IW: The 'mood music' is that we're past the worst in Iraq. It has been building for a while in the pages of the IHT, especially from NYT journalists if not from local Reuters hires (who are soon to quit and go to America as soon as the new special immigration law for Iraqis at risk moves into full affect).
But I think it peaked today. Talk of paths to national reconciliation, even rebels moving to Afghanistan.
However, like the U.S. election, it ain't over until it's over.
A pre-election (U.S. Presidential and/or Iraqi municipal) Tet offensive?
For now, the Iraqi rebels take their foot off the pedal on the bloodletting, they even overtly send fighters to Afghanistan, movement that are picked up by American intel. Generals move battalions into Afghanistan.
But then, pre-U.S. election, a massive round of bloodletting in Iraq, with a co-ordinated offensive in Afghanistan; even an attempt to overthrow the current Pakistani government or a major attack in the U.S.A? The U.S.A. military relies on air to win its battles, and there might just not be enough to go around.
While AQ leaders focus on the future, the West's leaders focus on saving banks. Eye off the ball time, kidded into thinking that the main game is to be played out in Afghanistan.
For a long time we have been fed 'the disparate, unconnected, AQ' narrative (that would be incapable of organising such a strategy as outlined above).
I've yet to read a serious MSM challenge to that narative, fed by governments who want to keep us scared, but not so scared we'll commit the ultimate sin and stop shopping, especially during a financial meltdown.
If, and it's a big if, AQ in Iraq/Taliban are connected and have their own intel (aided by Iran and disloyal elements within the Pakistani army and intelligence service) and a tactical and strategic planning capacity with secure coms (as simple as passing verbal messages via footsoldiers moving back and forth between Iraq, into Iran and Pakistand and Afghanistan) I fear things could unravel before the Presidential elections. (There is no certainly no shortage of money and arms for them, something which could be radically reduced by simply legalising drugs).
I very much hope I am wrong, but I still have a sense of a lull before a storm.
China issues blanket recall on dairy
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
BEIJING: China's store shelves are being cleared of all milk and milk powder more than a month old, a huge recall that marks the latest government effort to restore consumer confidence after four babies died from drinking milk tainted with an industrial chemical.
In Hong Kong, authorities announced that another child has developed kidney stones after consuming contaminated products, bringing to eight the number of children in the territory sickened by Chinese dairy products.
All of mainland China's milk powder and liquid milk produced before Sept. 14 was ordered pulled off the shelves to be tested by manufacturers, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"Regardless of the brand or the batch, they must be taken off shelves, their sale must be stopped," Xinhua said, citing a notice issued by six government ministries and administrations.
It was the first time the government has issued a blanket recall of products since the tainted milk scandal began.
The notice said the products would be sold only if they passed quality tests and were labeled as safe. Those that fail checks must be reported to the ministries, recalled and sealed off from consumption, it said. The notice did not say why the recall was being implemented now.
China launched a countrywide inspection of dairy facilities focusing on milk-collecting centers on Sept. 15 - leaving open the possibility that some milk products more than a month old have yet to be scrutinized.
The notice was issued by the chief Chinese quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in conjunction with five other central government ministries and administrations. Telephones at the General Administration rang unanswered Tuesday and officials did not respond to a faxed request for information.
Four babies died and tens of thousands of children have been sickened by milk spiked with the melamine, a nitrogen-rich chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers.
The scandal prompted the Chinese Health Ministry to issue guidelines limiting acceptable melamine levels in milk and food products. There were no such standards previously.
The State Council, China's Cabinet, has also tightened regulations for the dairy industry, mandating stricter controls over cattle breeding, the purchase of raw milk and the production and sale of dairy products.
Authorities have blamed dairy suppliers for the crisis, saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.
Melamine can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, lead to kidney failure.
The crisis has spread overseas with Chinese milk products pulled out of stores in dozens of countries as governments increase vigilance and step up safety tests.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong's government said a 2 ½-year-old boy developed two kidney stones after consuming melamine-laced milk and cookies. He did not show any signs of renal problems or require hospitalization.
Over the past two years, the boy had regularly consumed milk from the Chinese dairy Yili Industrial Group and eaten chocolate-filled Koala cookies made by the snack maker Lotte Group, based in Tokyo with facilities in China, said a government spokesman, Alex Cheng. Samples of Koala cookies in Hong Kong and Yili milk in China have tested positive for melamine.
In Thailand, the bakery chain S&P recalled all its packaged cookies nationwide as a precaution, after Swiss authorities said they found high concentrations of melamine in the products.
Swiss authorities said Monday that tests of the confection found high melamine levels.
Witoon Sila-on, a vice president at S&P Syndicate, said the company had never exported its cookies to Switzerland and questioned where the sample came from. Witoon also said the cookies in question included milk powder imported from Australia - not milk powder from China.
Taiwan says milk powder flap adds fuel to WHO bid
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
TAIPEI: Taiwan, blocked for more than a decade by Beijing from joining the World Health Organisation or any other U.N. group, said Tuesday China's milk scandal shows the urgency of giving the island membership.
Taiwan has complained to the 193-member WHO three times since the milk powder flap broke out last month about the island's exclusion from the group that updates members on health issues and helps handle disease outbreaks, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters.
"If we were in the United Nations, we could have handled the tainted milk powder problem from the start," ministry spokesman Henry Chen said. "This problem has caused panic among average households.
"Of course it's urgent, just like with SARS in 2003," Chen said, referring to the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus that originated in China and went on to kill hundreds around the world.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.
Beijing's roughly 170 diplomatic allies block Taiwan's WHO membership bids on grounds that only sovereign nations are allowed to join. Taiwan has only 23 diplomatic partners.
Toxic milk powder in China, where at least four children have died, has prompted Taiwan to ban dairy products from China and pull items from supermarket shelves.
The health minister resigned over the island's handling of the case, and Taiwan has added food safety to the next round of high-level talks with Beijing.
(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Aldi's share of grocery market hits record
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
LONDON: German-owned low-cost supermarket chain Aldi has achieved its best ever share of the UK grocery market as budget-focussed groups continue to outpace rivals in the consumer downturn, a survey showed on Tuesday.
Aldi's sales rose by 22.1 percent in the 12 weeks to Oct 5, boosting its share of the market to a record 3 percent, researcher TNS Worldpanel said.
Of the country's four biggest supermarket chains, Morrison and Asda had sales growth of 9.6 percent and 9 percent respectively, outpacing market leader Tesco , which had growth of 5.5 percent.
TNS Worldpanel said food price inflation was 9.3 percent during the 12-week period, adding that the rate had now peaked and was expected to fall towards the end of the year.
Studies hint at protective role of vitamin B12
By Jane E. Brody
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
It has long been known that vitamins must be obtained from sources outside the body - food and drink, and for vitamin D, exposure to sunlight - and that failing to get enough of a vitamin can result in well-defined and sometimes deadly diseases.
But in recent decades, epidemiological studies have linked deficiencies of several nutrients, especially vitamins C and E, beta carotene and folic acid, to chronic ills including heart disease and cancer. That led people to take large doses in hopes of warding off dire consequences.
But when scientifically designed clinical trials were conducted, most early promises proved false. Now another vitamin, B12, is being discussed as a factor in several ailments that commonly afflict older people, including heart disease and stroke, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, frailty, depression, osteoporosis and even some cancers.
As with the other vitamins, the evidence for the role that low levels of B12 may play in these problems comes almost entirely from epidemiological studies - those that follow a population of people, in this case measuring their B12 levels to see whether there are correlations with health. For example, a continuing study of 2,576 adults in Framingham, Massachusetts, linked low blood levels of B12 to bone loss in men and women; a study of 703 women in their 70s living at home in Baltimore linked markers of B12 deficiency to frailty; and a study published this year, of 107 community-dwelling people over 60 who were followed for five years, linked low levels of B12 to shrinkage of the brain.
This latest finding has attracted much attention, given the problem of Alzheimer's and the fact that B12 protects the nervous system.
Without B12, permanent neurological damage can occur.
In many of the studies, symptoms were seen in people with B12 levels just slightly below normal. In some cases, symptoms were seen in people with B12 levels considerably above the levels that cause the best-known disease of B12 deficiency, anemia. The findings have prompted some experts to question whether blood levels of B12 now considered normal are really optimal.
The studies suggest considerable benefits from the increasing of B12 levels, especially in adults over 50. But these types of studies cannot prove cause and effect. Until placebo-controlled clinical trials are conducted, it is not known whether artificially increasing levels of B12 among people at the low end is safe and beneficial.
Still, a growing number of experts, who cite well-established explanations for drops in B12 levels, especially in older people, are urging everyone over 50 to increase their B12 intake through supplements or fortified foods. These experts believe it cannot hurt and may help to keep people hale and hearty.
Donald Jacobsen, a biochemist at the Cleveland Clinic who has studied B12 for 40 years and is a consultant for a company developing a new B12 supplement, explained that this vitamin is needed by every cell in the body.
Since it is water-soluble and only a small fraction of the amount consumed is absorbed by the body, taking large doses of it appears to be safe, Jacobsen said in an interview.
The only dietary sources are animal products and bacteria: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and nutritional yeast.
Vegans, who consume no animal foods, must take a B12 supplement or eat plant foods fortified with the vitamin. But there are other health factors that lead to a need for supplementation.
The body has a complicated means of acquiring naturally occurring B12. In animal foods the vitamin enters the body attached to protein; to be absorbed, it must first be separated from protein by stomach acid. The vitamin then combines with a substance in the gut called intrinsic factor, which enables it to pass through the small intestine into the bloodstream.
People with low levels of stomach acid or who lack intrinsic factor are at risk of developing a B12 deficiency. Among them are many millions of older people who develop atrophic gastritis, a loss of acid-producing stomach cells, and those who chronically take acid-lowering drugs like Prilosec, Prevacid and Zantac to control reflux. Because the body has a temporary storage system for B12 in the liver, a deficiency may not show up for several years after acid levels fall.
Others who are at serious risk of a B12 deficiency are those who lose major parts of their stomachs or parts of their small intestine, through, for example, surgery for weight loss or ulcers. They must take daily B12 supplements to stay healthy.
But more often it is the elderly - as many as 30 percent over age 65 - who are found to have B12 levels that are less than ideal.
"It's a huge problem," Dr. J. David Spence, a neurologist and stroke specialist at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ontario, said in an interview.
"Close to 80 percent of older adults with a B12 deficiency don't know it," he said. "Neither do their doctors. Doctors tend to think 'normal' means adequate."
Spence said that the low end of normal for B12 - commonly 160 to 250 picomoles per liter of blood serum - was hardly optimal.
That level, he said, could result in a host of chronic ailments, including cardiovascular disorders and damage to the nervous system, which becomes permanent if not caught and treated early. Spence, among others, considers 350 picomoles to be adequate.
Although it was proved long ago that people who lack enough intrinsic factor to absorb B12 can benefit from oral doses of the nutrient, most physicians were taught, and many still think, that it has to be given by injection as often as weekly to prevent life-threatening pernicious anemia.
Dr. Godfrey Oakley, a research epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said pernicious anemia could be cured with oral doses - 1,000 micrograms of B12 a day. For most people 50 and older who still have intrinsic factor but perhaps not enough stomach acid to benefit fully from B12 in animal foods, a daily intake of five or six micrograms of synthetic B12 from a supplement or fortified foods, like breakfast cereals with added B12, can correct the deficit, he said in an interview.
Oakley is a staunch advocate of adding B12 to flour, as is now done with another B vitamin, folate. "If B12 were required in flour, the problem of low stomach acid would essentially disappear," he said. "These people are not particularly sick but may be at increased risk of developing dementia, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease."
But another longtime researcher in the field, Dr. Ralph Carmel, a hematologist and director of research at New York-Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, cautions against such recommendations. "The associations found in the studies are potentially important, but no one has yet shown that if you give B12 it will make a difference down the road," he said. "We need clinical trials."
Huge fight looms in EU over climate change
By Stephen Castle and James Kanter
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
BRUSSELS: Relief over the success of Europe's intervention in the banking crisis will give way Wednesday to discord over climate change, with nations battling over whether a looming recession makes European Union carbon-reduction targets unaffordable.
After two weeks of crisis diplomacy over the banking meltdown, European leaders will gather in Brussels for a two-day summit meeting that probably will be dominated by the impact of the economic turbulence and expectations of a sharp downturn.
On the eve of the meeting, Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister and former European commissioner, called for "flexibility" over the EU's ambitious plans to reduce planet-warming emissions by 20 percent by 2020, pointing out that such measures would cost 1.14 percent of his country's gross national product. Speaking in Rome, Frattini called for the proposals to be accompanied by an "impact study on the real economy," the news agency Ansa reported.
Germany is arguing for protection against foreign competition for sectors like steel, cement and aluminum, and Poland says it should have to shoulder less of the burden of combating global warming.
The dispute is one example of how the financial crisis has changed Europe's political landscape in several respects.
The success of the bank rescue agreement, announced Sunday and modeled in part on Britain's bailout proposals, has proved the value of pan-European intervention. But fears of a recession may prompt nations to abandon important investments and to extract themselves from existing commitments.
At the summit meeting, France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, will seek to persuade all 27 member nations to sign on to most of the principles of the banking rescue package agreed to by the 15 euro-zone nations.
On Wednesday, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, will propose initiatives to change accounting rules so that assets will not have to be revalued so often, and to guarantee bank deposits of up to €50,000.
Plans are being drawn up to establish a college of regulators to coordinate banking oversight. And future proposals are also being promised from the Commission on executive pay and possible regulation for hedge funds.
At the same time, EU officials are worried that several countries will use the crisis to try to dismantle long-established rules designed to deter state aid to ailing companies, one of the pillars of the EU's internal market.
The European commissioner for science and research, Janez Potocnik, predicted a reduction in European research and development, but said that that would be an error. "We must be careful that by trying to fix the crisis in the financial sector we do not simply displace the problems to another part of the economy," Potocnik said.
The most immediate division is set to surface over climate change, which was to be discussed at a dinner of heads of government Wednesday night.
The European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, warned Tuesday that if the EU signaled that it considered climate change a less-urgent challenge, "that could be the end of the global effort."
"This is not a luxury we now have to forgo," Barroso said in Brussels. "Saving the planet is not an after-dinner drink, a 'digestif' that you take or leave. Climate change does not disappear because of the financial crisis."
But diplomats said the member states were divided over how to distribute the burden of tackling climate change among the bloc's 27 nations, and, in particular, whether newer states like Poland should get an easier ride.
Another issue dividing the EU is the extent to which governments should be obliged to plow money generated by the bloc's emissions-trading program into efforts to curb climate change.
An annex to the draft conclusions of the summit meeting, put forward by France, seeks to earmark funds generated toward climate efforts. Other nations regard that as trampling on their fiscal sovereignty. The annex also argues for concessions for heavy industrial users of carbon if a global deal on carbon dioxide reduction cannot be agreed upon.
It calls for 100 percent of allowances to be given free to the most affected companies and for a list of the criteria used to determine them to be set beginning in 2009. The European Parliament and the European Commission want such a decision in 2010.
An earlier date would be controversial because environmental campaigners argue that it would undermine confidence in the ability of a conference in Copenhagen to negotiate an international climate treaty in late 2009.
That would "trigger an international race to the bottom for weak climate policies for these sectors" because nations like India, China and the United States would "also try to protect the same industries," said Joris den Blanken, climate and energy policy director for the European unit of Greenpeace in Brussels.
Serious rumbling began several weeks ago over reforms to the emissions trading system. Those reforms seek to make the industries covered by the system buy the majority of their permits to pollute by 2013, to raise the cost of polluting and drive new, cleaner technologies.
One of the most vocal opponent is Poland, which generates almost all its electricity from highly polluting coal. If the price of emitting goes up dramatically, that would force Polish utilities to spend more on complying with the regulations than utilities in, say, France, where the majority of electricity comes from nuclear power, which produces little carbon dioxide.
In recent weeks, Poland reached accords with Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece to lobby for a more gradual approach to the reforms.
H.D.S. Greenway: Facing climate truths
By H.D.S. Greenway
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
VENICE: Facing climate truths
I saw a colorful clothing advertisement on my way here. It said "global warming ready," and showed this city's famous San Marco square filled with parrots instead of pigeons. But if global warming proceeds at the current pace, the parrots of a newly tropical Europe will fly by overhead. For Venice could be well under water in future centuries.
Refugees fleeing the invasion of Germanic tribes in the 5th century could not have imagined when they first settled along this enchanted lagoon that their savior, the sea, could become their worst enemy.
Nowhere are the problems more obvious - the fragile lagoon against the background of chimneys spewing greenhouse gases on the mainland. It is not just a problem of industry lowering the water table that is causing Venice to sink. Rising sea levels worldwide will also have to be accounted for. Besides physical barriers to close the lagoon to floods, engineers here are seeking ways to help nature itself regenerate land.
It's not just coastal areas. Mountain countries are being impacted. Bhutan, which sells Himalayan hydropower for much of its national income, could see all of its 3,000 glaciers disappear within 50 years if warming trends continue at their current rate.
I came here for Mikhail Gorbachev's World Political Forum conference on how the press is handling global warming. The good news is that climate change coverage has increased in recent years faster than global temperatures. Al Gore's Nobel Prize and his Academy Award-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," have had a huge impact. A book by America's foremost foreign affairs columnist, Thomas Friedman, on the necessity of going green is at the top of America's best-seller list.
John McCain and Barack Obama both recognize climate change as a major problem, and even the Bush administration, so long in denial, has come at least partially around.
The bad news is that the problems grow faster than the public's perception. The search for alternative energy sources, still underfunded, is now more intense than ever. Debates on whether or not to allow wind farms rage on both sides of the Atlantic, from Nantucket Sound to the western isles of Scotland.
Until the recent financial crisis sucked all the ink and oxygen out of the airways, company after company was coming around to greener policies, linking up with the parallel need to get out of fossil-fuel dependency. That may no longer be a priority as the financial crisis deepens.
The irony for Europe is that climate change could result in colder, not warmer, temperatures. Northern Europe, on a parallel with Canada's Hudson Bay, enjoys its milder climate because of the Gulf Stream funneling heated water north. But in order to work, the Gulf Stream waters must be allowed to sink when they reach the cold waters of the north and make their way back south again along the ocean floor. Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution call this the "conveyor belt."
