that quantity is needed to draw large attendances. The MoMA experience should put that canard to rest.
Allowing the art to speak so forcefully is a blessing for the viewers, but it has a downside for the curators. Their discourse gets lost, drowned by the deafeningly louder message of the sequences that they have brilliantly devised. Few visitors will heed the learned comments made in the exhibition book about subjects common to van Gogh and Jean-François Millet. By contrast, they instantly take in the dual aspect of van Gogh's oeuvre made crystal clear in this dazzling pageant put together by Joachim Pissarro of the MoMA, and Sjraar van Heugten, head of collections at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Never was the splendor of van Gogh's first period, which really began in 1883 and was over by the end of 1885, made so evident. Even the inclusion of one near-daub in the name of art history, "Twilight, Old Farmhouses in Loosduinen" of 1883, finds its excuse. In the exhibition book, it serves to illustrate van Gogh's early attraction to evening scenery and rural life, which is hardly an earthshaking revelation. For those who love art, the undistinguished landscape helps to measure how fast van Gogh, who decided to become an artist in 1880, moved from the level of an indifferent amateur to that of a major master.
Indeed, in that same year, 1883, the Dutchman produced one of the most stirring masterpieces from his early phase, "Landscape with a Stack of Peat and Farm Houses." A sense of forlorn immensity emanates from this study in darkness and light painted in shades of blackish green with little color and no details. Profoundly expressive, the picture exudes a dull despair.
"Lane of Poplars at Sunset" painted a few months later in 1884, heralds the advent of Symbolism. The black figure of a woman carrying some burden walks away between two lines of trees. The orange sun disk about to sink below the horizon at the end of the perspective is the only colored note. The brushwork is imperfect, but the vision is powerful.
A year later, no trace of clumsiness remained in the "Evening Landscape" loaned by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. It is done in nervous but controlled strokes that suggest the density of the shadow enveloping all things but leave out the detail. The orange disk of the moon, some shreds of very pale orange amid the grayness of the clouds and the reflections of dark light in the canal waters keep color notations to a minimum. This owes little to Jules Dupré, Théodore Rousseau or any of the Barbizon school artists, repeatedly mentioned in the book. There is a gravitas about it that invites meditation. While the Barbizon painters saw the poetry of nature, van Gogh read tragedy into it.
Within a year of his arrival in Paris in March 1886, van Gogh's art underwent a metamorphosis. The contrast in the choice of colors was radical. Intense yellow, blue and turquoise soon invaded his pictures. The dark stillness of the Dutch period gave way to swinging rhythms. Rippling curves run through the fields, trees sway like fire in the wind and swirling lines set heaven in motion.
This transformation is often cited as evidence of the supposed influence of Impressionism on van Gogh. But the Dutch master's art rejected everything that Impressionism stood for. The paintings of Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro were all about light and the different grades of color derived from it, used to convey volume and perspective. The Impressionists observed nature, transcribing its reality through visual impressions, hence the name of the movement.
Van Gogh on the contrary was the first European artist since the Renaissance who stopped rendering volume and perspective. There is neither light nor shadow in his later landscapes, only color. In those rare pictures of the late 1880s in which the memory of Barbizon school sunset landscapes lingers, the rejection of naturalistic depiction is startling. "Stevedores in Arles" of 1888, cited in the exhibition book as an example of the enduring Barbizon legacy actually illustrates van Gogh's radical break with it. The figures and the growth in the foreground are reduced to rough black forms barely identifiable, as are the constructions on the horizon line. The sky is painted in fiery red, orange and green such as the human eye never saw at dusk.
This was not due to van Gogh's inability to paint in the Impressionist manner. "Corner in Voyer-d'Argenson Park," done in 1887, reflects his close acquaintance with the Divisionist offshoot of Impressionism and, more specifically, with its interpretation at the hands of Pissarro. Yet, even here van Gogh's instinctive rejection of naturalism led him to paint the sky as a sprinkling of regularly spaced turquoise dots that bear little connection to reality.
