Thursday, 23 October 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Wednesday, 22nd October 2008


Palestinians won't be driven off says Fayyad
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
By Wafa Amr
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad joined West Bank farmers to pick olives on Wednesday and slammed assaults by Jewish settlers on the harvesters as "terrorism."
Fayyad rolled up his shirt sleeves and climbed up a ladder to help an old woman pluck olives from her tree in Mazra al-Gharbiyeh, a village north of the West Bank city of Ramallah which is surrounded by Jewish settlements.
His visit was "a clear message that we are here to stay," the Palestinian premier said.
"The settlers being here in itself is illegitimate. And on top of that they engage in acts of violence against our citizens, particularly at this time of year when they pick olives, with all that the olive tree signifies to our people," Fayyad told Reuters.
"This is nothing short of terrorism by the settlers."
Fayyad said the olive tree was not only a source of income for most Palestinians, but more importantly a "symbol of the determination of the Palestinian people to stay on their land and to preserve and defend it."
About 300,000 Jews live in settlements built by Israel in occupied West Bank land captured in the 1967 Six Day war.
Settlement expansion has seriously obstructed U.S.-sponsored peace talks. The Palestinians say they cannot achieve a viable, contiguous state of their own alongside Israel if the territory they secure is riddled with Jewish settlements and outposts.
Palestinians, the United Nations and Israeli leaders have expressed concern in the past month about an increase in violence by hardline Jewish settlers, who believe they have a divine right to the land.
The violence is seen partly as a warning to the Israeli government that some settlers will not go quietly if Israel agrees to return West Bank land as part of a peace settlement of the 60-year-old conflict.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday "the assaults by hooligans in the area ... deserve condemnation," but Israeli troops could not be everywhere to protect harvesters.
Israel had deployed forces to permit the harvest to proceed in peace, Barak told Israeli Army Radio. But Palestinians say the army does little to stop settler assaults and often breaks up clashes by forcing the farmers to leave the area.
An editorial in the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday said Barak was offering a "dubious excuse" for what it considered criminal failure to uphold the law.
Settlers had been "stealing the land of powerless farmers for decades" and were not averse to stealing their fruit as well. "This year, as every year, fairly small groups manage to reach the olive groves, where they beat, steal then return home safely," the paper said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday condemned settler attacks and pledged to fund the planting of a million trees to make the rocky West Bank terrain greener.
(Editing by Douglas Hamilton)
Mining and fishing at odds in Alaska
EKWOK, Alaska: Two years ago, Sarah Palin landed near this tiny native village and spoke of her love for the vast and starkly beautiful delta that drains into Bristol Bay.
"I am a commercial fisherman; my daughter's name is Bristol," said Palin, then a candidate for governor. "I could not support a project that risks one resource that we know is a given, and that is the world's richest spawning grounds, over another resource."
Many here took her words to heart. But as governor, Palin has helped ease the way for a proposed copper and gold mine of near-mythic proportions at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the world's greatest spawning ground for wild salmon.
If state regulators give their approval, mining companies plan to carve an open pit that would rival the world's largest mines, descending half a mile, or almost a kilometer, and taking as much energy to operate daily as the city of Anchorage. That prospect has ignited a war between Alaska's two historic industries, mining and fishing.
Scientists and former state and federal biologists warn that toxic residue from the project, known as Pebble Mine, would irreparably harm a centuries-old salmon fishing industry that employs 17,000 and hauls in $100 million annually.
Opposition is fierce and broad. Three former governors, two Republicans and a Democrat, have spoken out against the mine, as have Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican, commercial fishing firms, and many Alaska Natives in Bristol Bay.
From the days of the 19th-century gold rush, mining has been encoded in Alaska's DNA. And Pebble Mine, with the promise of 1,000 jobs in an economically depressed region, has a constituency.
Palin has remained officially neutral, saying that the state will evaluate the project when it receives a formal permit application. But she has embraced resource extraction in ways that are likely to help Pebble. On the presidential campaign trail in coal country this month, she led supporters in chants of "Mine, baby, mine!"
The governor appointed mining industry officials to lead her Department of Natural Resources, which regulates mines. And her environmental commissioner is a former lawyer for Red Dog, which is Alaska's largest mine and has a history of violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The revolving door spins both ways. Ken Taylor, a former fish and game official who was Palin's point man in her argument that global warming did not threaten polar bears, became environmental vice president for the Pebble Partnership in July.
In August, Alaskans defeated a "Clean Water" ballot measure aimed at preventing large mines like Pebble from releasing pollutants into salmon streams. Days before the vote, the Alaska Public Offices Commission found the Natural Resources Department's Web site had improperly featured material about the referendum that favored the mining industry. If there was any doubt where the governor stood, she dispelled it by speaking out against the measure.
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said the governor had taken a stand because mining is "vital to the existence of so many Alaskans for jobs, local economic growth and long-term stability."
Other moves by the Palin administration could also help Pebble. It plans to use a $7 million federal earmark - a practice she criticizes on the campaign trail - for a major upgrade of a road through the snow-capped Chigmit range, records show. There are no villages along this route, but it would form the first leg of a proposed 200-mile thoroughfare between Pebble Mine and the Pacific Ocean.
"It's the road from nowhere to nowhere," said Geoffrey Parker, a land-use lawyer and Pebble critic.