Should the waters from the Arctic become less cold, and less salty due to melting ice, as is now happening at a rapid rate, the Gulf Stream waters might not be able to sink as readily, thus breaking up the current, and bringing a colder climate to Northern Europe and North America. This has happened before. From the 16th century until the middle of the 19th century, Europe experienced markedly colder temperatures - as witnessed by paintings of people skating on the canals of Holland, which seldom happens today. And the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware shows ice on the river at levels no longer seen.
The problem is all the more complicated in that man-made greenhouse gases are riding on the back of a normal warming trend following a 200-year cold snap.
It is easy to blame the messenger for not sufficiently alerting the public, but, as this conference has shown, there are so many interconnecting parts that make up the whole. And a solution in one sphere may create problems in another. Witness the surge of ethanol to solve a gasoline problem, only to cause food shortages. And, as the financial crisis shows, mankind seldom reacts before problems become too severe to ignore.
The Boston Globe
Tropical Storm Omar forms in Caribbean
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
MIAMI: The 15th tropical storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season developed in the Caribbean on Tuesday while a 16th tropical system began to form off Central America and former Tropical Storm Nana unravelled and disappeared.
The new storm, Omar, was expected to bring heavy rains to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and could be near hurricane strength, with winds of at least 74 miles per hour (119 km per hour), when it skirts the eastern shores of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said.
Storm alerts were posted for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the eastern portion of the Dominican Republic as Omar swirled around 355 miles (570 km) south-southwest of San Juan, the Miami-based centre said.
The storm was drifting towards the east-southeast and was expected to gradually turn to the northeast. Its top sustained winds by late Tuesday morning had reached 40 mph (65 kph).
While Omar menaced Puerto Rico, a new tropical depression developed just off Honduras.
The 16th depression of the season, which would be called Paloma if it strengthened into a tropical storm, was expected to come ashore somewhere between eastern Honduras and Belize.
Its eventual strength would depend on how much time it spent over warm Caribbean waters.
The hurricane centre's official forecast did not foresee the system becoming a hurricane before landfall and it did not appear to present a threat to the U.S. mainland or to the oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico.
Former Tropical Storm Nana, which developed on Sunday midway between the Cape Verde Islands off Africa and the Caribbean, dissipated on Tuesday after being torn apart by atmospheric winds.
The 2008 hurricane season has been busy and has six more weeks to go before it officially ends on November 30. An average season spawns 10 storms, of which six strengthen into hurricanes.
So far this year, Hurricane Gustav slammed ashore near New Orleans, the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Hurricane Ike hit Houston. Both threatened the oil rigs off the U.S. Gulf Coast that supply a quarter of U.S. domestic oil.
In Haiti, more than 800 people were killed after the impoverished Caribbean nation was swamped by Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, and Cuba suffered $5 billion in damages after being raked by Gustav and Ike.
(Reporting by Michael Christie; editing by Jim Loney and Mohammad Zargham)
What the Nobel chemists wrought
By Kenneth Chang
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
NEW YORK: Looking at a cell through an optical microscope is like a satellite view of New York City. You can see Central Park, buildings, streets and even cars, but understanding the cultural and economic life of the city from the distance of Earth orbit is difficult, maybe impossible.
Likewise, biologists can easily see large structures inside a cell like the nucleus with its folded-up chromosomes and the energy factories of the mitochondria. But most of the details of how a cell functions - the locations of specific proteins, the mechanisms used by the cell to send messages back and forth, the transportation system that moves proteins from place to place - were too small to be seen.
Nowadays, using the same optical microscopes, biologists can see what was once invisible with the help of a fluorescent protein that is the focus of this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The prize was awarded to Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts and Boston University, Martin Chalfie of Columbia University and Roger Tsien of the University of California, San Diego.
The protein, known as the green fluorescent protein, or GFP, was for years just a biological curiosity from a glowing jellyfish.
It was found in the summer of 1961 when Shimomura, then a researcher at Princeton, and Frank Johnson, a Princeton biology professor, collected 10,000 Aequorea victoria jellyfish in the waters off Friday Harbor in Washington state. They were looking for what made the jellyfish glow at its edges, and from the 10,000 jellyfish they extracted aequorin, a bioluminescent protein that flashes blue when it interacts with calcium.
In the jellyfish, Johnson and Shimomura also discovered a smaller protein, the green fluorescent protein, which is fluorescent rather than luminescent. Bioluminescent proteins require other molecules to provide energy in order to light up. Fluorescent proteins do not. The GFP proteins absorb the energy of ultraviolet or blue light and re-emit the energy as green light.
For biologists, that is an important advantage, because cells with GFP-tagged proteins do not have to be swathed in additional chemicals to make them shine.
GFP remained largely a curiosity until 1992, when Chalfie used it to make E. coli bacteria glow. He then made individual cells inside C. elegans roundworms glow.
The key to the use of GFP is that biologists now know the gene that produces it. When they want to track the activity of a particular protein in a cell they first must identify the gene that produces it.
Then they can splice in the gene for GFP next to the new gene. The result is that the protein is produced with a slight modification, an attached fluorescent snippet. All that remains is to shine ultraviolet light on the cells. The tagged proteins glow.
With GFP, scientists can track the movements of groups of proteins in real time, and a hubbub of activity comes into view.
For example, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has used GFP to follow not only where proteins are moving in a cell but also where a given protein is present in the largest numbers. Brightness indicates how many protein molecules there are.
Her observations contradicted some longstanding ideas about how some newly made proteins make their way through a structure known as the Golgi complex en route to being secreted out of the cell. Many biologists thought of it as a conveyor belt system carrying the proteins in an orderly fashion. "With this type of imaging approach, we could show that was wrong," Lippincott-Schwartz said.
Instead, a newly made protein moves through a series of compartments. When it enters one, it bounces around with other proteins already there; periodically, by chance, one of the proteins is bounced to the next compartment. By mutating the GFP gene, Tsien's lab was the first to make a gene that produced a blue fluorescent protein. Fluorescent proteins now span the spectrum from violet-blue to red and even infrared.
In one study, Tsien and his collaborators tagged two different proteins that attach to calcium, an important messenger within cells, with two different fluorescent colors. In the presence of calcium, the two proteins stick together, and the colors change noticeably.
Gazprom executives visit Alaska
By Andrew E. Kramer
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
MOSCOW: Three weeks after Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska told an interviewer that it seemed, at times, that the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, "rears his head" over her state's border, a delegation of Russian energy executives, including close associates of Putin were in the capital, Anchorage, for talks on Russian energy investment in her state.
The delegation of eight senior executives of Gazprom, the giant Russian natural gas company, met with Tom Erwin, the head of the state's natural resources department and a Palin appointee, as well as the chief executive of the Texas oil company ConocoPhillips, Jim Mulva.
Gazprom's chief executive Aleksei Miller led the meetings on Monday, which were only announced in Moscow on Tuesday. Miller is a close and long-time political ally of Putin.
While Gazprom has expressed interest, however improbable, of investing in Alaskan pipelines before, the timing of the high-level delegation three weeks before a presidential election was considered peculiar. A Gazprom spokesman said the company had been invited to the state by ConocoPhillips.
It was not immediately clear whether the Republican candidate for vice president, Palin, was aware of the visit. Her statement that she gained foreign policy expertise from her state's proximity to Russia has become a campaign issue,
In an U.S. television interview last month, Palin had criticized Putin as somebody who "rears his head" over the border with her state. A spokesman for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign clarified that the governor referred to flights by Russian warplanes near the state's borders.
During their visit Monday, the Gazprom executives hosted a seminar on gas development in the Arctic and met for a working breakfast with former Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel, according to the company's statement.
In the statement, Gazprom expressed interest in taking part in natural gas development in the state, though it was unclear whether this was directly addressed during the visit. Bloomberg news cited a deputy in the natural resources department saying the discussion was very broad.
The Gazprom statement noted that the Russian company would be qualified for work on planned gas pipelines in the Artic. "The conditions of work in the traditional regions of Gazprom's production, and in Alaska, are practically identical," it said.
At a Gazprom shareholder meeting in Moscow in June, Miller said Gazprom would be interested in taking part in a long-delayed natural gas pipeline project that would lead from the North Slope of Alaska to the lower 48 states.
A Gazprom official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said it was "rare, indeed" that such a large delegation of senior executives would travel together to present at a seminar.
Gazprom is majority owned by the Russian government and its business practices abroad, particularly in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, are seen as closely aligned with the foreign policy goals of the Kremlin in deciding pricing policies and choices of pipeline routes, for example. In Europe, Gazprom has courted pipeline and gas retail companies, and sometimes been rebuffed on national security grounds.
The company, the world's largest gas producer, has also been eager to enter the North American market. Earlier this year, Gazprom bought capacity at a planned Canadian liquefied-natural gas plant. It has not so far made significant investments in the United States.
So close is Gazprom to the Russian government that top officials move seamlessly from the boardroom to the Kremlin and back.
When Dmitri Medvedev succeeded Putin as president in May, he resigned as chairman of Gazprom. He was replaced at the company's helm by Viktor Zubkov, who stepped down as prime minister. Putin then became prime minister.
Saudi beheadings target the poor Amnesty International says
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia executes convicted criminals at a rate of more than two a week and almost half of them are foreigners from poor countries, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia regularly executes murderers, rapists and drug traffickers, usually by public beheading, but judges sometimes give the death sentence to armed robbers and people accused of "sorcery" or desecrating the Koran.
The number of death sentences carried out last year shot up to 158, the London-based rights group said, from 36 the year before. Saudi media have talked about a wave of crime by organised gangs, blaming poor Asian labourers.
"The Saudi Arabian government's continuing high use of the death penalty runs counter to the growing international trend towards abolition," Amnesty said.
"The process by which the death penalty is imposed and carried out is harsh, largely secretive and grossly unfair. Judges, all men, have wide discretion and can hand down death sentences for vaguely worded and non-violent offences."
A Saudi official spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
The report says that poor Asian and African nationals form a disproportionately high percentage of executions because they do not understand Arabic and have no access to influential figures who are able to intercede on their behalf.
Saudi Arabia's legal system allows victim's families to forgive convicted murderers. In 2004, a son of Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdelaziz was spared at the last minute when the family of a Saudi he murdered in a dispute pardoned him.
A Reuters survey of those executed over the past two years shows a significant percentage of those beheaded are Saudi nationals, often from remote tribal regions.
Saudi authorities reject criticism of the death penalty and beheading, saying it is a humane method sanctioned in Islam and that its application of Islamic Sharia law ensures justice for all residents of the country. Convicts are drugged beforehand.
More than 7 million of a population of around 25 million are foreigners, mainly blue-collar workers from Africa and Asia.
(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Giles Elgood)
From Paris, an ad hoc, urban ballet
By Simon Marks
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
EVRY, France: Back in 1992, the dreariness of life in the Paris suburb of Evry - typical of the concrete jungles thrown up in the 1960s to provide low-cost housing - drew Laurent Piemontesi and six friends together in developing what became a new art form.
They called it "l'art du déplacement," or, roughly, the art of movement. It was a "human reaction," Piemontesi said, to the many obstacles of life.
The idea was to travel across the urban landscape as gracefully, intelligently and dynamically as possible. The practitioners - "traceurs," from the French verb "tracer," meaning to trail - were supposed to adapt to their environment in order to manipulate it in creative ways. Sixteen years on, they can be seen pulling off anything from gutsy leaps from roof tops to sublime balancing acts on metal railings.
"L'art du déplacement means to come back to the essential roots of mankind: the essential elements are to run, climb and jump," said Chau Belle-Dinh, another founding member of what came to be known as Yamakasi, meaning strong spirit, or strong man, in a Congolese language, Lingala. "Our philosophical values are rather basic, like respect and courage, values which have been lost in France and elsewhere in the world."
Piemontesi, now 36, elaborated. "When we say we have to pass obstacles, I have to pass fear - I do the same thing in all things in my life. And this is what we teach kids who come and train with us."
Helped in part by a hit movie about Yamakasi in 2001, the word about the discipline has now spread far beyond Evry, or Paris, or even France itself. On a recent morning at the foot of the Bercy Indoor Arena in eastern Paris, a group of buff, young men - including traceurs from Denmark, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and the United States - limbered up for a day of training.
The original seven members first started to codify their urban art form in 1997. They said then - and reiterate now - that they wanted to emphasize effort, sharing and self-esteem. This, Belle-Dinh said, helps unite people from very different backgrounds around the discipline.
"Now we are trying to group people together and say: 'Your color, your weight, your morphology does not create a difference,"' he said.
Belle-Dinh, whose family came to Paris from Vietnam shortly after his birth in Ho Chi Minh City in 1977, trains almost every day in a range of urban and suburban locations. He uses concrete walls, metal railings and public ping-pong tables, to name but a few , in order to slide, jump and climb across his environment. "Everyone can do it. We accept everyone. Accept yourself in this sense."
This teaching survived even the split of two members of the original Yamakasi group, who branched away and created their own version of the discipline known as Parkour. It concentrates more on pushing the physical boundaries of each participant.
Exo, 27, a devotee of Parkour who declined to give his surname, often travels from his base in New York to train with groups in different urban environments.
"The architecture in each place affects the way that each practitioner looks at it and the way they tackle it," he said. Similarly, he added, "gymnasts when they came to Parkour started bringing flips, acrobatics. Track runners like me would bring endurance, stamina, and a lot of running."
This approach to physical activity has caught the attention of sporting institutions and governments alike. Manuel Valls, an important figure in the French Socialist Party and mayor of Evry said, "without abolishing their philosophy, the idea is to integrate them into the city by giving them the possibility to develop themselves."
"I believe the Yamakasi incarnate the spirit of urban life," Valls said in an interview. "They are a fantastic symbol of the town of which I am the mayor."
In May, Valls attended an event marking the future opening of the Academie de l'Art du Déplacement in Evry, which will be run by the Yamakasi group. The goal is to provide professional coaching and diplomas for young traceurs who want to make a career and share their passion with younger generations.
In 2004, the Yamakasi trained a group of youth from Evry to join the Cirque du Soleil, the professional circus based in Montreal.
Parkour Generations, a group of traceurs in England, have already started teaching in schools in the City of Westminster in the heart of London, and providing workshops for children in areas like the famous performance square in Covent Garden.
Daniel Edwardes, a director of Parkour Generations, said the group is also working withe Westminster officials to help young Londoners explore their full potential through sport.
Belle-Dinh noted that, while integrating and looking to things such as the financial viability of enterprises like the future academy, the traceurs will never jeopardize the set of values they have honed for well over a decade.
"The area where we grew up has indeed marked us: You don't have much to do. You're given a soccer ball and a soccer field, that's about it," he said. "We wanted to become strong, but strong in a sense: to be strong in order to become useful, to help others and yourself as well."
Guillaume Desjardins contributed reporting from Paris.
Sarkozy opens an old wound in Italy over a former militant
By Elisabetta Povoledo
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
ROME: The recent decision by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France not to extradite Marina Petrella, a former Italian Red Brigades terrorist, because of humanitarian considerations has provoked outrage in Italy, where Petrella faces life imprisonment for murder and other crimes.
Questions have also been raised about the role played by Sarkozy's wife, Carla, who visited Petrella in a Paris hospital last week and assured her that she would not be extradited to Italy.
Sarkozy's pronouncement over the weekend rehashed old tensions between Italy and France over a controversial policy instituted under President François Mitterrand that granted asylum to leftist militants from Italy if they renounced violence.
"The humanitarian reasons given to not extradite Mrs. Petrella are unacceptable," Sabina Rossa, a center-left lawmaker whose father was killed by the Red Brigades in 1979, said during a morning radio talk show Tuesday. "It's saying that Italy is a country at risk, without democratic certainties, where a person's health is not evaluated seriously."
Petrella, 54, is a former member of the militant group, which terrorized Italy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. She was convicted of several charges, including murder, and was sentenced to life in prison. She fled to France in 1993 after her convictions were upheld by Italy's highest court, and was jailed in August 2007, a few months after an expulsion decree had been signed in France.
Petrella was released from prison in August 2008 after her health deteriorated because of severe depression.
She had stopped eating and "just wanted to die," her lawyer, Irène Terrel, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Since Petrella's arrest last year, groups in France have staged protests against her extradition. Several high-profile personalities, including Carla Sarkozy and her sister, the actress Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, have been openly sympathetic to Petrella's cause.
Last Wednesday, Carla Sarkozy visited Petrella in a Paris hospital to reassure her personally that she would not be extradited.
"We could not let this woman die," she told the French newspaper Libération this week.
France has a skewed vision of what it was like in Italy during the years of terrorism, Rossa, the lawmaker, said Tuesday.
"There are people who committed atrocious crimes and left a trail of blood," she said, "but in France there are those who see them as victims of political persecution, with an aura of the romantic hero."
The Italian Association for the Victims of Terrorism said it would protest in Paris later this month, and demanded that Sarkozy overturn his decision. The president of the group, Bruno Berardi, whose father was killed by a Red Brigades terrorist in 1978, said he had already initiated a hunger strike.
"Let's see if a protest on the part of a victim of terrorism has the same effect on the French president," Berardi said.
Terrel, Petrella's lawyer, said her client was still too weak - physically and psychologically - to be happy about the turn in her fortunes.
"If anything," Terrel said, "she's relieved to be staying in Paris."
Iran seen supplying arms to Sudan
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Louis Charbonneau
Iran and Russia joined China and nine other states as direct weapons suppliers for Sudan after a U.N. embargo was imposed in 2004, a human rights group said in a report published on Tuesday.
China's position as Khartoum's top arms supplier is well known and has long been criticized by human rights activists and Western governments. Other suspected weapons suppliers, such as Iran, are rarely mentioned.
In a report dismissed by Sudan, the New York- and Washington-based activist group Human Rights First said it used public databases to compile data on weapons transfers to Sudan.
That country was hit with a U.N. arms embargo to keep weapons out of its western Darfur region, where Khartoum has been accused of genocide by the United States and the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.
Sudan rejects the allegations of genocide and has said it would never hand over either of the two men indicted by The Hague-based ICC for war crimes in Darfur. The ICC prosecutor in July asked the court's judges to indict Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as well.
Human Rights First said China had probably provided tens of millions of dollars of arms to Sudan since 2004, despite its declared weapon sales value of less than $1 million.
There are other suppliers, the group alleges.
"Iran reports total arms sales of over $12 million to Sudan, including almost $8 million worth of tanks," it said.
That is consistent with information from Western diplomats, who have told Reuters that Tehran was selling Sudan arms in an attempt to cement ties and deepen military cooperation.
Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, told Reuters that groups like Human Rights First were "just branches of Western intelligence in the garb of human rights."