If Impressionism may have acted, at best, as a catalyst in the choice of the bright palette during van Gogh's second period, the decisive influence was that of Japanese woodcuts which impressed him so much that he interpreted some of these in oils. The acid yellows, the deep blues, the orange, the turquoises are borrowed from them and so is the idea of juxtaposing strongly contrasted colors. Most importantly, Japanese Ukiyo-e probably played an essential part in his radical rejection of naturalism. In the Dutch painter's works dealing with vesperal or nocturnal scenery on which the show is focused, this rejection is blatant. Here, however, a second factor came into play.
In their introduction, Joachim Pissarro and van Heugten observe that van Gogh was fascinated by the celebration of the night in literature long before he turned to painting. In 1873, the future artist sent a friend a copy of an ode to "The Evening Hour" composed by one of his favorite poets, Jan van Beers. In van Gogh's sensibility, the mental image thus preceded physical perception and that predisposed him to be receptive to the Japanese printmakers' stylized rendition of the material world, with its emphasis on expressiveness.
The masterpieces painted in the last three years of his short artistic career are landscapes seen with the eye of the mind. In "The Sower" from the Van Gogh Museum, the enormous sun disk poised on the horizon that sets off the head of the man looks like an aura of glory redeeming the darkness of the human condition. The farmer bends in a twisted posture, partly matching the outline of the trunk that cuts across space as it might in a woodcut by Hiroshige.
In another 1888 picture on the theme of "The Sower" on loan from the Kröller-Müller Museum, the sun disk emits yellow and orange strokes. Pale blue, white and pinkish brown accents are meant to render the brown soil of a freshly plowed field. This lyrical hymn to Creation bears no connection to the material world.
Toward the end of his life, van Gogh transcribed ever more feverishly his inner visions. In the MoMA's "Starry Night" done in 1889, haloed stars and the moon roll like balls of light in the tumultuous waves of the blue night. The mystical image could not be further removed from the joyous naturalism of the Impressionists. By breaking with the illusionistic rendition of the world as the eye sees it, van Gogh became the true founder of modern art.
(The exhibition will be at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from Feb. 13 to June 7.)
Nothing to be frightened of
By Julian Barnes
244 pages. $24.95. Alfred A. Knopf.
'I don't believe in God, but I miss Him," the book begins. Julian Barnes, an atheist turned agnostic, has decided at the age of 62 to address his fear of death - why should an agnostic fear death who has no faith in an afterlife? How can you be frightened of Nothing? On this simple question Barnes has hung an elegant memoir and meditation, a deep seismic tremor of a book that keeps rumbling and grumbling in the mind for weeks thereafter.
Thanatophobia is a fact in his life - he thinks about death daily and sometimes at night is "roared awake" and "pitched from sleep into darkness, panic and a vicious awareness that this is a rented world ... awake, alone, utterly alone, beating pillow with fist and shouting 'Oh no Oh No OH NO' in an endless wail." He dreams about being buried and "of being chased, surrounded, outnumbered, outgunned, of finding myself bulletless, held hostage, wrongly condemned to the firing squad, informed that there is even less time than I imagined. The usual stuff."
Beyond the big knock-down stuff, he dreads the diminution of energy, the drying-up of the wellspring, the fading of the light. "I look around at my many friendships, and can recognize that some of them are not so much friendships any more as memories of friendships." He has seen his parents through their decline and deaths - "however much you escape your parents in life, they are likely to reclaim you in death" - his father, a teacher of French, felled by strokes, reading the "Mémoires" of Saint-Simon at the end still tyrannized by his wife "always present, nattering, organizing, fussing, controlling" - a few years later, his mother in a green dress, in a wheelchair paralyzed on one side, "admirably unflinching, and dismissive of what she saw as false morale-boosting," and what he sees there is hardly comforting.
Religious faith is not an option. "I had no faith to lose," he writes. "I was never baptized, never sent to Sunday school. I have never been to a normal church service in my life. ... I am constantly going into churches, but for architectural reasons; and, more widely, to get a sense of what Englishness once was."