The Palin administration declined to investigate ethics concerns raised by a Republican lawmaker who says mining officials have tried to buy the loyalty of native leaders, not least by paying $25,000 per month to house workers in the homes of influential locals.
One of those houses is owned by Ethel and John Adcox, the parents of a close friend of Todd Palin, the governor's husband. The Adcoxes say that the $25,000 vastly exceeds the typical rate for their modest guesthouse in the tiny village of Iliamna.
"We just feel privileged to live here when this money is being spent and villages are not dying," said Ethel Adcox, a Yup'ik leader and a distant relative of Todd Palin.
Pebble is feeding her entire village - literally - with free steak and lobster dinners each Sunday, she said, adding, "It leaves a good taste in your mouth."
The lands around the Pebble site stretch to the horizon. Hundreds of grizzly bears sleep in its folds. The Mulchatna caribou herd tramps across the tundra. In the rivers that curl toward the Bering Sea, 40 million salmon come to spawn.
Opposition is fierce and broad. Three former governors, two Republicans and a Democrat, have spoken out against the mine, as have Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican, commercial fishing firms, and many Alaska Natives in Bristol Bay.
From the days of the 19th-century gold rush, mining has been encoded in Alaska's DNA. And Pebble Mine, with the promise of 1,000 jobs in an economically depressed region, has a constituency.
Palin has remained officially neutral, saying that the state will evaluate the project when it receives a formal permit application. But she has embraced resource extraction in ways that are likely to help Pebble. On the presidential campaign trail in coal country this month, she led supporters in chants of "Mine, baby, mine!"
The governor appointed mining industry officials to lead her Department of Natural Resources, which regulates mines. And her environmental commissioner is a former lawyer for Red Dog, which is Alaska's largest mine and has a history of violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The revolving door spins both ways. Ken Taylor, a former fish and game official who was Palin's point man in her argument that global warming did not threaten polar bears, became environmental vice president for the Pebble Partnership in July.
In August, Alaskans defeated a "Clean Water" ballot measure aimed at preventing large mines like Pebble from releasing pollutants into salmon streams. Days before the vote, the Alaska Public Offices Commission found the Natural Resources Department's Web site had improperly featured material about the referendum that favored the mining industry. If there was any doubt where the governor stood, she dispelled it by speaking out against the measure.
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said the governor had taken a stand because mining is "vital to the existence of so many Alaskans for jobs, local economic growth and long-term stability."
Other moves by the Palin administration could also help Pebble. It plans to use a $7 million federal earmark - a practice she criticizes on the campaign trail - for a major upgrade of a road through the snow-capped Chigmit range, records show. There are no villages along this route, but it would form the first leg of a proposed 200-mile thoroughfare between Pebble Mine and the Pacific Ocean.
"It's the road from nowhere to nowhere," said Geoffrey Parker, a land-use lawyer and Pebble critic.
The Palin administration declined to investigate ethics concerns raised by a Republican lawmaker who says mining officials have tried to buy the loyalty of native leaders, not least by paying $25,000 per month to house workers in the homes of influential locals.
One of those houses is owned by Ethel and John Adcox, the parents of a close friend of Todd Palin, the governor's husband. The Adcoxes say that the $25,000 vastly exceeds the typical rate for their modest guesthouse in the tiny village of Iliamna.
"We just feel privileged to live here when this money is being spent and villages are not dying," said Ethel Adcox, a Yup'ik leader and a distant relative of Todd Palin.
Pebble is feeding her entire village - literally - with free steak and lobster dinners each Sunday, she said, adding, "It leaves a good taste in your mouth."
The lands around the Pebble site stretch to the horizon. Hundreds of grizzly bears sleep in its folds. The Mulchatna caribou herd tramps across the tundra. In the rivers that curl toward the Bering Sea, 40 million salmon come to spawn.

Wal-Mart announces new ethical and environmental principles
By Stephanie Rosenbloom
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Wal-Mart announced Wednesday in Beijing that it would require manufacturers supplying goods for its stores to adhere to stricter ethical and environmental standards, the latest effort by the world's biggest retailer to answer criticism of its business practices.
At a gathering of more than 1,000 suppliers, Chinese officials and advocacy groups, Wal-Mart executives revealed a new supplier agreement that would require manufacturers to allow outside audits and to adhere to specific social and environmental criteria. The agreement will be phased in beginning in January, Wal-Mart said.
The changes signal a move by Wal-Mart away from intermittent transactions with many suppliers toward longer-term arrangements with a smaller group of manufacturers. Wal-Mart is betting that using its buying power this way can help keep prices low even as it keeps a closer eye on its suppliers.
Wal-Mart, long criticized for its treatment of workers in the United States and its ostensible willingness to overlook violations abroad, has in recent years offered a series of environmental and labor initiatives. A Beijing meeting now under way is the company's first "sustainability summit."
By next year, Wal-Mart will start keeping close track of the factories from which its products originate, even if the products pass through many hands. By 2012, Wal-Mart will require suppliers to source 95 percent of their production from factories that receive the highest ratings in audits of environmental and social practices.
The agreement includes a ban on child labor, forced labor and pay below the local minimum wage.
"Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional," Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive, said at the Beijing meeting. "I firmly believe that a company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and its chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts, will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products. And cheating on the quality of products is the same as cheating on customers."