"We dismiss them," he said, adding that the timing of the report showed it was an attempt by Western powers to link Iran's and Sudan's cases and increase pressure on Khartoum.
He did not deny that Sudan bought weapons from abroad. "We have the right to import arms from anywhere we wish," he said.
The spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission could not be reached for comment.
Western diplomats say cooperation between Iran and Sudan makes sense given that both countries feel harassed by the West and are on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council, Sudan for Darfur and Iran because of its nuclear program.
INDIA, RUSSIA ALSO SUPPLIERS
India is another arms supplier to Sudan, the report said. It said India claimed to have supplied only $200,000 (114,890 pounds) worth of arms, but an Indian defence firm entered into contracts worth over $17 million in 2005 "to provide battlefield surveillance radar, communication equipment and night vision equipment."
Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has sold Sudan "33 new military aircraft since 2004, and has reportedly provided training, advisers and pilots for Russian aircraft in the Sudanese air force," the report said.
"Some Russian pilots have reportedly flown missions over Darfur," the group added.
Other direct arms suppliers are Belarus, Cyprus, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey, it said.
There are other countries listed as indirect suppliers -- states whose arms have ended up in Sudan but not necessarily due to direct sales. Those countries include the United States, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Britain.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)
Followers of an ancient faith are caught in Iraq's fault lines
By Campbell Robertson
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
QAHTANIYA, Iraq: When an American platoon rolled into this dusty town in the country's northwest corner, a few miles from the Syrian border, the soldiers were greeted by dozens of people holding out pink and yellow Post-it notes. The notes appeared so quickly it seemed that people must have been carrying them at all times, just in case. On each was a name, written carefully in the Roman alphabet, and each came with a question: Can you tell me where this person is?
On the evening of Aug. 14, 2007, four truck bombs exploded here and in the nearby towns of Jazeera and Azair, killing 313 people and wounding 704, local officials said. Nearly 400 houses were destroyed in the attack, the largest coordinated bombing of the Iraq war. The explosions were so huge that dozens of those closest to the bombs vanished without a trace, leaving their relatives to wonder, more than a year later, where they could have gone.
"We just want to know if they're alive or dead," said Ismail Zandin Jindo, 70, who was holding out two wrinkled birth certificates.
The people here are Yazidis, adherents of an ancient religion with roots in Zoroastrianism. Iraqi and American officials pinned responsibility for the bombings on Sunni Arab extremists, who consider the Yazidis devil worshipers.
The next year was one of rebuilding, and the center of the village still seems to be an enormous construction project. But since the violence, tensions have only worsened.
Immediately after the attacks, Kurdish security forces moved into Qahtaniya and other Yazidi villages, having already made a fortress of Sinjar, a city a few miles north. They surrounded the towns with earthen berms, set up checkpoints and created what was in effect a wall between the Yazidi areas and the Arab villages to the south, towns that have become crippled by drought and dominated by Sunni insurgents.
While Qahtaniya lies far outside the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan, the semiautonomous Kurdish region, the Kurds have a long history in the area, which had a significant Kurdish population until 1975, the year of a failed Kurdish uprising.
Just as Saddam Hussein would do decades later in the fractious city of Kirkuk, the Baathist government retaliated with a policy of ethnic and sectarian relocation, moving Yazidis into towns around Sinjar and Arabs into towns farther south, near the rich wheat and barley fields on the desert's edge. Many Kurds in Sinjar were forced out, leaving the area mostly devoid of Kurdish influence for the next three decades.
The Kurds returned to the Sinjar area in 2003, almost simultaneously with the American invasion of Iraq. Since then, they have made Sinjar a striking example of Kurdish military and economic efficiency. BMWs are not uncommon sights. They have also taken harsh measures against the Arabs, not without reason, they say.
"We could throw all the Arabs out of the city," said Karim Sinjari, the Kurdish government's minister for internal affairs, whose own family was forced out in 1976 after he took part in the Kurdish uprising. "But the Americans told us we have to wait."
Kurdish officials say that without the tight security, the residents of small towns like Qahtaniya would be left vulnerable to massacres. They also say that the Yazidis are true Kurds and that if they were allowed to vote in a constitutionally mandated referendum, they would choose to be administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Most Yazidis would agree, but only in public.
Hamed Ido Hammo, a village elder in Qahtaniya, was one of the few willing to speak out openly against the Kurds. Surrounded by approving listeners in his quiet courtyard on a hot afternoon, Hammo said the Kurdish security presence was nothing less than a power grab, an opinion not hard to find in conversations around the town. In a sign of the profound distrust that exists between Kurds and some Yazidis, Hammo even said the bombings had been provoked by Kurdish troops.
"Now they have an excuse to rule the area and say it's not safe," he said. "They say the bad people are Arabs so they can take over."
Local Yazidis complain that the Kurds pay tribal leaders for their loyalty (an accusation denied by the Kurds) and that the Kurds arrest anyone who opposes their presence. As proof, they point to several people who were detained after talking to a team from the United Nations about the situation in Sinjar.
But even if Yazidis would like to, it is impossible to return to the situation before 2003.
The Arab villages to the south, towns like Baaj, where a hulking granary that once supported the town now sits idle, have suffered severely in the last five years. Reeling from the drought, the towns were overrun in 2004 and 2005 by insurgents who used them as bases for attacks on Mosul, Tal Afar and other cities in the region. A strict form of Islam was enforced and extortion was rampant.
Since then, American and Iraqi forces have tried to clean out the insurgents and rebuild the towns but "terrorists still exist," said Abdulraheem Jassim Muhammad, the mayor of Baaj, the largest of the villages. "Even in the police."
Hopes of revitalizing the economy have not been helped by the presence of the Kurdish security forces, local residents and American military officials say. Since the Kurds' arrival, Arabs have been afraid to go to Yazidi towns like Qahtaniya, even to draw water from their wells, and it has become nearly impossible for Arabs to buy real estate or find jobs in Sinjar.
With tensions between Yazidis and Sunni Arabs growing, even Yazidis who bristle under the Kurdish presence say they would vote to join the Kurdish region in a referendum, if only for the security.
There is a further problem, though. The Sinjar area is separated from Kurdistan by a vast stretch of land occupied by Arab tribes that maintain friendly relationships with the Kurds but have no intention of joining Kurdistan.
The near impossibility of attaching the Sinjar area to Iraqi Kurdistan has prompted some local Yazidis as well as some American military officials to suspect that the Kurds are using these areas as leverage, a bargaining chip for political negotiations over the status of Kirkuk. Kurdish officials deny that this is the case, insisting that a popular referendum is the only way to redress Saddam's demographic manipulation.
All of which leaves the largely peaceful Yazidis of Qahtaniya in the all-too-familiar position for Iraqi minorities of existing between two antagonistic forces. As the 2007 bombings made horrifyingly clear, that can be an extremely dangerous place to be.
"We have nobody to ask for help," Hammo said, "except God and the American Army."
Reaching forces accord with Iraq "critical"
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
LONDON: It is critical for Iraq to reach an agreement in the next few weeks permitting British troops to stay in the country after a U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year, a British Foreign Office minister said on Tuesday.
Iraq and the United States have been negotiating for months over a security agreement to settle the status of American troops once the mandate enacted after the 2003 invasion expires.
Once those negotiations are complete, Britain, which has 4,100 troops in Iraq, wants to secure a similar agreement.
"What is critical is that actually in the next few days and weeks we resolve this issue because were we to reach the end of the year and we had to roll over the United Nations' mandate, I think that would send out an unfortunate message that would undermine the genuine progress that is being made," Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell told the BBC.
He was speaking from Baghdad where he said he was discussing the so-called "status of forces agreement."
Reaching agreement was important to show that British troops were no longer in Iraq under United Nations authority but under an explicit agreement with Iraq's government, he said.
Iraq and the United States say the U.S. force, which now numbers about 146,000, is still needed to protect Iraq despite dramatic improvements in security over the past 18 months.
Among the contentious issues are deadlines for the U.S. troops' withdrawal and the question of whether they can be tried for crimes in Iraqi courts.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was quoted by The Times on Monday as saying British combat forces were no longer needed to maintain security in southern Iraq.
"We've always said that we wanted to reduce our troop levels as and when the Iraqis were able to secure the situation for themselves...I think you will see further reductions," Rammell said.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Dominic Evans)
Iraq strives to move beyond body count
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Missy Ryan
In five years of war, Iraq has been hostage to a parade of grim statistics: car bombs, corpses, cholera and refugees fleeing rampant bloodshed.
But as violence drops sharply and Iraq turns towards reconstruction, officials seize upon a more quotidian, yet scarcely less important, set of numbers: economic output, employment, childhood vaccinations and even the whereabouts of Iraq's war-weary population.
The U.S. government, World Bank and other donors have backed efforts in recent years to help Iraqi's statistics agency, COSIT, get a better grasp of the country's vital figures.
"A government without statistics is like a traveller without a path," Mehdi al-Alak, who heads COSIT, the Central Organisation for Statistics and Information Technology, said last week as Iraq launched its first five-year statistical plan.
Iraq needs urgently to provide reliable, timely statistics, especially on the economy, to lure in investment, resurrect tattered infrastructure and broaden growth in a bid to stave off a resurgence in violence.
That is especially important as the burgeoning global economic crisis casts a dark shadow across the Middle East and fragile Iraq.
In the most recent World Bank ranking of national statistics capacity, Iraq scored 51 on a scale of 100, in between Tonga and Samoa. For a relatively developed country, strategically located in the Middle East and sitting atop the world's third largest oil reserves, that's not good enough.
Economists complain the government uses outdated data to calculate inflation, just one shortcoming. The population is believed to be about 28 million, but there has been no census since 1997.
Jorge Thompson Araujo, lead economist for Iraq at the World Bank, said that in the 1970s and 80s, Iraq was ahead of the curve in statistics practise. That changed after years of sanctions and isolation under Saddam Hussein's iron rule.
"Under the repressive regime, people did not have the incentive to produce statistics the regime didn't want to hear. Iraq got stuck in time," he said.
Certainly, the catastrophic violence that has plagued Iraq since 2003 has hindered the government's basic data collection.
"Like other institutions, we suffered from the security situation, especially since our work is in the field," Alak said. With giant car bombs and mortar fire rocking Baghdad daily, Iraq decided to postpone a census due in 2007, and it is now scheduled for October 2009.
"It was too dangerous. Your census-takers would have been killed," said Farid Matuk, a former chief statistician for Peru who now advises COSIT in Baghdad as part of a $300-million (171.6 million pound) U.S. project which aims to improve Iraqi administration.
Iraq's high rate of internal displacement -- people moving house or city to escape violence -- presents another challenge.
At least four million Iraqis are believed to have fled the country or moved to different parts of Iraq.
But Iraq is moving to correct these weaknesses, the International Monetary Fund noted in a recent report.
Earlier this year, the government began conducting quarterly surveys of 20,000 households that seek to provide a snapshot of employment and economic activity, one of the largest such surveys in the developing world, Matuk said.
A household survey, backed by the World Bank, is expected later this year and will provide insight into poverty in Iraq.
"In the last few years we have seen a marked improvement, but it is still far from ideal," Araujo said.
Among what is needed is a more accurate picture of economic activity outside the oil sector, he said, a task that is hindered by the country's large informal economy -- people selling cigarettes or sweets on the street, for example.
A MORE CLEAR PICTURE?
As violence drops to four-year lows, Iraq needs investment in oil works, electricity, industry and services.
A wave of foreign investment that Washington has been hoping for since 2003 has yet to materialise. While security remains without a doubt the top concern for prospective investors, more reliable economic data would certainly help.
"No investor will come to Iraq if they do not have correct and exact numbers," said Ali Baban, Iraq's planning minister.
Matuk expects the government will adopt a plan to triple COSIT's budget and staff over five years.
Accurate figures are also needed as Iraq, led by a Sunni Arab minority until Saddam's regime was toppled in 2003, struggles for political and sectarian reconciliation.
Violence began to drop last year, thanks to a boost in U.S. troops, the decision from former Sunni insurgents to join local policing efforts, and a cease-fire among Shi'ite militiamen.
But political reconciliation is proving more elusive. The Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is struggling to foster cooperation among politicians and build trust among warring ethnic and religious groups.
Some $100 million has been set aside already for the 2009 census, Matuk said: that may shed light on which groups hold majorities in sensitive areas of the country, such as the disputed city of Kirkuk.
"Maybe this information will be a path so every Iraqi entity knows its size, its ability. I think this is part of the path towards national reconciliation," Baban said.
(Editing by Sara Ledwith)
As Iraq cools, rebels go to Afghanistan
By John F. Burns
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
KABUL: U.S. military successes in Iraq have prompted growing numbers of well-trained "foreign fighters" to join the insurgency in Afghanistan instead, the Afghan defense minister said Tuesday.
The minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, said that the increased flow of insurgents from outside Afghanistan had contributed to the rising intensity of the fighting here this year, which he described as the "worst" since the U.S.-led offensive toppled the Taliban government in 2001.
U.S. commanders have said that overall violence here has increased by 30 percent in the past year. Wardak said that "the success of coalition forces in Iraq" had combined with developments in countries neighboring Afghanistan to cause "a major increase in the number of foreign fighters" coming to Afghanistan.
In addition, he said, "there is no doubt that they are better equipped than before. They are well trained, more sophisticated, and their coordination is much better."
His reference to neighboring countries appeared to point to Pakistan, where Islamic militants with bases in tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan have intensified their operations, both inside Pakistan and in support of the insurgency in Afghanistan.
U.S. commanders have said that most of the foreign fighters operating in Afghanistan are Pakistanis, Arabs, or people from Muslim countries and communities in Central Asia and the Caucasus, including Chechnya. They note that some Islamic militant Web sites have been encouraging fighters to go to Afghanistan rather than Iraq, where insurgent operations have been sharply reduced in the last 18 months.
In recent weeks, some of these Web site appeals have pointed to the growing concern among NATO nations with troops in Afghanistan about the rising tempo of the insurgency here, and the appeals from U.S. commanders here for more troops.
The Afghan minister's remarks came on a day when insurgents struck across wide areas of Afghanistan, using roadside bombs and, in Kandahar, a drive-by assassination. The NATO command said three coalition soldiers were killed Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb. It did not identify their nationalities, but most of the 24,000 coalition troops in the eastern region are Americans.
The assassination in Kandahar came when two gunmen on a motorbike attacked the car carrying the chief of Kandahar Province's social affairs department as he went to work. The official, Dost Mohammed Arghestani, was killed instantly, along with his driver, according to a police spokesman. A NATO statement of condolence said that Arghestani's duties had included working to help disabled people.
The attack was quickly claimed by the Taliban. "We killed him because he was working with the government, and we will carry out more targeted killings of senior officials and people working with foreign organizations," the Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said in a telephone call to local news agencies. Last month, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a similar attack involving gunmen on a motorcycle that killed Kandahar's most senior female police officer.
Another roadside bomb in the Dehrawud district of Oruzgan province, in the country's far southwest, killed nine Afghan civilians Tuesday, including three children, according to the provincial police chief, Juma Gul Himat. He said blamed the bombing on the Taliban, and said they had planted the explosive on a road regularly used by NATO and Afghan troops.
Targeted Pashtun singer finds a haven in New York
By Ben Sisario
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
NEW YORK: The threats started about a year ago, telling Haroon Bacha to stop singing or else. "There were letters, there were phone calls, there were text messages," Bacha said, sitting upright on a floor in New York surrounded by smoke from Pakistani cigarettes. "They used to come very frequently back home, just telling me to stop music, or else I would be killed and my family would be. ..."
He trailed off, tears welling in his eyes. Bacha, 36, is a Pashtun, the Muslim ethnic group of the mountainous northwest of Pakistan and southeast Afghanistan, and at home he is a star, with dozens of albums, slick videos and regular television appearances. In a sweet high baritone, he sings of peace, tolerance and resistance to war.
Those liberal themes have endeared him to his war-weary Pashtun fans, he says, but made him a target of the local Taliban, which has been waging an escalating campaign against music and popular culture, calling it un-Islamic.
Two months ago, Bacha escaped from his home near Peshawar, in Pakistan, and came to New York, leaving behind his wife, two young children and an extended family. If he goes back, he said, he will be killed. With a sharply reduced audience in the United States, Bacha faces an uncertain career, but on Saturday he sang at a small but lively benefit concert in New York, organized by the Pashtun immigrants who have adopted him and held at an unlikely place: the Forest Hills Jewish Center in the borough of Queens.
"Anybody who is hated by the Taliban is starting out with a check in my column," said Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the leader of the center, a Conservative synagogue. Skolnik said that an initial phone call from one of the organizers had "raised a red flag," but that after the groups were vetted to make sure none of the money raised would go to terrorist groups, he was happy to rent the space.
In the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the Taliban has intimidated musicians and record store proprietors; recently dozens of music shops have been bombed, reportedly by pro-Taliban militants.
"Cultural activities are badly affected by what's going on in the region," said Hasan Khan, news director of the Islamabad-based television channel Khyber News, in a recent phone interview. "We have lost everything. We have lost music, we have lost local games, we have lost children playing in the street. It is almost impossible to visualize what is happening there."
The soft-spoken Bacha, who has striking green eyes and short brown curls, is a slightly unusual figure as a Pashtun star; he has a university education and, unlike most Pashtun singers, he does not come from a family of musicians. He said he saw his role as helping to lead a broad cultural resistance to Islamic fundamentalism.
"These people are bringing Pashtuns a very bad name," said Bacha, at one of the apartments in Brooklyn where he has been a guest. "The reason I didn't succumb to these threats is that I should work for my people, for Pashto as a language and rich tradition. I need to promote it and show to the world that we are not like these people."
Before the concert, held in the Jewish Center's mirror-lined basement ballroom, Bacha led evening prayers, facing Mecca in the small lobby. And once the audience of 300 or so had taken its seats - the event was far from sold out - Bacha began performing, accompanied by two musicians and pumping a harmonium as he sang.
In the first songs of the night he declared his love for the Pashtuns' land and traditional lifestyle. But soon his lyrics, which are drawn from old and new Pashto poetry, turned to topical struggles. "This is not my gun/This is not our war," he sang, "They are bringing it to us." The small crowd roared and clapped along, as men danced and threw money on the stage, in a sign of praise and approval.
"We are a peace-loving nation," said Reyaz Nadi, 44, a Long Island architect originally from Kabul. "Unfortunately there's always a war from the outside, going back to Alexander the Great. America is only the latest one."
