IW: The first day I read of the fear of assasination of Obama. A thought that has been on mind, but one I have not seen articulated before in the IHT.
Yielding to conservationists, eBay will ban ivory sales
By Felicity Barringer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO: In response to growing pressure from international law enforcement agencies and conservation groups, eBay, the online auction giant, announced Monday that it would ban all commerce in ivory, including most heirlooms, to avoid providing a market that will encourage the slaughter of endangered elephants.
The announcement, made to the company's merchants and customers, came as a conservation organization based in Massachusetts prepared to issue the latest in a series of reports documenting how online auction sites, particularly eBay, have become a magnet for trading in items derived from endangered species, among them rare birds and reptiles sold to collectors, ivory-handled walking sticks or bracelets and figurines carved from elephant tusks.
The report, to be released here on Tuesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, analyzes data gathered in a six-week survey that tracked more than 7,000 listings of wildlife or their feathers, teeth or pelts offered for sale on more than 185 Web sites in 11 countries. Nearly three-quarters of the items were elephant products, the report said.
The vast majority of the online trade in endangered animals, the report says, is done on eBay. Law enforcement officials and specialists in illegal wildlife trade said it was impossible to determine how much of the estimated $10 billion spent each year in the illicit trade happens online.
Nichola Sharpe, a spokeswoman for eBay, said Monday that the company had been talking about a ban with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's enforcement division and conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund. Because of the complications of abiding by multiple and overlapping state, federal and international conservation laws, Sharpe said, eBay officials decided on the ban, effective Jan. 1.
"It's just so complicated," she said. "As we've said over the years, we are not experts" in the items bought and sold through the site.
"We don't have possession of the items," she said. "We never allow anything illegal to be sold. Where there are complex laws, we work with a number of stakeholders to make sure we are in compliance. That's especially true with ivory."
Last year, the company instituted a ban on international sales of elephant ivory products, but Jeffrey Flocken of the animal welfare fund said it "has not worked at all."
EBay has already banned commerce in guns and digital music, and it is unclear whether the ivory ban will have a noticeable impact on its revenues. The new report from the animal welfare fund said the advertised price for wildlife items offered on the site during the six weeks of the study was $3.87 million and the sales value about $457,000.
The ban may be slow to take effect, suggested Crawford Allan, the North American regional director of Traffic, a subsidiary of the World Wildlife Fund that tracks illegal trade in wildlife.
"It's not that they are going to turn on a switch and it's going to end," Allan said, pointing out that merchants need only avoid calling their wares "ivory" or using the word "elephant" to avoid automatic filtering. EBay, he said, "does find it difficult to police their own site."
But at least, he said, "you can't have people arguing 'This isn't elephant ivory.' "
The ban, Allan said, "is the ultimate answer" to that defense.
The use of the Internet for black-market dealings has expanded, experts say, along with the expansion of the legitimate market for ivory, feathers, exotic birds, rare animal hides and parts of rare animals that are used for medicinal purposes. In the United States alone, Allan said, the value of legal wildlife commerce grew to $2.8 billion in 2007 from $1.2 billion in 2000.
Benito Perez, the head of enforcement for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has investigators to enforce wildlife protection laws, said Monday, "We're not strangers to Internet cases."
The agency's goal, Perez said, is to focus not on single sales but on a pattern of questionable commerce that can be traced to a small number of people. His investigators, he said, are pursuing investigations into potentially illicit sales of ivory.
Tight budgets in the enforcement division have led to a decrease in the pool of inspectors — there are 201 as of three weeks ago, down from 238 in 2002. But while enforcement activities have been squeezed, the Bush administration has made significant diplomatic initiatives.
Assistant Secretary of State Claudia McMurray told Congress earlier this year that "illegal trade has brought us to a tipping point — in other words, it is pushing many species over the edge to extinction."
Wildlife experts have documented a precipitous decline in elephant populations, particularly in Africa. In the 1980s an estimated 100,000 elephants a year were being slaughtered, Flocken said. The worldwide population of elephants stood at an estimated 1.3 million in 1979; by 1989, the number was 450,000. The population has increased slightly since then, he said, to about 470,000.
But the poaching continues. Allan said that much of the ivory went to the Far East, particularly China and Bangkok, but that some of the Chinese ivory carvers had now set up shop in Africa.
Kuki Gallman, the conservationist who gained wide recognition with her book, "I Dreamed of Africa," said on Monday from her home in Kenya that within the past two weeks, seven elephants had been found shot by poachers with AK-47s on her 100,000-acre preserve, the Laikipia Nature Conservancy. Several had been shorn of their tusks, but at least two fled the poachers before dying, Gallman said.
"If you give a value to something," she said, "there will be someone ready to do whatever possible to get it."
Urban cowboys take on Delhi's sacred cows
By Jeremy Kahn
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
NEW DELHI: Brajveer Singh does not own a wide-brimmed hat, leather boots or a pair of jeans. And he has never ridden a mechanical bull.
But he can lay claim to being a real-life urban cowboy. Singh is among the dozens of men who spend their days roping cattle on the streets of this city as part of a long and frustrating battle to rid India's capital of stray cows.
There is perhaps no more stereotypical image of India than that of a stray cow sauntering down the middle of a busy city street, seemingly oblivious to the traffic swerving around it.
Hindus consider cows sacred animals, and their slaughter is banned throughout most of India. Cows are frequently allowed to wander where they please, even in cities, where Indians tend to view them much the way Americans and Europeans regard pigeons - an unpleasant but intractable part of the urban landscape.
But in New Delhi, many residents long ago lost patience with the thousands of stray cattle. They block roads, contributing to traffic jams and accidents. They scatter trash as they forage for food. They foul streets with manure. And, on rare occasions, rampaging bulls have been known to damage parked cars and maim pedestrians.
In 2002, after citizens petitioned the courts to do something about the capital's stray cows, judges ordered the cattle cleared from the roads.
Six years later, however, the cows are still here. In September, the government missed the latest in a series of court-ordered deadlines for their removal. And because the city is in contempt of the court order, it was also recently held liable for the death of a man whose scooter crashed after he swerved to avoid hitting a cow.
"So far, our efforts are not up to the mark," said Vijender Kumar Gupta, chairman of the standing committee of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the government body responsible for overseeing the roundup of stray cattle. But, he insisted, the city is "committed to solving the problem" ahead of the Commonwealth Games, which will be in New Delhi in 2010.
Meeting that goal is up to Brajveer Singh and the city's 164 other "cow catchers," as they are called.
One recent morning, Singh and the seven other men in his team assembled near their truck in Old Delhi, the capital's ancient heart.
Seven of them squeezed into the truck's cramped cab, while one stood scraping day-old manure out of the truck's long, high-sided bed.
They set off looking for cows.
This is dangerous work. Only on the rare occasions when a trained veterinarian accompanies them are the cattle catchers allowed to use tranquilizer darts or a stun gun. Instead, they rely on rope lassos and brute strength to capture cattle, which often charge into traffic or kick and buck violently in an attempt to escape.
On this particular day, Singh literally seized a young bull by the horns, wrestling it into position for roping.
"The key is once you have the horn in your hand, try hard not to let go," he said with a grin.
Singh and the other cow catchers all have tales of being injured on the job, suffering everything from rope burns to broken bones. One even lost an eye after being gored by a bull.
But far more dangerous than the cattle, according to the cowboys, are the people they encounter. The cow catchers have been involved in fist fights with drivers enraged that the cowboys have blocked traffic while trying to remove cows from a busy road. Religious Hindus, who sometimes feed the stray cattle found near temples, have on rare occasions been known to pelt cow catchers with stones.
"It's an occupational hazard," said the city's most senior cow catcher, Virpal Singh, who is no relation to Brajveer Singh.
An even greater concern, however, are the thousands of illegal dairies that operate in the city. The government classifies any cow wandering the streets as "stray," but many of these animals are actually owned by unlicensed dairies. The dairy operators - and the slum dwellers who buy their cheap milk - often react violently when cattle catchers arrive.
This day, a young man carrying milk jugs on his scooter only glowered at the cattle catchers as they used a hydraulic lift to place a cow they had captured from the median of a congested road into the rear of their truck. But Brajveer Singh pointed to a scar on his scalp - a reminder of the seven stitches he required last year after a dairy operator beat him over the head with a stick.
In return for enduring these risks, a cow catcher earns about 10,000 rupees, or $250, per month. That is less than what the city employee assigned to drive the cow catchers' truck makes, but most cow catchers said they were just happy to have a government post, which provides job security and benefits. The majority of the men, including the two Singhs, are Hindus who also see a spiritual component to their work.
"What gives me satisfaction is taking cattle to a safe place," said Virpal Singh. "In a sense, I'm taking care of the cattle."
Once the cow catchers capture their daily quota of 9 to 10 cows, they drive the cattle to a city office to be registered. Workers use a long pipe-like gun to shoot a microchip down the cow's esophagus.
The city used to auction off the cows it seized. Winning bidders had to certify that they would take the animals outside city limits. But officials found that buyers routinely violated this promise. So now, once the cows have been registered, the cow catchers deliver them to one of five government-approved cow sanctuaries on the outskirts of the city.
These shelters are run by Hindu charities but receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding from the city. In theory, the microchips are supposed to keep the shelters honest, preventing them from selling the cows back to illegal dairies or turning them loose.
But the cow catchers say it is not uncommon to capture the same animals twice. Virpal Singh said dairies sometimes use political connections to force the city to release seized cows. And Gupta said that the influence of this "milk mafia" is the single biggest factor standing in the way of Delhi meeting the court order.
Over the past two years, the city government says that it has taken more than 20,000 cows off the street. But this still leaves an estimated 5,000 to 12,000 strays.
"I don't think Delhi will ever really be free of cows," Virpal Singh said.
Most of Delhi's cattle wranglers are recruited from rural areas outside of the city - where their families owned cows and where they gained experience handling livestock - and they commute into the city from their villages each day by train. While it is a small fraternity, the cow catchers said they rarely socialize outside of work. There are no cowboy bars in Delhi.
"After a full day of trying to catch cows, we are usually too tired to do anything except go home and go to bed," Brajveer Singh said.
Underground cattle trade thrives in Gaza tunnels
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
When the calves were hauled out of the tunnel from Egypt Tuesday, they could hardly stand up.
After a terrifying, 1000 metre (yard) underground trip into the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, what the young cattle wanted most was a long drink of cool water.
Underground livestock smuggling has increased dramatically ahead of Eid Al-Adha, the day of sacrifice due December 10, when Muslims the world over slaughter animals and feed the poor to seek God's forgiveness.
"Even if we brought in animals every day we would not meet the demand for the Eid," said a tunnel operator who identified himself as Abu Luqaib.
Hundreds of Gaza merchants throng around the border area of Rafah every day to pick up merchandise coming to Gaza from Egypt via subterranean passages that have created a flourishing trade zone.
"It's an industrial zone here," said the 23-year-old tunnel operator as his crew pulled a bawling calf up the deep shaft by a simple rope around its middle. No livestock harness was used.
Gaza has suffered galloping unemployment since Israel tightened its blockade on the territory in 2007 to try to weaken its Palestinian rulers, Hamas, an Islamist group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Goods are scarce in Gaza markets because of Israeli restrictions on what Gaza may and may not import. The tunnel network handles all sorts of readily portable merchandise including fuel, automobile parts, computers and clothes.
The number of tunnels has mushroomed in the past year to around 800, according to Abu Luqaib. They employ between 20,000 to 25,000 workers in a grey economy struggling for survival.
A standard 500 metre tunnel costs $60,000 (35,344 pounds) to $90,000 to build, he says. A 1,000 tunnel built with extra safety features can cost up to $150,000.
The tunnels can be dangerous. Palestinian officials say at least 45 Gazans have died in cave-ins this year, some of which were blamed by Hamas on the security forces in Egypt, who are under pressure from Israel and the United States to clamp down.
But such risks are clearly outweighed by potential profits.
The calves that came through Tuesday cost $350 each plus $250 for the transport, a total of $600 per head.
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, endorses the tunnels as a way of defying the blockade, and, according to some Gaza residents, imposes taxes on the tunnel trade.
It also keeps a close eye on what comes through.
"No one can smuggle arms or drugs, on the orders of Hamas," said Abu Luqaib. Israel, however, says Hamas runs its own tunnel network to bring arms, explosives and ammunition.
The tunnels also ferry people who cannot otherwise leave or enter Gaza unless they have Israeli or Egyptian permission.
One Gaza woman, Umm Khaled, had been stuck in Egypt for several weeks while her husband fretted over telling her the unwelcome news that her only way home was via a dark tunnel.
So friends slipped a sleeping draught into her glass of juice, wrapped her in a blanket and laid her in an underground trolley to be whisked through to the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
"She got the fastest, most tranquil, and safest trip home in the end," said tunnel operator Ahmed, who gave no second name.
(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Douglas Hamilton; editing by Sami Aboudi)
Exelon's $6.2 billion bid for NRG would create largest power utility in U.S.
By Matthew L. Wald
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: Exelon's unsolicited bid to buy NRG Energy, a power generator based in Princeton, New Jersey, would create the largest power company in the country, in terms of assets, market capitalization and generation capacity, and would benefit shareholders of both companies, Exelon said on Monday.
"There is simply no doubt that scale is important in turbulent times, and it's important as the costs of growth continue to rise," Exelon's chairman, John Rowe, told analysts in a conference call, in which he cited the current credit crisis.
But the deal would raise credit challenges; Exelon is assuming that because of bond covenants, sale of NRG would require Exelon to refinance $8 billion in debt and that interest rates would run into double digits. Executives held out some hope, though, that they might be able to renegotiate with the current bondholders, rather than refinance.
The transaction would depress Exelon's credit rating but it would remain investment grade, company executives said, and would return within two or three years to its current level.
NRG, with 44 generating stations spread across Southern California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Connecticut, had no immediate comment except to say that it was evaluating the offer with its advisers.
The $6.2 billion bid is an all-stock offer, 0.485 share of Exelon for each share of NRG. The offer is a 37 percent premium over NRG's closing price last Friday, Exelon said.
While the market tumble has lured various bargain-seekers into the utility business, one analyst on the call, Steve Fleishman, of Catapult Capital Management, said that the ratio in stock price between the two companies had not changed much between the beginning of the credit crisis and last Friday, when the offer was priced. Both prices are now depressed, according to analysts.
Exelon, already one of the nation's largest electric companies, covers a broad swath of the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states, combining the assets of Commonwealth Edison and Philadelphia Electric. A successful deal would require Exelon to sell some assets in Texas and in the Pennsylvania or Delaware areas. But it would give the company very broad geographic diversity, Rowe said, and access to plants using a variety of fuels.
According to the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association of the investor-owned utilities, Exelon ranks sixth nationally in generating capacity and fourth in megawatt-hours produced; the merger would make it No. 1 in both categories. It has assets of $49.5 billion as of the end of last year, ranking third; combining with NRG's $19.3 billion in assets, it would also rank first, the institute said.
Exelon's operations focus heavily on nuclear- and coal-fired plants. NRG has several coal-powered plants assets in Texas, a major share of a twin-unit nuclear plant there and plants fired by natural gas and oil.
Joelle Frank, a spokeswoman for NRG, said the company had advised its shareholders to "take no action, pending review by NRG's board." NRG has hired Citigroup and Credit Suisse to advise it, she said.
Exelon said the combination would produce an enormous combined entity with investment-grade credit ratings and the financial strength to build new power plants. NRG ranks well for creditworthiness among independent power producers, but many experts say they think that its plan to build two new nuclear reactors adjacent to its South Texas reactors faces challenges.