To ensure that suppliers are making changes, Wal-Mart said it would require three levels of audits: from the vendors themselves, from an outside party and from Wal-Mart, which will initiate more of its own random, unannounced audits.
Wal-Mart said the audits would assess factory working conditions as well as compliance by manufacturers with standards regarding air pollution, wastewater discharge, management of toxic substances and disposal of hazardous waste.
Environmental and labor groups that follow Wal-Mart said the retailer had a mixed history when it came to the environment and labor practices, and that sometimes the company's goals were lofty, while the measurable outcomes were less so.
In the 1990s it came to light that workers at factories producing Kathie Lee Gifford clothing for Wal-Mart were subjected to inhumane conditions. Last year, two nongovernmental organizations said abuse and labor violations, including child labor, occurred at 15 factories that produce or supply goods for Wal-Mart and other retailers. In June the U.S. government and the state of Oklahoma filed a complaint in federal court claiming that Wal-Mart and other companies dumped hazardous waste in Oklahoma City. In Bangladesh, it was charged that factory workers were made to work 19-hour shifts, with some bringing home just $20 a month.
Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health, a watchdog group in Oakland, California, said he believed that Wal-Mart's effort to improve the practices of its suppliers began as a program to counter public-relations damage.
"I think what happened along the way is some people there actually got convinced," he said. "It became more than a sophisticated PR stunt, but something they believed in."
However, without knowing the specifics of Wal-Mart's new plan, Green said it would not be easy sledding. Suppliers under pressure to offer the company the lowest prices are likely to have an incentive to cheat, he noted, and outside auditors may not want to report violations for fear of losing a lucrative Wal-Mart contract.
Additionally, tracing the origins of all the working parts that go into a single toy, for instance, is difficult because it involves multiple factories.
Still, groups that have criticized Wal-Mart were attending the meeting in Beijing to hear the company's plans.
In an interview by telephone from Beijing on Tuesday night, Scott said that Wal-Mart might offer longer-term agreements to suppliers willing to make the big investments needed to live up to its environmental demands.
The company said that within China, which has major environmental problems, Wal-Mart would aim by 2010 to cut water use in half in all stores, design and open a prototype store that used 40 percent less energy, and reduce energy use in existing stores by 30 percent.
"People will judge us," Scott said, "based on the results."

Thomas L. Friedman: Bailout (and buildup)
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The 2 is back. Last week, U.S. retail gasoline prices fell below $3 a gallon - to an average of $2.91 - the lowest level in almost a year. Why does this news leave me with mixed feelings?
Because in the middle of this wrenching economic crisis, with unemployment rising and 401(k)s shrinking, it would be a real source of relief for many Americans to get a break at the pump. Today's declining gasoline prices act like a tax cut for consumers and can save $15 to $20 a tank-full for an SUV-driving family, compared with when gasoline was $4.11 a gallon in July.
Yet, it is impossible for me to ignore the fact that when gasoline hit $4.11 a gallon Americans changed - a lot. Americans drove less, polluted less, exercised more, rode more public transportation and, most importantly, overwhelmed Detroit with demands for smaller, more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars. The clean-energy and efficiency industries saw record growth - one of America's few remaining engines of real quality job creation.
But with little credit available today for new energy start-ups, and lower oil prices making it harder for existing renewables like wind and solar to scale, and a weak economy making it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a carbon tax or gasoline tax that would make clean energy more competitive, what will become of America's budding clean-tech revolution?
This moment feels to me like a bad B-movie rerun of the 1980s. And I know how this movie ends - with America's re-addiction to oil and OPEC, as well as corrosive uncertainty for the U.S. economy, trade balance, security and environment.
"Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green?" asks David Rothkopf, energy consultant and author of "Superclass." "Or, could green be the way to end the economic crisis?"
It has to be the latter. We can't afford a financial bailout that also isn't a green buildup - a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens the U.S. and helps the planet.
But how do we do that without any policy to affect the price signal for gasoline and carbon?
Here are some ideas: First, Washington could impose a national renewable energy standard that would require every utility in the country to produce 20 percent of its power from clean, non-
CO²-emitting, energy sources - wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, biomass - by 2025. About half the states already have these in place, but they are all different. It would create a huge domestic pull for renewable energy if we had a uniform national mandate.
Second, Washington could impose a national requirement that every state move its utilities to a system of "decoupling-plus." This is the technical term for changing the way utilities make money - shifting them from getting paid for how much electricity or gas they get you to consume to getting paid for how much electricity or gas they get you to save. Several states have already moved down this path.
Third, an idea offered by Andy Karsner, former assistant secretary of energy, would be to modify the tax code so that any company that invests in new domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology - or procures any clean energy system or energy savings device that is made by an American manufacturer - can write down the entire cost of the investment via a tax credit and/or accelerated depreciation in the first year.
"I'm talking about anything from energy-efficient windows to water heaters to industrial boilers to solar panels, and the job-creating, manufacturing facilities that produce them - anything that makes us more efficient, lean and economically competitive and comes from a domestic, American source," said Karsner.
He also suggests using some of the money from any stimulus package to directly incentivize and support states' efforts to implement and intelligently modernize their building codes to get already well-established national "best practices" quickly into their marketplaces.