The Christian religion has lasted because it is a "beautiful lie, ... a tragedy with a happy ending," and yet he misses the sense of purpose and belief that he finds in the Mozart Requiem, the paintings of Donatello - "I miss the God that inspired Italian painting and French stained glass, German music and English chapter houses, and those tumbledown heaps of stone on Celtic headlands which were once symbolic beacons in the darkness and the storm."
Barnes is not comforted by the contemporary religion of therapy, the "secular modern heaven of self-fulfilment: the development of the personality, the relationships which help define us, the status-giving job, ... the accumulation of sexual exploits, the visits to the gym, the consumption of culture. It all adds up to happiness, doesn't it - doesn't it? This is our chosen myth."
So Barnes turns toward the strict regime of science and here is little comfort indeed. We are all dying. Even the sun is dying. Homo sapiens is evolving toward some species that won't care about us whatsoever and our art and literature and scholarship will fall into utter oblivion.
Every author will eventually become an unread author. And then humanity will die out and beetles will rule the world. A man can fear his own death, but what is he anyway? Simply a mass of neurons. The brain is a lump of meat, and the soul is merely "a story the brain tells itself." Individuality is an illusion. Scientists find no physical evidence of "self" - it is something we've talked ourselves into. We do not produce thoughts, thoughts produce us. Stripped of the Christian narrative, we gaze out on a landscape that, while fascinating, offers nothing that one could call Hope. "There is no separation between 'us' and the universe." We are simply matter, stuff.
"Individualism - the triumph of free-thinking artists and scientists - has led to a state of self-awareness in which we can now view ourselves as units of genetic obedience."
All true so far as it goes, perhaps, but so what? Barnes is a novelist and what gives this book life is his affection for the people who wander in and out, Grandma Scoltock in her hand-knitted cardigan reading The Daily Worker and cheering on Mao Zedong, while Grandpa watched "Songs of Praise" on television, did woodwork and raised dahlias, and killed chickens with a green metal machine screwed to the doorjamb that wrung their necks. The older brother who teaches philosophy, keeps llamas and likes to wear knee breeches, buckle shoes, a brocade waistcoat. We may only be units of genetic obedience, but we do love to look at each other. Barnes tells us he keeps in a drawer his parents' stuff, all of it, their scrapbooks, ration cards, cricket score cards, Christmas card lists, certificates of Perfect Attendance, a photo album of 1913 entitled "Scenes From Highways & Byways," old postcards. The simple-minded reader savors this sweet lozenge of a detail.
"Wisdom consists partly in not pretending anymore, in discarding artifice. ... And there is something infinitely touching when an artist, in old age, takes on simplicity. ... Showing off is part of ambition; but now that we are old, let us have the confidence to speak simply." And so he does. In this meditation on death, he brings to life his parents, Albert and Kathleen.
"She lay in a small, clean room with a cross on the wall; she was indeed on a trolley, with the back of her head towards me. ... She seemed, well, very dead: eyes closed, mouth slightly open, and more so on the left side than the right, which was just like her - she used to hang a cigarette from the right corner of her mouth and talk out of the opposite side. ... I touched her cheek several times, then kissed her at the hairline. Was she that cold because she'd been in the freezer, or because the dead are naturally so cold? ... 'Well done, Ma,' I told her quietly.
"She had, indeed, done the dying 'better' than my father. He had endured a series of strokes, his decline stretching over years; she had gone from first attack to death altogether more efficiently and speedily."
In her effects he finds a full bottle of cream sherry and a birthday cake, untouched.
This is a beautiful and funny book, still booming in my head.
Garrison Keillor's most recent book is "Liberty: A Lake Wobegon Novel."
Not immune from the inevitable
The 20th medical alumni report arrived in the mail recently. It was thick with accomplishment.