There is a historical precedent for the Taliban's cultural clampdown. After taking power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, it banned public performances of most forms of music - some religious chants were permitted - and symbolically hanged musical instruments in effigy. Many musicians went into exile in Pakistan, but since the American invasion of Afghanistan and establishment of a new government there, most have returned, said John Baily, an ethnomusicologist and Afghanistan specialist at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Baily said it was not clear whether the same pattern was unfolding in Pakistan. "This is a very musical country with a huge range of different music," he said. "It's not that easy just to ban music. But they're doing what they can."
Bacha said he was not hopeful about his homeland's future.
"If it continues like this, and these fanatics get power, our social fabric, our institutions - everything will be destroyed," he said. "I don't know what these elements want to have in their lives, what their world would be like."
In the way of many musicians who come to New York who were accustomed to be big fish in smaller musical ponds, Bacha is adjusting to diminished prospects. Last week in New Jersey, for example, he played a wedding, something that his associates say he would never have done back home.
"Wherever I find Pashtuns I can live as a singer," Bacha said. "It could be America. It could be any part of the world."
U.N. says Afghan insurgency spreading
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Louis Charbonneau
The insurgency in Afghanistan has spread beyond Taliban strongholds in the south and east while the number of attacks in the country has reached a six-year high, a top U.N. envoy said on Tuesday.
Violence in Afghanistan this year is worse than at any time since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the militant Islamist Taliban in 2001 and fears are growing among NATO members that they are losing both the military campaign and the support of ordinary Afghans.
"In July and August we witnessed the highest number of security incidents since 2002," U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide told the U.N. Security Council. The rise over the same period in 2007 was nearly 40 percent, he said.
Eide said the insurgency has spread beyond the south and east and extended to provinces around Kabul. There has also been an increase in attacks on civilians, including aid-related and humanitarian personnel, he added.
However, Eide sharply criticized what he said were overly pessimistic assessments of the situation.
"I would really caution against the gloom and doom statements that we've seen recently," he said.
On the positive side, Eide said, relations between Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan have improved.
Afghan, U.S., NATO and U.N. officials say that Taliban and al Qaeda militants move across Afghanistan's long and porous border with Pakistan. This makes Islamabad a key partner if the war against the Afghan insurgency is to be won, they say.
U.S. REGRETS CIVILIAN DEATHS
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington deeply regretted the loss of civilian lives.
"We do not take this lightly," he said. "I want to assure the council members that we will do everything in our power to ensure that (coalition forces) take every precaution to prevent civilian casualties."
Last week the U.S. military said 33 Afghan civilians had been killed in a U.S. air raid in August, up from an original estimate of five to seven. The incident put a strain on U.S. relations with Kabul and the United Nations.
Eide told reporters that he welcomed U.S. assurances that "whatever can be done will be done" to avoid civilian deaths.
Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, said success in Afghanistan was possible but hinged on more than military objectives. He said Kabul must combat corruption, enforce the rule of law, achieve economic development, fight the narcotics trade, reform the police and hold a general election in 2009.
Afghanistan's U.N. Ambassador Zahir Tanin acknowledged that the security situation has grown worse.
"The Taliban burn down schools, stamp out reconstruction, and butcher civilians," Tanin told the council. "Ordinary people are increasingly their targets."
However, he reiterated that his government was willing to speak with any Taliban elements willing to join the peace process, a position that has both U.S. and U.N. backing.
He also warned news organizations against excessive pessimism in their depictions of his country.
Tanin said the Taliban have used "some recent statements and reports" in an attempt to convince the Afghan population that international community's resolve is wavering.
British commander Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith told a British newspaper this month that the war against the Taliban could not be won. His comments were widely reported.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Three NATO-led soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Jonathon Burch
Three soldiers from the NATO-led force were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the alliance said.
Despite a slight drop in militant activity during Ramadan last month, violence in Afghanistan is running at its highest rate since the U.S.-led invasion to wrest control from the militant Islamist Taliban movement in 2001.
The United Nations says more than 3,800 people, a third of them civilians, were killed in the first seven months of this year.
Western forces are suffering the highest casualties since their mission began, with the re-emboldened Taliban exacting a heavy toll and extending the territory it controls daily.
More than 240 foreign soldiers have died this year, and casualties are running at around the same rate as in Iraq, which has twice the number of forces fighting there.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) did not give the nationality of the dead soldiers, though most of the forces operating in that area are American.
In other incidents of violence, unidentified gunmen shot dead a government official in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and a roadside bomb killed nine civilians in a mini-bus in neighbouring Uruzgan province, local officials said.
Dost Mohammad Arghestani, head of the social affairs department in Kandahar province, was killed on his way to work on Tuesday morning by two gunmen on a motorbike.
Kandahar is one of the main strongholds for Taliban Islamist insurgents, but drug smugglers, criminals and some tribal rivalries have also contributed to violence.
U.S.-led soldiers killed five militants in an operation targeting a network for foreign fighters in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, on Monday, the U.S. military said.
A Nepali cook for ISAF was kidnapped along with six Afghan colleagues in western Herat.
Four were later released, but local Taliban commander Ghulam Yahya Siwoshani told Reuters the militant group were holding the rest and they were in good health. Siwoshani did not say why they were keeping the men and did not make any demands.
Kidnapping has become a lucrative business in Afghanistan, where dozens of locals and foreigners have been abducted by criminals or Taliban-linked militants.
Taliban insurgents have been behind a number of kidnappings Some victims have been killed but most were released unharmed.
(Reporting by Ismail Sameem in Kandahar and Sharafuddin Sharafyar in Herat; Editing by Sean Maguire and Jeremy Laurence)
Pakistan clashes kill over 40 rebels and 2 soldiers
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Sahibzada Bahauddin
More than 40 Islamist militants and two soldiers have been killed in the latest fighting in Pakistan's troubled northwest near the Afghan border, paramilitary force officials said on Tuesday.
Pakistani security forces in recent months have been locked in battles with militants in the Bajaur ethnic Pashtun tribal region as well as the nearby Swat Valley, a mountain valley once popular with tourists.
In an apparent reaction to the Pakistani offensives, militants have unleashed a wave of suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan, most in the northwest.
The Pashtun regions are havens for al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas and the United States has carried out a series of missile attacks as well as a ground assault on militant targets in Pakistan since the beginning of September.
In the latest fighting in the Swat Valley, at least 25 militants were killed in a clash with security forces in the Khawazakhela area on Monday, an official with the paramilitary Frontier Corps said.
Two soldiers were also killed and three wounded.
Security forces have been fighting loyalists of a pro-Taliban cleric, Mullah Fazlullah, who has led a violent campaign to impose Taliban-style laws in the region.
Security forces pounded a Fazlullah stronghold last week and killed several of his colleagues but he escaped unhurt.
In Bajaur, to the west of Swat and on the Afghan border, security forces backed by helicopter gunships killed 15 to 20 militants in attacks in the Charmang district on Monday, said another paramilitary force official.
The military launched an offensive in Bajaur in August and according to official estimates, well over 1,000 militants have been killed in the region, which the military describes as a militant "centre of gravity."
In the latest militant bomb attack, a suicide car bomber attacked a meeting in the Orakzai region on Friday as tribal leaders met to raise a force to fight the insurgents, killing more than 50 people and wounding more than 100.
The violence has added to worries about nuclear-armed Pakistan, as the civilian coalition government that took office this year struggles with a deteriorating economy.
(Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
Indian Muslim leaders slam government on crackdown
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Rina Chandran
Hundreds of Islamic leaders in India demanded Tuesday that the government protect their community from persecution, saying Muslims were being unfairly targeted in a police crackdown after bombings across the country.
Communal politics has surfaced as an issue ahead of a general election due in early 2009, with attacks on Christians and suspected Islamist bombings polarising a secular government and Hindu-nationalist opposition.
"Today, with the injustice and harassment, Islam and Muslims in this country are under threat," said Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, influential leader of the Jama Masjid mosque, the largest in north India.
"We have been quiet for a long time, but we cannot take this anymore. We too have rights."
Bukhari said neither the ruling Congress nor the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were a suitable option for the minority Muslims, who make up 13 percent of India's 1.1 billion-plus population.
"They think we only have these two options," he said, addressing a crowd of Muslim leaders and others on the lawns of the Jama Masjid, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings.
"But water will find its way, it will find its own level."
Bombings by suspected Islamist militants have killed hundreds of people in recent months, and Muslim leaders accuse the police of indiscriminate arrests of young Muslim men who have been labelled as terrorists and paraded before the media.
Some analysts said many Muslim leaders were seeking to shore up their political position before elections. Muslims are key voter bases for the Congress and for regional parties.
"Just as the Congress and the BJP use terrorism to secure their voter base, the Muslim leaders are also using it to secure their position," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management.
DIFFICULT BALANCING ACT
In the last election in 2004, Congress came to power partly due to a secular backlash against the incumbent BJP-led government, especially after the Gujarat riots in 2002 when more than 2,000 Muslims were massacred by Hindu mobs.
India's election commission said Tuesday it would hold five state elections in November and December that would gauge the political climate before next year's general election.
But the Congress party, labouring with economic woes, has been losing ground to the BJP, which is calling for harsher anti-terrorism measures, in state elections over the last year, and cannot be trusted to do justice to Muslims, Bukhari said.
"Muslims should unite, leaving aside ideological and sectional differences," he said.
The government held Monday a meeting of the National Integration Council, a panel of public figures, to discuss communal tension, the first time the group has met since 2005.
"The Congress is really keen to establish its secular credentials and wants to show it is leading from the front," said Seema Desai, an analyst at consultancy Eurasia Group in London.
A number of smaller, but important, regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are keen to reach out to their Muslim vote bank, and that will put more pressure on Congress, she said.
"So Muslim leaders will be heard more than might have been the case in the run up to the national elections," Desai said.
(Editing by Alistair Scrutton)
Modernizing the Russian military
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
MOSCOW: The Russian defense minister announced Tuesday that he would slash the number of generals and officers in a drive to streamline the bloated armed forces, local news agencies reported.
Russia has increased military spending as part of an effort to re-establish itself as a global power, but the new cash has not delivered radical improvements - a failure analysts put down to corruption and inefficiency.
Defense Minister Anatoli Serdyukov is a former businessman and tax official who, in the face of fierce resistance from many senior generals, has been given the task of reshaping the military so that it provides value for money.
The reforms he announced, after a meeting of senior defense ministry officials in Moscow, included:
Cutting the number of officers from the 335,000 now serving, or 30 percent of the total manpower. Interfax news agency quoted Serdyukov as saying that by 2012, Russia would have an "army in which the number of officers will be 150,000, that is 15 percent of the total."
Increasing the proportion of junior officers, the ranks usually in charge of combat units.
Cutting the number of generals from 1,100 to 900 by 2012.
Reducing the combined manpower of the defense ministry's central bureaucracy and military management agencies from about 21,000 to 8,500 people.
The Russian military suffered years of neglect, underfunding and low morale after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But in August, it quickly crushed an the Georgian military in a dispute over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
However, that conflict also exposed shortcomings in the Russian military. It said four of its aircraft were shot down, it struggled to neutralize Georgian anti-aircraft systems, and Russian forces lacked precision-guided missiles.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
GUWAHATI, India: At least 23 people were killed when a bus collided head-on with a truck in northeast India's Assam state Tuesday, police said.
Another 40 people were injured in the crash.
The incident took place in Assam's Dhubri district, about 300 km (186 miles) west of the state capital Dispur.
Police and transport department officials say there were nearly 5,000 major road accidents in Assam last year, mostly due to reckless driving by untrained drivers and poor road conditions, that killed around 1,600 people.
(Reporting by Biswajyoti Das; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex Richardson)
By Rachel L. Swarns
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
BROOKLINE, New Hampshire: Melanie Levesque grabbed the campaign signs from her Mercedes SUV and plunged into the white crowd at the fairgrounds here. The cows were lowing, the cider presses churning and Levesque, a black state legislator, was hunting for votes and a place in history.
Blacks account for less than 1 percent of the population in this small suburban district near the Massachusetts border. But none of that seemed to matter to the people here at an annual fall festival this month.
A group of snowy-haired retirees promptly invited Levesque to a potluck dinner. Art Fenske, a 91-year-old former paratrooper who served in World War II, presented her with a T-shirt that proclaimed, "Don't ever give up."
And next month, Levesque is expected to win re-election to her seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, where she represents one of the whitest districts in one of the whitest states in the nation. She is part of a new generation of black elected officials who are wooing white voters and winning local elections in predominantly white districts across the country.
Political analysts say such electoral gains are quietly changing the political landscape, increasing the number of black lawmakers adept at crossing color lines as well as the ranks of white voters who are familiar, and increasingly comfortable, with black political leadership.
The black officials, who often serve in small- and medium-size towns, have been overshadowed by the presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who if elected would be the first African-American to hold that office.
But over the last 10 years, about 200 black politicians have won positions once held by whites in legislatures and city halls in states like New Hampshire, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.
In 2007, about 30 percent of the nation's 622 black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, up from about 16 percent in 2001, according to data collected by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington that has kept statistics on black elected officials for nearly 40 years.
Political scientists and local officials also point to an increase in the number of black mayors who represent predominantly white cities in places like Asheville, North Carolina, population 74,000, and Columbus, Ohio, population 748,000. According to a study conducted by Zoltan L. Hajnal, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, about 40 percent of Americans have lived in or near cities that have elected black mayors or in states with black governors.
Most black elected officials, however, still represent predominantly black communities. And Hajnal and other analysts say racial animosity toward black candidates still exists and may affect the results of local and national elections, including the race for president. But he said such feelings were declining.
"There's a fair amount of experience out there among white voters now, and that has lessened the fears about black candidates," said Hajnal, whose book about white experiences with black mayors, "Changing White Attitudes Toward Black Political Leadership," was published last year by Cambridge University Press.
At the fall festival here in New Hampshire, white voters peppered Levesque — one of six black state legislators in New Hampshire — with questions about property taxes, repairs to the police station and local zoning rules. No one mentioned race.
"It's a wonderful feeling," said Levesque, 51, who in 2006 was the first African-American to be elected to represent her legislative district. "I just feel like I'm a real part of my community."
Some of the officials who have bridged the racial divide have achieved national prominence, like Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, whose state is 79 percent white.
In Congress, several black lawmakers now represent predominantly white districts, including Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, Democrats who were elected in 2006 from districts that are more than 60 percent white.
"I had great concerns," said Cleaver, recalling his initial fears that white voters, particularly in rural communities, would not support him in sufficient numbers to ensure victory.
"But the truth is that the hard-core bigots are dwindling in numbers," he said. "All of this fear — 'Is he going to throw watermelons at us?' — all of that stuff was gone."
The broadest shift, though, has been at the local level.
In the 1980s, few black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, said David Bositis, the senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies who conducted the most recent study of black state legislators.
By 2001, that number stood at 92, according to Tyson King-Meadows and Thomas Schaller, political scientists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who analyzed statistics from the joint center and other sources. In 2007, the figure was 189, Bositis said.
About 45 percent of the black state lawmakers represent communities that are 35 percent to 40 percent black in states like Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina. But roughly a quarter represent communities where blacks make up 20 percent or less of the population, including districts in Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan and Tennessee.
Such change, however, does not always come easily.
In Tennessee, Representative Nathan Vaughn, first elected to the legislature in 2002 from a district that is 97 percent white, remembers extending his hand to a white man during one of his campaigns. Vaughn said the man refused to take it, uttering a racial epithet and saying he would never vote for a black man.
In Iowa, Helen Miller, an assistant majority leader in the State House of Representatives, was advised by a supporter not to include her photograph in her campaign flyers to avoid alienating voters. ( Miller ignored that advice and in 2002 became the first black legislator from her district.)
In New Hampshire, Representative Kris Roberts, the first black committee chairman in the legislature, said white lawmakers repeatedly confused him with two other state representatives, one African-American and the other Hispanic. Roberts said that he tried to laugh it off but that the mistake still stung.
"Sometimes we get together and joke, 'Yeah, all of us brothers look alike,' " said Roberts, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who is chairman of the House veterans affairs committee. "But after four years, you would expect them to know the difference."
Mike Carbone, a white retired councilman from Keene, New Hampshire, who supports Roberts and Obama, said racism still influenced some people when they walked into the voting booth.
"In this small town here, you'll hear people say, 'I wouldn't vote for that black man,' " Carbone said.
"But this man can talk and talk sense," he added, referring to Roberts, who is running for re-election. "We're in changing times. You've got to break the barrier somewhere."
Some black lawmakers caution that white support for blacks at the local level may not necessarily translate into backing for Obama. But political analysts believe that experience with black leadership at the local level may have already helped some white voters feel comfortable supporting Obama in the Democratic primaries and may help him again in November.
Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said the trend might have implications beyond the presidential election. State legislative seats are often steppingstones to higher positions, and these new politicians, he said, may well become the next generation of black governors, congressional leaders and more.
"If these black candidates can represent white voters," Bositis said, "then that substantially increases their horizons in terms of their political futures."
Here in Brookline, Levesque is still focused on November, even though a white rival, Don Ryder, believes she will easily win re-election. "Race never enters into it," Ryder said. "Her chances are very good."
Still, Levesque, a telecommunications consultant who grew up in New Hampshire, sometimes marvels at how far she has come.
As one of a handful of black students in her junior high school, she experienced racial taunts, as well as advice that was well intended but unwelcome. Some sympathetic white friends, she said, suggested that she might have an easier time fitting in if she prayed for white skin.
But mostly, Levesque said, she has been embraced by her white neighbors, colleagues and friends. In her district of 12,000 people, she is a member of the women's club and a local church, which she joined with her husband and 12-year-old daughter several years ago.
And when she worried at first that voters might be put off by her complexion, her white friends suggested that she consider another, more positive possibility.
" 'You'll stand out,' " said Levesque, recalling their words. " 'People are always going to remember you.' "
By Patrick Healy
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
RICHMOND, Virginia: Here is the thing about Governor Sarah Palin: She loves America. Really loves it. She loves the smell of cut grass and hay, as she told Ohio voters Sunday. She loves Navy bases, she said in Virginia Beach on Monday morning. She loves America's "most beautiful national anthem," she told a crowd here a few hours later.
Apparently there are people who do not feel the same way about America as Palin does, she said at campaign rallies over the last two days. Those people just do not get it.
"Man, I love small-town U.S.A.," Palin told several thousand people on a field in Ohio, "and I don't care what anyone else says about small-town U.S.A. You guys, you just get it."