Lastly, America needs the next president to be an energy efficiency trendsetter, starting by reinventing the inaugural parade. Get rid of the black stretch limos and double-plated armored Chevy Tahoes inching down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, let the next president announce that he will use no vehicles on Inauguration Day that get less than 30 miles per gallon. He could invite all car companies to participate in the historic drive with their best available American-made, fuel-efficient, innovative vehicle.
Finally, if Congress passes another stimulus package, it can't just be another round of $600 checks to go buy flat-screen TVs made in China. It has to also include bridges to somewhere - targeted investments in scientific research, mass transit, domestic clean-tech manufacturing and energy efficiency that will make us a more productive and innovative society, one with more skills, more competitiveness, more productivity and better infrastructure to lead the next great industrial revolution: ET - energy technology.

OPEC tests prospect of a cut in Russian oil production
By Andrew E. Kramer
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
MOSCOW: As oil prices tumble amid fears of a worldwide recession, OPEC has been testing the prospects of Russia joining in production cuts to help support global prices, something the authorities in Moscow have not been willing to do in former downturns.
So far, Russia has again been noncommittal in high-level meetings including an unusual visit by OPEC's secretary general, Abdullah al-Badri, to Moscow on Wednesday. Russia is the largest oil producer not in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
President Dmitri Medvedev told Badri that Russia was interested in closer ties with the cartel but he stopped short of promising any reduction in Russian oil output, which the government depends on for tax revenue.
"Russia is also a large producer and exporter of oil and it is interested in maintaining stable, predictable prices," Medvedev told Badri during the portion of the meeting that was broadcast on Russian state television. Badri confirmed that he was not expecting a Russian production cut. He said he had come to Moscow to share oil data with the Russians showing a likely glut of supply by the end of the year.
But in the strongest proposal to date from Russia to support prices, a deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin, said that Russia might form a national petroleum reserve to divert some oil from export, with the purpose of limiting supply on global markets and supporting prices.
But how much oil could be taken off the market in this way, and how soon, was unclear, and besides, oil-rich Russia has never maintained a petroleum reserve and may not even have sufficient tanks to do so. The announcement was viewed as a compromise, to appease OPEC members before their announced production cuts.
"The likely reason for the OPEC secretary general's visit to Moscow today was to deliver a message that Saudi Arabia will not take all the financial pain on its own," an investor note from Uralsib in Moscow said Wednesday. "The cartel is unlikely to make any deeper cuts in the future without the participation of major non-OPEC producers such as Russia."
Moscow's relations with the cartel are fraught because Russia is the world's biggest free-rider on OPEC production cuts, benefiting from the price support they provide while continuing to pump oil at full volume. Norway and Mexico also benefit from OPEC without belonging to it. This has angered Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries that take the pain for supporting prices.
Still, even reluctant Russian coordination with OPEC would be an unwelcome prospect for consumer countries just recovering from the explosion in oil prices over the summer.
Russia pumps about 9.8 million barrels of oil a day, the second most in the world after Saudi Arabia, and exports about seven million barrels of crude oil and refined products, mostly to Europe. OPEC ministers are expected to announce a production cut of about one million barrels a day at an emergency meeting in Vienna on Friday, amid concerns that a global recession will drive prices down even farther.
Much is riding on oil prices in Russia, which has also been suffering from the price drop.
The country depends on oil and natural gas for 70 percent of its exports and 60 percent of the national budget.
Public sector salaries have been rising faster than inflation. Consumer spending is soaring. The Kremlin just this year floated ambitious budgets for public works and the military.
The Russian stock market has crumpled along with oil prices.
In the latest sign of distress, this week the ruble came under a speculative attack that prompted the Russian Central Bank to impose limits on currency exchange operations using borrowed funds.
And on Wednesday, Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, said that the financial crisis could prevent the company from rolling over Western bank debt that it was relying on for a major expansion project in the Arctic.

Russia, Iran and Qatar move toward forming gas cartel
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
TEHRAN: Russia, Iran and Qatar made the first serious moves Tuesday toward forming an OPEC-style cartel on natural gas, raising concerns that Moscow could boost its influence over energy markets spanning from Europe to South Asia.
The Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom said it had agreed with Iran and Qatar to form a "big gas troika" and that it should become a permanent body holding regular meetings.
But unlike Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari of Iran, Gazprom's chief executive, Alexei Miller, did not refer to the establishment of a "gas OPEC" after talks in Tehran with Nozari and Energy Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah of Qatar.
"There is a demand to form this gas OPEC and there is a consensus to set up gas OPEC," Nozari told a joint news conference after talks with Miller and Attiyah.
Europe and the United States have warned against such a gas export body, saying it could pose a danger to global energy security and create room for price manipulation.
Russia, Iran and Qatar are ranked the first-, second- and third-biggest holders of natural gas reserves in the world and together boast more than half of the global total.
"We have agreed to hold regular - three or four times per year - meetings of the 'big gas troika' to discuss key issues of gas market developments," Miller said in a statement issued in Moscow.
"We have a common vision of the goals of the forum and the need to transform it into a permanent organization as quickly as possible to serve the goals of stable and reliable energy supplies in the world," the statement said.
Major gas exporters have met informally for several years at the annual Gas Exporting Countries Forum, a grouping including also Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Libya.
Iran wants to turn it into a more formal body akin to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 13-member cartel which makes output decisions that can sway the oil price.
"God willing, in the next meeting of the gas exporting countries, they will affirm the establishment of the organization," Attiyah said.