"NRG's South Texas Project nuclear plant and the very valuable expansion rights could be worth more in the hands of Exelon," said John Kiani, a senior utilities and power analyst at Deutsche Bank.
A year ago, NRG asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to build two nuclear reactors at a site 90 miles southwest of Houston, the first time since the mid-1970s that anyone had sought permission for a new nuclear power plant in the country. Exelon is one of the nation's largest and most successful nuclear operators. But the promised resurgence of nuclear power has been thrown into some doubt because of the credit crisis.
Kiani said the offer "materially undervalues" NRG. Both NRG and Exelon have sold their output in advance and will probably realize higher cash flows once those contracts expire, he said.
Another looming uncertainty is regulation of carbon emissions. Exelon, anticipating such regulation, has begun a project to lower emissions substantially within its service territory by 2020, and said it would devise a similar program for NRG. NRG is part of a coalition of companies seeking such regulation. If a schedule of emission limits is imposed, that could help Exelon, which has a huge fleet of zero-carbon nuclear plants. It would also create certainty for NRG.
Hot small caps: BG Group shares rise on broker note
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
LONDON: Following is a round-up of key small cap movers on the London stock market Tuesday.
10:35 BST - BG Group shares rise on broker note
Shares in UK-based gas producer BG Group jump on Tuesday after house broker JP Morgan Cazenove said the recent slump in the company's shares had made it good value for investors and potential acquirers.
BG Group is up 3.5 percent at 800 pence, having risen earlier by as much as 11 percent, outperforming a 2.2 percent rise in the DJ Stoxx European oil and gas sector index .
Cazenove said a BG acquisition could be earnings accretive for U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil , although most of the big oil majors have been linked to a potential BG takeover in the past.
"A steady-state share price premium to Net Asset Value has recently collapsed to a 40 percent discount, by far the largest discount that we have ever recorded," analyst Fred Lucas said in his note.
9:54 BST - Faroe Petroleum up on successful Breagh well test
Shares in Faroe Petroleum gain 4.9 percent to 85 pence after the oil and gas exploration group says its East Breagh well in the UK North Sea tested successfully.
Evolution Securities says the test at East Breagh adds to the existing West Breagh discovery and becomes a potentially large gas field development. Faroe has a 10 percent stake in the field.
Evolution anticipates total recoverable reserves of around 600 billion cubic feet, making it one of the largest gas fields discovered in the UK southern gas basin for a few years. The broker, which has a price target of 190 pence on the shares, says de-risking Breagh would add over 50 pence to Faroe's core net asset value of 70 pence.
8:12 BST - Tullow shares rise on new oil find
Shares in UK-based oil explorer Tullow Oil jump over 7 percent and Heritage Oil leaps 14.6 pct after the companies say they have made another oil discovery in Uganda.
"With a further two prospects on the same block to be drilled over the coming months, this discovery de-risks the potential for the other exploration prospects (at the Uganda fields)," analysts at Fox Davies say in a note.
Tullow shares trade up 6.67 percent at 532 pence, outperforming a 3.1 percent rise in the DJ Stoxx European oil outperforming a 3.1 percent rise in the DJ Stoxx European oil and gas sector index , which is up on higher crude prices.
Other oil explorers such as Cairn Energy also outperform the sector index as they have above average leverage to crude prices.
Momentum slows for alternative energy in U.S.
By Clifford Krauss
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
HOUSTON: For all the support that the U.S. presidential candidates are expressing for renewable energy, alternative energies like wind and solar are facing big new challenges because of the credit freeze and the plunge in oil and natural gas prices.
Shares of alternative energy companies in the United States have fallen even more sharply than the rest of the stock market in recent months. The struggles of financial institutions are raising fears that investment capital for big renewable energy projects is likely to get tighter.
Advocates are concerned that if the prices for oil and gas keep falling, the incentive for utilities and consumers to buy expensive renewable energy will shrink. That is what happened in the 1980s when a decade of advances for alternative energy collapsed amid falling prices for conventional fuels.
"Everyone is in shock about what the new world is going to be," said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology, a California advocacy group. "Surely, renewable energy projects and new technologies are at risk because of their capital intensity."
Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain both promise ambitious programs to develop various kinds of alternative energy to combat global warming and achieve energy independence.
Obama talks of creating five million new jobs in renewable energy and nearly tripling the percentage of the nation's electricity supplied by renewables by 2025. McCain has run television advertisements showing wind turbines and has pledged to make the United States the "leader in a new international green economy."
But after years of rapid growth, the sudden headwinds facing renewables point to slowing momentum and greater dependence on government subsidies, mandates and research financing, at a time when Washington is overloaded with economic problems.
John Woolard, chief executive officer of BrightSource Energy, a solar company, said he believed the long-term future for renewables remained promising, though "right now we are looking at tumultuous and unpredictable capital markets."
Venture capital financing for some advanced solar projects and for experimental biofuels, like ethanol made from plant wastes, is drying up, according to analysts who track investment flows.
At least two wind energy companies have had to delay projects in recent days because of trouble raising capital. Several corn ethanol projects have been delayed for lack of financing in Iowa and Oklahoma since last month, and one plant operator in Ohio filed for bankruptcy protection last week.
Tesla Motors, the maker of battery-powered cars, recently announced it had been forced to delay production of its all-electric Model S sedan, close two offices and lay off workers.
Investment analysts say initial and secondary stock offerings by clean energy companies across global markets have slowed to a crawl since the spring, and for the full year could total less than half of the record $25.4 billion for 2007.
Worldwide project financings for new construction of wind, solar, biofuels and other alternative energy projects this year fell to $17.8 billion in the third quarter, from $23.2 billion in the second quarter, according to New Energy Finance, a research firm in London. The slide is expected to be sharper in the fourth quarter and next year.
In the United States, financing for new projects and venture capital and private equity investments in renewable energy this year might still top last year's results because so much money was in the pipeline at the beginning of the year, but the pace has slowed sharply in the last month.
The next presidential administration, to make good on campaign rhetoric and continue supporting renewables, will have to choose alternative energy over other programs at a time of ballooning deficits. Analysts say that is no sure thing.
"Government funding for renewables is now going to have to compete with levels of government funding in other areas that were unimaginable six months ago," Mark Flannery, an energy analyst for Credit Suisse, said.
The central questions facing renewables now, experts say, are how long credit will be tight and how low oil and natural gas prices will fall. Oil and gas are still relatively expensive by historical standards, but the prices have fallen by half since July. Some economists expect further declines as the economy weakens.
Wall Street analysts say most utilities and other builders can profitably choose big wind projects over gas-fired plants only when gas prices are $8 per thousand cubic feet or higher. Natural gas settled Monday at about $6.79 per thousand cubic feet, down from about $13.58 on July 3.
"Natural gas at $6 makes wind look like a questionable idea and solar power unfathomably expensive," said Kevin Book, a senior vice president at FBR Capital Markets.
Government mandates already on the books, including state rules requiring renewable power generation and U.S. government requirements for production of ethanol, ensure that to some degree, alternative energy markets will continue to exist no matter how low oil and gas prices go. But the credit crisis means some companies that would like to build facilities to meet that demand are going to have problems. "If you can't borrow money, you can't develop renewables," Book said.
Renewable energy now meets 7 percent of the nation's energy needs, and public subsidies have promoted a leap for several alternative energy sources in recent years.
Ethanol is sold nationwide as a gasoline additive, and federal legislation aims to replace a major share of the oil now imported into the United States with domestically produced biofuels in the next 15 years. Enough new wind power was installed in the United States to serve the equivalent of 4.5 million households in 2007, the third year in a row the country led all nations in new wind power.
Renewable energy has become a big business worldwide, with total investment increasing to $148.4 billion last year, from $33.4 billion in 2004, according to Ethan Zindler, head of North American research at New Energy Finance. Zindler said the upward momentum had halted, and that total investment this year was likely to be lower than last.
In the 1970s, just as in recent years, high prices for fossil fuels led to rising interest in renewables. But when oil prices collapsed in the 1980s, the nascent market for renewable energy fell apart, too. Congress eliminated tax credits for solar energy, ethanol could not compete with cheap gasoline and a wind farm boomlet in California failed to catch on in the rest of the country.
The epicenter of investment and development moved to Europe, with its strong government support for renewables, and began shifting back only when heating oil and natural gas prices shot up again in recent years.
There are some differences this time. Coal, another major competitor of renewables, remains expensive and is facing increasing scrutiny over environmental concerns.
Most important, renewable energy entrepreneurs and experts say, is the growing government and public backing for renewable energy in the United States.
"What is driving the market this time is that we're at war and this is a security issue," said Arnold Klann, chief executive of BlueFire Ethanol, a California company that is planning to make ethanol out of garbage with the help of $40 million in financing from the Energy Department.
In its recent financial rescue package, Congress provided $17 billion in tax credits to promote various forms of clean power, for everything from plug-in electric vehicles to projects that will capture and store carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants. Production and investment tax credits were extended for wind energy for one year, geothermal energy for two years and for solar energy for a full eight years.
Meanwhile more than 30 states have enacted standards demanding that utilities generate a minimum proportion typically 10 to 20 percent of their power from renewable sources in the next 5 to 10 years.
But some analysts say the government supports may not be enough to propel continued growth for renewables, noting that several states have already relaxed their goals.
"When they can't meet their targets," Book said, "they change them."
3 oil countries face a reckoning
By Simon Romero, Michael Slackman and Clifford J. Levy
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela: As the price of oil roared to ever higher levels in recent years, the leaders of Venezuela, Iran and Russia muscled their way onto the world stage, using checkbook diplomacy and, on occasion, intimidation.
Now, plummeting oil prices are raising questions about whether the countries can sustain their spending and their bids to challenge United States hegemony.
For all three nations, oil money was a means to an ideological end.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela used it to jump-start a socialist-inspired revolution in his country and to back a cadre of like-minded leaders in Latin America who were intent on eroding once-dominant American influence.
Iran extended its influence across the Middle East, promoted itself as the leader of the Islamic world and used its petrodollars to help defy the West's efforts to block its nuclear program.
Russia, which suffered a humiliating economic collapse in the 1990s after the fall of communism, recaptured some of its former standing in the world. It began rebuilding its military, wrested control of oil and gas pipelines and pushed back against Western encroachment in the former Soviet empire.
But such ambitions are harder to finance when oil is at $74.25 a barrel, its closing price Monday in New York, than when it is at $147, its price as recently as three months ago.
That is not to say that any of the countries is facing immediate economic disaster or will abandon long-held political goals. And the price of oil, still double what was considered high just a few years ago, could always shoot back up.
Still, Russia, Iran and Venezuela have all based their spending on oil prices they thought were conservative but are now close to the market level. Significant further drops could tip the three countries into deficit spending or at least force them to choose among priorities. A worldwide recession, which many economists say is likely, would worsen matters, dampening energy demand and holding down prices.
It is not clear whether the new pressures could create opportunities for the United States to ease tensions, or whether the three countries' leaders will rely more on angry words even if they cannot afford provocative actions. Chávez has continued his overtures to Russia. He, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran may now see the United States, hobbled by financial crisis, as even more vulnerable.
Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said oil states were facing something of a reckoning. Originally, he said, they saw the economic crisis as a problem mainly for the United States but then oil prices went into free fall.
"Now, the producers are experiencing a reverse oil shock," Yergin said. "As revenue went up, government spending went up and expectations of a continuing windfall led to greater and greater ambitions. Now they are finding how integrated they are into this globalized world."
Chávez was emphatic last month when he announced that Venezuela would engage in naval exercises with the Russian Navy in the Caribbean. "Go ahead and squeal, Yanquis," he said. "Russia's naval fleet is welcome here."
The moment, made possible in part by a flood of petrodollars used to buy Russian weaponry, must have been sweet for a man who has spent his presidency wagging his finger at the United States and railing against its capitalist model. Cozying up to Russia, whose leaders have been increasingly at odds with the United States, evoked cold war rivalries in the hemisphere.
Chávez has also used his oil money in direct payments and through subsidized oil shipments to win friends in the hemisphere and elsewhere, including President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who expelled the United States ambassador in La Paz last month, saying the envoy was involved in plotting a coup.
Domestic spending in Venezuela has also surged, through the creation of a wide array of social welfare programs that furthered Chávez's goal of building a socialist-inspired state and suppressed opposition. The 2009 budget, based on $60-a-barrel oil, includes a 23 percent increase in government spending, to $78.9 billion.
At $140 a barrel for oil, that was conservative. With prices now uncomfortably close to $60 a barrel, economists in Venezuela are expressing alarm over the government's ability to pay its bills, including those for arms purchases.
Venezuelans are already struggling with an inflation rate of 36 percent, one of the highest in the world.
Chávez said on Saturday that the country could endure any oil price decline, citing its $40 billion in foreign currency reserves, though he then qualified his remarks by saying that oil prices at $80 to $90 a barrel would be sufficient for his plans.
Still, fears of an impending economic crisis in Venezuela are increasing because of a lack of transparency in public finances and because the economy has grown far more dependent on oil in the decade Chávez has been in power, with seizures of rural estates weakening agricultural output and nationalizations scaring away foreign investors.
"This country will be paralyzed because it is so dependent on petroleum," said Oscar García Mendoza, president of Banco Venezolano de Credito, a private bank.
Anxiety over the economy already helped lead to a sell-off of Venezuelan government bonds, sharply limiting the country's borrowing options.
Last week, Venezuela's embassy in Nicaragua said the Caracas government would postpone construction of a $4 billion oil refinery there. And the national oil company announced that it would tighten the terms for subsidizing oil exports to some Caribbean countries.
"We're in the same situation of people who have lost a limb but can still feel it," said Ricardo Hausmann, a Venezuelan economist who teaches at Harvard University. "I don't know how long it will take for Chávez to realize he's lost a limb."
When President Ahmadinejad presented his budget to Parliament in 2007, the United Nations Security Council had already imposed economic sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program. The president said it did not matter.
"Even if they issue 10 more such resolutions," he said, "it will not affect Iran's economy and politics."
He was partly right. It hardly affected Iran's politics. There was another resolution two months later, and another a year later and still, Iran augmented its nuclear program, even as its economy was squeezed.
One of the main reasons it was able to endure the economic punishment was the price of oil. Iran has the second largest known oil reserves in the world, and it has used them in the past four years as a political and economic weapon to defy and undermine the West while promoting its own agenda.
Oil money helped Iran spread its influence in Iraq. Oil money helped it challenge Arab political dominance in the Middle East. Oil money helped spread its influence in Lebanon, through Hezbollah, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through Hamas.
At home, oil money allowed Iran's ideological hard-liners to preserve their monopoly on power, to buy political allegiances and to offset the fiscal damage of their economic policies. All that may now have to be recalibrated.
"The drop in oil prices will make the Iranian regime re-examine its calculations because its political immunity is less," said Mustafa El-Labbad, director of the East Center for Regional and Strategic Studies, an independent research center in Cairo. "Their regional presence and role will shrink."
Even before the global economic crisis undercut the price of oil, Iran was gripped by an economic crisis. Now, inflation is running at 30 percent, according to the Central Bank. And this month, bazaar merchants, who wield significant political power, went on strike after the government imposed a value-added tax.
Ahmadinejad's way of dealing with the general economic distress has been to increase government spending, primarily through imports. But the International Monetary Fund said in August that Iran faced unsustainable deficits should prices for its oil fall to $75 a barrel.
It is not expected that economics will force Iran to change its underlying ideology or long-term goals. Still, if prices stay depressed for long, it could mean a greater willingness in Tehran to find a compromise on the nuclear issue and, perhaps, a political shift that left Ahmadinejad vulnerable in June's presidential election, analysts said.