Palin did not identify who "anyone else" was. But listening to her campaign speeches three weeks before the presidential election, an informed voter would not need two chances to guess between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. (The posters reading "Barack Bin Lyin" at the McCain-Palin rally in Virginia Beach might be a hint, too.)
"John McCain is always, always proud to be an American," Palin told more than 10,000 people at the Richmond International Raceway. "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" she continued, leading many of them in chant.
As the Republican vice-presidential nominee for six and a half weeks now, Palin has emerged as the most electrifying speechmaker among the four politicians on the major party tickets. She generates enormous fervor at her events; people sometimes do not stop clapping or shouting words of praise until Palin pauses.
But Palin's partisan zeal could repel some independent voters in closely contested states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania; Democratic polling in both states shows Palin with high negative ratings among independents. Palin advisers say many of these voters do not know enough about her; Palin is campaigning in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and New Hampshire on Wednesday.
In some ways, Palin seems like a 2.0 version of George W. Bush — not the deeply unpopular president, but the plain-spoken and energetic campaigner who rose as a political talent in Texas and solidified his appeal in the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. Hers, like his, is a with-us-or-against-us message, as when Palin pledges total solidarity with "good, hard-working, patriotic Americans."
"For a campaign that says it's all about the future," Palin said to a mix of applause (for her) and boos (for you-know-who) in Richmond, "do you notice that our opponents sure have spent a heck of a lot of time looking to the past and pointing fingers? You look to the past because that's where you find blame, but we're joining you and looking to the future, because that's where you find solutions."
"America, doggone it, unfortunately we're deep in debt, and Barack Obama would put us even deeper in debt," she added a few minutes later. "We've got to reverse this. America, we cannot afford another big spender in the White House."
Palin's speeches do not acknowledge that looking at past mistakes is one way to avoid making those mistakes again. And her addresses gloss over some uncomfortable details, like that the most recent big spender in the White House is the Republican now there.
Palin also rarely ends up in the weeds of policy details on the economy, health care or Iraq. When it comes to generalizing, she can muster awfully strong passion, as in discussing McCain's ability to get out of a jam.
"He's got the guts to confront the $10 trillion debt that the federal government has run up," Palin said in Virginia Beach as McCain looked on with a stiff smile, "and we will balance the budget by the end of our term."
If there are holes in logic or a lack of specifics in Palin's speeches, her audiences tend to fill the absence with gushing affection.
"She's intelligent, she's adorable and she has the audacity to speak her mind," said Ray Gilson of Corapeake, North Carolina, who attended the Virginia Beach rally. "I've never loved a politician like I love her. I want her to be president someday."
Kathy Seals, a Republican voter who attended the Richmond event, said she admired Palin for "unabashedly speaking the truth, especially about life and the choices she made about her baby, Trig, and with her daughter." Palin's infant son, who has Down syndrome, is a frequent presence in his mother's left arm as she shakes hands with supporters and moves from event to event.
Her references to her son are the most personal part of her speech, as she describes being scared when she first learned that the baby would have special needs. She and her husband, Todd, talked, prayed, reflected and ultimately decided to have the child.
"There are the world's standards of perfection, and that's what you see in some magazines, and then there are God's standards," she said at the Ohio rally Sunday night and repeated in Virginia on Monday. "God's standards are the final measure. Every child is beautiful before God, and dear to them for their own sake."
Even on this subject, though, Palin saw little common ground with "our opponents."
"It's not negative and not mean-spirited in a campaign to check out our opponent's record," Palin said, citing Obama's positions on late-term abortions. Smiling, she added, "I'll let you judge for yourself."
By Michael Cooper and Megan Thee
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The McCain campaign's recent angry tone and sharply personal attacks on Senator Barack Obama appear to have backfired and tarnished Senator John McCain more than their intended target, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found.
After several weeks in which the McCain campaign unleashed a series of strong political attacks on Obama, trying to tie him to a former 1960s radical, among other things, the poll found that more voters see McCain as waging a negative campaign than Obama. Six in 10 voters surveyed said that McCain had spent more time attacking Obama than explaining what he would do as president; by about the same number, voters said Obama was spending more of his time explaining than attacking.
Over all, the poll found that if the election were held today, 53 percent of those determined to be probable voters said they would vote for Obama and 39 percent said they would vote for McCain.
The findings come as the race enters its final three weeks, with the two candidates scheduled to hold their third and last debate on Wednesday night, and as separate polls in critical swing states that could decide the election giving Obama a growing edge. But wide gaps in polls have historically tended to narrow in the closing weeks of the race as the election nears.
Voters who said that their opinions of Obama had changed recently were twice as likely to say that they had gotten better as to say they had gotten worse. And voters who said that their views of McCain had changed were three times more likely to say that they had gotten worse than to say they had improved.
The top reasons cited by those who said they thought less of McCain were his recent attacks and his choice of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. (The vast majority said their opinions of Obama of Illinois, the Democratic nominee, and McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, had remained unchanged in recent weeks.) But in recent days, McCain and Palin have scaled back their attacks on Obama, although McCain suggested he might aggressively take on Obama in Wednesday's debate.
With the election unfolding against the backdrop of an extraordinary economic crisis, a lack of confidence in government, and two wars, the survey described a very inhospitable environment for any Republican to run for office. More than 8 in 10 Americans do not trust the government to do what is right, the highest ever recorded in a Times/CBS News poll. And McCain is trying to keep the White House in Republican hands at a time when President George W. Bush's job approval rating is at 24 percent, hovering near its historic low.
While the poll showed Obama with a 14 percentage-point lead among likely voters in a head-to-head matchup with McCain, when Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, were included in the question, the race narrowed slightly, with 51 percent of those surveyed saying that they were supporting Obama and 39 percent supporting McCain, with Nader getting the support of 3 percent and Barr 1 percent. Other national polls have shown Obama ahead by a smaller margin.
The poll suggested that the overwhelming anxiety about the economy and distrust of government have created a potentially poisonous atmosphere for members of Congress. Only 43 percent of those surveyed said that they approved of their own representative's job performance, which is considerably lower than approval ratings have been at other times of historic discontent. By way of comparison, just before the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, 56 percent of those polled said that they approved of the job their representative was doing.
And after nearly eight years of increasingly unpopular Republican rule in the White House, 52 percent of those polled said that they held a favorable view of the Democratic Party, compared with 37 percent who said they held a favorable view of the Republican Party. Voters said they preferred Democrats to Republicans when it came to questions about who would better handle the issues that are of the greatest concern to voters — including the economy, health care and the war in Iraq.
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Friday through Monday with 1,070 adults, of whom 972 were registered voters, and it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for both groups.
After several weeks in which the McCain campaign sought to tie Obama to William Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground terrorism group, 64 percent of voters said that they had either read or heard something about the subject. But a majority said they were not bothered by Obama's background or past associations. Several people said in follow-up interviews that they felt that McCain's attacks on Obama were too rooted in the past, or too unconnected to the nation's major problems.
"What bothers me is that McCain initially talked about running a campaign on issues and I want to hear him talk about the issues," said Flavio Lorenzoni, a 59-year-old independent from Manalapan, New Jersey. "But we're being constantly bombarded with attacks that aren't relevant to making a decision about what direction McCain would take the country. McCain hasn't addressed the real issues. He's only touched on them very narrowly. This is a time when we need to address issues much more clearly than they ever have been in the past."
The poll found that Obama is now supported by majorities of men and independents, two groups that he has been fighting to win over. And the poll found, for the first time, that white voters are just about evenly divided between McCain and Obama, who, if elected, would be the first black president. The poll found that Obama is supported by 45 percent of white voters — a greater percentage than has voted for Democrats in recent presidential elections, according to exit polls.
McCain was viewed unfavorably by 41 percent of voters, and favorably by 36 percent. Palin's favorability rating is now 32 percent, down 8 points from last month, and her unfavorable rating climbed nine percentage points to 41 percent. Obama's favorability rating, by contrast, is now at 50 percent, the highest recorded for him thus far by The Times and CBS News.
There were still some strong findings for McCain. Sixty-four percent of voters polled said McCain, 72, was well-prepared for the presidency, which has been a central theme of his campaign. Fifty-one percent said Obama, 47, was.
But roughly 7 in 10 voters said Obama had the right kind of temperament and personality to be president; just over half said the same of McCain.
Obama's supporters continued to be more enthusiastic about him than McCain's supporters, the poll found, and more of those surveyed said they had confidence in Obama than in McCain to make the right decisions about the economy and health care. And while more than 6 in 10 said Obama understood the needs and problems of people like them, more than half said McCain did not.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The following is the text of a speech given by Senator John McCain on the American economy in Virginia Beach on Monday as provided by the McCain campaign.
Three weeks from now, you will choose a new President. Choose well. There is much at stake.
These are hard times. Our economy is in crisis. Financial markets are collapsing. Credit is drying up. Your savings are in danger. Your retirement is at risk. Jobs are disappearing. The cost of health care, your children's college, gasoline and groceries are rising all the time with no end in sight. While your most important asset -- your home -- is losing value every day.
Americans are fighting in two wars. We face many enemies in this dangerous world, and they are waiting to see if our current troubles will permanently weaken us.
The next President won't have time to get used to the office. He won't have the luxury of studying up on the issues before he acts. He will have to act immediately. And to do that, he will need experience, courage, judgment and a bold plan of action to take this country in a new direction. We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change. The hour is late; our troubles are getting worse; our enemies watch. We have to act immediately. We have to change direction now. We have to fight.
I've been fighting for this country since I was seventeen years old, and I have the scars to prove it. If I'm elected President, I will fight to take America in a new direction from my first day in office until my last. I'm not afraid of the fight, I'm ready for it.
I'm not going to spend $700 billion dollars of your money just bailing out the Wall Street bankers and brokers who got us into this mess. I'm going to make sure we take care of the people who were devastated by the excesses of Wall Street and Washington. I'm going to spend a lot of that money to bring relief to you, and I'm not going to wait sixty days to start doing it.
I have a plan to protect the value of your home and get it rising again by buying up bad mortgages and refinancing them so if your neighbor defaults he doesn't bring down the value of your house with him.
I have a plan to let retirees and people nearing retirement keep their money in their retirement accounts longer so they can rebuild their savings.
I have a plan to rebuild the retirement savings of every worker.
I have a plan to hold the line on taxes and cut them to make America more competitive and create jobs here at home.
Raising taxes makes a bad economy much worse. Keeping taxes low creates jobs, keeps money in your hands and strengthens our economy.
The explosion of government spending over the last eight years has put us deeper in debt to foreign countries that don't have our best interests at heart. It weakened the dollar and made everything you buy more expensive.
If I'm elected President, I won't spend nearly a trillion dollars more of your money, on top of the $700 billion we just gave the Treasury Secretary, as Senator Obama proposes. Because he can't do that without raising your taxes or digging us further into debt. I'm going to make government live on a budget just like you do.
I will freeze government spending on all but the most important programs like defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care until we scrub every single government program and get rid of the ones that aren't working for the American people. And I will veto every single pork barrel bill Congresses passes.
If I'm elected President, I won't fine small businesses and families with children, as Senator Obama proposes, to force them into a new huge government run health care program, while I keep the cost of the fine a secret until I hit you with it. I will bring down the skyrocketing cost of health care with competition and choice to lower your premiums, and make it more available to more Americans. I'll make sure you can keep the same health plan if you change jobs or leave a job to stay home.
I will provide every single American family with a $5000 refundable tax credit to help them purchase insurance. Workers who already have health care insurance from their employers will keep it and have more money to cover costs. Workers who don't have health insurance can use it to find a policy anywhere in this country to meet their basic needs.
If I'm elected President, I won't raise taxes on small businesses, as Senator Obama proposes, and force them to cut jobs. I will keep small business taxes where they are, help them keep their costs low, and let them spend their earnings to create more jobs.
If I'm elected President, I won't make it harder to sell our goods overseas and kill more jobs as Senator Obama proposes. I will open new markets to goods made in America and make sure our trade is free and fair. And I'll make sure we help workers who've lost a job that won't come back find a new one that won't go away.
The last President to raise taxes and restrict trade in a bad economy as Senator Obama proposes was Herbert Hoover. That didn't turn out too well. They say those who don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Well, my friends, I know my history lessons, and I sure won't make the mistakes Senator Obama will.
If I'm elected President, we're going to stop sending $700 billion to countries that don't like us very much. I won't argue to delay drilling for more oil and gas and building new nuclear power plants in America, as Senator Obama does. We will start new drilling now. We will invest in all energy alternatives -- nuclear, wind, solar, and tide. We will encourage the manufacture of hybrid, flex fuel and electric automobiles. We will invest in clean coal technology. We will lower the cost of energy within months, and we will create millions of new jobs.
Let me give you the state of the race today. We have 22 days to go. We're 6 points down. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq. But they forgot to let you decide. My friends, we've got them just where we want them.
What America needs in this hour is a fighter; someone who puts all his cards on the table and trusts the judgment of the American people. I come from a long line of McCains who believed that to love America is to fight for her. I have fought for you most of my life. There are other ways to love this country, but I've never been the kind to do it from the sidelines.
I know you're worried. America is a great country, but we are at a moment of national crisis that will determine our future. Will we continue to lead the world's economies or will we be overtaken? Will the world become safer or more dangerous? Will our military remain the strongest in the world? Will our children and grandchildren's future be brighter than ours?
My answer to you is yes. Yes, we will lead. Yes, we will prosper. Yes, we will be safer. Yes, we will pass on to our children a stronger, better country. But we must be prepared to act swiftly, boldly, with courage and wisdom.
I know what fear feels like. It's a thief in the night who robs your strength.
I know what hopelessness feels like. It's an enemy who defeats your will.
I felt those things once before. I will never let them in again. I'm an American. And I choose to fight.
Don't give up hope. Be strong. Have courage. And fight.
Fight for a new direction for our country.
Fight for what's right for America.
Fight to clean up the mess of corruption, infighting and selfishness in Washington.
Fight to get our economy out of the ditch and back in the lead.
Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children's future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.
Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.
Now, let's go win this election and get this country moving again.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The following is the text of a speech given by Senator Barack Obama on his economic policy in Toledo, Ohio, on Monday as prepared for delivery and provided by the Obama campaign
The credit crisis has left businesses large and small unable to get loans, which means they can't buy new equipment, or hire new workers, or even make payroll for the workers they have. You've got auto plants right here in Ohio that have been around for decades closing their doors and laying off workers who've never known another job in their entire life.
760,000 workers have lost their jobs this year. Unemployment here in Ohio is up 85% over the last eight years, which is the highest it's been in sixteen years. You've lost one of every four manufacturing jobs, the typical Ohio family has seen their income fall $2,500, and it's getting harder and harder to make the mortgage, or fill up your gas tank, or even keep the electricity on at the end of the month. At this rate, the question isn't just "are you better off than you were four years ago?", it's "are you better off than you were four weeks ago?"
I know these are difficult times. I know folks are worried. But I also know this – we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Because we are the United States of America. We are the country that has faced down war and depression; great challenges and great threats. And at each and every moment, we have risen to meet these challenges – not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans.
We still have the most talented, most productive workers of any country on Earth. We're still home to innovation and technology, colleges and universities that are the envy of the world. Some of the biggest ideas in history have come from our small businesses and our research facilities. It won't be easy, but there's no reason we can't make this century another American century.
But it will take a new direction. It will take new leadership in Washington. It will take a real change in the policies and politics of the last eight years. And that's why I'm running for President of the United States of America.
My opponent has made his choice. Last week, Senator McCain's campaign announced that they were going to "turn the page" on the discussion about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. His campaign actually said, and I quote, "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." Well Senator McCain may be worried about losing an election, but I'm worried about Americans who are losing their jobs, and their homes, and their life savings. They can't afford four more years of the economic theory that says we should give more and more to millionaires and billionaires and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. We've seen where that's led us and we're not going back. It's time to turn the page.
Over the course of this campaign, I've laid out a set of policies that will grow our middle-class and strengthen our economy in the long-term. I'll reform our tax code so that 95% of workers and their families get a tax cut, and eliminate income taxes for seniors making under $50,000. I'll bring down the cost of health care for families and businesses by investing in preventative care, new technology, and giving every American the chance to get the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress give themselves. We'll ensure every child can compete in the global economy by recruiting an army of new teachers and making college affordable for anyone who wants to go. We'll create five million new, high-wage jobs by investing in the renewable sources of energy that will eliminate the oil we currently import from the Middle East in ten years, and we'll create two million jobs by rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools, and bridges.
But that's a long-term strategy for growth. Right now, we face an immediate economic emergency that requires urgent action. We can't wait to help workers and families and communities who are struggling right now – who don't know if their job or their retirement will be there tomorrow; who don't know if next week's paycheck will cover this month's bills. We need to pass an economic rescue plan for the middle-class and we need to do it now. Today I'm proposing a number of steps that we should take immediately to stabilize our financial system, provide relief to families and communities, and help struggling homeowners. It's a plan that begins with one word that's on everyone's mind, and it's spelled J-O-B-S.
We've already lost three-quarters of a million jobs this year, and some experts say that unemployment may rise to 8% by the end of next year. We can't wait until then to start creating new jobs. That's why I'm proposing to give our businesses a new American jobs tax credit for each new employee they hire here in the United States over the next two years.
To fuel the real engine of job creation in this country, I've also proposed eliminating all capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses and start-up companies, and I've proposed an additional tax incentive through next year to encourage new small business investment. It is time to protect the jobs we have and to create the jobs of tomorrow by unlocking the drive, and ingenuity, and innovation of the American people. And we should fast track the loan guarantees we passed for our auto industry and provide more as needed so that they can build the energy-efficient cars America needs to end our dependence on foreign oil.
We will also save one million jobs by creating a Jobs and Growth Fund that will provide money to states and local communities so that they can move forward with projects to rebuild and repair our roads, our bridges, and our schools. A lot of these projects and these jobs are at risk right now because of budget shortfalls, but this fund will make sure they continue.
The second part of my rescue plan is to provide immediate relief to families who are watching their paycheck shrink and their jobs and life savings disappear. I've already proposed a middle-class tax cut for 95% of workers and their families, but today I'm calling on Congress to pass a plan so that the IRS will mail out the first round of those tax cuts as soon as possible. We should also extend and expand unemployment benefits to those Americans who have lost their jobs and are having a harder time finding new ones in this weak economy. And we should stop making them pay taxes on those unemployment insurance benefits as well.
At a time when the ups and downs of the stock market have rarely been so unpredictable and dramatic, we also need to give families and retirees more flexibility and security when it comes to their retirement savings.