Two decades have flown by in the time it takes to clear the dishwasher. I took out a book of orientation photos I have from the first anxious day of school, and laid it next to the alumni report. I looked at some of the photos - so young and certain, but without accurate perspective. Back then, illnesses happened only to other people. It is true that, like good medical students, we temporarily contracted every disease we studied; exotica thrived in the Boston area, and I especially remember the 6-foot intestinal parasite that infected the class when we studied tropical disease. But we were too busy and too purposeful to be genuinely sick. Terrible ailments were the enemies of others.
On the last page of the alumni report came the bad news. I read two names and recognized them.
In the third year of school, working on the wards, my partner in a radiology rotation was a blond, giggling classmate. She worked on the class musical, wore costumes on Halloween, and piped up with spirit during lectures. We had nothing in common, not one thing, but we were thrown together and sat in the dark hospital basement, gazing at tubercular chest X-rays, and pneumonias that looked like clouds.
Sitting side by side day after day in the absence of light made us intimate. While we measured pelvic tumors and traced dye outflow from leaking kidneys, she told me about her fiancé from college, where they would live, and her hopes of becoming the kind of specialist her father was. The field was selective, she said; she might not qualify. I had no certainty about anything, and listened avidly. For a girl who laughed so much, she had done some deep practical thinking. After a while her cheer was infectious, and when she giggled in the dark, whatever she was laughing at seemed uncontrollably funny to me, too.
When the month ended, she moved into the emergency room and I moved onto the obstetrics floor. We never spoke again, which occasionally surprised me; I kept waiting to pick up where we had left off. She became the specialist she wanted to be, and the 10th alumni reunion book described her children. The 20th said she had died of breast cancer.
There was a second announcement, about a boy who had made it his point to sit in the front row of the lecture hall. He strode around with a clipboard in his arms and an undignified late-onset case of acne. He was unapproachable and efficient, until he fell in love with another first-year student. Then they sat in the front row together, defying the purpose of class, holding hands and writing dreamy notes for each other. The clipboard sat aimlessly on a seat next to them, chaperoning. The 10th alumni bulletin said he had become a pediatric neurologist and married someone else. The 20th said he had collapsed from a sudden stroke.
Why did we think, when we went to school, that we were only studying the lives of others? We hammered down their illnesses with histories, stripped them naked with tests, and bombarded them with treatments. We believed that memorizing thousands of facts was taking command. We understood perfectly what would happen to patients. But though we studied night and day, we never understood - how could we miss something so sad and so true? - what would happen to us.
Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.
We cannot recall when there were lower expectations for any candidate going into a national debate than preceded Governor Sarah Palin's appearance in Thursday night's vice-presidential debate with Senator Joseph Biden. That's a big plus: All the candidate has to do is show up, say one or two sensible things and avoid an election-defining gaffe.
By that standard, the governor of Alaska beat expectations. Biden did as well, avoiding one of his infamous gaffes, while talking confidently with a clear grasp of the big picture and the details. But this debate was more about Palin than Biden.
Just as she did at the convention, Palin showed that she can deliver prepared remarks with enthusiasm, wit and a fluency in the language of class warfare. She nearly always referred to Americans, especially middle-class ones, as "we" or "us," and tossed in references to hockey moms, soccer moms and Joe Sixpack at seemingly every opportunity.
"Go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday and turn to any parent," she said, after being asked for her assessment of Washington's handling of the financial bailout. She added, "Betcha you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice."
But she offered few to no details when it came to giving concrete answers on how she and McCain would address the financial crisis, help Americans avoid foreclosure or what programs would have to be cut to address the country's disastrous fiscal problems.
Indeed, Palin's primary aim seemed simply to repeat the same thing over and over: John McCain is a maverick, and so is she. She is a governor. She understands Americans. To stay on that course, she had to indulge in some wildly circular logic: America does not want another familiar Washington figure. But they want McCain (who has been in Congress for 26 years).
Palin sounded like a prairie populist when she said McCain would "demand" strict oversight of Wall Street. In virtually the next breath, she said government should "get out of the way" of American business.