"The government has distributed money and has encouraged spending," said Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political analyst in Tehran. "It has given high salaries to its own supporters. They have increased their expectations, and there is no way they can give them less now without making them unhappy. If the government fails to respond to their expectations, it might lead to a crisis."
On a winter day in 2006, Russia suddenly cut off the supply of natural gas to Ukraine, where a pro-Western government had come to power. The Kremlin cited a dispute over prices. But some Western officials said Vladimir Putin, Russia's president at the time and still its paramount leader, was sending a message: Russia was willing to use its vast energy reserves to try to reassert the dominance it lost with the Soviet Union's collapse.
Two months ago, the muted reaction of some European nations to Russia's invasion of Georgia seemed to indicate that Putin's policy was working, some foreign policy analysts said. Europe had become dependent on Russia's gas and could not afford to mount a strong challenge, they said.
Now, however, with gas prices tumbling, this strategy has been thrown into question. Europeans may no longer be as intimidated, knowing that Russia is less able to pressure its customers.
"The more other countries are nervous about their energy security, the better Russia is geopolitically," said Peter Halloran, chief executive of Pharos Financial Group, an investment fund based in Moscow.
Still, at least in terms of its domestic economy, Halloran and other experts said Russia was better positioned to weather lower prices than were many other oil and gas producers, because it had adopted conservative fiscal practices in recent years.
The country deposited a significant portion of its oil revenues into two stabilization funds, which totaled $190 billion at the beginning of this month. The Russian budget is pegged to an oil price of roughly $70 a barrel most revenues exceeding that have gone to these so-called rainy-day funds.
The Kremlin also succeeded in recent years in establishing control over many of the pipelines that transport oil and gas in the region an achievement that will endure despite the lower prices.
The Kremlin has started tapping into its stabilization funds to prop up the banking industry and the stock market, which has been hard hit by the international financial crisis, dropping by more than two-thirds since May. The government may also have to rescue many of Russia's oligarchs, the industrial magnates who were thriving with the high price of natural resources but have now been suffering steep losses.
These bailouts, combined with declining oil and gas revenues, could make it difficult for the Kremlin to carry out plans to modernize the country's aging infrastructure, from highways to schools, and still promote Russian ambitions abroad.
Even so, opposition politicians in Russia said they did not perceive sagging prices as undermining Putin's power.
"I think that it's too early," said Grigory Yavlinsky, an opposition leader. "The crisis at the moment is not related to the population enough. The banks are still open, and unemployment is not yet going higher. It's a threat, but it's only a potential threat."
Gunmen seize Nigerian oil worker's children in delta
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria: Gunmen have kidnapped two children of a Nigerian oil worker in the Niger Delta oil city of Port Harcourt, police said on Tuesday.
The children were being driven to school when they were abducted in the Abuloma area of the city and taken to an unknown location, said Rita Abbey, police spokeswoman for Rivers state, of which Port Harcourt is the capital.
"They were kidnapped this morning by gunmen who were in a black jeep. They are a boy and a girl aged between 7 and 9, children of a Nigerian Shell worker," Abbey said.
Kidnappings are common in the Niger Delta, particularly since armed groups seeking greater control of the region's natural wealth launched a campaign of sabotage against the oil industry in early 2006.
The delta, a vast network of shallow creeks flowing into the Gulf of Guinea, is the hub of Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, which produces around 2 million barrels of crude per day. The unrest has slashed output by around a fifth.
Criminal gangs have taken advantage of the breakdown in law and order, funding themselves through a lucrative trade in stolen oil and frequently kidnapping expatriates, local businessmen and politicians or their relatives, for ransom.
Police said no group had yet claimed responsibility for the latest kidnappings.
About a dozen children of local oil workers and politicians, including toddlers, have been kidnapped around Port Harcourt in the last two years. They were freed unharmed after money changed hands, private security sources and rights groups said.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/ )
(Reporting by Austin Ekeinde; Writing by Tume Ahemba; Editing by Nick Tattersall)
IMF leader issues apology for an affair
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, publicly apologized Monday for "an error of judgment" in an affair with a subordinate, but he denied that he had abused his position.
In an e-mail message sent to staff members after he met with the monetary fund's board, Strauss-Kahn apologized to fund employees; to Piroska Nagy, the woman he had the affair with; and to his wife, Anne Sinclair, a high-profile French television interviewer, for the trouble his actions had caused.
Monetary fund officials said Strauss-Kahn had not resigned.
The scandal has emerged as the IMF is dealing with the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.
It follows the resignation of the president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, who was forced to quit 16 months ago amid a staff uproar over a high-paying promotion he authorized for his companion.
The monetary fund's board of 24 member countries has ordered an investigation by an outside law firm into whether Strauss-Kahn gave preferential treatment to Nagy, a senior economist, before she took a general staff buyout offer in August.
She is now working for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.
"I apologized and said that I very much regret this incident," Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, said in the e-mail message. "Second, while this incident constituted an error of judgment on my part, for which I take full responsibility, I firmly believe that I have not abused my position," he said.
France to allocate broadcast spectrum for mobile services
By Kevin J. O'Brien
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
BERLIN: France on Tuesday presented plans to set aside about a fifth of the country's prime television broadcasting spectrum for mobile Internet and television services by the end of 2009, in what supporters described as a major step toward creating a harmonized mobile broadband network in Europe.
France is the first major European country to reserve part of its most valuable broadcasting spectrum, the so-called UHF band, for mobile broadband and video services. Finland and Sweden have also said they plan to reserve the band for mobile services.
If a Europewide broadband network were to come to fruition, its greater scale would probably push down the cost of Internet services to consumers, especially in rural areas not reached by fast, fixed-line networks. It could also enable large mobile operators to sell services, like mobile TV or mobile broadband, across national borders, further increasing competition and lowering consumer prices.
The move was hailed by mobile operators and by the European Union's telecommunications commissioner, Viviane Reding, who is proposing that her office be given a greater role in influencing how EU countries redistribute the frequency.
Reding's proposal, which would set new rules requiring EU countries to make efficient use of spectrum, passed the European Parliament in a first vote in September. The plan will be taken up by the EU's 27 national telecommunications ministers on Nov. 27.
"I welcome the strong signal from France to use a substantial part of the digital dividend to ensure broadband for all citizens," Reding said in a statement. "This will strengthen Europe's efforts to arrive at such a solution for all EU member states in the very near future."
European countries are individually deciding how to divvy up the so-called digital dividend of spectrum freed as domestic televisioin broadcasters convert to the more compressed digital format through 2015.
While representatives of the mobile industry hailed the move, broadcasting groups were wary.
Walid Sami, a senior engineer at the European Broadcasting Union, which represents 75 publicly owned television and radio broadcasters, called the French move troubling, saying it could disadvantage French broadcasters that needed extra spectrum for high-definition broadcasts, which require more bandwidth.
"We have two concerns, the reduction of the space available to broadcasters to develop their services, such as HD," Sami said. "Also, there is the real possibility there will be interference between the two types of signals."
Mobile operators dispute the contention, saying the two services will not interfere with each other.
Television broadcasters and mobile phone operators, many of which have started selling mobile broadband and mobile video services, have been fighting over the issue of dividing the spectrum in national and international standards setting forums.
The International Telecommunications Union's World Radiocommunications Conference, which sets frequency allocation standards, recommended in November that 18 percent of the UHF band, from 790 megahertz to 862 megahertz, be shared by television broadcasters and mobile operators.
The French plan, disclosed by Eric Besson, a French state secretary responsible for evaluation of public policies, commits France to reserving 72 megahertz of prime spectrum that is currently being used exclusively by television broadcasters - the 790 MHz to 862 MHz band - for mobile broadband services by the end of next year.
Besson said the country's broadcasters would be able to use the remaining portion of the UHF spectrum - 470 MHz to 790 MHz. He said that would still be enough to support 11 terrestrial broadcasters plus two new mobile TV broadcasters, owned either by mobile operators or TV broadcasters.
Sami said the French plan would most likely influence other European nations to make a similar redistribution. Britain, he said, is also leaning toward devoting a portion of that spectrum, from 806 MHz to 862 MHz, for mobile services.
"I think this will definitely have an influence on the others," Sami said.
The low frequency UHF bandwidth is considered prime commercial real estate because broadcasters can transmit signals over great distances without the need for frequent base stations and repeaters, which add to costs.
"The French government has acted decisively by allocating 72 megahertz of spectrum freed up by the switchover to digital television to mobile broadband services, which will reach rural communities that can't be served economically by fixed-line broadband networks," said Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer of the GSM Association, which represents the Continent's mobile operators.
"The rest of Europe should follow France's example as soon as possible."
French assembly approves environment bill
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
PARIS: France's lower house of parliament has almost unanimously adopted an environmental protection bill aimed at fighting global warming.
The bill has passed in a 526-4 vote in the National Assembly after the opposition Socialists agreed to back the measure in a rare show of solidarity with President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives.
Many Communists and Greens were among the 26 lawmakers who abstained from Tuesday's vote. The measure now moves on to the Senate.
The proposal is part of an "ecological New Deal" laid out last year by Sarkozy.
Among its measures are enacting financial penalties for harm to "biodiversity" and plans to phase out by 2010 incandescent light bulbs that consume more energy than fluorescent bulbs.
Iran says no death penalty for youths
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
TEHRAN: Teenagers found guilty of adult capital crimes in Iran will not be sentenced to death, but those committing murder under 18 may still face execution, a judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.
Last week a judicial official suggested Iran was scrapping the death sentence for juveniles on all crimes, drawing praise from Western rights groups, but he subsequently appeared to backtrack.
Asked to clarify Iran's position, judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said Tuesday murderers under 18 could still be sentenced to death because Islamic law requires a victim's family have the right to retribution, or qisas, and the right to commute murder sentences.
"We do not have execution on offences such as smuggling and so on for juveniles with the exception of (those involving) qisas," he said.
Iran has drawn Western criticism for sentencing youths under 18 to death, although Iran says it only carries out such a sentence when the prisoner has reached 18.
"The first point I must say is that no child is under the age of 18 at the time of the execution. Second, there is a difference between qisas and other offences punishable by execution in our legal system," Jamshidi told a news conference.
Drug smuggling and rape are among crimes punishable by death in the Islamic Republic.
"With regard to qisas, ... it is a right regarded in the Koran and other sources of jurisprudence as a private right. The sovereign has no right to intervene unless the next of kin of the person who has been murdered comes forward and forgive."
When New York-based Human Rights Watch welcome last week's announcement that appeared to end all juvenile death sentences, it also cautioned that a similar directive issued in 2004 had not stopped judges issuing death sentences against juveniles.
One Iranian lawyer said past directives issued by the judiciary had often been ignored because judges argued they were in conflict with Iran's sharia, Islamic law.
Iran regularly rejects accusations of rights abuses, saying it is implementing sharia. Tehran usually cites what it says are abuses by Western states to counter their criticism.
Since January 2005, Iran has been responsible for 26 of the 32 known executions of juvenile offenders worldwide, Human Rights Watch said, adding that six juvenile offenders had been executed in 2008.
(Reporting by Reuters Television, writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Matthew Jones)
Execution of Bali bombers is possible, court says
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
JAKARTA, Indonesia: A top Indonesian court rejected a claim by three convicted Bali bombers that the constitution prohibits deaths by firing squad, clearing the way Tuesday for their executions.
The Constitutional Court dismissed their request to be beheaded instead, which they claim is more in line with Islamic law and their defense lawyers argued is less cruel than being shot to death.
"There is no method of execution without pain," said presiding Judge Mohammad Mahfud, outlining the decision.
The defendant's suffering is a logical consequence of the death penalty under Indonesian law and "cannot be categorized as torturing the convict," the nine judge panel concluded.
The October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings killed 202 people, 88 of them Australian tourists.
Convicts Amrozi Nurhasyim, Ali Gufron and Imam Samudra have exhausted all appeals and are expected to be executed this year. They have shown no remorse and have said their deaths would be avenged.
The bombings carried out by the regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah thrust Southeast Asia onto the front line of the war on terror.
Indonesia has since suffered three smaller attacks, the last also on Bali in 2005, but foreign diplomats, analysts and authorities agree that the threat level is significantly lower today.
War crimes charges dismissed in 5 Guantánamo cases
By William Glaberson
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The Pentagon official in charge of prosecutions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, dismissed war crimes charges Tuesday against five detainees, the latest setback to the government's military commission system.
The official, Susan Crawford, has broad power over the military commission tribunals, including the power to dismiss charges, but she does not have to provide public explanations for her decisions and did not Tuesday.
But a statement from her office said that the charges against the five were dismissed without prejudice, which means "the government can raise the charges again at a later time."
After the decision was announced, Colonel Lawrence Morris, the chief military prosecutor, said that supervising lawyers in his office had asked Crawford to withdraw the charges. He said all five would be resubmitted after a review of their files, which had been handled by a prosecutor who left the office after questioning the judicial fairness at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo.
The best-known of the five detainees is Binyam Mohammed, a former British resident who claimed that harsh torture methods had been used against him. Government officials have accused him of taking part in a plan to attack the United States with a radioactive dirty bomb.
The Bush administration has long said that it would like to close the detention camp, where 255 detainees are being held on the naval station at Guantánamo Bay. But officials have said in recent days that no action will likely be taken before the end of Bush's term in January. One reason they cited was uncertainty about how legal cases against the remaining detainees would be handled inside the United States.
Crawford also dismissed without prejudice charges that had been presented to her against four other detainees: Noor Uthman Muhammed, Sufyiam Barhoumi, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, and Jabran Said Bin al Qahtani.
All five cases had been handled by Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a military prosecutor who stepped down from his position in September, saying publicly that there were systemic problems in the prosecution that raised ethical issues. Vandeveld, an army reserve officer and the latest person to quit the prosecutor's office in Guantánamo, said the prosecutors did not fully comply with rules to turn over any information that might help the defense.
Morris, the prosecutor, has denied that Vandeveld's departure was related to a dispute about complying with legal rules for the proper handling of cases.
"I don't want to unduly attribute responsibility to him," Morris said of reviewing the files handled by Vandeveld. "We have found that there is more work to be done on all these cases." He said he had recently appointed new prosecutors to each of the cases.
But detainees' lawyers cast the decision to withdraw the charges as the latest in a series of difficulties that government lawyers have had in pressing cases against Guantánamo detainees.
"My impression is it is just a mess, and the floor is collapsing underneath them," said Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve, an international legal organization that represents many detainees, including Binyam Mohammed.
Vandeveld has said recently that he was ordered by superiors not to comment on the cases and did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.
A military defense lawyer for other cases, Major David Frakt, said the decision to re-evaluate the five cases showed that the military had been shaken by Vandeveld's assertion that there were widespread questions about the Guantánamo system's fairness.
Frakt, who is in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, recalled Vandeveld arguing there were difficulties with the way each of the cases he had worked on had been handled. "He said there are systemic problems across the board and he's on all these cases," Frakt said, suggesting that may have been why the cases were dismissed Tuesday.
U.S. terror suspect held in harsh conditions
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Christine Kearney
An American student who became the first person extradited to the United States from Britain on terrorism charges is being subjected to inhumane prison conditions, his lawyer argued on Tuesday.
Syed Hashmi, 28, arrested in June 2006 at Heathrow airport and extradited to New York, is being held in solitary confinement, including a 23-hour-a-day lock-down in his cell.
He is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to supporting al Qaeda by holding items such as ponchos, raincoats and waterproof socks in his London apartment for use by al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
Hashmi, also known as Fahad, faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.
In a letter dated Tuesday, his lawyer asked U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey not to renew restrictions that include limited family visits and a ban on listening to broadcast news programs. The conditions are due to lapse next week.