Gazprom has previously played down the idea of a "gas OPEC," saying it was not feasible.
Some analysts say any gas OPEC could be expected to share insights on upstream contract terms with investors rather than act on restricting gas supply as the oil OPEC does.
"Surely this gathering of gas exporting countries is to give assurances over gas supply to the world," Miller, whose country is the world's largest gas exporter, told the news conference.
Iran is still a relatively small exporter, with U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear activities slowing development of its gas sector. Major European companies have shelved or scrapped multi-billion-dollar projects there.
Russia has been a reluctant backer of UN sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is to generate electricity but which the West fears could lead to weapons manufacturing.
Nozari hailed Tuesday's talks as a "turning point" in expanding cooperation between Iran, Qatar and Russia and said they had agreed to set up a committee of senior officials.
Miller said the new body would "review projects and implement joint projects. This will range from exploration, refining and selling gas."
He added the committee of technical specialists would meet in Doha, Qatar's capital, next week.

'Challenging' 2009 Tour de France route unveiled
By Samuel Abt
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
PARIS: An innovative, demanding and exhausting 2009 Tour de France was outlined Wednesday in Paris to wide acclaim.
"A super route," said Jean-René Bernaudeau, director of the Bouygues team from France. "Also original. It will excite the riders."
Michel Laurent, an official of the Crédit Agricole team from France, which went out of business this month, was equally enthusiastic.
"Very different, very challenging," he said. "It should make for an open and exciting race."
Starting July 4 in Monaco and ending July 26 in Paris, the Tour will cover 3,445 kilometers, or 2,140 miles, in a clockwise direction around France, with excursions into Spain, Andorra, Switzerland and Italy.
To transit that much ground, two long transfers, one by plane and the other by train, will be needed. The distances between the end of any daily stage and the start of the next one look to be considerable, adding to travel time.
There will be 20 major climbs, a bit less than usual, with one of the toughest scheduled right before the finish.
In a major change, the individual time trial that traditionally is held on the next-to-last day has been moved two days earlier.
Instead, a climb up Mont Ventoux, the sleeping giant of Provence at 1,912 meters high, will be the setting for the penultimate stage.
Never before in the race's 105-year history has a mountain been climbed the day before the end.
Another change will see the restoration of the team time trial, for the first time since 2005. Two individual races against the clock, including one on the opening day, are on the agenda.
Two days off are also included. The first will fall on July 13 after the race passes through the Pyrenees and the second will be July 20, during the visit to the Alps.
For all the scandals that marked the Tour this year, the presentation ceremony was remarkable for its lack of comment about doping in bicycle racing.
In acknowledgment of the problem, however, images of four star riders who flunked drug tests were snipped out of the film that, looking at the previous race, opens the presentation.
The four are Bernhard Kohl, the top climber and third-place finisher this year; Stefan Schumacher, who won the two time trials; and Riccardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli, who won three mountain stages between them.
"It is not an omission, it is not a mistake," said the race director, Christian Prudhomme. "They have nothing to do in the great book of the Tour de France."
Not much was said officially either about Lance Armstrong, who won the race from 1999 to 2005, then retired and now, at age 37, is flirting with a return to competing in the Tour.
Although he was not in attendance at the presentation, not since Banquo's ghost sat down in Macbeth's chair has an unseen presence so dominated the proceedings as Armstrong did.
"Where is Lance?" innumerable people asked in conversations. "How is Lance? Why is Lance...."
The answers to the first two are a snap. He is at home in Austin, Texas, training for his comeback and preparing for a race he sponsors.
"He looks very good," reported Angelo Zomegnan, director of the Giro d'Italia, who visited Armstrong a few weeks ago and signed him up to compete in that race. "He's only two kilos over his usual racing weight."
As for "Why is Lance?" - meaning what's behind his reluctance to commit to appear in the next Tour - one reason might be the official coolness to that prospect.
Many people in France believe Armstrong used illegal drugs to win his first Tour, which he vehemently denies. He has challenged a report in the French sports newspaper l'Equipe in 2005 that new tests detected drugs in his urine specimens from the 1999 Tour.
Prudhomme is on record as welcoming him if "he abides by the rules concerning doping and anti-doping, which have considerably evolved in the last few years."
"It is up to him to decide whether he wants to come or not," Prudhomme said Wednesday.
"His return would be neither a good nor a bad thing. Of course he is a special character, but for the Tour he is a rider like others."
Johan Bruyneel, manager of Armstrong's Astana team, said that there was only a 50-50 chance that the American would ride in the next Tour and that it would depend on whether organizers make him feel welcome.
"If he doesn't feel an atmosphere of respect and serenity, he won't do it," Bruyneel said. "For him, the goal of a comeback is not linked to an obsession to win an eighth Tour."
Armstrong has explained that he is returning to heighten awareness of cancer, which struck him in 1996. He heads a foundation that sponsors research into the disease.
In Belgium, The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Eddy Merckx, Armstrong's friend and former mentor, is convinced the American will not race in the Tour next year.
Merckx, who won five Tours, said in Le Soir newspaper that the potential struggle between Armstrong and the 2006 Tour winner, Alberto Contador, within the Astana team was one factor against a comeback.
Armstrong's plan to ride the Giro and the Tour in the same year will also be too much, Merckx felt.