There were also occasional, disturbing flashes of the old, pre-campaign Sarah Palin. When asked about the causes of global warming, Palin suggested that man had some role - but she wasn't saying how much.
In the end, the debate did not change the essential truth of Palin's candidacy: She can learn her talking points and make a good impression under controlled circumstances. But McCain made a wildly irresponsible choice when he picked someone with far too little experience or evident knowledge for the post. That choice shattered the image that McCain created for himself as the tempered, seasoned, experienced man of principle and judgment. Picking Palin was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.
The ensuing weeks cemented those images in our minds. Palin initially injected some energy into the McCain campaign, especially among members of the right-wing Republican base, who never liked or trusted the Arizona senator - and still do not. Then, she began lurching from one embarrassing public appearance to another, culminating in her shocking performance in interviews with Katie Couric. In those exchanges, Palin was inarticulate and shockingly unable to answer the most basic questions about government policy and even her own political philosophy.
The Republicans have tried to present the negative reaction to Palin as a matter of liberal elites sneering at someone who does not share their privileged backgrounds. That is a distraction. The problem with Palin's candidacy, which she underscored in her appearance at the debate on Thursday night, is not that she didn't attend a fancy school or go backpacking in Europe after college. It is her disdain for knowledge, education, experience and contemplative leadership.
Two Malaysians die in medical ritual
KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysians died and one was severely injured in a ritual designed to help a man overcome his chain-smoking habit and to rid his wife of her asthma and liver diseases.
State news agency Bernama reported that four close relatives smashed the couple's heads on a table and beat them with crash helmets and brooms as part of a ritual to help them overcome their health problems.
Kuala Lumpur CID chief Ku Chin Wah said the ritual was suggested by the relatives who the couple visited as part of celebrations to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, where they complained of their ill-health.
"Following this, a 23-year-old male relative suggested that the couple undergo a ritual which involved all family members joining forces to beat up the couple to rid them of their ailments," Ku told reporters on Thursday, according to Bernama.
The 15-year-old daughter of one of the four assailants walked in on the ritual, was severely beaten and was admitted to hospital, Ku said.
CHIUSI, Italy: On a crisp fall morning just after Ramadan, Hysen and Kimete Murrizi stood side by side in a Tuscan vineyard, snipping fat bunches of grapes into red plastic buckets.
They worked their way quickly down a sloping hillside, picking grapes for Chianti, after having spent days selecting smaller grapes for more refined wines. On the nearby highway, passing truckers honked in a harvest greeting.
The Murrizis are among tens of thousands of Albanians who arrived in Italy in the 1990s after the collapse of their country's Communist dictatorship and economy. That they should become skilled vineyard workers is somewhat incongruous because Murrizi is an observant Muslim who fasted for Ramadan and does not drink alcohol.
She acknowledged the culture clash. "Yes," Murrizi said with a warm smile in fluent Italian. "But that's the way it is. Unfortunately I have to work. Life is like that."
Murrizi, 46, has wavy light brown hair and green eyes. She left factory work to join her husband in Italy in 1998. Murrizi, 52, a former truck driver with a tanned face and close-cropped gray hair, left Durres, Albania, for Tuscany in 1993.
Murrizi is not so observant as his wife, and over the years he has become a wine fan. "Especially the 'vino nobile,' " he said, as a smile lit up his face. "But also the Chianti."
Murrizi said: "I tried it once because Hysen said, 'Come on, you've worked here for so long, try it.' I liked it." But for religious reasons, she said, she did not plan to make it a habit.
In the Italian popular imagination, Albanian immigrants are more often depicted as scofflaws than as upstanding members of society. Anti-immigrant sentiment runs high, and many Italians blame foreigners for what they say is a rise in crime. In recent months, there have been several highly publicized cases of violence against other immigrant groups.
But amid the turmoil, families like the Murrizis are quietly integrating into middle-class life in ways that Italy is only beginning to acknowledge. Like new shoots grafted onto an old vine, they are fast becoming an essential part of the country's most valued traditions, including winemaking.