"We are very concerned about the effects that complete isolation has on a person. This is sensory deprivation over an extended period of time," Hashmi's lawyer Sean Maher said in a telephone interview.
The letter was supported by two U.S. legal advocacy organizations that also wrote to Mukasey.
While it is not unusual for terrorism suspects in the United States to be held under such conditions, Maher said Hashmi's case was less serious.
"The allegation is he let someone stay in his apartment and that person had a suitcase with raincoats and ponchos. He is not alleged to be a member of al Qaeda," Maher said. "We are talking about socks here."
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan had no comment.
Prosecutors say the case against Hashmi is "extremely serious" and that he had been a member of Al-Muhajiroun, a defunct British-based Islamist extremist group.
They say Hashmi held the gear on behalf of his former friend turned government informant Mohammed Junaid Babar, knowing Babar was passing it and money on to senior al Qaeda commander Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, who is now held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Babar, the main informant, is cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty in New York in 2004 to smuggling money, night vision goggles and sleeping bags to al Qaeda.
Babar also testified as an informant against five Britons convicted in London in April of plotting bomb attacks on targets such as nightclubs and trains.
Hashmi, who moved to the United States from Pakistan at age 3, spoke at campus rallies at a Brooklyn college against U.S. policies. He moved to London in 2003 and received a master's degree in international relations from London Metropolitan University in 2005, his lawyer said.
Several parts of his court proceedings have been closed to the public and reporters after U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled some of the evidence in the case was classified.
(Editing by Michelle Nichols and John O'Callaghan)
Afghans spare journalism student accused of blasphemy
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
KABUL: An Afghan appeals court on Tuesday overturned a death sentence for a journalism student accused of blasphemy for asking questions in class about women's rights under Islam. Instead, the judges sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
The case against the journalist, 24-year-old Parwez Kambakhsh, whose brother has angered Afghan warlords with his own writings, has come to symbolize Afghanistan's slide toward an ultraconservative view on religious and individual freedoms.
"I don't accept the court's decision," Kambakhsh said as he was leaving the courtroom. "It is an unfair decision."
The case can be appealed to the Afghan Supreme Court.
John Dempsey, an American lawyer who has been working for six years to reform the Afghan justice system, said Kambakhsh had yet to get a fair trial.
"Procedurally, he did not have many of his rights respected," said Dempsey, who attended the trial. "He was detained far longer than he should have been legally held. The defense lawyer was not even allowed to meet the witnesses until a night before the trial."
Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and writing for local newspapers when he was arrested in October 2007.
Besides the accusation that Kambakhsh disrupted class with his questions, prosecutors also said he illegally distributed an article he printed off the Internet that asks why Islam does not modernize to give women equal rights. He is also accused of writing his own comments on the paper.
In January, a lower court sentenced him to death in a trial that critics have called flawed in part because Kambakhsh had no lawyer representing him.
Muslim clerics welcomed that court's decision, and public demonstrations were held against the journalism student because of perceptions that he had violated the tenets of Islam.
On Tuesday, five witnesses from Mazar-i-Sharif - two students and three teachers - appeared before the three-judge panel.
The first witness, a student who gave only one name, Hamid, told the court that he had been forced into making a statement accusing Kambakhsh of blasphemy by members of the Afghan intelligence service and by a professor. He said the professor threatened him with expulsion.
Other witnesses, however, testified that Kambakhsh had violated tenets of Islam.
The head of the panel in the Tuesday proceedings, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, struck down the lower court's death penalty and sentenced Kambakhsh to 20 years behind bars.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the sentence.
"Even though Kambakhsh's death penalty was overturned, today's sentencing is a great disappointment and a setback for the rights of free expression in Afghanistan," Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the organization, said in a statement.
The committee said earlier that it was concerned that Kambakhsh might have been targeted because his brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, had written about human rights violations and local politics.
Ibrahimi said Tuesday that his brother was sentenced because of the pressure from warlords and other strongmen in northern Afghanistan, whom he has criticized in his writings.
Denmark convicts 2 of terrorism
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
COPENHAGEN: Two men who were secretly filmed mixing the type of explosive used in the 2005 London transit bombings were convicted Tuesday of preparing a terrorist attack.
Hammad Khuershid, a Danish citizen of Pakistani origin, and Abdoulghani Tokhi, an Afghan, were sentenced to 12 and 7 years in prison, respectively.
They were arrested in an anti-terrorism operation last year after Danish agents filmed them conducting a small test blast with triacetone triperoxide, which was used by the suicide bombers who killed 52 London commuters.
Prosecutors said it was not clear whether Khuershid and Tokhi were preparing an attack abroad or in Denmark, which has been repeatedly threatened by Islamic extremists over newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Investigators found handwritten bomb-making manuals in the men's homes that prosecutors said Khuershid had copied at the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad.
They said he had ties to an operative of Al Qaeda and had also spent time in the Pakistani region of Waziristan, a militant stronghold near the Afghan border. Khuershid has admitted that he was in Waziristan, but denies receiving any military training.
Khuershid and Tokhi, who were arrested in the Copenhagen area in September 2007, had pleaded not guilty and said the explosive was to be used for fireworks. They sat motionless as the City Court in Glostrup, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, handed down the guilty verdict.
The court said during sentencing that Tokhi, who has a Danish residence permit, would be expelled after serving his sentence.
Defense lawyers for both suspects said they would appeal the ruling.
Denmark's PET security police force put the men under surveillance after receiving a tip from a foreign intelligence agency. PET agents monitored their phone and computer communication and installed video cameras in Khuershid's home.
One surveillance video, played in court, showed the men mixing and testing a very small amount of triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.
The head of PET, Jakob Scharf, said the ruling confirmed that the arrests had prevented a terrorist attack. He called it "a serious case which illustrates that there are people and circles in Denmark that have the will and the ability to commit acts of terror."
The Danish police say they have thwarted a series of terrorist attacks in recent years.
In February, officers arrested two Tunisian men suspected of plotting to kill the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew one of the Muhammad caricatures that sparked violent protests in Muslim countries in 2006.
Neither suspect was prosecuted. One was deported and the other was released Monday after an immigration board rejected PET's efforts to expel him from Denmark.
Pakistan says it needs billions in aid to avert financial crisis
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan requires $10 billion to $15 billion of support from foreign lenders to avert a balance of payments crisis, a government adviser said Tuesday.
"In 24 months, we must correct the imbalance we have created," Shaukat Tarin, economic adviser to the prime minister, told Dawn News television.
Islamabad, with its the central bank holding barely enough foreign currency to cover six weeks of imports, was expected to seek a multibillion-dollar rescue package from the International Monetary Fund at a meeting in Dubai later Tuesday. Other donors are expected to help if the IMF paves the way and approves Pakistan's economic strategy.
Pakistan has already approached the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other possible donors, including Saudi Arabia and China, for support.
Inflation in Pakistan is running at close to 25 percent, and the budget deficit is unsustainable, while government borrowing from the central bank has squeezed liquidity in the banking system and the international bond market has priced in a debt default.
"The talks that are now taking place today will ensure that the Fund can act quickly should there come a request from the Pakistani authorities," said a person in Dubai with knowledge of the discussions but who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivities surrounding the talks.
Consultations with the IMF, taking place in the Gulf because of security concerns in Pakistan, are expected for several days. Last month, an IMF team left Islamabad in a hurry after a suicide bomber killed 55 people and destroyed the Marriott hotel.
The civilian government, which is seven months old and led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has been trying to get IMF endorsement for its economic strategies to persuade other multilateral lenders and friendly countries to come to its rescue. But the government has not wanted to take IMF money unless there is no other option.
Potential donor governments are also scheduled to meet in Abu Dhabi next month, but Tarin emphasized Saturday the urgency of the Pakistani situation by saying Pakistan needed action within 30 days. His remarks Tuesday were made on Pakistani television Tuesday before the Dubai meeting.
Concerns about stability in the Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, virtually guarantee the government a sympathetic hearing at the IMF. Pakistan's support is considered crucial in the campaign against Islamist militancy and for the NATO-led mission to stabilize Afghanistan.
Analysts say Islamabad needs as much as $3 billion to $4 billion urgently to stabilize the economy, though the total financing gap for the balance of payments has been projected at about $7 billion for the fiscal year that ends on June 30, 2009. Falling oil prices have helped ease the burden, but there will be another hefty financing gap to cover in the 2010 fiscal year.
Meekal Ahmed, a former economist with the IMF, said the government should work urgently to present its economic package. He said the IMF would probably ask Pakistan to tighten up its proposals. The fastest prescription, Ahmed said, is to "cut development spending, cut current spending, cut defense spending."
Ahmed said that regardless of the security crisis, Zardari should overrule resistance from the Pakistani Army to making sacrifices because military spending was the big-ticket item weighing on the budget.
He said Pakistani economists had also recommended taxation of agriculture and the services sector, which should include real estate and the stock market, regardless of its current fragility.
Pakistan's landed aristocracy has long resisted a tax on agriculture despite past pressures from the IMF and elsewhere.
Deep ambivalence among Pakistani lawmakers over fighting militants
By Jane Perlez
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
ISLAMABAD: An unusual parliamentary debate organized to forge a national policy on how to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda has exposed deep ambivalence about the militants, even as their reach extends to suicide attacks in the capital.
In one of his first initiatives as president, Asif Ali Zardari called the session in an effort to mobilize Pakistan's political parties and its public to support the fight against the militants, which he has now called Pakistan's war.
But instead, the nearly two weeks of closed sessions have been dominated by calls for dialogue with the Taliban and peppered with opposition to what lawmakers condemned as a war foisted on Pakistan by the United States, according to participants.
The tenor of the debate has highlighted the difficulties facing both Zardari and Washington as they urgently try to focus Pakistan's full attention on the militant threat at a time when the Pakistani military is locked in heavy fighting in the tribal areas.
Zardari's predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, who was long both president and leader of the army, never consulted Parliament, and he - as well as the fight against the militants - came to be seen as tools of U.S. policy and grew increasingly unpopular.
By contrast, Zardari, as the newly elected leader of Pakistan's fledgling civilian government, will need the backing of Parliament and the public if he is to live up to his pledge to fight terrorism, which he made during a visit to Washington this month.
But the Parliamentary proceedings, which included criticism of a lengthy military briefing by a senior general on the conduct of the war, showed that Pakistani politicians had little stomach for battling the militants.
In one sign, Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, sent a letter on Monday to the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, calling for dialogue with the militants.
The letter suggested a halt in military operations while negotiations were given a chance, according to Ahsan Iqbal, an aide to Sharif.
In an interview last week, Sharif said, "What is wrong with talking?"
He said a distinction had to be made between the Taliban, whose members could be talked to, and Al Qaeda, whose adherents could not. A national committee should be formed to decide whom Pakistan should negotiate with, Sharif said.
Differentiating between the two groups was one of the themes of the debate, according to participants, on the grounds that Qaeda members are outsiders to Pakistan and the Taliban are mostly Pashtuns living in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Even the suicide bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which killed more than 50 people last month, did not provide much of a call to arms.
"I thought the Marriott would change everyone's attitude, but it has not," said Farook Saleem, a newspaper columnist who supports fighting the militants.
The speeches in Parliament expressed so much opposition to fighting the militants that it was doubtful that the governing Pakistan People's Party could engineer an "appropriate resolution," said Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali, a senior member of the party and a former foreign minister.
A religious party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, part of the coalition with the Pakistan People's Party, voiced particularly strong opposition to the war against the militants, said Ali, of the Pakistan People's Party.
"They want the army to pull out of everything and start talks with the militants in North and South Waziristan, in Swat," Ali said.
The army is fighting the Taliban in Swat, a settled region of North-West Frontier Province, and has fought the Taliban in Waziristan, an area of the tribal belt, which borders the province.
It is possible, Ali said, that the divergent opinions within the coalition will produce a parliamentary resolution that is "so hugely diluted that the whole exercise is left futile."
Behind the scenes, the idea of a parliamentary debate was encouraged by the leader of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as a way to garner political support for the military efforts, according to two Pakistanis familiar with his thinking.
The Pakistani military began a campaign against the Taliban and its Qaeda backers in the tribal area of Bajaur two months ago, an effort that U.S. commanders have applauded as a way to stop the militants from crossing into Afghanistan and attacking U.S. forces.
At a news conference in Islamabad on Monday, the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Richard Boucher, called the "tough actions" of the Pakistanis "very impressive."
At a cabinet meeting attended by Kayani in late July, the civilian government gave the military permission for operations against the militants.
But Kayani was eager for a parliamentary debate that would show that the army was responding to civilian government, according to the Pakistanis who spoke to Kayani.
Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the director general of military operations for the Pakistani Army, who has been selected to lead the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, briefed a joint session of Parliament two weeks ago.
The presence of a senior general appearing before the Parliament was viewed in much of the Pakistani news media as an encouraging, if small, sign of civilian control of the military.
Over four hours, Pasha described what the army had done in campaigns against militants over seven years, showed images of militants slaughtering civilians, and said more than 1,500 Pakistani soldiers had died in the operations, according to Parliament members.
But the briefing was poorly received by politicians, who said it revealed little that was new. Lawmakers also criticized Pasha for not offering a strategy for the future.
Attendance was also poor. The Senate and the National Assembly comprise 442 members, but on one day last week only 40 were on hand, and the speaker, Fahmida Mirza, admonished the politicians for being so desultory.
Zardari was away on a trip to China last week, and his absence appeared, symbolically at least, to undermine the debate.
In their speeches, the politicians emphasized the need for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, said Jehangir Tareen, the leader of a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League.
"The sense of the house is that there is no military solution to this," Tareen said. "This is not a war we want to be part of. There is a sentiment that we are being pushed to do all this by the United States. We want this war to end."
U.S. plane crashes in Afghanistan
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
KABUL: A U.S. navy patrol plane was destroyed Tuesday when it overshot the runway while landing at a base north of the Afghan capital, but none of the crew was seriously hurt, the U.S. military said.
"A Navy P-3 Orion airplane overshot the runway surface while landing at Bagram Air Field. The airplane sustained serious structural and fire damage," a military statement said. One crew member suffered a broken ankle.
The incident was under investigation, it said.
Bagram is the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, located just north of Kabul.
The P-3 Orion is a patrol aircraft used primarily for maritime patrol, reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; editing by Roger Crabb)
NATO Afghan political will "wavering"
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Luke Baker
NATO members are wavering in their political commitment to Afghanistan, one of the alliance's top commanders said on Monday, describing the nearly seven-year-old campaign against the Taliban as disjointed.
Pointing to more than 70 "caveats" that gave individual countries a veto over certain operations, and the fact that troop commitments remained unfulfilled, General John Craddock said he was fearful the operation was being short-changed.
"We are demonstrating a political will that is in my judgement sometimes wavering," Craddock, a U.S. general and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said in a speech to policymakers and defence analysts in London.
"It's this wavering political will that impedes operational progress and brings into question the relevance of the alliance here in the 21st century," he said.
NATO troops serve in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate. That mandate initially limited their operations to Kabul but in 2003 was expanded to give NATO a wider role to support the Afghan government throughout the country.
As insecurity has increased in Afghanistan, NATO troops have steadily been drawn into more deadly operations, a factor that has dissuaded some countries from deeper involvement.
Craddock told Sky News television more British troops would be needed in Afghanistan's Helmand province but the precise number had yet to be decided.
"That will be up to the commander on the ground but the situation in Helmand province I think is critical," he said. "That's the key area for the production of poppy, it is a key area for the insurgency."
Insecurity has led farmers to switch from producing food to opium, a crop that also funds the Taliban insurgency. Helmand produced about half the world's opium last year.