Airstrike kills 9 Afghan troops
By Abdul Waheed Wafa and Carlotta Gall
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan: The Afghan authorities said on Wednesday that an airstrike by coalition forces killed nine Afghan Army soldiers overnight in what the United States-led coalition said may have been "a case of mistaken identity on both sides."
General Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said the air strike took place at 2 a.m. in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan.
The strike killed nine soldiers and wounded three others, one seriously, he said. Other officials in the area said the attack may have been carried out by helicopter gunships.
In a statement, the coalition said a convoy of its troops was returning from an operation and was "involved in multiple engagements" that led to the deaths of the Afghan government troops. "Initial reports from troops on the ground indicate that this may be a case of mistaken identity on both sides," the statement said.
The statement did not confirm the number of dead or identify the nationality of the force responsible for the airstrike. Most of the airstrikes in the Khost area are carried out by American forces, according to news reports.
Colonel Greg Julian, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, said the fighting erupted as coalition troops approached an Afghan Army position
There have been several reports of allied airstrikes killing Afghan civilians, provoking accusations by some Afghans that the coalition orders airstrikes against the wrong targets, and that perception may deepen with the latest attack.
In one of the most dramatic and contentious cases, an American AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected Taliban compound in August, prompting claims by villagers that more than 90 civilians were killed, the majority of them women and children.
In that case, the American military initially insisted that the civilian death toll was between five and seven people. A subsequent report by a Pentagon-based general concluded that more than 30 civilians died.
The strike further strained the relationship between the Bush administration and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, which American officials have criticized for what they say is incompetence and corruption. Karzai has countered with demands that American commanders curb airstrikes, arguing that the civilian death toll has jeopardized popular support for the war effort.
Generally, there have been fewer reports of accidental attacks on the Afghan military than on civilians. But there have been instances of so-called "friendly fire" in the past.
In June 2007, American forces called in air support when Afghan police opened fire on them during a hunt for Taliban militants. Seven Afghan police officers were killed. There have also been reports in recent weeks that Afghan officers have opened fire on coalition troops amid concerns that militants have infiltrated Afghan forces.
The latest attack came as fighting in Afghanistan reached its highest level since the American-led forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.
In recent years, the Taliban has staged a dramatic revival, claiming responsibility for attacks reaching into Kabul itself. On Monday, a 34-year-old British-South African aid worker was shot to death in Kabul as she walked to work. The Taliban accused her of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.
Police in the southern province of Uruzgan said that about 150 militants attacked a district center Tuesday night and Afghan police killed 35 of them. Such figures are difficult to corroborate. Three police officers were killed, the police said. Juma Gul Hitap, the provincial governor of Uruzgan, said the police called in coalition airstrikes during 24 hours of clashes that continued on Wednesday, he said. The Taliban militants were said to have infiltrated the area from neighboring Helmand Province. There were no reports of casualties among coalition troops.

Australia pays compensation to Afghan family
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
CANBERRA: Australia has paid compensation to the family of an Afghanistan district governor killed in a firefight involving Australian special forces soldiers, the head of Australia's military said on Wednesday.
Chora District Governor and tribal leader Rozi Khan Barekzai was among a number of people killed when an Australian patrol became involved in a clash last month near their Tarin Kowt base, in southern Oruzgan province.
"Following negotiations in accordance with Afghan culture, an honour payment has been made to Mr Khan's family to help maintain our good relationship with Rozi Khan's followers," Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told Australia's parliament.
Australia, a close Washington ally, was an original member of the U.S.-led coalition which arrived in the country in 2001 to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
The country has around 1,000 reconstruction and combat troops in Oruzgan, where they are deployed alongside Dutch forces.
Houston said it may never be known whether Australian commandos killed Khan as he went to aid a friend who mistakenly told him his house was under Taliban attack, as his body was buried quickly and without a proper autopsy.
But he admitted that was the most likely explanation, leading Canberra to pay an unspecified amount in compensation.
"Honour payments are a difficult area and it is important that we keep the terms of the honour payment confidential. If people find out what we paid it almost sets a market," Houston said, defending the actions of his troops.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office said Khan, a former mujahideen commander and presidential ally, was killed in a "misunderstanding" involving foreign troops.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

2 Britons criticize U.S. war on terror
By Raymond Bonner
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
LONDON: Two prominent British counterterrorism figures have criticized the United States for what they described as its overly militaristic approach to fighting terrorism and warned of a further erosion of civil liberties.
One of the experts, Stella Rimington, a former director-general of Britain's domestic intelligence agency, said in an interview published during the weekend that she hoped the next U.S. president "would stop using the phrase 'war on terror."'
She also said there had been a "huge overreaction" to the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
The other official, Ken Macdonald, the top prosecutor in England and Wales, who has overseen terrorism trials for the past several years, on Monday rejected what he called "the Guantánamo model," in which the rights of defendants are severely curtailed or eliminated by governments in search of a response to the terrorism threat.
Differences between the British and American approaches in the fight against terrorism have been expressed before, but rarely by figures of such stature and background.
The British have been critical of Guantánamo Bay, secret detentions and the denial of habeas corpus to terrorism suspects in the United States, but the intrusion on individual privacy here is greater than in America. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous - in subway stations, in residential neighborhoods, on highways - and their pervasiveness is one reason that the police were able to track within 24 hours the travels of the cars used in the failed bombing attempts in London and on the Glasgow airport in 2007.