I welcome Senator McCain's proposal to waive the rules that currently force our seniors to withdraw from their 401(k)s even when the market is bad. I think that's a good idea, but I think we need to do even more. Since so many Americans will be struggling to pay the bills over the next year, I propose that we allow every family to withdraw up to 15% from their IRA or 401(k) – up to a maximum of $10,000 – without any fine or penalty throughout 2009. This will help families get through this crisis without being forced to make painful choices like selling their homes or not sending their kids to college.
The third part of my rescue plan is to provide relief for homeowners who are watching their home values decline while their property taxes go up. Earlier this year I pushed for legislation that would help homeowners stay in their homes by working to modify their mortgages. When Secretary Paulson proposed his original financial rescue plan it included nothing for homeowners. When Senator McCain was silent on the issue, I insisted that it include protections for homeowners. Now the Treasury must use the authority its been granted and move aggressively to help people avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. We don't need a new law or a new $300 billion giveaway to banks like Senator McCain has proposed, we just need to act quickly and decisively.
I've already proposed a mortgage tax credit for struggling homeowners worth 10% of the interest you pay on your mortgage and we should move quickly to pass it. We should also change the unfair bankruptcy laws that allow judges to write down your mortgage if you own six or seven homes, but not if you have only one. And for all those cities and small towns that are facing a choice between cutting services like health care and education or raising property taxes, we will provide the funding to prevent those tax hikes from happening. We cannot allow homeowners and small towns to suffer because of the mess made by Wall Street and Washington.
For those Americans in danger of losing their homes, today I'm also proposing a three-month moratorium on foreclosures. If you are a bank or lender that is getting money from the rescue plan that passed Congress, and your customers are making a good-faith effort to make their mortgage payments and re-negotiate their mortgages, you will not be able to foreclose on their home for three months. We need to give people the breathing room they need to get back on their feet.
Finally, this crisis has taught us that we cannot have a sound economy with a dysfunctional financial system. We passed a financial rescue plan that has the promise to help stabilize the financial system, but only if we act quickly, effectively and aggressively. The Treasury Department must move quickly with their plan to put more money into struggling banks so they have enough to lend, and they should do it in a way that protects taxpayers instead of enriching CEOs. There was a report yesterday that some financial institutions participating in this rescue plan are still trying to avoid restraints on CEO pay. That's not just wrong, it's an outrage to every American whose tax dollars have been put at risk. No major investor would ever make an investment if they didn't think the corporation was being prudent and responsible, and we shouldn't expect taxpayers to think any differently. We should also be prepared to extend broader guarantees if it becomes necessary to stabilize our financial system.
I also believe that Treasury should not limit itself to purchasing mortgage-backed securities – it should help unfreeze markets for individual mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit card loans.. And I think we need to do even more to make loans available in two very important areas of our economy: small businesses and communities.
On Friday, I proposed Small Business Rescue Plan that would create an emergency lending fund to lend money directly to small businesses that need cash for their payroll or to buy inventory. It's what we did after 9/11, and it allowed us to get low-cost loans out to tens of thousands of small businesses. We'll also make it easier for private lenders to make small business loans by expanding the Small Business Administration's loan guarantee program. By temporarily eliminating fees for borrowers and lenders, we can unlock the credit that small firms need to pay their workers and keep their doors open. And today, I'm also proposing that we maintain the ability of states and local communities that are struggling to maintain basic services without raising taxes to continue to get the credit they need.
Congress should pass this emergency rescue plan as soon as possible. If Washington can move quickly to pass a rescue plan for our financial system, there's no reason we can't move just as quickly to pass a rescue plan for our middle-class that will create jobs, provide relief, and help homeowners. And if Congress does not act in the coming months, it will be one of the first things I do as President of the United States. Because we can't wait any longer to start creating new jobs; to help struggling communities and homeowners, and to provide real and immediate relief to families who are worried not only about this month's bills, but their entire life savings. This plan will help ease those anxieties, and along with the other economic policies I've proposed, it will begin to create new jobs, grow family incomes, and put us back on the path to prosperity.
I won't pretend this will be easy or come without cost. We'll have to set priorities as never before, and stick to them. That means pursuing investments in areas such as energy, education and health care that bear directly on our economic future, while deferring other things we can afford to do without. It means scouring the federal budget, line-by-line, ending programs that we don't need and making the ones we do work more efficiently and cost less.
It also means promoting a new ethic of responsibility. Part of the reason this crisis occurred is that everyone was living beyond their means – from Wall Street to Washington to even some on Main Street. CEOs got greedy. Politicians spent money they didn't have. Lenders tricked people into buying home they couldn't afford and some folks knew they couldn't afford them and bought them anyway.
We've lived through an era of easy money, in which we were allowed and even encouraged to spend without limits; to borrow instead of save.
Now, I know that in an age of declining wages and skyrocketing costs, for many folks this was not a choice but a necessity. People have been forced to turn to credit cards and home equity loans to keep up, just like our government has borrowed from China and other creditors to help pay its bills.
But we now know how dangerous that can be. Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt. Our long-term future requires that we do what's necessary to scale down our deficits, grow wages and encourage personal savings again.
It's a serious challenge. But we can do it if we act now, and if we act as one nation. We can bring a new era of responsibility and accountability to Wall Street and to Washington. We can put in place common-sense regulations to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again. We can make investments in the technology and innovation that will restore prosperity and lead to new jobs and a new economy for the 21st century. We can restore a sense of fairness and balance that will give ever American a fair shot at the American dream. And above all, we can restore confidence – confidence in America, confidence in our economy, and confidence in ourselves.
This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven't seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test. Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? When we allowed our own petty differences and broken politics to plunge this country into a dark and painful recession?
Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other's success?
This is one of those moments. I realize you're cynical and fed up with politics. I understand that you're disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what's been asked of the American people in times of trial and turmoil throughout our history. I ask you to believe – to believe in yourselves, in each other, and in the future we can build together.
Together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can't afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.
We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can't go to college but my child can; maybe I can't have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.
Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail. Together, we can overcome the broken policies and divided politics of the last eight years. Together, we can renew an economy that rewards work and rebuilds the middle class. Together, we can create millions of new jobs, and deliver on the promise of health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete. We can do this if we come together; if we have confidence in ourselves and each other; if we look beyond the darkness of the day to the bright light of hope that lies ahead. Together, we can change this country and change this world. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.
By Adam Nagourney
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
WASHINGTON: Howard Wolfson, the generally pessimistic Democratic consultant who was a senior adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote an item on his blog at The New Republic the other day, declaring without qualification that Senator Barack Obama would defeat Senator John McCain.
"It's Over," the headline read.
Interviews with Republican leaders and strategists over the past few days turned up little real resistance to Wolfson's pronouncement, though none of those interviewed was prepared to say anything like that for the record.
But is it over? With 23 days, one presidential debate, and countless advertisements, speeches and attacks and counterattacks left to go, could this hugely anticipated race for the White House really be over?
Wolfson was not exactly going out on a limb. A series of national polls suggest that Obama has built a steady lead over McCain (10 percentage points in Monday's Washington Post/ABC News Poll). The presidential and vice presidential debates have not been good to McCain, not to mention the economic crisis and McCain's unsteady response to it. What is more, this is the time in an election when people are locking in their decisions, or actually voting in early voting programs.
Still, there are some questions hanging over this most unusual of elections, and it is hard to begrudge McCain and his supporters the right to hold up a stop sign.
"I think this thing is going to go down to the wire," said Dick Wadhams, the Colorado Republican chairman.
Some things to keep in mind:
1 There have been huge surges in voter registration reported in key states like Florida and Colorado, by all accounts reflecting the intense interest in Obama, his campaign's aggressive effort to sign up new voters, particularly younger and black voters, and the declining fortunes of the Republican Party. That is the one big reason Obama's senior advisers are feeling so bullish these days.
Still, it is one thing to register to vote; which can often be accomplished by filling out and signing a form provided to you on the street or at your doorstep. It's quite another to get them to come out and vote. If Obama's campaign succeeds at what it has promised, it is possible that McCain will lose in an Electoral College landslide, winning a bunch of Republican states by slim margins driven by get-out-the-vote operations. Still, first-time voters are inexperienced voters and, McCain's advisers are no doubt hoping, less likely to turn out if, say, the weather is bad.
2 As my colleague Jeff Zeleny reported on Sunday, the Obama campaign has invested millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers into developing highly sophisticated operations to identify supporters and get them to the polls. The campaign is building on, and presumably improving upon, the model that the Republican National Committee set up starting in 2000, under Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, and Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National chairman.
Still, there is one important difference: These are to a considerable extent new operations. The Republican turnout operations got better with each cycle because party leaders figured out what worked and what did not.
That is not to say that Obama's operation cannot do exactly what his aides say it will. It's just that there really is no way to accurately judge which campaign has the better turnout operation until the votes are counted.
3 Campaigns have rhythms, and inevitably swing back and forth for all kinds of reasons, including mistakes by candidates (think Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants) and the news media's desire for a competitive race and tendency to find the "underdog is surging" story line irresistible. The pendulum theory is certainly one that Republicans are grabbing onto these days.
"I think over these last 30 days, there's going to be a change in how the American people view this campaign," said Jim Greer, the Republican chairman of Florida, a state where McCain finds himself in a particularly tough fight with Obama.
The question for McCain, of course, is whether there is enough time left for the pendulum to swing one more time, absent a big mistake by Obama, or ... .
4 Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president in 2004, has argued that he would have beaten President George W. Bush had Osama bin Laden not released a video message just days before Election Day. Whether the tape's effect truly was decisive is debatable, but it is clear that Bin Laden gave that election a very big jolt in the direction where Bush wanted to fight it, much the way the Wall Street crisis in September moved the 2008 election onto Democratic turf.
This race has been filled with surprises, so it would almost be a surprise if something else didn't happen before the polls open. McCain clearly has an edge over Obama on national security; Democrats and Republicans agree that a serious domestic terrorism threat or attack could shuffle the deck of cards going into the final days.
5 Race is, of course, the question that has hovered over the contest for two years. Are there a significant number of white voters who will not support Obama because he is black, no matter what they tell pollsters? Some Republicans said they have come to look at this as McCain's last, best hope.
6 McCain has clearly decided to go into the final weeks of the campaign hitting Obama about his passing acquaintance in Chicago with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground, while Republicans have been pushing McCain to hit Obama on his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Wolfson argued that this would not work because concerns about the economy were so strong, and many Republicans said that this late in the game, McCain was going to have an awfully tough time raising questions about Obama's character.
This kind of attack, the overall idea, as McCain keeps suggesting, that people don't really know (and thus can't trust) Obama, sometimes creeps up on an opponent, gathering force and credibility. But even some Republicans think that might be tough with Obama.
"People think he's basically a decent guy," said Vin Weber, a former Republican member of Congress from Minnesota. But McCain's advisers said he intended to keep hitting the Ayers question in the days, if not weeks, ahead, in the belief that this might be what it takes to get his campaign on track.
By Dana Micucci
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico: The Bradbury Science Museum in this drab high-desert town studded with old army barracks houses life-size replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man, chilling reminders of the human capacity for unspeakable violence. The cutely named atomic bombs, which were invented here, were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945.
Less than 100 miles away, or 160 kilometers, in Montezuma, New Mexico, lies United World College of the American West (UWC-USA), a two-year pre-university residential school offering an international baccalaureate diploma, with a special emphasis on peace studies and conflict resolution.
One of twelve UWC campuses worldwide and the only one in the United States, the school admits about 200 students a year, aged 16 to 19, from more than 80 countries, with the aim of fostering respect for diverse cultural, social and religious backgrounds.
Building upon its commitment to conflict-resolution training, UWC-USA established the Bartos Institute for Constructive Engagement of Conflict in 2000 to expand students' skills in managing and reducing interpersonal and inter-group conflicts locally and globally.
Renata Dwan of Ireland, a 1988 UWC-USA graduate who now works in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, says her education at UWC was instrumental in teaching her how to live peacefully in a community of diverse cultures.
"Creating an environment where peace can thrive is, at the most basic level, about respecting and accepting others and realizing how subjective our perceptions are," Dwan said.
Peace studies, incorporating anthropology, sociology, political science, theology and history, aim to uncover the roots of conflict, transform the underlying causes, develop preventive strategies and teach resolution skills. More than 400 universities and colleges worldwide now offer undergraduate or graduate degrees, as well as individual courses and certificates. Most peace studies degrees are conferred at undergraduate level.
The Peace and Justice Studies Association, a group for scholars in the field, says student enrollments in university-level courses have surged in recent years.
"Our master's program had doubled in size over the past 10 years, and our doctoral program has grown considerably," said Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, England. Bradford claims to have the world's largest university department of peace studies, with more than 300 students and staff.
"International circumstances such as the end of the Cold War, the tense political climate since Sept. 11, the growing number of conflicts worldwide and the security threat imposed by climate change have spurred interest in the field," Rogers said.
Like many others, Bradford's program defines peace not just as an absence of conflict and violence - known as negative peace - but also as cooperation that fosters justice and freedom: positive peace, based on human rights, equal access to education, and just social and political structures.
Peace studies began after World War II, with the founding of several research institutes, including the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo and the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Manchester College, founded in North Manchester, Indiana, by the Church of the Brethren, a Protestant denomination dating to 18th-century Germany, established the first undergraduate peace studies program in the world in 1948. Manhattan College in New York City and Bradford were also early pioneers.
The field expanded in the 1960s in response to the Vietnam War. Other top schools now offering a degree in peace studies include the University of Uppsala in Sweden; James I University in Castiglione, Spain; the University of Queensland in Australia; the University for Peace in Costa Rica; George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia; American University in Washington; and the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
"Since 2000, there has been a sharp increase, particularly in the number of doctoral peace studies programs," said Ian Harris, founder of the peace studies program at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and president of the International Peace Research Association Foundation, which finances international peace research.
"With escalating violence around the world, this is becoming more acceptable as an area of scholarly research," Harris said. "New topics of investigation within peace studies, such as forgiveness, terrorism and environmental security, are expanding opportunities for study. And because non-governmental organizations, which tend to attract many peace studies graduates, are playing an increasing role in international peace-building efforts, they need to be staffed with educated leaders."
The Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, a leader in the field since 1986, this year added a new doctoral program, and it also reports a sharp growth in undergraduate interest in the past three years.
Other schools responding to the burgeoning interest in the field include the University for Peace - established by the United Nations in demilitarized Costa Rica in 1980 - which is planning a doctoral program and has added a new master's degree in media, peace and conflict studies, focusing on the media's role.
The Graduate Institute in Milford, Connecticut, began offering a master's degree last year in Irenic Studies - named for the Greek goddess of peace - while Guilford University in Greensboro, North Carolina, a liberal arts college founded by the Quakers, established a bachelor's degree in peace and conflict studies this year.
Many of the schools offering peace studies degrees in the United States - often small liberal arts colleges like Guilford and Manchester - have roots in religious denominations, usually Christian, including the Quakers, Brethren, Mennonites and Catholics, but not exclusively so.
"Sadly, religion is often manipulated for political ends rather than viewed as a source for healing," said Abdul Aziz Said, founder of the Center for Global Peace at American University and occupant of the Mohammed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace, the only such university department in the United States.
"Teaching the common truths shared by all religions is an important component of peace studies at our university," he said. "Peace must be based on an underlying spirituality, which is ultimately a consciousness of interconnection between all people."
Fieldwork is an important part of peace studies, with students taking extended internships in conflict zones where they can learn dialogue, negotiation and mediation skills.
"Peace studies is about relationship repair on all levels, so it's crucial that these programs include both theory and practice," said Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist and an early pioneer of the field who founded Transcend Peace University, a Web site that offers certificate-level courses and a master's in peace and conflict transformation.
"The field is moving beyond conflict resolution toward the teaching and practice of conflict transformation and reconciliation, which includes healing past wounds and creating long-term, sustainable peace between antagonistic parties," Galtung said.
The fruits of peace studies may sometimes be difficult to see, but that does not discourage Mary King, a professor at the University for Peace. "When you are dealing with millennia during which war has been the ultimate arbiter of conflicts, you can't expect change in a decade or two," King said.
By Patrick Blum
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Prospects are looking good for Gloria Batllori and Katty Ooms-Suter, who work in a world that they say thrives on global financial crisis and economic recession.
"Management education is a counter-cyclical activity and normally in this kind of situation, admissions go up," said Batllori, MBA director at Esade, a leading Spanish business school, in an interview this month, as financial markets around the world melted down and fears of recession climbed.
Clouds have silver linings, and the financial market crisis is no exception. "When the employment market is bad, it's a good time to apply to a school to do an MBA," said Ooms-Suter, director of admissions and career services at IMD, a top-ranked business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. "I expect in the next months we will see a very big increase from the financial services."
Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, one the most prestigious schools in the United States, concurs. "MBA applications are up and we expect them to rise even more as a reflection of changes in the market," he said.
Other schools are equally bullish. "We are seeing particularly strong growth this year," said Sandra Schwarzer, Director of Career Services at Insead, the international management school based in Fontainebleau, near Paris.
"Last year was very good for admissions with about 1,500 applications for a class of 215," said Luis Palencia, Dean of the MBA program at Iese, another Spanish business school that is part of the University of Navarra, in Barcelona.
"Expect to see an avalanche of refugees from the financial sector," added Mike Rosenberg, Iese's director of international executive education. "We haven't seen it yet because things are too new," he said.
Even in the more rarified world of executive MBAs - courses designed to fit in with a full-time job - applications have been flooding in. Lyn Hoffman, an associate dean at the London Business School, said applications for the school's executive MBA program that started last month were up by 50 percent from last year.
This, she said, was against the normal trend. During an economic downturn applications for executive MBAs tend to fall, but that has not happened.
What happens next will depend on the duration and severity of the crisis. If it continues well into next year, applications at that point could fall, Palencia said.
Meanwhile, good news for the schools is not necessarily good news for their students - particularly those in their second year who will be coming to the job market at a difficult time. Many companies are delaying recruitment and some - Lehman Brothers being an obvious example - have dropped out altogether, Batllori said.
Traditionally, investment banking has been a big recruiter of MBAs.
"Lehman was a major recruiter," said Lara Berkowitz, associate director for career services at London Business School. The bank took 11 MBA graduates from the school and five Masters in Finance students last year. Now, students face "a lot of uncertainty, and we've set up support program," she said.
Iese saw a drop of about 10 per cent in the number of offers from the financial sector last year, as the subprime storm started to churn, said Palencia. "Students knew they had to adapt and move to other areas - consultancy and industry. What happened last year is likely to happen again this year."