The Murrizis work full time for the Salcheto winery, based in nearby Montepulciano, planting in spring, pruning in summer, picking in fall and preparing the vines in winter.
They are the new face of Italy, and Italy is slowly recognizing them.
"At first we didn't realize they have different needs," said Salcheto's owner, Michele Manelli, 33, who has gone out of his way to help the Murrizis navigate the Italian bureaucracy. "When we'd have dinner at the end of the harvest, we'd have a normal menu. But little by little we understood: no pig, no wild boar."
The night before, the Murrizis had gathered with friends and family to mark the end of Ramadan, which they celebrated in a public apartment near the Montepulciano fire station, eating homemade baklava and drinking Turkish coffee.
"In Albania we would have had a bigger party," Murrizi said that evening. "But here, we have to work; it's the 'vendemmia,' " or grape harvest.
Their host was Azem Mema, a contractor originally from Kavaje, Albania, who shares the apartment with his wife, Arta; their school-age daughters, Francesca and Alessia; and his mother, Kadife, a stocky woman with a white kerchief on her head and a dark shawl draped over her shoulders.
"I have eight children," the elder Mema said proudly in rudimentary Italian. "Five boys and three girls." Seven live in or near Montepulciano, she said, and one daughter is still in Albania.
"Sooner or later she'll come here, too," Murrizi said.
A flat-panel television was tuned to an Albanian music channel, showing women in long skirts twirling to a Balkan backbeat. A bare bulb hung from one white wall. "We still have a lot of work to do," Mema said apologetically in fluent Italian.
Every so often the buzzer rang and another branch of the family arrived. Mema's sister, Lindita Hoxha, also a vineyard worker, came in with her bubbly 11-year-old son, Matteo. He said he liked studying history. "We've done the Romans, the Egyptians, the golden age of Africa," he said. But not Napoleon. "You don't get to him until the second year of middle school."
Several years ago, the Murrizis bought a house in Sinalunga, a nearby town. Their three grown children all work nearby: one is an electrician, one is a blacksmith and the third has a career in the hotel industry. Legal residents, the couple have applied for Italian citizenship and expect to hear back soon.
"At first we thought we'd return" to Albania, Murrizi said with a quiet smile. But that seems increasingly unlikely.
Mema said, "The older the kids get, the harder it becomes." At Francesca's middle school, the other children do not know she speaks Albanian at home, he added.
Arta Mema, hugging Alessia, her younger daughter, said: "They're used to it here. They were born here and have grown up here."
In Montepulciano, integration is still a work in progress, said the city's mayor, Massimo Della Giovampaola. "As with all new things, there's some diffidence," he conceded. "But it's a matter of time. The kids in school now, when they get older they'll be totally integrated because they grew up together."
Bank savings of up to 50,000 pounds will be guaranteed by the government from next week and the sum could be further increased as regulators battle to restore confidence in the banking sector.
Britain's Financial Services Authority said on Friday it had raised the compensation limit for savings to 50,000 pounds per customer claim from 35,000 pounds, after signs of bank customers withdrawing cash to put into perceived safe havens.
Separately the Bank of England said it would accept a wider range of collateral, including some triple-A rated corporate and consumer loans, from banks under strain from a lack of cash in funding markets.
Several countries have attempted to restore confidence among savers this week amid a credit crisis which has raised fears that more bank failures could result in savers losing money, though Britain's move fell short of Ireland's complete guarantee for all savers.
One industry source in Dublin told Reuters on Thursday he expected strong inflows into Irish banks because of the blanket guarantee, with British depositors unsettled after the state had to rescue Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley and broker a takeover of HBOS.
The FSA said the new compensation ceiling would take effect from October 7 and customers with joint accounts will be eligible to claim up to 100,000 pounds.
"The Chancellor has made clear that the authorities will do whatever is necessary to maintain financial stability and protect depositors," FSA Chief Executive Hector Sants said in a statement.