SECURITY AT STALEMATE
Craddock told Sky Afghan reconstruction and development was moving ahead slowly and needed to be more coherent.
"I do not think we are losing, we are not winning fast enough," Sky's website quoted him as saying. "Security is at a stalemate. Governance is stuck top dead centre."
In his earlier speech, Craddock defended the view expressed by Britain's outgoing commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, that the Taliban could not be defeated and insurgents needed to be drawn into dialogue.
"His comments are generally in line with what our military and political leaders have been saying all along... The conflict in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means alone," said Craddock, who serves as NATO's operational commander.
"We in the international community must come together as part of a truly comprehensive approach (in Afghanistan). The current effort remains disjointed in time and space."
The 26-member NATO alliance has about 50,000 troops in Afghanistan but commanders say they need at least 12,000 more. Most NATO countries are reluctant to commit.
Afghanistan is widely seen as more precarious than Iraq, with the Taliban becoming more sophisticated in its ability to carry out ambushes and bombings. Yet there are half as many foreign troops operating in Afghanistan as there are in Iraq, a country that is smaller than Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Jon Boyle; editing by Andrew Dobbie)
France to host regional Afghan meeting by year-end
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
PARIS: France will host an informal meeting between Afghanistan and its neighbours before year's end in hopes of stabilising the violence-wracked country, the French foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Attacks on Afghan government forces and NATO troops supporting them have been on the upswing this year, as have been fighting in neighbouring Pakistan between government troops and insurgents who operate on both sides of the border.
Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier told a weekly news briefing that the meeting will "explore cooperation between Afghanistan and its immediate neighbours on several subjects, including political, economic, trade... and also security."
It would focus on countries bordering Afghanistan, but others may also participate.
"We'll see if, in a broader way, other actors can be included and associated, at a different level and with different modalities -- for example members of the P5 or other actors," he said, referring to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council known as the P5.
Afghanistan borders on China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Leaders from NATO, Britain and the United States have said that military means alone are not enough to win the war in Afghanistan, where the 26-member NATO alliance has about 50,000 troops but where commanders say they need at least 12,000 more.
The land-locked country produced 93 percent of the world's opium in 2007, and the cross-border drug trade has helped fund the Taliban's insurgency.
An Afghan donor conference held in Paris in June highlighted the need for regional cooperation and called on Afghanistan's neighbours to support efforts to stabilise the country and secure its borders. Chevallier said the regional meeting would help further these objectives.
A French official said on condition of anonymity that the meeting would resemble a gathering of Lebanese political leaders held outside Paris last year.
Chevallier said the meeting will "probably be held at ministerial level," adding that it would take place "before the end of the French presidency" of the European Union in January.
(Reporting by Brian Rohan; editing by Michael Roddy)
Bomb blast kills 14 in India's remote northeast
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Biswajyoti Das
At least 14 people were killed and nearly 40 wounded when a powerful bomb exploded on Tuesday in India's troubled northeast, police said.
The device, thought to have been hidden in a bicycle near a high security police commando training centre in Imphal, the capital of Manipur state, killed two people on the spot.
"We are yet to identify the dead and are not sure if any policemen were among those killed," Radheshyam, a senior police officer, who goes by one name said in Imphal.
Police officers present at the spot said severed limbs and body parts were scattered outside the police training facility.
Security forces cordoned off the area and bomb experts picked up broken pieces of metal for examination, while policemen tried to keep curious locals away, police said.
Tuesday's bomb attack was the most lethal in recent times in Imphal. Rebels frequently target heavily guarded residential areas of ministers and senior officials with bomb or grenade attacks, police officer Radheshyam said.
"The blast has caused panic in the city and for the first time there have been so many civilian casualties," Prem Singh, a local resident told Reuters by telephone.
No separatist group has claimed responsibility for the blast but police suspect the separatist People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) carried out the attack.
On Sunday, a grenade exploded close to Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's heavily fortified residence but there were no casualties.
A spokesman for PREPAK, which last month fired a shell at Singh's fortified house, on Tuesday said the group was responsible for Sunday's attack.
India's northeast, comprising eight states, has seen separatist and tribal insurgencies for the past 60 years. Militant groups accuse New Delhi of plundering the region's mineral and forest resources but investing little in return.
The region is home to more than 200 tribes and ethnic groups.
(Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Jon Boyle)
As stress grows, modern Chinese turn to Western psychotherapy
By Dune LawrenceBloomberg News
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
BEIJING: When Li Xianyun began working as a psychiatrist at Hui Long Guan Hospital in Beijing in 1991, she did not discuss her job in public. People thought it was strange, she says, and they assumed she worked in an insane asylum. Now, those she meets are eager to learn more about her profession.
"If I tell them I'm a psychiatrist and talk about my job, they show their admiration," said Li, 40. "They want my suggestion on how to raise children and how to deal with all kinds of difficulties."
In the past 30 years, China's Communist system of government-assigned jobs and apartments has become a capitalist free-for-all, with cutthroat competition for education and work and a widening gap between rich and poor. To cope with the stress, some people are turning to a Western tool: psychotherapy.
This is a radical shift in a nation where focus on the individual was discouraged by both socialist ideology and traditional culture.
"There are great changes happening in Chinese society, and people are more open and pay more attention to their inner mind," says Zheng Yu, a therapist in Chengdu, about 1,500 kilometers, or 930 miles, southwest of Beijing.
Job pressures may be a contributing factor. Fifty-one percent of Chinese respondents to a survey by Hudson Highland Group reported higher work stress than a year ago. It is the second consecutive year in which China has registered the highest stress levels in Asia, the recruitment firm, based in New York, said in a report in October.
"When some people get rich, they say, 'I'm successful, but I'm still unhappy,"' said Kathy Li, 37, who quit working in media in 2005 to start her own counseling business in Beijing. "People are realizing more and more what can make them happy is not from the outside world but from the inside."
The May earthquake in Sichuan Province, which killed an estimated 87,500 people, has added to the demand for psychotherapy. Government officials called for help from specialists in other countries to treat the psychological, as well as physical, trauma from the disaster.
The need for outside assistance exposed the shortage of resources in China. The country has only 30,000 professional therapists and counselors in a population of 1.3 billion. World Health Organization figures show 1.3 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people in China, compared with 13.7 per 100,000 in the United States.
"You can see there's a big gap," Kathy Li said.
International cooperation is providing opportunities for training. The nonprofit China American Psychoanalytic Alliance has enrolled 57 Chinese in a two-year program taught by Americans using Internet telephone service.
American therapists are also providing training through the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center, where Li Xianyun, the psychiatrist, works.
Psychotherapy, which gained an entry in China with the country's first psychology institute in 1917, was disparaged as unscientific after the Communists took power in 1949. It was banned during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong, which ended in 1976.
China's traditional culture values "saving face," which means emphasizing the positive and addressing embarrassing issues obliquely. This approach conflicts with the process of openly discussing problems that is inherent to most psychotherapy.
Custom also emphasizes individual contributions to the group, especially the family, rather than self-fulfillment. The Communist era only deepened that idea, promoting love of the party and country over personal relationships.
Kathy Li said she did not receive any psychotherapy training in medical school. She uses counseling with many of her clients, partly because the Chinese also have a cultural aversion to drugs.
"People tell me, 'I don't want to take medication; drugs have significant side effects,"' she said.
Four days a week, Zheng Yu, the Chengdu therapist, lies down on a couch in his office and uses Skype to call his psychoanalyst 12 time zones away in New York, a routine he began in 2005. Zheng, 38, is oriented toward psychoanalysis, which was developed by Sigmund Freud a century ago in Vienna.
He says Freud's theory of family dynamics - based symbolically on the Greek myth of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother - dovetails with the problems of his Chinese clients who are only-children struggling to gain independence from overprotective parents.
The current global financial crisis may raise pressure on China's economy - and increase potential demand for therapy - if a slowdown in U.S. and European consumer spending has repercussions in the export-dependent country.
As more Chinese turn to counseling, Li Xianyun worries that people may develop overblown expectations.
Many now "treat psychotherapy as some miracle," she says. They will need to understand it is more like medical science: "Psychotherapy cannot resolve every problem."
Britain's boom is over and not everybody minds
By Sarah Lyall
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
LONDON: The expensive stores along Bond Street and Sloane Street have fallen eerily quiet. So have the cheaper ones scattered all over town, the Monsoons and the Topshops and the Next outlets - ubiquitous staples of the insatiable British shopping diet. Britons, like everyone else, are coming down from their huge spending spree.
But mass consumer culture is relatively recent here. Britain's modern identity was forged in part by postwar values like thrift, prudence and living within your means. Even as alarm courses through the country like an electric current, there is a parallel thought in the air.
It is this: Perhaps the downturn, however difficult, will usher in a return to that elusive concept, traditional British values. Perhaps the last 15 years or so will be considered a sort of madness, an anomaly, a strange dream. Perhaps people will lower their widely inflated expectations and stop their habit of wanting things - whatever they are almost does not matter - that are flashier, bigger and better.
"I think there is a mood of austerity," Vince Cable, finance spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party, said in a recent speech, talking about society as a whole as well as the banking system. "A reaction against greed, excess, waste, tax cheating and selfish, self-indulgent behavior."
Already, people are losing their jobs and houses, and businesses are failing across Britain; the downturn is going to be very bad. But what is striking about the past era is that much of the incredible boom in consumer spending was stimulated by people who, even in good times, could not afford the things they were buying.
Buoyed by easy credit and inflated property prices, the British public spent itself into debt, a total of £1.44 trillion, or $2.56 trillion, of it. Britons now owe, on average, 180 percent of their disposable income. One-third of consumer debt in all of Europe is held by people in Britain, said Chris Tapp, deputy director of Credit Action, which counsels people about how to handle debt.
Audrey Hurren, a retired secretary of 65 who was waiting for the subway in central London the other day, put it a different way.
"I think it wouldn't do any harm at all for some of the younger generation to be less greedy," she said. "It's not a very nice thing to say, but maybe they could behave a little more sensibly."
Hurren was raised just after World War II believing that if you couldn't afford it, you didn't buy it. By contrast, she said, her granddaughters have more than she ever dreamed of, and are still dissatisfied.
"They don't appreciate anything - it's easy come, easy go," she said. "They get a mobile phone; if they don't like it, they throw it away and get a new one."
In an interview, Tapp said that different generations were likely to respond to the downturn, which is now being called a recession in Britain, in different ways.
People in their 30s and younger, too young to remember the last recession in the early 1990s, have grown up in a world "where credit has always been cheap and easy and available," he said.
For them, there is no precedent for frugality.
The austerity of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the privations of the 1970s - when electricity was briefly rationed and the country put on a three-day work week to save fuel - are stories to read about in books.
"The idea of saving up for what you buy - that's what you did when there weren't any credit cards," Tapp said.
In the boom years, the so-called soft sections of London newspapers grew fat on articles about ever more expensive goods and services geared toward the conspicuously consuming masses. But suddenly, even the papers are talking as if they have woken up with a jolt after a long drug-and-sugar binge.
"I am happy to observe that the decades of vulgar excess are finally over," the columnist India Knight wrote in The Times of London. "There is a strong collective sense of us all coming back down to earth. It's like a huge national reality check and, unwelcome as it may be, there is a possibility that it will result in us straightening out our priorities."
The left-leaning Guardian, whose detractors lampoon it as the kind of newspaper that encourages you to "knit your own lunch," has begun printing guides to surviving in the new age of austerity: cultivating an urban garden, cooking with leftovers, using less energy.
The Times recently featured an article about how to make old clothes newly fashionable by, for instance, cutting the sleeves off coats (and wearing the coats over long-sleeved sweaters). Another article, in the Sunday Times, offered tips on "Fifty Ways to be a Recessionista."
The author David Kynaston, whose book "Austerity Britain" discusses the privations of the post-World War II era, said that until the mid-1980s - the Thatcher era - Britain was "careful, cautious, understated, naturally socially conservative."
But, he added in an interview, "In the 1980s, there was essentially a psychic shift in how to use money. What went out the window was the old puritan self-consciousness, even a sense of guilt, about money."
After the recovery following the recession in the early 1990s, everything changed even faster.
Spending was glorified; so was borrowing. Banks began offering 125 percent mortgages. Credit card debt soared. In a recent book, the psychiatrist Oliver James complained that the country was suffering from "affluenza."
People got used to more expensive things. Organic food was presented as a necessity for good health; supermarkets emphasized "luxury" ranges of foods. Britons abandoned traditional seashore vacations and began flying to Europe. Upmarket sandwich shops appeared across London, replacing the old, humble ones. The need for new gadgets at home soared.
All of that feels expendable now, Allison Burton, a 31-year-old hairdresser, said in an interview.
She mentioned a friend whose husband had just lost his job.
"She wrote down what their outgoings were and managed to save herself a grand a month," Burton said, by doing things like switching to a less-expensive cable-channel package.
Stores are now marketing themselves on the basis of cost rather than quality or exclusivity. Supermarkets have unveiled new no-frills foods and pledged to match their rivals' low prices. Tesco has refashioned itself as "Britain's biggest discounter."
Lindie Parry, 25, a transportation project manager walking down Victoria Street with her husband, James Bain, 40, said she had begun shopping at less-expensive supermarkets. Bain said that people were remembering that they could often get free coffee at work - not as good as Starbucks, but coffee nonetheless - and that bringing lunch from home was cheaper than buying it in a shop.
"It was great while it lasted," Parry said of the boom time, "but nothing lasts forever."
In Hollywood, the Wall Street villain returns
By Brooks Barnes
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
LOS ANGELES: Just a few months ago, Lifetime Television started adapting the Candace Bushnell novel "Trading Up" into a movie, figuring an aspirational story about the entitled rich and their limousine culture nailed the cultural moment.
The setting would be New York, of course — or, as it is described by Bushnell, a city where "the streets seemed to sparkle with the gold dust filtered down from a billion trades in a boomtown economy."
Time for a rewrite.
Suddenly, across Hollywood, the stock market is not such a sexy subject anymore — at least not in a yearning sense. "Overnight, it was like the script had been written two years ago," said Arturo Interian, Lifetime's vice president for original movies. Interian is still keen on the movie, with one major revision: fewer discussions about stock, more about playing it safe with bonds. And how about throwing in a pariah chief exective?
As they have watched their 401(k)'s shrivel in recent weeks, entertainment executives have started to grapple with how best to reflect the global economic crisis in movie and television story lines, or whether to bring the topic up at all.
The last time Wall Street stumbled badly — when the high-tech bubble burst — Hollywood delivered movies like "Antitrust," featuring a Bill Gates-styled villain who literally kills for profits, and small-budget efforts like "Boiler Room," about soul-destroying stock hustlers.
Not long after the 1987 crash, Wall Street villains were so plentiful that no one blinked an eye when the reason given for Patrick Swayze's murder in "Ghost" was that an office mate simply wanted his computer password.
This time around, some television outlets like Lifetime — and the "ripped from the headlines" television series "Law & Order" — are trying to remain as topical as possible by tweaking their programming and marketing on the fly.
Martha Stewart has already incorporated a new money-saving segment into her daily how-to program. Stewart said in an e-mail message that she had directed her company to develop content that would "get viewers through these tough economic times."
At 20th Century Fox, a blue-collar television comedy called "Two-Dollar Beer" is suddenly prominent, while the movie division just escalated production of a previously announced sequel to "Wall Street," Oliver Stone's 1987 portrait of out-of-control corporate raiders. A new writer will reshape the sequel's story line to reflect the recent turmoil of the financial markets.