"We are working on plans in case more companies drop out. We don't expect a dramatic decline, but we expect a decline," he said.
Batllori, at Esade, agreed. "Students need to really focus if they want to go into investment banking or into industry," she said.
As opportunities have dried up in banking, others have opened elsewhere. "There are a lot of financial companies out," said Ooms-Suter, at IMD; but, at least for now, "they are being replaced by industry and consulting, which is doing well."
That is reflected in the courses that students are choosing. "The crisis is very finance focused," Batllori said. "Some students are not willing to take on courses in the financial sector and are switching to industry-based courses."
"There is a lot of confusion right now," said Berkowitz. "If you are interested in finance you need to be someone who has a very healthy appetite for risk.
"Students will be more reluctant to go into an area of such volatility."
The crisis is also changing the locations that students are looking to, said Berkowitz. "People are concerned about volatility and they are looking at places that are more stable." That is leading to increased interest in the Asian and mid-East job markets, in places like Singapore and Dubai, she said.
For those already in work pursuing executive programs, the impact is more immediate, and the uncertainty is encouraging people to stay put in existing jobs.
"In the first year of their Executive MBA programme, 12 percent of our students who joined in September 2007 changed their roles in their organizations, moved to another organization or started their own business, down from an average of 30 per cent in previous years," Hoffman says.
Charles Galunic, dean of the Insead Executive MBA program says it is too early to tell what impact the crisis will ultimately have on executive MBAs.
"A severe and protracted credit crunch will slow down investments and the economy across the board, and this may include company-sponsored EMBAs," he said.
"At the moment we're in the Gulag. The situation is quite critical for the future," said one Esade global executive MBA student who has worked in London's financial center for many years but asked not to be named out of concern for his job security.
"I'm not affected directly, but we're all connected. Nobody at the moment is safe from the turmoil and the credit crunch," he said.
In terms of the geographical distribution of applicants, the crisis seems to have had little appreciable impact. Applications for MBA places at European schools from traditional recruiting grounds in the United States and western Europe have held stable or risen slightly, while the main growth has come from emerging markets in the middle East, Asia - particularly China and India - and Brazil.
Companies in emerging markets "have such a need for talent," said Batllori.
"They need local people with an international outlook," something that studying at a European school can best provide, she said.
In spite of the dollar's weakness, Europe remains popular with U.S. students, too. "There are great schools in the United States but they may not have enough diversity in terms of non-American students, said Palencia. "Schools in Europe can offer a more intense international experience and the possibility of learning another language."
Morgan Witkin, a Miami-born first year MBA student at Esade, agreed. Witkin said the globalization of the economy had persuaded her to opt for an international MBA. "So I decided for Europe and for Spain," she said. "Spanish will be useful in the future."
With her interest focused on consultancy and industry - "banking is definitely not for me," she said - Witkin will not have the worries of fellow students looking for jobs in finance.
Still, even in the financial sector, the impact of the crisis appears to be variable. While recruitment by the sector overall has slowed, there is still plenty of interest from, and in, boutique firms, brokerage houses and investment managers, including both private wealth and asset management, Berkowitz said.
Investment banks usually do their recruitment drives in January rather than in the Autumn. "Then we'll get a real idea of what's happening," she added.
Schwarzer, at Insead said: "On the positive side, we see an influx of private equity, venture capital and hedge fund recruiting, which we expect to stay strong this year."
Among MBA students, consultancy is attracting many who would otherwise have gone into banking. "That's where we're going to see a shift," Finkelstein said.
"There's no sense of panic among students," he added. "They are self-motivated and talented, they're going about their business and being very focused. The students have a balanced view and are very optimistic."
Not all is bleak, said Rosenberg, at Iese. "We get more people who want to talk to us - people looking beyond the crisis. The crisis will pass. Finance may get smaller, but there will still be finance," he said.
By Nazanin Lankarani
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
PARIS: While U.S. banks last month led the international financial system into meltdown, and the globalized world economy, built on U.S. free market principles, started to seize up, a pair of French business professors held a meeting here to plot rebellion against the dominance of U.S. management models and the business schools that define and propagate them.
"With the rise of emerging economies in a multipolar world, the days of the American one-model-for-all approach in management are numbered," said Stéphanie Dameron in an interview at the University of Paris-Dauphine, where she teaches management.
"U.S. business schools teach management as a 'hard' science and train managers according to a single paradigm, that of the large American-based multi-national corporation," said Thomas Durand, professor of strategic management and head of strategy and technology research at École Centrale, Paris, a leading engineering school. "Yet, the IBM model is not suited to everyone."
Durand and Dameron have put their critique of U.S. business education into a book, "The Future of Business Schools, Scenarios and Strategies for 2020," published in Britain in December.
In the book, and a recent round-table discussion here, they argued that U.S. schools have cornered the business education market by controlling its tools of production and marketing.
"U.S. business schools control the criteria for academic publication, use their predominance in research to lead in global rankings, and outfund all others by their staggering fund-raising ability," Durand said.
The book's thesis gets a mixed reception among the authors' peers, though it resonates with current events.
"The need for an alternative viewpoint on business is frequently expressed in Asia," noted Colin Mayer, dean of Oxford University's Saïd Business School, and "it is not exclusively restricted to that region. Recent events in the business world can only reinforce that viewpoint."
But Dipak Jain, Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, in Chicago, defended the global perspective and teaching models at his and many other U.S. schools.
"Our Global Initiatives in Management program has since 1990 focused on doing business in particular countries, with on-site facilities, and a customized curriculum that covers all aspects of cross-cultural management, international finance, marketing and cross-cultural negotiation," Jain said. "We teach our students that there is a world beyond the U.S."
Alfons Sauquet, dean of Esade, a business school in Barcelona, Spain, said Europe was behind the curve in business education mainly for historical reasons. "Europe was part of a second wave," Sauquet said. "When European business schools started gaining momentum, in the 1950s, U.S. schools had already established a solid academic tradition and an endowment structure." Also, "half of Europe was closed off to world economies until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989," he noted.
To win in a game where U.S. players long ago set the rules, European business schools must adopt "a dual strategy of catching up and differentiating," Durand and Dameron say.
"We must delve into our rich heritage of social thought and philosophy," Dameron said. "Our naturally multicultural context and the close ties between private and public sectors, cooperatives and multinationals allow us to have a multifaceted perspective."
Still, at least some top business academics feel that Europe is already doing well in global competitive terms.
"This year, our MBA intake represents 60 countries," said Robin Buchanan, the dean of London Business School, in an e-mail. That included 14 percent from the United States, 13 percent from India, and only 9 percent from Britain. Buchanan said 6 percent came from France, 5 percent from Brazil and 3 percent each from Italy and China.
At Esade, 63.5 percent of students come from outside Western Europe and only 13.5 percent are Spanish, according to Sauquet.
For comparison, Harvard Business School's Web site states that international students make up only about a third of the school's MBA students.
To break what Dameron and Durand see as the U.S. stranglehold on management education, a business with an annual turnover estimated by Dameron at $10 billion to $12 billion, the authors say European business schools must correct serious European shortcomings, and overhaul some long-established cultural patterns.
"To improve the outlook for 2020, we must Europeanize school ranking systems, allow greater faculty mobility, and improve our fund-raising ability," Durand said. "Rankings use methodology that emphasize what U.S. schools do best - research - or arbitrary factors like how much their graduates earn, factors that are not relevant to European programs."
Again, that analysis is not universally shared. "The issue is not U.S. versus European, but whether a particular ranking is a good measure of MBA students' career aspirations," said Mayer, of the Saïd School in Oxford.
Many European business schools, moreover, already fare well on rankings. In the Financial Times 2008 Global MBA ranking, one of the most widely referenced - and one that tracks alumni earnings - London Business School was placed second after the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, while the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, or HEC, in Paris, was ranked 18th and Oxford's Saïd School came 19th.
Criteria, of course can make a big difference to rankings; a year ago, a French school, the École des Mines, introduced a methodology that put seven European schools, five of them French, among the top 20 worldwide.
"The École des Mines' ranking looks at the number of alumni who are chief executives in Fortune 500 companies, an objective gauge of success in the business world," said Christophe Labarde, director of the Alumni Association of HEC Paris.
Still, the reference to Fortune 500 companies is neither specifically European, nor intrinsically more objective than tracking graduate earning power - a factor of some interest to applicants.
The issue of faculty mobility is another that provokes mixed responses. "Today, faculty cannot obtain tenured positions within Europe because of local laws and red tape. We need a 'Bologna Agreement' for faculty," said Dameron, referring to measures adopted in 1999 by European governments that harmonized university diplomas and allowed transferable academic credits within the signing countries, resulting in greater student mobility.
Sauquet, at Esade, however, noted that hiring constraints vary widely between private schools and those in the state education sector. Esade is a private school. "Bologna has already arrived in private business schools," he said. "We hire full-time faculty from all over the world. For public schools, the issue must be addressed by ministers of education."
"U.S. schools are the principal trainers of Ph.D.s," he added. "Many of them are now coming or returning to Europe, where career opportunities have improved."
In the public sector, limiting faculty hiring to a national pool is partly a matter of immigration policy, although funding issues also come into play.
"In Europe, business school budgets remain in the low millions, if that, while U.S. schools benefit from billion-dollar endowments," Dameron said.
Bengt Stymne, professor of organization theory at the Stockholm School of Economics, agreed that budgets were a problem. "In Sweden, business studies are plagued by under-funding," he said in an interview by telephone. "We have a serious erosion of quality because students largely outnumber faculty."
Mayer, in Oxford, agreed that funding was a fundamental issue. "Recruiting top faculty hinges on the ability to match salary levels at top U.S. business schools," he said.
A culture of philanthropy has historically enabled U.S. business schools to raise funds through alumni donations, a practice that is barely starting to take hold in Europe. "In the U.S., education is everyone's social responsibility. People give back even to their elementary schools," Jain said.
"In Europe, we ask how can the state be a better money-provider," Sauquet said.
With governments in most of Europe in no position to spend more on management education, higher registration fees could help to fill the funding hole, Durand and Dameron say.
While fees in Europe vary widely, they nowhere match those charged at top U.S. schools. At Harvard Business School, tuition this year costs $87,600 for the two-year MBA program. At HEC, the 16-month program costs €42,000, or $57,000. At Oxford, fees for the 12-month program are £30,000, or $52,000. At the other end of the scale, in Sweden, "all academic education, public or private, must by law be free of charge, even to foreign students," Stymne said.
Still, in the final analysis, the whole issue of the future of European business education may be a red herring.
"We do not aspire to be an American look-alike or a British or European school. We want to be and are a global school," said Buchanan, of the London Business School.
"It is at the local and school level that improvements should be made, not with increased EU regulation," Sauquet said.
"In education, Europe is not a brand."
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia said on Tuesday that 6.4 million of its people now needed emergency food aid due to drought, and appealed for a further $265 million (150.6 million pounds) from donors.
The food crisis in the Horn of Africa nation has steadily worsened since April when the government estimated that some 2.2 million people needed emergency assistance. In June, it revised the official figure to 4.6 million.
Aid agency Oxfam says Tuesday's figure did not include 7.2 million Ethiopians who receive cash handouts or food aid from the government each year to stave off hunger.
"We are short of emergency resources and, as part of the global community, we are feeling the impact of global resource constraints," said state agriculture minister, Mitiku Kassa.
Drought, inflation and high food prices have contributed to the worsening crisis in Ethiopia and other parts of the Horn of Africa like Somalia and northern Kenya, aid workers say.
By Mark Landler and Eric Dash
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
WASHINGTON: The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the government, then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. said they must sign it before they left.
The chairman of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, was receptive, saying he thought the deal looked pretty good once he ran the numbers through his head. The chairman of Wells Fargo, Richard Kovacevich, protested strongly that, unlike his New York rivals, his bank was not in trouble because of investments in exotic mortgages, and did not need a bailout, according to people briefed on the meeting.
But by 6:30, all nine chief executives had signed — setting in motion the largest government intervention in the American banking system since the Depression and retreating from the rescue plan Paulson had fought so hard to get through Congress only two weeks earlier.
What happened during those three and a half hours is a story of high drama and brief conflict, followed by acquiescence by the bankers, who felt they had little choice but to go along with the Treasury plan to inject $250 billion of capital into thousands of banks — starting with theirs.
Paulson announced the plan Tuesday, saying "we regret having to take these actions." Pouring billions in public money into the banks, he said, was "objectionable," but unavoidable to restore confidence in the markets and persuade the banks to start lending again.
In addition to the capital infusions, which will be made this week, the government said it would temporarily guarantee $1.5 trillion in new senior debt issued by banks, as well as insure $500 billion in deposits in noninterest-bearing accounts, mainly used by businesses.
All told, the potential cost to the government of the latest bailout package comes to $2.25 trillion, triple the size of the original $700 billion rescue package, which centered on buying distressed assets from banks. The latest show of government firepower is an abrupt about-face for Paulson, who just days earlier was discouraging the idea of capital injections for banks.
Analysts say the United States was forced to shift policy in part because Britain and other European countries announced plans to recapitalize their banks and backstop bank lending. But unlike in Britain, the Treasury secretary presented his plan as an offer the banks could not refuse.
"It was a take it or take it offer," said one person who was briefed on the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. "Everyone knew there was only one answer."
Getting to that point, however, necessitated sometimes tense exchanges between Paulson, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs, and his former colleagues and competitors, who sat across a dark wood table from him, sipping coffee and Cokes under a soaring rose- and sage-colored ceiling.
This account is based on interviews with government officials and bank executives who attended the meeting or were briefed on it.
Paulson began calling the bankers personally Sunday afternoon. Some were already in Washington for a meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
The executives did not have an inkling of Paulson's plans. Some speculated that he would brief them about the government's latest bailout program, or perhaps sound them out about a voluntary initiative. No one expected him to present his plan as an ultimatum.
Paulson, according to his own account, presented his case in blunt terms. The nation's largest banks needed to begin lending to each other for the good of the financial system, he said in a telephone interview, recalling his remarks. To do that, they needed to be better capitalized.
"I don't think there was any banker in that room who was going to look us in the eye and say they had too much capital," Paulson said. "In a relatively short period of time, people came on board."
Indeed, several of the banks represented in the room are in need of capital. And analysts said the terms of the government's investment are attractive for the banks, certainly compared with the terms that Warren Buffett extracted from Goldman Sachs for his $5 billion investment.
The Treasury will receive preferred shares that pay a 5 percent dividend, rising to 9 percent after five years. It will get warrants to purchase common shares, equivalent to 15 percent of its initial investment. But the Treasury said it would not exercise its right to vote those common shares.
The terms, officials said, were devised so as not to be punitive. The rising dividend and the warrants are meant to give banks an incentive to raise private capital and buy out the government after a few years. Still, it took some cajoling.
Kovacevich of Wells Fargo objected that his bank, based in San Francisco, had avoided the mortgage-related woes of its Wall Street rivals. He said the investment could come at the expense of his shareholders.
Kovacevich is also said to have expressed concern about restrictions on executive compensation at banks that receive capital injections. If he steps down from Wells Fargo after completing a planned takeover of Wachovia, he would be entitled to retirement benefits worth about $43 million, and $140 million in accumulated stock and options, according to James Reda & Associates, a executive pay consulting firm. Pay experts say the new Treasury limits would probably not affect his exit package.
Kovacevich declined to be interviewed about the meeting.
Kenneth Lewis, the chairman of Bank of America, also pushed back, saying his bank had just raised $10 billion on its own. Later, Lewis urged his colleagues not to quibble with the plan's restrictions on executive compensation for the top executives. These include a ban on the payment of golden parachutes, repayment of any bonus based on earnings that prove to be inaccurate, and a limit of $500,000 on the tax deductibility of salaries.
If we let executive compensation block this, "we are out of our minds," he said, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
In an interview on Monday, before the meeting, John Mack said his bank, Morgan Stanley, did not need capital from the Treasury. It had just sealed a $9 billion deal with a large Japanese bank. During the meeting, however, Mack, Morgan Stanley's chief executive, said little, according to participants.
Paulson, however, was peppered with questions about the terms of the investment by other chief executives with experience in deal-making: Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Vikram Pandit of Citigroup, John Thain of Merrill Lynch and Dimon.
Among their concerns were: How would the government's stake affect other preferred shareholders? Would the Treasury Department demand some control over management in return for the capital? How would the warrants work?
With the discussion becoming heated, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, who was seated next to Paulson, interceded. He told the bankers that the session need not be combative, since both the banks and the broader economy stood to benefit from the program. Without such measures, he added, the situation of even healthy banks could deteriorate.
The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner, then proceeded to outline the details of the investment program. When the bankers heard the amount of money the government planned to invest, they were stunned by its size, according to several people.
As they heard more of the details, some of the bankers began to realize how attractive the program was for them.
Even as they insisted that they did not need the money, bankers recognized that the extra capital could be helpful if the economy became shakier. Besides, many of these banks' biggest businesses are tied to the stock and credit markets; the quicker they improve, the better their results.
Later, Pandit told colleagues that the investment would give Citigroup more flexibility to borrow and lend. Dimon told colleagues he believed the relatively cheap capital was a fair deal for his bank. Lewis said he recognized the prospects of his bank were closely aligned with the American economy.
Thain was intrigued by the terms of the guarantee by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on new senior debt issued by banks, participants said. He mentally calculated the maturities on debt issued by Merrill Lynch, to determine how the program could benefit his bank.
For Paulson, selling the bankers on capital injections may not have been as difficult as overhauling a rescue program that had originally focused on asset purchases from banks. In the interview, Paulson said the worsening conditions made a change in focus imperative.
"I've always said to everyone that ever worked for me, if you get too dug in on a position, the facts change, and you don't change to adapt to the facts, you will never be successful," he said in the interview.
Paulson insisted that purchases of distressed assets would remain a big part of the program. But having allocated $250 billion to direct investments, the Treasury has only $100 billion left from its initial allotment of $350 billion from Congress to spend on those purchases.
As the meeting wound down, participants said, the bankers focused more on contacting their boards before signing the agreement with the Treasury Department. With time running short and private space limited, some of the bankers left the Treasury building, heading for their limousines while speaking urgently into cellphones.
"I don't think we need to be talking about this a whole lot more," Lewis said, according to a person briefed on the meeting. "We all know that we are going to sign."
By Celia McGee
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts: Of the several hundred soon-to-be new Americans standing up to take the oath of citizenship at Faneuil Hall in Boston in 2000, the majority, as Ronan Noone remembered it, had decided to change their names to something more Yank.