The British Bankers' Association welcomed the moved and said it "will bring welcome certainty for customers" and cover about 98 percent of customers.
But the share of savings in value covered by the scheme is far lower. About 40 percent of all UK deposits are over 50,000 pounds, according to Jonathan Pierce, analyst at Credit Suisse, who said a modest rise would therefore do little.
"If the aim is to sufficiently bolster confidence, we think the cap needs to be increased very markedly indeed or removed altogether via a blanket guarantee," Pierce said in a note on Thursday.
The FSA said it will consult on further reforms, "including considering whether the compensation limit should be higher still." Other reforms could include cutting the time it takes to pay out compensation and clarifying the legal status of claims.
The BoE said it would offer 40 billion pounds of funds at its next auction on October 7 and would continue its weekly extended auctions until at least November 18, and "will take all actions necessary" to boost liquidity for banks to borrow.
"They're pulling out the stops to try and solve the problems in the interbank markets and it's another step in that direction," said Paul Dales at Capital Economics. "They've got quite a lot of ammunition in their hands and they are slowly releasing it as the events warrant."
LONDON: The beleaguered British prime minister, Gordon Brown, reshuffled part of his cabinet Friday, stunning many political analysts by rehabilitating his onetime nemesis, Peter Mandelson, who resigned twice in scandalous circumstances from the previous government of Tony Blair.
Mandelson is currently the European Union trade commissioner. He is returning to the cabinet as business secretary.
Speaking outside No. 10 Downing Street, Mandelson told reporters that he was "very proud to have been invited to serve" in Brown's government.
The European Commission in Brussels declined to comment.
In other major changes, John Hutton replaces Des Browne as defense secretary, and two high-profile ministers of the Blair era get new roles - Geoff Hoon as transport secretary and Margaret Beckett as minister for housing.
"We are bringing together the best team possible to deal with the difficulties," Brown said at a news conference at his office Friday.
"The way we take decisions and the way we govern has got to change," he said.
Ed Miliband, the brother of Foreign Secretary David Miliband, enters the cabinet as head of a new department for energy and climate change.
The appointment of Mandelson was doubly surprising because of his past record in government and the political allegiances that got him there.
He was regarded as a particularly close ally of Blair, whose rivalry with Brown came increasingly to dominate British politics before Blair was forced from office in mid-2007.
The rift between Brown and Mandelson dates back more than a decade, when Mandelson gave key backing to Blair to take over the leadership of the Labour Party before the 1997 election. Mandelson acknowledged Friday that he and Brown "have had our ups and downs."
At that time, newspapers labeled Mandelson the "prince of darkness," reflecting his reputation for exercising ruthless behind-the-scenes power and shaping public perceptions of the government. Along with Blair, he was a main architect of the New Labour project to move the party away from its socialist, union-dominated roots.
Mandelson resigned for the first time in 1998 because he had failed to declare a sizable home loan from a businessman whose affairs were under investigation by Mandelson's own Trade and Industry Department. He rejoined the government as Northern Ireland secretary but stepped down again in January 2001 because of allegations that he had helped two Indian billionaires obtain British citizenship after they donated $1.5 million to a Labour project.
Even though Blair is no longer in office, the rift between his supporters and Brown's continues to course through the highest echelons of British politics. Brown recently seemed to tangle with the so-called Blairites' favored contender, the youthful foreign secretary, Miliband. Indeed, when Brown assailed "novice" politicians, some analysts said he was criticizing Miliband as much as his principal foe, the equally youthful opposition leader, David Cameron.
The appointment of Mandelson may have been designed to appease the Blairite faction, or at least lower the intensity of plotting against Brown, British political analysts said.
Mandelson gave up his seat in Parliament when he became an EU commissioner in 2004, the Press Association news agency said, meaning that he will likely be given a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords to qualify for cabinet membership.
During his time as trade commissioner, Mandelson was closely involved in the collapsed Doha Round of world trade negotiations. The BBC said he had been asked to return to the cabinet to sharpen its economic focus during the global financial crisis.
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