Other pockets of Hollywood are going in the opposite direction, looking for scripts that offer pure escapism. Film studios in particular are saying that they want more silly comedies and even musicals. Ideas set in fantasy worlds are "all some studios want to hear about," said Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning screenwriter whose next film is a James Bond picture, "Quantum of Solace."
The modern movie and television factory works much farther in advance than it did in decades past, limiting the ability for studios and networks to quickly reflect the economic chaos on screen.
Studio movies often take up to three years to move from conception to release because of the increasingly complicated financing required by soaring production and marketing costs. Films about the 2003 Iraq invasion, executives note, did not start arriving in force until 2007.
A typical television series is prepared about seven episodes in advance, which is not a big change from years past, but the allotment of those episodes has shifted drastically. Networks broadcast so many reruns between fresh episodes — a cost-saving strategy — that anything produced now has almost no chance of being shown until February or March.
"If we put in references to the economy now, it could be totally outdated by the time those episodes air," said Mark Pedowitz, president of ABC Studios, which produces the drama "Dirty Sexy Money."
Pedowitz said he envisioned no tweaks to the format of that show, which revolves around a fabulously wealthy New York family. (It may be a moot point anyway; the series is struggling in the ratings and faces cancellation soon if its audience continues to decline.)
CW, which runs "Gossip Girl," about Upper East Side private school students, says the show's plot will continue to be as soaked with Wall Street money as ever.
The businessman villain has been a film archetype since before the talkies. Indeed, in 1917, the Triangle Distributing Corporation released a silent picture called "Greed," part of its "Seven Deadly Sins" series, in which a stock market schemer leads a young couple astray. Hollywood has often had trouble coming up with true bad guys, but diabolical business people dot the American Film Institute's list of the top 50 movie heroes and villains of all time. (Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street" is No. 24.)
Still, most Hollywood veterans advise against rushing too many businessman bad guys into production — at least for now.
"In bad times especially, people do not want to see on the screen what they're living through," said Nicole Clemens, a longtime agent who runs International Creative Management's motion picture literary department.
Many people in the movie business hopped on the escapism bandwagon two weekends ago when the Walt Disney Studios picture about talking dogs, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," trampled two of the industry's biggest stars. Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, starring in the terrorism-themed "Body of Lies," came in a distant third behind the goofy family movie and "Quarantine," a teenage horror movie. Last weekend, the talking dogs were in second place behind "Max Payne," an action movie based on a video game.
Clemens said that she saw one exception to the warning against using too many business villains: the revenge picture. "When people feel powerless in their own lives they want to see movies where protagonists are taking back the power," she said. "But I still see no new trend for big business to be some new type of villain. It's been a villain for a long time."
Movie historians note that the Great Depression led to a flood of carefree pictures. Shirley Temple tried to tap dance the nation's troubles away. The 1930s featured gangster films, lavish musicals ("The Wizard of Oz") and screwball comedies in which the rich were portrayed as lovable fools.
Jeanine Basinger, chairwoman of the film studies department at Wesleyan University, said that studios had the best luck dealing with economic issues when they did so with subtlety. For instance, "It Happened One Night," the 1934 Frank Capra movie about a spoiled heiress running away from her family, is a romantic comedy that hints at the social turmoil of the Great Depression: a wandering thief desperate for money; a passing train populated with hobos. "Subtlety has always been the key," she said.
"Let's look on the bright side," said Bruce Berman, chairman and chief executive of Village Roadshow Pictures Entertainment. "Bad times have spawned some really great movies in the past."
David Brooks: Patio Man revisited
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Patio Man is surprised at how much the bankruptcy of Sharper Image has upset him. In the vast expanse of teenage clothing stores at the mall, Sharper Image at least offered him a moment of interest and delight. The store allowed him to indulge his curiosity in noise-canceling headphones, indoor putting greens and overly expensive toy cars. Now it seems that might all come to an end, and he will have to adjust to life without.
He is adjusting to a lot of changes these days.
For all the talk of plumbers and investment bankers, populists and elitists, Patio Man is still at the epicenter of national politics. He is the quintessential suburban American, the service economy worker, the guy who wears khakis to work each day, with the security badge on the belt-clip around his waist.
He lives in northern Virginia, along the I-4 corridor near Orlando, Florida, in or near Columbus, Ohio, along the Front Range of Colorado, in the converging megalopolis between Albuquerque and Santa Fe and in many other places.
He has a house - worth less and less - in a relatively new development. He's holding off on the new car. He's trying not to look at his retirement account balance. But he's happy with the new streetscape shopping area where he and his family can stroll before a movie.
If you wanted to pick words to capture Patio Man's political ideals, they would be responsibility, respectability and order. Patio Man moved to his home because he wanted an orderly place where he could raise his kids. His ideal neighborhood is Mayberry with BlackBerries.
He doesn't expect much of government. He believes that he is responsible for his own economic destiny. But he does expect government to provide him with a background level of order.
In times of turmoil, he has gravitated toward the party that could restore his sense of order. In the 1970s, crime and social breakdown seemed like the biggest threats to order, and he gravitated to the Republicans.
In the late 1990s, Republican revolutionaries seemed to bring instability, and he softened on Clinton. Then terrorism threatened his equilibrium and he helped re-elect Bush. Then, post-Iraq and post-Katrina, administrative incompetence led him a bit the other way.
Now disorder has come from an unexpected direction - not from foreign enemies or domestic zealotry but from a society-wide contagion of financial risk-taking. Government programs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seduced people into homes they could not afford. Private bankers took on too much risk with too little capital. Consumers - including Patio Man himself - racked up an enormous personal debt.
The effects threaten everything he has achieved. There are foreclosures in his neighborhood. Like all taxpayers, he's been asked to backstop Wall Street's losses. He braces for recession.
How is Patio Man responding?
On one level, the changes are surprisingly modest. There have been no big changes in how Americans describe their political philosophies.
Somewhere between 40 percent and 49 percent still call themselves conservative, and about half as many call themselves liberal. Distrust of government is still high.
Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal compared today's poll results, group by group, with past election results. Especially for those over 30, the stability of the preferences is more striking than the changes.
But deeper down, there are some shifts in values. Americans, including suburban Americans, are less socially conservative. They are more aware of the gap between rich and poor. They are more open to government action to reduce poverty.
But, most of all, there is a tropism toward order and stability.
Some liberals think they are headed for an age of liberal dominance and government expansion.
"If Obama offers a big, budget-busting program next year, it will more likely be seen as fair than irresponsible," Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek.
But the shift in public opinion is not from right to left, or from anti-government to pro-government, it's from risk to caution, from disorder to consolidation.
There is a deep current of bourgeois culture running through American suburbia. It is not right wing, but it is conservative: a distrust of those far away; a belief in convention and respectability; and a strong reaction against anything that threatens to undermine the stability of the established order.
Democrats have done well in suburbia recently because they have run the kind of candidates who seem like the safer choice - socially moderate, pragmatic and fiscally hawkish. They, or any party, will run astray if they threaten the mood of chastened sobriety that has swept over the subdivisions.
Patio Man wants change. But this is no time for more risk or more debt. Debt in the future is no solution to the debt racked up in the past. This is a back-to-basics moment, a return to safety and the fundamentals.
H.D.S. Greenway: The grand illusion
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The grand illusion
The other day I went to hear my favorite soldier-scholar, Andrew Bacevich, give a talk at Boston University, where he teaches. A retired colonel and Vietnam veteran, Bacevich's new book is called "The Limits of Power: The end of American Exceptionalism."
Bacevich has migrated from a conservative outlook to what might be called a neo-Niebuhrean position - - his thinking being influenced by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, whom Bacevich calls "the most clear-eyed of American prophets."
Niebuhr warned against "dreams of managing history," a combination of arrogance and narcissism that posed a moral threat. That's why Niebuhr is often held in contempt by neo-conservatives for whom power is everything. Bacevich's concern is that the dream has become a physical threat that could lead to America's inevitable decline.
There is a mythical American narrative, according to Bacevich, that the United States is a nation "providentially set apart in the New World and wanting nothing more than to tend to its own affairs," only grudgingly responding to calls for global leadership "in order to preserve the possibility of freedom."
In reality, the United States has sought expansion, first by pushing west until it reached the sea, then through a brief period of direct colonialism, and more recently through a ruthless if indirect imperial policy of control. It worked spectacularly. The United States became a great power replete with material abundance.
Right around the time of the Vietnam War, Bacevich argues, this began to unravel. Trade imbalances, federal deficits, "mushrooming entitlements, plummeting savings rates, and energy dependence" led us to become a debtor nation, counting on others to foot the bill.
"The positive correlation between expansion, power, abundance, and freedom began to become undone...Further efforts at expansionism have led to the squandering of American power," according to Bacevich.
The actions of the Bush administration after 9/11 may have been designed to make the United States safe from another attack. But the chosen method was nothing less than to "assert American power throughout the Greater Middle East...to transform this region, to employ American power, both hard and soft, to impose order while ensuring stability, order, access, and adherence to American norms - in essence to establish unambiguous U.S. hegemony so that the Islamic world will no longer serve as a breeding ground for terrorists who wish to kill us."
The grand illusion of American power as a transformative agent is evident in what Bush's lieutenants had to say. "We have a choice," Donald Rumsfeld said in September, 2001. Either we change the way we live, "which is unacceptable," or we "change the way they live, and we chose the latter."
This grand imperial overreach never had a chance. Transforming Islam can only be done by Muslims themselves, in their own due time. The new "liberated" Iraq has not changed the Middle East. The passions of the Middle East have transformed Iraq, perhaps more stable now than a year ago but in no way destined to achieve what Bush, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, et al wanted and expected.
The net result is that much of the world now looks on the Bush administration's resurrection of Woodrow Wilson's ideals and the expansion of democracy as a cover for coercion and bare-knuckle dominance. As Bacevich says, Bush always confused strategy with ideology.
Militarily, we threw containment and deterrence out the window, banking on the "shock and awe" of preventive war. It hasn't worked. We are bogged down in two wars with an end to neither in sight.
Bacevich doesn't see the November election as necessarily producing a beneficial change. John McCain touts the stalemated Iraq war as a success, while Barack Obama calls for more effort in Afghanistan. In Bacevich's view, it is the entire doctrine of preventive war that has proved a failure. There has to be a better way than occupying Muslim countries.
Both McCain and Obama "implicitly endorse the global war on terror as the essential core of US policy," while in reality it's the entire concept that needs to be rethought.
James Carroll: Courage in an age of fear
By James Carroll
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
When friends have confided their fears for Barack Obama's physical safety, I have winced and wanted to shush them. It may be a neurosis peculiar to me, but I have felt that even to speak of the possibility of such a thing - you see, I cannot say it - invites the heinous act to happen.
If the prospect of Obama's being attacked has been a shadow on his run for president, last week's debate between the candidates brought light into the shadow, offering yet another revelation of why Obama is special.
I came into my adulthood between 1963 and 1968. Already, readers of a certain age will know why those years are defining. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, as my generation was just getting started, confronted us too soon with the starkest truth of the human drama - every life a tragedy.
But the shock of Dallas was not enough to undo us because we were young and still believed that heartbreak can motivate change for the better. We saw that then, as movements against war and for civil rights drew energy from the political idealism sparked by JFK. His assassination had made us wary, though, as if hope is not to be trusted.
When Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, our chosen tribunes of justice and peace, were gunned down weeks apart in 1968, a flame in our hearts was doused forever. Their deaths, in addition to crippling the movements for which they stood, made us see how the tragic can be laced with the absurd.
We knew that, if ever gripped by passionate hope again, we would see it snatched away unrealized, although we could not bring ourselves to say by what. And why shouldn't we, right then, have stopped being young?
One of the joys of the current season is to see a fresh generation respond to the promise of Obama without reflexes of worry. Young people have a right to uncomplicated hope, and Obama is himself young enough to nurture it.
But for many Americans, ghosts haunt the house of politics, a hovering threat for which, until recently, there were no words. That is the background for the shudders felt when last week's presidential debate turned to the ugliness of what this campaign has surfaced.
John McCain complained about "unfair" criticisms by Georgia Congressman John Lewis of slurs shouted at some McCain-Palin rallies. Obama replied that he had distanced himself from Lewis's comments. But he explained that Lewis was expressing concern at McCain supporters shouting, as Obama put it, referring to himself as the target, "things like 'Terrorist!' and 'Kill him!' "
There it was: Obama himself using the phrase "Kill him!" Obama naming the threat of his own assassination. He went on, "And that your running mate...didn't say, 'Hold on a second, that's kind of out of line.' I think Congressman Lewis's point was that we have to be careful how we deal with our supporters."
McCain swung into a manic defense of his supporters, displaying tone-deafness to the unnerving chord that had been plucked by his own campaign.
McCain is of the generation that was traumatized by the murders of 1968, but that year he was undergoing a separate trauma of his own in Hanoi. He is not seized, perhaps, by the visceral dread out of which Lewis was speaking, and which so many recognize.
However irrelevant the youthful nihilism of William Ayers, its full horror cannot be grasped without reference to the social breakdown that preceded it.
Obama has shown that he understands the positive and negative legacies of the 1960s, but he is defined by neither. For me, his calm and reasonable demeanor was never more welcome than when he repeated that phrase "Kill him!"
Unlike me, Obama is not afraid to put the threat into words, as long as doing so opens into deeper understanding. The threat thus spoken of is defused.
A Republican mantra has been, "Who is Barack Obama?" But he has been showing us. His courage runs as deep as his wisdom. For some Americans, he represents, in addition to everything else, the unexpected possibility that we can find release in middle age from what took us hostage when we were young.
'Stunned' white supremacists keep low profile in campaign
By Jim Rutenberg
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: A tall, extra-hot mocha in his hand and a .380-caliber pistol on his hip, Bill White sat near the window of a Starbucks in Roanoke, Virginia, last month and discussed his political predicament as the leader of one of the nation's more established neo-Nazi groups.
"Right now," said White, head of the American National Socialist Workers Party, "we're facing the potential of a half-black candidate financed by Jewish money going up against a white candidate financed by Jewish money, who are both advocating the same policy. So you've got two terrible choices."
On Friday, about three weeks after that interview, White was jailed on suspicion of making threats against a juror who was on a panel in 2004 that convicted a white supremacist of plotting to kill a federal judge.
So stands the state of organized racism in 2008, paralyzed and at a crossroads in what would presumably be a pressing moment of action - the possibility that Senator Barack Obama will become the first black president of the United States- but has so far not been.
There have been sporadic reports throughout the country of Obama signs vandalized with swastikas, windows smashed at local Obama campaign offices and racist pamphlets dropped on doorsteps. Overt and thinly veiled racist comments about Obama have been caught on camera at rallies, and a Republican women's group in California - the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated - has made headlines for a flier that showed Obama's face on a faux food stamp that also included images of watermelon and fried chicken.
But party officials and organizations that monitor hate groups, always concerned about the specter of violence, report far less activity from the more traditional sources of open racism late in this race than they had expected.
"What we really haven't seen is white supremacists really rallying over an Obama presidency," said Mark Potok, director of intelligence at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. "Hate groups are in a more or less stunned position right now. They haven't been able to figure out how to proceed just yet."
Some attributed the relative lack of activity so far from white supremacist groups to the same cultural shifts that led the Democrats to become the first major party to choose a black presidential nominee.
"It's not like we're finally reaching Martin Luther King's promised land," said Michael Gehrke, research director for the Democratic National Committee, whose unit monitors such activity, "but as a political force, they've been marginalized."
In one sign of shifting mores, James Knowles, a former Ku Klux Klan member who was convicted for a 1981 lynching, said in a Discovery Channel documentary by Ted Koppel that Obama was a potentially acceptable candidate. "People need to vote for him because of his ideas and the veracity that he displays in what he does, and not because he's African-American," Knowles said.