The surveillance has probably made the British people among the most watched in the world.
Britain has approached terrorism more as a criminal matter than as a military one. In contrast to the United States, where prosecutions against suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks have lagged, Britain has prosecuted suspects in all the major terrorist attacks in the country since 2005. And it has achieved a 90 percent conviction rate, Macdonald, head of the country's chief prosecution service, said in a speech Monday.
The trials, he said, have been "absolutely grounded in due process and pursued with full respect for our historical norms and our liberal Constitution."
"Of course, you can have the Guantánamo model," he said. "You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats.
"Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless," he continued. "That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them."
Rimington, former head of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, said that further erosions of civil liberties - including identification cards and a proposal by the Labour government to hold terrorism suspects 42 days without charges - were unnecessary and counterproductive.
The response to Sept. 11 was "a huge overreaction," she told The Guardian.
She said labeling that response a war on terror "got us off on the wrong foot because it made people think terrorism was something you could deal with by force of arms primarily."

Pakistani lawmakers want security strategy review
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani parliament is calling for an urgent review of the government national security strategy and pushing for dialogue with militants as a means of reducing violence.
Lawmakers passed the resolution late Wednesday during a rare private session of both houses of Parliament aimed at forming a national consensus on dealing with domestic militancy.
The resolution says that Pakistan should have an "independent foreign policy," a signal of wariness among many lawmakers about U.S. influence on their nation's approach to battling terrorism.
But it also stresses that Pakistan will not let its soil be used for terrorist attacks elsewhere and says dialogue should be pursued with "elements" willing to follow the "rule of law."

Militants kill 15 Pakistani soldiers in Swat
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
MINGORA, Pakistan: At least fifteen Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and five Islamist militants have been killed in a clash in the northwestern Swat Valley, police said on Wednesday.
The fighting broke out on Tuesday in Kabal area, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban fighters, after a roadside bomb blast aimed at a paramilitary convoy.
"After the exchange of fire that lasted for several hours, more than 20 troops went missing but today we found 15 dead bodies at the site," Noor Rehman, a police officer in Kabal, told Reuters.
He said six troops were still missing.
A military spokesman in Swat also confirmed the incident and said security forces had foiled a suicide attack on Tuesday and destroyed a explosive-laden vehicle in the area.
For the past year security forces have been fighting loyalists of pro-Taliban cleric Mullah Fazlullah, who has led a violent campaign to impose Taliban-style law in Swat, a mountain valley once popular with tourists.
Pakistan launched a military offensive in August against militants in the nearby Bajaur tribal region, bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani tribal lands are regarded as safe havens for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Violence has surged in these regions since 2007, and the number of U.S. missile strikes by pilotless drone aircraft against militant targets have multiplied in recent months.
(Reporting by Junaid Khan; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Suspected U.S. drone fires into Pakistan area
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: A suspected U.S. drone fired a missile into a Pakistani village in North Waziristan tribal region early on Thursday, a Reuters witness said, the latest in a series of such attacks in recent weeks.
The strike targeted a village near Waziristan's main town of Miranshah where Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran Taliban commander and an old friend of Osama bin Laden, had established a madrasa or religious school and where his extended family used to be living. There was no immediate word on casualties.
"A large number of militants are rushing towards the area in vehicles," the Reuters witness told Reuters by telephone from Miranshah.
Twenty-three people, mostly relatives of Haqqani, were killed in a similar attack in the same area in September.
The U.S. forces, frustrated over growing cross-border militant attacks from the Pakistani side, have carried out around a dozen missile strikes and a commando raid in Pakistani tribal areas since the start of September.
A large number of militants have been killed in these attacks but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commander is reported to have died so far.
One of the sons of Haqqani had told Reuters that the elderly commander was in Afghanistan when the village was hit in September.
Haqqani is a veteran of the U.S.-backed Afghan war against the Soviet invasion in the 1970s and 1980s and his extended family had been living in North Waziristan since then. Haqqani's links with bin Laden go back to the late 1980s.
Taliban sources say he is in ill-health and his son, Sirajuddin, has been leading the Haqqani group.
(Reporting by Haji Mujtaba; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Sami Aboudi)

Major power outage in Pakistan's commercial capital
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
ISLAMABAD: A major power outage hit Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi, Wednesday after the city's main power lines tripped because of an overload, an official from the city's electricity supplier said.
Karachi is Pakistan's biggest city with a population of more than 16 million and is home to many industries, the country's two main ports and its main stock market.
"The city's two main high-tension lines tripped due to overload and ... eventually power plants shut," said Qashif Effendi, a spokesman for the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation.
Power was off in most of the city for about two hours. Trading on the stock exchange was not interrupted as it has its own generator. Effendi said power would be restored quickly.
Karachi, like the rest of Pakistan, has been suffering regular black-outs as power is switched off at intervals in different neighbourhoods through the day as authorities struggle to share out insufficient power supplies.
The power cuts, known as load-shedding, have triggered violent protests by factory workers and ordinary citizens.
The government, struggling with a host of economic and security problems, has vowed to set up new power stations and says the problem will be resolved next year.

Roger Cohen: Iran is job one
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
NEW YORK: Until he retired from the State Department earlier this year, Nicholas Burns was, as under secretary of state for political affairs, the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran.