But not him. He didn't feel the need - everything else about him had changed. Since shoving off from the misty, Victorian town of Clifden in County Connemara, Ireland, six years earlier, he had gone from proper university graduate to Martha's Vineyard bartender and house painter; dutiful son to Boston roustabout; broguish bachelor to impending American husband and father; pessimist to optimist; former journalist to rising young playwright.
"I've become very patriotic in my belief that here you can become whatever you want," he said. "In Ireland you're always aware of class status. Your station is your duty. You stay at the back of the class and keep your head down."
He's making his biggest shift this autumn. At 38 he has moved to American subjects after the series of Irish ensemble plays that kicked off his career in Boston. He is taking on New York with a star, Campbell Scott, in his one-man play "The Atheist," which opened this week at the off-Broadway Barrow Street Theater. Scott plays Augustine Early, a suave, compromised, washed-up celebrity journalist who blustered his way out of a poor childhood in Blue Rapids, Kansas, bent on fame and self-destruction.
Noone's earlier plays - "The Lepers of Baile Baiste," about abuses in the Roman Catholic Church; "The Blowin of Baile Gall," with its ethnic resentments; "Brendan," which broods about the bossiness of the past - dealt in the cadences, rhythms and begorra poetry of Gaelic loquaciousness. "The Atheist," in contrast, "is written very much as a jazz score," said Justin Waldman, the director. "There's not a single punctuation mark in the script."
"Ronan doesn't really let his character off the hook, which is what I love about his writing," Scott said. "But there's something about the guy, brutal and vulgar as he is, that makes you like him." To get Augustine pitch perfect - and perfectly American - the writer, director and star holed up for a week in Scott's living room in northwest Connecticut to make revisions.
Blarney and moonshine are not the stock in trade of the politically oriented Culture Project, which is producing "The Atheist" in New York along with the Circle in the Square Theater, thanks to the longstanding relationship of Circle's artistic director, Theodore Mann, with George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst, Campbell Scott's parents. "It's not as easily categorized as some of what we do," said the Culture Project artistic director, Allan Buchman, "but it does bring up how the press can be so easily manipulated and that politics are corrupt, yet it's far more subtle than that, and of course dreadfully funny."
Its civics lesson goes so far that it demonstrates "how the American dream of achieving fame and fortune by working really hard has changed," Waldman said, "and is based on nothing of substance.
Taking an outsider's perspective, Noone said, restored to him pleasure in his work. "My Irish plays were pulling me away from optimism, and in my American plays I found the smile returning to my face. There's an element of joy in them and a lot of anger in the Irish ones."
In Clifden, Noone said, he saw "vicious, vicious violence," bred of family histories, religious repression or political conflict, expressed in fistfights and beatings, and it was considered the bystanders' place not to step in. That changed for him in America, where he tended to follow his conscience in the face of danger.
Yet he said he had recently witnessed some toughs acting suspiciously toward a disabled man who was pulling out his wallet at a Harvard Square newsstand, and he fretted that, in his rush to make an appointment, he had not intervened. He decided he couldn't live with the doubt, polished off his coffee and returned to the scene of a crime that may or may not have been.
"I test myself through my characters," he said, "and what happens in a malignant situation."
By Keith Bradsher
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
HONG KONG: Regulators in two of the biggest Asian financial centers stepped up their efforts Tuesday to ensure liquidity and insulate their respective banking systems from the turmoil in global credit markets.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said it would provide government backing for all of the $773 billion in Hong Kong bank deposits through 2010 as government assistance for banks in Europe and the United States put pressure on Asian regulators to follow suit even though Asian banks tended to be better capitalized. The authority also said that it was prepared to provide capital to the 23 locally incorporated banks if they needed it, following the examples of the United States and Britain.
The Bank of Japan, meanwhile, said it would increase the size and frequency of its commercial paper repurchase operations and take other steps to improve money market operations in the wake of the recent global financial market turmoil, Reuters reported.
The bank also said it would broaden the range of asset-backed commercial paper eligible for its market operations as a temporary measure until the end of April 2009, Reuters said. After an extraordinary policy-setting meeting, the central bank said it would keep the overnight call rate target, its benchmark interest rate, unchanged at 0.5 percent.
The Japanese central bank also said it would offer unlimited short-term dollar credits to banks in an effort to relieve stress on the global financial system. The Bank of Japan had previously offered up to $120 billion in credit.
Hong Kong banks are already among the most heavily capitalized in the world, and Joseph Yam, the chief executive of the monetary authority, said at a news conference that he did not think either of the new measures would be needed. The average capital as a share of assets for banks incorporated in Hong Kong is 14 percent, well above the international minimum of 8 percent.
"Our banking system is healthy and robust - however, we must make preparations for a rainy day," said John Tsang, the financial secretary of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was the scene of a bank run on Sept. 24 and 25, when depositors lined up to pull money out of Bank of East Asia, one of the largest banks in the city. The bank had enough cash to meet the withdrawals and survived the bank run after regulators assured the public that the bank had ample capital and after Li Ka-shing, the wealthy Hong Kong businessman, made it known that he was buying shares in the bank.
The authorities are investigating the source of mobile phone text messages that set off the bank run. Under previous rules, Hong Kong insured up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $12,900, in a bank account.
Raymond Li, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Deposit Protection Board, said at the news conference that he did not have figures available on the proportion of deposits in Hong Kong that belonged to individuals and companies from elsewhere.
Li Kui-wai, director of the Asian economic policy center at the City University of Hong Kong, said the city's history of attracting deposits from all over the world meant that the policy initiatives could prove costly.
"If the one million richest people in the world put their money in a Hong Kong bank," he said, "and the bank goes broke, can we - the Hong Kong government, the Hong Kong taxpayer - afford to bail out" that bank?
Hong Kong's action could put pressure on other international financial centers with very large deposits and limited populations that have not yet issued blanket guarantees of bank deposits, like Switzerland, which has roughly the same population as Hong Kong, about seven million people.
Hong Kong will back up its deposit guarantee with its $161 billion foreign exchange reserves. In Asia, the governments of Australia and New Zealand on Sunday guaranteed all bank deposits. Taiwan did so on Oct. 7.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, but Hong Kong retains a largely free-market economy and a completely separate banking system and currency from mainland China. The Chinese government still owns all or most of the shares of big mainland banks, and has seen little effect on these institutions from global financial troubles because the mainland Chinese financial system is still shielded from international markets by many barriers.
By contrast, Hong Kong's system is very open, including full convertibility into other currencies for the Hong Kong dollar, which has its value closely pegged to the U.S. dollar.
Central banks in Asia do not have a tradition of cooperating on policy initiatives as closely as the European Central Bank cooperates with the Bank of England and the U.S. Federal Reserve. Yam said that he had discussed the initiatives with the People's Bank of China before announcing them and said without elaborating that there was ample communication among Asian central banks.
But he noted that without a common currency comparable to the euro, Asian countries would inherently face greater challenges to cooperation than European countries.
By Shashi Tharoor
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The recent convulsions in the international financial markets have provoked an unseemly amount of gloating on the part of many in the developing world.
That Fidel Castro and Mohammed Ahmadinejad should pronounce themselves vindicated by the crisis in global capitalism is hardly surprising, since capitalism has over the years been so strongly identified with America that both see the problem through the lens of their own anti-Americanism.
A worrying number of people in India, though, are saying similar things. "See, we were right in opposing all this liberalization," one told me, stressing that India's previously over-regulated system had saved it from a similar fate much earlier. Another approvingly quoted right-wing rants in the U.S. about the dawning of a "Socialist Republic of America" and added, "We should nationalize the banks again - after all, even the Americans and Brits are doing it!"
They are wrong, but there's a real danger that India's political classes could find themselves persuaded by this lapse into historical amnesia.
In India, the debate between capitalist globalization and self-reliance required a huge paradigm shift. Whereas, in the West, most people axiomatically associate capitalism with freedom, India's nationalists associated capitalism with slavery - because the British East India Company had come to trade and stayed on to rule. So from 1947, our nationalist leaders were suspicious of every foreigner with a briefcase, seeing him as the thin edge of a neo-imperial wedge.
Instead of integrating India into the global capitalist system, as only a few developing countries like Singapore so effectively were to do, India's leaders were convinced that the political independence they had fought for could only be guaranteed through economic independence.
Self-reliance became the slogan, the protectionist barriers went up, and India spent 45 years with bureaucrats rather than businessmen on the "commanding heights" of our economy, wasting the first four and a half decades after independence in subsidizing unproductivity, regulating stagnation and trying to distribute poverty.
This only goes to prove that one of the lessons you learn from history is that history sometimes teaches the wrong lessons. It would be tragic if recent events led Indians to learn the wrong lessons again.
The reactionaries today seem quickly to forget that it took a humiliating financial crisis in 1991 (one in which India had to physically ship its gold reserves to London as collateral for an IMF loan) to prompt New Delhi to change course. A measure of the extent to which the course had changed came for me a few months ago in Calcutta when I heard the Communist chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, say: "Some people say globalization is bad for the poor and must be resisted. I tell them that is not possible. And" - the emphasis is mine - "even if it were possible, it would not be desirable."
For decades, the theory of development economics had suffered from two intertwined historical circumstances - the experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s, when only robust government intervention saved a number of economies, and the fight for freedom from colonial rule, which involved the overthrow of both foreign rulers and foreign capitalists (though few nationalists could tell the difference).
The development gurus firmly believed in the wisdom of top-down rule and government planning by all-knowing, all-seeing economists, of whom India suffered from a superabundance. Our rulers, in turn, mistrusted what ordinary people could achieve for themselves when they were freed to pursue their own prosperity within a framework of government-supported structures that ensured a level playing field, fair regulation and social justice (the model that came to be adopted in the Western democracies, though increasingly dismantled in Republican-governed America). Instead they created a license-permit-quota raj that denied Indian businesses the opportunity to prosper and grow.
The result was what was derisively called the "Hindu rate of growth," at which India chugged along at 3 percent while much of the rest of Asia shot ahead. Resources that the state could have spent on infrastructure development, education, health and agricultural reform went instead to massively inefficient public-sector projects that employed many and produced little.
It is sadly impossible to quantify the economic losses inflicted on India over four decades of entrepreneurs frittering away their energies in queuing for licenses rather than manufacturing products, paying bribes instead of hiring workers, wooing politicians instead of understanding consumers, and "getting things done" through bureaucrats rather than doing things for themselves.
The disastrous inefficiencies of the system were masked by subsidies from the national exchequer, and a combination of vested interests - socialist ideologues, political opportunists, bureaucratic managers, self-protective trade unions and captive markets - shielded it fiercely from economic reality, as millions of Indians languished in poverty.
In the last 15 years, India has pulled more people out of poverty than in the previous 45 - averaging some 10 million people a year in the last decade. The country has visibly prospered, and despite population growth, per capita income has grown faster and higher in each of these years than ever before.
The current financial crisis, far from prompting a retreat, is an opportunity to safeguard those gains and to build on them. For more than four decades India suffered from the economics of nationalism, which equated political independence with economic self-sufficiency and so relegated us to chronic poverty and mediocrity.
Let us not condemn Indians again to repeating the mistakes of that unlamented past.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Sumeet Desai and Matt Falloon
Inflation hit a 16-year high of 5.2 percent in September, but that is likely to be the peak and interest rates are still expected to come down sharply over the next few months in order to prevent a deep recession.
The Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday rocketing utility bills pushed inflation higher by half a percentage point in September to way more than double the central bank's 2 percent target. Analysts had predicted a rise to 5 percent.
Bank of England policymakers had already factored in the latest jump when they cut interest rates by half a percentage point last week in an emergency move last week to shore up the economy in the face of a global financial crisis.
They are worried the economic outlook has got a lot worse over the last month and two separate surveys on Tuesday showed house prices falling faster in September and retail sales posting an annual fall for a fourth straight month.
Analysts expect interest rates to come down from their current 4.5 percent very, especially as lower oil prices should mean inflation will fall sharply.
"September's figure will be the peak in inflation and the key issue now is just how far it will drop back as the food and energy effects which have pushed it up so sharply finally fade or go into reverse," said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics.
"Needless to say, steep falls in inflation will help to restore households' spending power and allow the Monetary Policy Committee to cut interest rates very sharply. We continue to expect rates to drop to 2.5 percent or less."
The economy already ground to a halt in the second quarter even before the cataclysmic events in financial markets of the last month sent consumer confidence plummeting and sparked widespread talk of recession around the world.
British like-for-like retail sales fell 1.5 percent on the year in September, according to the British Retail Consortium, as furniture store sales recorded their worst performance in eight years.
And homewares are unlikely to do any better anytime soon as another survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showed the decline in house prices accelerating and sales at a record low as the credit crunch has hit the market hard.
The ONS said the chief driver of the spike in inflation came from gas and electricity bills. Electricity prices were 30.3 percent higher on the year and gas prices were 49.9 percent higher.
However, food inflation, another key source of price pressure this year, eased to 12.7 percent from 14.5 percent as the cost of dairy products fell.
But meat prices, especially bacon, continued to rise and were 19.1 percent higher in September than a year ago. The chief driver of inflation.
Economists calculate that falling petrol prices could easily lop off a full percentage point off the inflation rate in the coming months.
MPC member David Blanchflower, who has been calling for interest rate cuts for months, has even warned that inflation could even fall below 1 percent.
For now, however, the RPI measure of inflation, often used in wage bargaining, rose to 5 percent, up from 4.8 percent in August.
While this could still put upward pressure on wage demands, rising unemployment is expected to keep a lid on pay.
The Rossi index, on which many benefits payment rises are based, is also calculated in September and showed a rise of 6.3 percent on the year.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
KINSHASA: Congolese army tanks pounded rebel-held hilltops and repelled an attack on a military base in the east on Tuesday in the latest round of fighting that has displaced 150,000 people in six weeks, the United Nations said.
The army fired at least 500 tank rounds at rebel positions during a two-day battle at Tongo in North Kivu Province that killed and wounded civilians in a nearby camp for internal refugees, the UN peacekeeping mission, Monuc, said.
The UN refugee agency Unhcr said fighting in North Kivu between the army and the renegade Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, whose January peace deal with the government collapsed in late August, had forced around 100,000 civilians from their homes.
Another 50,000 Congolese villagers had fled raids by the rebel Ugandan force, the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, in the northeastern district of Ituri, along the border with Sudan last month, it said.
In North Kivu, Congolese Army troops, also known as Fardc, successfully repelled the rebel assault on their base at Tongo, 50 kilometers, or 32 miles, north of the provincial capital Goma, Monuc said.
"The Fardc control most of Tongo now," Monuc military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said, adding the army was mopping up resistance in nearby high ground.
"Both sides used heavy weapons," Dietrich said. "The use of heavy weapons is a serious threat to the civilian population and especially to the displaced."
Clashes further west around the village of Nyanzale trapped around 25 aid workers from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, and around 60 of their patients inside a local hospital for two days.
The latest violence in the troubled province had largely died down by late Tuesday, but Dietrich said both sides appeared to be repositioning troops for another wave of fighting.
"We don't really know what's going to happen next," he said.
Last week, Congo gave the UN Security Council photographs it said supported its accusation that Rwandan soldiers had helped Nkunda's rebels attack an army base in North Kivu last week.
Rwanda has denied making an incursion into Congolese territory. UN peacekeepers in Congo are investigating.
Rwanda has twice invaded its much larger neighbor in the past, including a 1998 intervention that helped spark a 5-year war and lingering humanitarian disaster that together have killed an estimated 5.4 million people over the past decade.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon warned Friday that the fighting could spill over into yet another regional conflict and called for an immediate ceasefire.
Eastern Congo has become a battleground for armed groups from across central Africa.
The Unhcr said many refugees from last month's attacks by the Ugandan LRA were in dire need of humanitarian aid.
Local authorities have said the bodies of some 100 civilians were dumped in a nearby river and some 80 children were missing, leading their parents to fear they were "forcefully recruited by the LRA," a Unhcr spokesman, Ron Redmond, said in Geneva.
The LRA, which has led one of Africa's longest-running guerrilla wars against the government in Kampala, is notorious for abducting children to use as soldiers and sex slaves.
The LRA has been driven out of northern Uganda but continues to carry out raids in Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic from bases in Congo's Garamba National Park.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
CANBERRA: The sudden plunge of a Qantas airliner last week, injuring scores of passengers on the flight from Singapore to Perth, was caused by an error in the automatic pilot system, Australia's air safety agency said on Tuesday.
The incident was a "unique event" but was serious enough to prompt Airbus to issue emergency guidelines to airlines worldwide operating the Airbus A330-300 in the event of a similar emergency, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau director, Julian Walsh, said in Canberra.
"Incorrect values led to the flight control computers commanding a nose down aircraft movement and the aircraft pitching down," Walsh said.
The aircraft, with 303 passengers and 10 crew, was cruising around 11,300 meters, or 37,000 feet, from Singapore to Perth when it suddenly gained altitude, then plummeted more than 300 meters in a little over a minute.
The glitch occurred in an air data inertial reference unit, which feeds information to the aircraft's main computer and had never been encountered during any previous A330-300 flights, Walsh said.
The flight sensor led the computer to incorrectly determine the jet was climbing when actually in level flight, he said.
Many on board were flung around the cabin or crashed against rooftop luggage compartments before the pilots regained control and made an emergency landing, passengers said.
The aircraft landed at a remote military and mining airstrip at Learmonth, near the port of Exmouth, around 1,100 kilometers, about 700 miles, north of Perth, last Tuesday after pilots issued a "mayday" alert.
Fourteen passengers were airlifted to hospital in Perth with injuries including concussion, lacerations and broken bones. Another 60 were treated for minor bruises and did not need hospital treatment.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau last week said that the jet, which was inspected by an Airbus investigator, had no structural defects that would cause it to drop at a sharp 8.1 degree angle, with early indications pointing to an "irregularity" it its elevator control system.
There are 247 long-haul A330-300s used by airlines around the world out of total orders for 383 of the wide-body aircraft, according to the Airbus Web site. They can hold up to 335 passengers.
Qantas, the world's 10th largest airline by market value, has been hit by several incidents recently and promised to refund passengers on the Perth flight.
In one, investigators blamed an oxygen bottle for a midair explosion that blew a minivan-size hole in the side of Qantas jumbo jet. The jet suffered a sudden loss of cabin pressure during a flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne on July 25, forcing the aircraft to make an emergency descent before diverting to Manila, where it landed safely.
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