There have been only sporadic reports of racist mailings, though Democrats say they are on the lookout for more. And there has been scant evidence that Obama's candidacy has helped hate-group recruitment, unlike the recent debates over immigration policy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
White supremacist leaders, while threatening some political action before Nov. 4, similarly attribute their relative lack of activity this year to demographic and societal changes they cannot stop. But they also point to a Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, whose liberal immigration views and staunch support for Israel are against everything they stand for.
On top of that, the leadership is plagued by scandal and infighting in the absence of a unifying group like the Ku Klux Klan, which is no longer pre-eminent even among open racists, or figures like the former KKK leader David Duke, whose power waned after he was convicted on fraud charges early this decade. Duke has, in fact, written positively about the prospect of Obama's being elected, though arguing it would stir a white backlash and "result in a dramatic increase in our ranks."
"There's a real problem," White said in the interview last month, "in what's called the 'white movement.' One, there's a lot of people who are just mentally ill, and we deal with those a lot. No. 2, there are people who have serious sexual problems."
White, 31, who says he has a following of at least 1,200 people, considers himself a reformer in the white movement. A landlord of low-income tenants of all races, he devotes as much of his energy to attacking rival leaders he hopes to purge from the supremacist leadership as he does attacking Jews and blacks.
His Web site recently featured a blog post reporting that a fellow white supremacist, Curtis Maynard, was "married to a mestizo and raising half-breed children." Maynard, in turn, has written that White is "a Jew and an agent of the ADL and SPLC," the initials of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
White's Web site abruptly went offline this month. On Friday, The Roanoke Times reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had seized his computer equipment as part of the investigation that led to his arrest. White told the newspaper he had posted the address of a juror who served on the panel that convicted the white supremacist Matthew Hale of plotting to kill a federal judge in Chicago. But the newspaper quoted him as saying he had not called for any particular action against the juror. Arrested late Friday, he is being held without bail.
Another leader, Alex Carmichael of the League of American Patriots, has sued White for linking him in an article to what White called the "pedophile sex network" of Kevin Alfred Strom. Head of the now-defunct white supremacist group National Vanguard, Strom was released from prison after serving time for possessing child pornography.
Last month, Carmichael's group became the first to deliver racist leaflets about Obama, distributing them to homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in a small effort that drew wide news coverage.
In the interview last month, White said his group was planning a similar but larger effort. With a donation of about $8,000 from a supporter in Michigan, he said he was planning to print and distribute to white working-class neighborhoods 20,000 copies of his party's latest magazine, The Nationalist Socialist. The newest edition has on its cover a photograph of Obama with a rifle's crosshairs focused on his head and a headline using a racial slur and seemingly calling for his assassination. White said the cover was satirical and pointed to a subheading that read, "Negro Deification and the 'Obama Assassination' Myth."
One day doesn't make a trend
By Andrew Ross Sorkin
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The banks aren't lending. And despite what you have heard, they probably won't start just yet.
The stock market may be way up on expectations of a credit thaw on Wall Street — and there has already been a minor one — but don't hold your breath on Main Street. The dirty little secret of the government's $250 billion handout to nine banks to get them lending again is this: So far, they have stuffed it under their mattress like the rest of us.
Need a mortgage? An auto loan? If you are a business or consumer, it's almost as hard to get a loan this week as it was last.
Sure, there are some positive signs that the credit market is opening up a bit: Libor rates, the price at which banks lend to each other, have crept down in recent days, greasing the wheels of capitalism, or at least what's left of it. Some banks, like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, actually made loans to banks in Europe on Friday. These are all important steps on the way to a recovery.
But make no mistake, the banks are doing the opposite of what Henry Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary, sought when he virtually demanded that they accept the taxpayers' money: They are hoarding it. It's a bit like the government's sending out tax rebate checks and the consumers' not immediately running out and spending them.
"Our purpose is to increase confidence in our banks and increase the confidence of our banks, so that they will deploy, not hoard, their capital," Paulson said in a statement Monday. "And we expect them to do so, as increased confidence will lead to increased lending. This increased lending will benefit the U.S. economy and the American people."
Of course, with a $250 billion injection into America's biggest banks — not all of which were troubled — Paulson has a political sales job to do. And no requirements to lend were attached to the money. (Some banks may use the money to buy others.)
But Paulson is making a big assumption about confidence, because until the real economy recovers — which could take more than a year — lending to Main Street is unlikely to return rapidly to normal levels.
"It doesn't matter how much Hank Paulson gives us," said an influential senior official at a big bank that received money from the government, "no one is going to lend a nickel until the economy turns." The official added: "Who are we going to lend money to?" before repeating an old saw about banking: "Only people who don't need it."
Indeed, if there's a reason the stock market went up Monday, it was because Fed chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress he was in favor of a second economic stimulus plan, a tacit acknowledgment that recent efforts to repair the financial system won't be enough to dig the economy out of its rut.
Think about it: troubled companies are still troubled companies. And while banks often stupidly throw money at questionable companies in good times, they shut off the spigot in bad times.
On top of all that, the banks may still be in more trouble than they have disclosed. Indeed, the reason many may be holding onto the government's cash is because they expect things to get worse not just for the economy, but for themselves.
Roger Bootle and Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics in London wrote a sobering note on Monday about the cash infusions into European banks that may apply here as well. "We expect rising loan defaults and further asset write-offs over the next couple of years to practically wipe out the governments' capital injections, leaving banks back at square one," they said. "Given that banks will need to increase their capital in order to expand their lending book, these measures on their own are unlikely to prevent bank lending from stagnating."
What else can government do? One of the last arrows in its quiver is the controversial idea of reducing the amount of capital banks must hold. That might make the banks more comfortable to lend, but it would put banks on an even less stable footing, and undermines the overall idea of injecting capital into banks in the first place.
That is not to say that Paulson's $250 billion package won't be helpful to the economy. It is a smart plan to help to encourage bank lending, which may prevent the economy from spiraling downward even more into a prolonged depression. And it should keep some more banks from going bust, which would have only added fuel to what seemed like an out-of-control fire. But it is not a silver bullet.
And the bailout also may be concealing another problem: Because the government gave money to both healthy and unhealthy banks, that may make it harder to tell which ones are in more trouble than the others. That's why banks have been so wary of lending to other banks. Although a key gauge of this psychology, the Libor rate, has improved since governments moved to repair the financial system, some banks are still worried they can't trust their counterparts to pay the loan back.
Ken Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, in an appearance on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, said in perhaps one of the most revealing comments of the credit crisis that the reason strong banks like his got $25 billion apiece was to help conceal the weakness of those that have fallen into dire straits.
"If you have a bank in that group that really, really needed the capital, you don't want to expose that bank," Lewis said.
Still, Lewis says he's bullish that things will eventually turn around, though he thinks we won't see a bottom until at least the first half of next year. And he suggested that banks won't keep money under the mattress forever. "You can make more money lending," he said.
At least to people who don't need it.
Wall Street lower on earnings news
UAL, citing fuel hedging, lost $779 million in quarter
BayernLB to seek €5.4 billion under German rescue plan
Yahoo to cut 10% of its work force
Citic Pacific stock drops 55% after disclosure of potential $2 billion loss
Credit crisis is threatening even big-name mergers
Economy seen likely entering recession
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Sumeet Desai and David Milliken
The economy is probably entering its first recession in 16 years, and the outlook has not worsened as rapidly as it has in the past month for a very long time, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said on Tuesday.
In a speech in Leeds, King said the financial crisis had decisively raised the downside risks to inflation, which was why the Bank had cut interest rates by 50 basis points this month in tandem with other central banks.
The failure of Lehman Brothers bank on September 15 had triggered an "extraordinary, almost unimaginable, sequence of events" which ended with last week's recapitalisation of the banking system, he said.
"It is difficult to exaggerate the severity and importance of those events. Not since the beginning of the First World War has our banking system been so close to collapse," King said, according to a copy of his speech provided by the BoE.
"We are far from the end of the road back to stability, but the plan to recapitalise our banking system, both here and abroad, will I believe come to be seen as the moment in the banking crisis of the past year when we turned the corner."
MORE RATE CUTS?
Despite his gloomy assessment of the economic outlook, King said the Monetary Policy Committee still had to balance the possibility slower growth would drag down inflation against the chance that current high rates become embedded in the system.
"The outlook is obviously very uncertain -- both for the world as well as our own economy.... The prospects for oil and other commodity prices are difficult to assess. So too are the period over which bank lending will return to normal and the extent of the damage to business and consumer confidence."
"Moreover, the credit crunch affects not just demand but also the supply potential of the economy, complicating the assessment of the inflationary impact of changes in the level of demand."
Most analysts expect the MPC to cut interest rates again in November after this month's emergency cut in interest rates, and minutes of policymakers' last meeting will be published on Wednesday.
King said the banking crisis was bound to have an impact on consumer and business confidence but the bank recapitalisation plan and lower oil prices might temper the gloom, with the bank aid getting lending started again and cheaper oil boosting spending power and bringing down inflation.
Housing market weakness, however, was likely to continue, he said after noting that prices had already fallen by around 13 percent over the year.
"Indeed, it now seems likely that the UK economy is entering a recession," he said.
Figures due on Friday are expected to show the economy shrinking for the first time since the early 1990s in the third quarter.
(Editing by Ron Askew)
By Simon Winchester
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
You can usually tell that a period of human disquietude has evolved into something of historical dimensions when the lexicographers become involved.
Most events of moment are eventually defined by single words that were once quite unfamiliar - perestroika, arbitrage, Tiananmen, dotcom - but which endless retellings have rendered mundane. And thus it is with the lexical keystone of today, an unlovely two-syllable concatenation employed interchangeably as both adjective and noun: subprime.
Interestingly, the word arbiters at the headquarters of the Oxford English Dictionary have discovered something odd: "subprime" has suffered a surprising and unusually rapid evolution. Until 1991, it meant something eminently desirable and worthy of aspiration.
The lexicon is by its very nature a fugitive affair. Over the centuries, the meanings of words slip and slide without cease, and dictionaries have to be constantly revised. The current print edition of the OED, for example, still sports this definition of the unusual word "abbreviator": "a junior official of the Vatican, whose duties include drawing up the pope's briefs" - which would clearly, after briefs-as-legal-documents transmuted into briefs-as-boxer-alternatives, benefit from some rewriting.
The dictionary's New Words Group began looking closely at subprime's history late this summer, when the bat-wings of the current crisis began fluttering against Oxford's mullioned windows.
Team members discovered that when first applied to financial matters in 1976, "subprime" meant a loan offered below the prime rate and typically was offered only to the most desirable borrowers.
In was not until 1993 that it took on a much less enticing guise, with Business Wire referring to a company that "buys subprime loans made...to creditworthy buyers unable to qualify for loans from banks." And an OED editor was moved to write a new definition: "Of or designating a loan, typically having relatively unfavorable terms, made to a borrower who does not qualify for other loans because of a poor credit history."
And this, one imagines, is the meaning that will go down in history. But what prompted the lexical revisionism? The Oxford lexicographers do not pretend to know why, nor, as dictionary-makers, to care.
But they do know the change occurred between 1991 and 1993, during a period that can now perhaps be designated the Great Subprime Ambivalence of 1992, during the final years of the elder George Bush's presidency - a time that students of politics and economy, rather than lexicography, might now care to study in their turn.
Simon Winchester is the author of "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary."
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
LONDON: Several major drug makers posted healthy quarterly results Tuesday, underlining the defensive nature of the sector at a time of financial turmoil.
Pfizer, the world's biggest seller of prescription drugs, and its smaller U.S. rival Schering-Plough both beat analysts' forecasts for earnings.
Roche Holding, which is based in Switzerland and does not detail quarterly profit, reported sales that met expectations, but revenue was trimmed by an expected drop in demand for flu drug Tamiflu.
Others beating estimates included Forest Laboratories, a U.S. specialty drug maker, Actelion, a Swiss biotechnology company, and Biogen-Idec, a U.S. drug company.
Pharmaceutical stocks have risen in recent weeks, reflecting the industry's relatively secure earnings and dividends at a time when other companies are bracing for a profit slump as recession looms.
"If you look at the earnings of both U.S. and European drug companies, they seem pretty rock solid," said Ben Yeoh, an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort. "Certainly compared to other consumer-related sectors, these stocks are looking pretty good."
But in one downbeat note for the sector, Eli Lilly said that it would record a $1.4 billion charge because of investigations into past marketing of its schizophrenia drug Zyprexa and that it was in advanced talks to resolve them.
The company has faced long-running accusations that it improperly marketed Zyprexa to patients who were not approved users and that it played down side effects like weight gain, which can increase the risk for diabetes.
In the long term, drug makers face deep-rooted problems linked to increasingly aggressive generic competition, a dearth of new products and pressure on prices. But those structural issues are less prominent now as investors warm to the industry's ability to keep sales of medicines ticking over during the slowdown.
The sector also has the ability to cut costs, one reason for Pfizer's success in delivering earnings of $2.28 billion on barely changed revenue of $11.97 billion. Excluding special items, Pfizer earnings per share rose 7 percent to 62 cents. Analysts on average had expected 60 cents a share.
Schering-Plough's third-quarter earnings fell sharply, hurt by special charges and falling demand for its two cholesterol fighting drugs, but the results still beat expectations.
According to industry analysts, U.S. weekly prescriptions for Vytorin have fallen 41 percent and 34 percent for Zetia since late last year, before the release of studies questioning the effectiveness of the two drugs.
Schering-Plough earned $551 million, or 34 cents a share, compared with $713 million, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding special items, the company earned 39 cents a share against analyst expectations of 31 cents.
Roche's quarterly sales rose 1.6 percent to 11.3 billion Swiss francs, or $9.8 billion, for a nine-month total of 33.3 billion francs, just shy of the 33.4 billion analysts expected.
Seamus Fernandez, an analyst at Leerink Swann, said Pfizer and Schering-Plough had delivered "solid quarters" and shown the scope for continued earnings-enhancing cost control.
"With the outperformance on the individual earnings lines, I think that shows they probably have a little bit more flexibility via their costs," he said. "In a challenging economic environment and as other global companies are facing challenges on the top line, these companies are very strong overall defensive plays whether you look at the global companies or the U.S. companies."
By N. West Moss
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
There are no pink ribbons to wear if you've had a miscarriage, no walkathons or T-shirts to encourage awareness and prevention. And to the extent that we have a language to talk about miscarriage, it's full of airy platitudes: "Don't worry, I had one once, too," or "I had two, and then poof Davey was born, and he's graduating from college this week."
But until you belong to the imaginary club of Mothers Without Children, it is a secret planet of pain, all but invisible to the outside world.
I recently had my third miscarriage in a year. It happened early in the pregnancy, and it was dismissed as no big deal "chemical pregnancy" seems to be the term of art. Let's not overreact, no need for hysterics, keep moving. "We'll treat it as though you're just getting your period," as my doctor put it.
But honestly, it is not just like getting your period. Psychologically, of course, it is nothing like it, but physically it is different, too. I had cramps for hours that left my ribs feeling bruised, and then four days later I was back at work and exhausted because I was still bleeding a lot not an alarming amount, but enough to make me schedule meetings in rooms near bathrooms, and to send me home in the afternoon for a two-hour nap. I wonder how men would cope. All of the pain, mess, furtive tidying-up, shame and soldiering-on seem so fundamentally female to me.
People act as if a miscarriage were a locatable event on a calendar, with a beginning, a middle and an end. But in fact it starts when you feel that first unmistakable twinge that something is totally wrong. It continues through the rough days of sorrow and deep cramps, and then it meanders through every single day of the rest of your whole stupid life. I will probably mourn about this miscarriage in some outwardly unremarkable way until I either have a healthy baby or die.
Talking about miscarriages is so loaded and pitiful and hushed and fraught with meaning about age and usefulness. It feels as though having three miscarriages in a year means I did something wrong, when the reality is that most miscarriages take place for chromosomal reasons out of our control.
Yet a woman who has had a miscarriage has likely asked herself why. "God must not want me to have a kid," she might think, or "I am too old." There are moments when you can feel that the miscarriage and the calamities of the world are your own doing and you should have somehow known better.
Maybe we don't talk about our miscarriages because we don't want women with children looking at us with pity, or teenagers in their immortality-flushed way thinking, "That'll never happen to me." We do not want happy families to whisper, "Thank God that's not us." We don't want to wonder if men are thinking, "If they can't have kids, then why are they here, anyway?"
I cannot tell you, though, what you should say to women who have had miscarriages. While it can be touching to hear other women's stories, it can also be irritating: it makes our moment of extraordinary sadness feel ordinary and unremarkable. Why would I want to hear about your miscarriage when I am lying on the floor trying to lift 500 pounds of failure, disappointment and crashing hormones off my chest?
I can tell you that I want people to know. I don't want it to be a secret or a shadow or something that is endured only alone. I want people to know that I have been through something, that I am tired but optimistic, that I've been knocked down but don't help me up because I can get up myself.
It's fair, I think, to want witnesses for our suffering. But with the sorrow also comes hope. And after all, we are resilient creatures. A friend of mine said it well in an e-mail message after she heard my news. "I hope you don't give up," she wrote. "I want to take a picture of your child one day against the tallest sunflower."
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
After five years of stagnation, the United States has managed to cut its infant mortality a bit. That is no great cause for celebration, especially since this country's rates remain far too high and so many other countries are doing so much better on this important measure of a nation's health and the quality of its medical system.
The infant mortality rate in the United States declined sharply in the 20th century but then remained steady from 2000 to 2005. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that in 2006, the rate of infant deaths in the United States fell to 6.71 per 1,000 live births, down from 6.86 the previous year. That is still 50 percent higher than the official national goal of 4.5 deaths per thousand.
What is particularly shameful is how poorly the United States compares with other industrialized countries. In 1960, the United States ranked 12th lowest in the world in infant mortality. By 2004, the last year for which comparative data are available, it had dropped to 29th, tied with Poland and Slovakia.
Even with the improvement, it is still likely to rank 29th, far behind many Scandinavian and East Asian countries that report rates below 3.5.
Infant mortality is associated with many factors, including the health and economic status of the mother, her race or ethnicity, access to quality medical care, and such cultural problems as rising obesity and drug use.
That makes it difficult to identify the cause of the United States' poor performance. Some researchers blame an increase in premature births, many by Caesarean section. The chief lesson we draw is that the American health care system, despite the highest expenditures in the world, is badly in need of an overhaul.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
WELLINGTON: Former All Black and Samoan rugby international Ofisa Tonu'u made the most important interception of his life Tuesday when his wife went into labour.
Tonu'u had to step in when his wife Sheralynn was sent home from hospital after her contractions stopped.
When the contractions suddenly returned the couple did not have time to make it back and Tonu'u, who played five test matches each for Samoa and New Zealand in the 1990s, delivered a healthy baby daughter, the New Zealand Press Association reported.
Tonu'u took instructions over the telephone and had to contend with another emergency when the baby's cord tightened around her neck, but he was able to force it over her head and free her.
"I didn't drop the ball this time," the former scrumhalf joked.
The couple, who have four other children, named the girl Francesca Eti Tonu'u.
(Reporting by Julian Linden in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
By Huw Richards
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
MOHALI, India: For almost all of the Australian team beaten by India by 320 runs at Mohali on Tuesday, it was a new experience.
This was not just losing. It was a fearful stomping in which Australia was outplayed from beginning to end and inferior in almost every aspect of the game. It was the sort of defeat Australia has consistently inflicted on others during a long hegemony over international cricket.
Since Jan. 1, 2000, it has won 70 five-day tests while losing 12, and three of those in dead matches with the series already decided.
In that time it has won 25 series but it has lost two.
In 2001, it was spectacularly ambushed by an apparently beaten Indian team in Calcutta. In 2005, it was outplayed for much of an Ashes series in England, yet still battled so effectively that it took an extraordinary series of cliff-hanging finishes for England to win.
Nevertheless, it is more than 10 years since Australia has suffered a defeat like this. That was in March 1998, when it lost by an innings and 219 runs in Calcutta. Only Ricky Ponting, now the captain, survives from that Australian team, although four of that winning Indian team - the golden middle order quartet of Vangipurappu Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly - played at Mohali.
India now faces the greater challenge of winning the series. The victory in Mohali left it 1-0 up with two to play. The next match starts in Delhi on Oct. 29.
Both teams that have beaten Australia in a series since the millennium, India in 2001 and England in 2005, came from behind after going 1-0 down.
India took a 1-0 lead in Australia in 2004, but Australia recovered to draw the series, 1-1.
Not since Sri Lanka in 1999 has an opponent drawn first blood against Australia, then held on to take the series.
Writing Australia off in any sport is a perilous business. Battling to the end and to the limits of mental and physical ability seems to be in the national DNA. This time, though, it is in serious danger.
Even at Australia's best, India was the single team that consistently stood up to it. India does not have a spectacular record against the other leading test nations, but the victory in Mohali was its sixth over Australia since January 2000, leveling the overall score at 6-6. In that period, England has beaten it four times, but lost 14. South Africa's only victory, against 10 defeats in 12 matches, was in a dead match.
Australia is now a long way from its best, and facing opponents with the talent and confidence needed to take advantage.
Ponting overcame a long history of failures on Indian soil and against its spin-bowlers when he scored a superb 123 in the first test in Bangalore, but has since been dismissed cheaply three times by India's brilliant young paceman Ishant Sharma.
With the left-arm Zaheer Khan, whose three quick wickets Tuesday morning ended Australia's resistance, Sharma has given India almost unprecedented superiority over Australia in fast bowling. Brett Lee is quicker than either while Mitchell Johnson may one day be better than any of them, but, for now, the Indians are more dangerous.
India has a much more predictable superiority in spin bowling. Michael Clarke and Cameron White are not incompetent, but should not trouble test batsmen. By contrast, Amit Mishra on his debut took five wickets in its first innings. Then Harbhajan Singh tore through Australia's top order as it chased an improbable 516 in the second innings.
That gives India an intriguing selection problem for Delhi. Mishra, taking the place of India's veteran captain Anil Kumble, looked a far more dangerous bowler while stand-in skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni led with skill and imagination. Suddenly Kumble, India's all-time record wicket-taker, looks the most vulnerable of its aging greatest generation after Ganguly and Tendulkar recaptured their form in Mohali with major innings. Australia knows how he must feel.
India vs. Australia Scoreboard
MOHALI, India (AP) - Scoreboard Tuesday at the end of the second cricket test between Australia and India at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium.
India, 1st Innings 469
Australia, 1st Innings 268
India, 2nd Innings 314 for 3 declared.
Australia, 2nd Innings (overnight 141 for five)
Matthew Hayden lbw Harbhajan 29
Simon Katich c Tendulkar b Harbhajan 20
Ricky Ponting b Sharma 2
Michael Hussey lbw Harbhajan 1
Michael Clarke c Sehwag b Mishra 69
Shane Watson lbw Sharma 2
Brad Haddin b Khan 37
Cameron White c Dhoni b Khan 1
Brett Lee b Khan 0
Mitchell Johnson c&b Mishra 26
Peter Siddle not out 0
Extras: (4b, 4nb) 8
TOTAL: (all out) 195
Overs: 64.4. Batting time: 286 mins.
Fall of wicket: 1-49, 2-50, 3-52, 4-52, 5-58, 6-142, 7-144, 8-144, 9-194, 10-195.
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 15-3-71-3 (1nb), Ishant Sharma 13-4-42-2, Harbhajan Singh 20-3-36-3 (1nb), Amit Mishra 11.4-2-35-2 (2nb), Virender Sehwag 5-2-7-0.
Umpires: Asad Rauf, Pakistan, and Rudi Koertzen, South Africa.
TV Umpire: Amish Saheba, India. Match Referee: Chris Broad, England.
Toss: Won by India.
Result: India won by 320 runs.
India leads four-match series 1-0.
India-Australia Scoreboard Eds: UPDATES to stumps
MOHALI, India (AP) - Scoreboard at stumps on the third day of the second cricket test between India and Australia at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium:
India, 1st Innings 469
Australia, 1st Innings 268
India, 2nd Innings 314 for 3 declared.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Bappa Majumdar
India will launch its first unmanned moon mission on Wednesday, following in the footsteps of rivals China and Japan, as it tries to show off its scientific know-how and claim a bigger chunk of the global space business.
Chandrayaan-1 (Moon vehicle), a cuboid spacecraft built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will blast off from a southern Indian space centre in the early hours and enter the moon's orbit after 16 hours of flight, scientists say.
"We are going to the moon for the first time. China has gone earlier, but today we are trying to catch them, catch that gap, bridge the gap," Bhaskar Narayan, an ISRO director told Reuters.
Chinese astronauts were feted as national heroes last month after their country's first space walk, and India does not want to be left behind.
"India wants the world to look at it as a nation that is progressing and can compete in space as well," Amulya Ganguli, a political analyst said.
"We cannot afford to be lagging behind other countries like USA, Russia and China in having access to humans in space."
But ISRO insists the mission is not just about national pride. It will have valuable scientific benefits, it says.
A principal objective is to look for Helium 3, an isotope which is very rare on earth but is sought to power nuclear fusion and could be a valuable source of energy in the future, some scientists believe.
It is thought to be more plentiful on the moon, but still rare and very difficult to extract.
The mission is also expected to carry out a detailed survey of the moon to look for precious metals and water.
"We are going to get a three-dimensional atlas of the moon's surface, which will be used for chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface," Narayan said.
The project cost $79 million, considerably less than the Chinese and Japanese probes in 2007.
As the spacecraft hovers around the moon for two years, a small Moon Impactor Probe will detach and land on the moon to kick up some dust, while instruments in the craft analyse the particles, ISRO says.
In April, India sent 10 satellites into orbit from a single rocket, and ISRO says it is planning more launches before a proposed mission to space and then onto Mars in four years time.
ISRO is collaborating with a number of countries, including Israel, on a project to carry an ultra-violet telescope in an Indian satellite within a year.
It is also building a tropical weather satellite with France, collaborating with Japan on a project to improve disaster management from space, and developing a heavy lift satellite launcher, which it hopes to use to launch heavier satellites by 2010.
"When we commercialise this launcher, we will have a good business," Narayan said on Tuesday. ISRO hopes to make at least $70 million a year from launches alone.
India has launched 10 remote sensing satellites since 1998, has several broadcast satellites in space to control 170 transponders and has also launched light-weight satellites for Belgium, Germany, Korea, Japan and France.
Perhaps remarkably in a country where hundreds of millions of people still live in desperate poverty and millions of children remain malnourished, the cost of the moon mission has scarcely been questioned.
"People are suffering at the grassroot level and that they need more attention seems a logical argument," said Anil K. Verma, a political commentator. "But I guess, poverty has also a lot to do with corruption and non-implementation of schemes, as we do have money for projects."
(Editing by Simon Denyer and Bill Tarrant)
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
ROME: Italy's top court ruled Tuesday that Germany must pay compensation to the Italian families of nine people killed in a 1944 German army massacre, judicial sources said.
The court rejected Germany's argument that international law gave it immunity from prosecution by private citizens, the sources said.
The court ruled Germany should pay around 1 million euros (781,000 pounds) in damages to the nine victims' families for the World War Two massacre in Civitella, Tuscany, in which 203 people were killed.
ANSA news agency quoted Augusto Dossena, the lawyer representing Germany in the case, as saying Germany would not pay any compensation.
"Germany will not pay because it does not want to recognise a verdict rejecting the immunity from prosecution which has been recognized by all the other countries where former Nazis have been sued," Dossena said.
(Reporting by Virginia Alimenti, writing by Silvia Aloisi)
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Josie Cox
A statuesque blond woman raising her arm against a clear blue sky to show off her muscles is pictured on a flyer strikingly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.
"Germany is also a woman's issue," reads the slogan.
It's one example of how right-wing groups in Germany are targeting women.
Looking to boost their traditionally male support base, they are appealing to women's sense of political persecution and tapping into discontent with mainstream parties.
Several organizations for women with right-wing beliefs have sprung up in the last year or so, offering a new platform for them to share their views in public.
One is "Jeanne D.," a group founded last year by a social worker and an actress who claim to have lost their jobs due to their sympathy with the right-wing scene.
Named after French national heroine Joan of Arc, Jeanne D. describes itself as a self-help group for women who are discriminated against for their nationalist beliefs.
"We want to support women who still take on the traditional role of mother and have proper family values," co-founder Iris Niemeyer, in her mid-thirties, told Reuters.
Jeanne D., like 'Skingirl Friendship Germany' and 'Active Female Fraction', is affiliated to the Ring of National Women (RNF), established in 2006.
Its flyer with the blond woman, also found on the group's Web site, advertises the RNF along with other leaflets in the Nazi colours of black, red and white picturing women and babies.
Many RNF members also belong to the German Democratic Party (NPD), which has about 7,000 members.
No numbers are made available for women members.
Signs of increasing support for far-right parties, and a rise in violent crime by right-wing radicals more than 60 years after World War Two, have caused alarm among German politicians.
"All couragous democrats must help us to fight the NPD," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a memorial event for victims of the Jewish Holocaust last year.
The NPD, described by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as racist, revisionist and inspired by Nazi ideology, is the biggest of Germany's 160 right-wing groups.
In June, it almost quadrupled its share of the vote in council elections in the state of Saxony and in the area of Reinhardtsdorf-Schoena near the Czech border, where the NPD traditionally does well, it won more than 25 percent.
The financial crisis could even bolster far-right parties further, in the same way high unemployment and hyperinflation in 1920s Germany fuelled support for Hitler's Nazis in the 1930s, say analysts.
"Economic turmoil, like the current financial crisis, has always provided good conditions for radical right-wing parties to surge," Gunnar Winkler from the Institute of Social Sciences Brandenburg-Berlin said.
"Discontent and worry makes people want to take a stand."
RNF spokeswoman Gitta Schuessler, 48, says women are attracted to the RNF as it aims to prevent immigrants from ruining Germany, and attacks what it calls the incompetence of current political leaders.
"Behind the national ideology lies the idea of the single nation and of ethnic, cultural and linguistic unity. By nature, humans feel drawn to people who are the same as them," she said.
The group advocates a traditional role for women at the core of the family: "Women are keen to ensure their children have a decent future in the new global world."
The focus on women is something of a shift for the far right, traditionally associated with male skinheads who wear army clothes and military symbols and intimidate foreigners.
Violent right-wing crime jumped 9 percent last year, statistics show, and a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said it was up "significantly" again in the first half of this year.
Experts say the new womens' groups, which have had little coverage in the mainstream German media, attract members by portraying themselves as victims to gain sympathy.
Niemeyer felt victimised when she lost her job as a social worker at a youth centre in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia last year after she was spotted at a NPD event.
"They are turning the tables," said Renate Bitzan, political scientist at Goettingen University. "Instead of their inhumane ideology being the problem, the issue is the alleged intolerance of those who distance themselves from nationalism."
"More nationalistic women are being turned into role models," Bitzan said. "Nazism will no longer be taboo and will become acceptable and even socially respectable."
(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Sara Ledwith)
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