And how many times, during his three years in this role, did he meet with an Iranian?
Not once. Burns wasn't allowed to. His presence was supposed to be the reward if the Iranians suspended uranium enrichment and sat down at the table.
Burns, now 52, joined the State Department in 1980. He's among a generation of U.S. diplomats who have never set foot in Iran, the rising power of the Middle East, even with oil at $70 rather than double that.
Let me put this bluntly: If America is serious about the Middle East, this has got to change.
Wall Street has marginalized foreign policy in the U.S. election campaign. But it will roar back on Nov. 5. The in-box of the next president will include two intractable wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and a tight timetable, of perhaps two years, for preventing Iran from securing nuclear weapons capability.
That's an Iran-dominated agenda. Apart from the nuclear issue, which has tended to override everything, long-term stability in both Iraq and Afghanistan is inconceivable without some Iranian cooperation, as is peace in Lebanon and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Iran, Barack Obama and John McCain could scarcely be further apart. Obama has said of Iran that, "For us not to be in a conversation with them doesn't make sense."
McCain has sung "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of a Beach Boys number - a joke, no doubt, but one reflective of the confrontational tone of his foreign policy pronouncements.
"Country first," a McCain campaign slogan, seems to mean "Rest of the world last." Certainly that's where Sarah Palin, his running mate with a recently acquired passport and a taste for "pro-America" parts of the country, places it.
Burns, like Obama, believes it's time to talk to Iran. "The U.S. needs to commit to a more ambitious diplomatic strategy," he told me. "We have a responsibility, after Iraq, before we consider the use of force, to demonstrate that every diplomatic avenue has been explored. If they come to the table and balk, we will have more leverage with Russia and China to press for much tougher sanctions."
It's time to drop the condition that Iran suspend enrichment before we talk. The condition serves little purpose - Iran can always resume enrichment - and has given the mullahs an alibi.
It's also time - next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution - to rethink the whole U.S. approach to Iran. A good place to start would be getting inside the head of Ali Khamenei, the supreme Iranian religious leader.
The Iranian Revolution was a religious uprising, but also a nationalist one against U.S. meddling in the country, including the CIA-engineered 1953 coup and support for the shah. Khamenei knows that identification still underwrites his power, and that Iran's leadership of an anti-American front still counts on the Muslim street.
He also knows how much Iranian power has grown in recent years, through the U.S. removal of its arch-enemy Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the ushering of fellow Shiites to power in Baghdad. He knows that Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Hamas are now powerful forces. He knows how stretched the U.S. is militarily. He knows how popular the nuclear program is domestically as a symbol of Iran's regional ambitions. And he knows Israel has the bomb.
These are realities. They may be unpalatable, but if there's a lesson to the Bush years, it's that dealing in illusions is unhelpful. The cost to Khamenei of a handshake with America is high.
But Iran also has some shared interests with America - in preventing a break-up of Iraq, in preventing the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, in avoiding a violent confrontation of the Sunni and Shiite worlds. It wants security, more economic access, and, eventually, restored diplomatic relations with the United States.
All of this says to me: Think big. Don't obsess about the nuclear issue, critical as it is. Get everything on the table. Be realistic, as in: We have interests, you have interests, are there areas in which they coincide?
Don't lecture, don't moralize. Don't demand everything - an end to the nuclear program and terrorism and Lebanese and Gazan interference - without the means to back such demands. That's been the Bush failure.
I can hear the outrage already: But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president at least until elections next year, wants to wipe Israel off the map! He denies the Holocaust! Sunni powers including Saudi Arabia will race for the bomb unless America takes out the Iranian centrifuges!
To which I say, focus on today's reality, coldly. Iran does not have nuclear capacity yet. It's time to talk.
And it's time to find the greatest Americans, irrespective of party, to get that talking going. As Obama has noted, "We negotiated with Stalin. We negotiated with Mao."

Study finds dubious information helped lead to torture of 3 Canadians
By Ian Austen
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
OTTAWA: The passing of inflammatory information from Canadian police and intelligence officials to the United States contributed to the jailing and torture of three Canadian citizens by Syria, according to a report of a Canadian inquiry released Tuesday.
The inquiry, led by Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, lacks the scope of an earlier examination of the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was sent by United States officials from New York to Syria, where he was tortured. But the two reports have many similarities regarding the relations between North America's security and intelligence services.
Unlike Arar, the three men in this case, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin, were not sent to Syria through the American program known as rendition. The three all went there independently at different times for personal reasons and were arrested and jailed upon their arrival.
Iacobucci confirmed a longstanding contention by the three men that Canada had tipped the United States to their travel plans. He also faulted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for making strong claims about the men that were mainly unsupported.
The inquiry was limited to assessing the actions of Canadian officials, and the United States and several other foreign governments declined to cooperate.
In Elmaati's case, Iacobucci concluded that the detention resulted from three events: the Mounted Police advised several foreign legal authorities, including those in the United States, that the man was "an imminent threat to public safety"; the Canadian intelligence agency told its American counterparts and others that the man was an associate of an aide to Osama Bin Laden; and the Canadian police gave the CIA and the FBI his travel itinerary.
The Mounties, Iacobucci wrote, "should have considered, before providing Elmaati's travel itinerary to the U.S., that U.S. authorities might take steps to have Elmaati detained and questioned."
In connection with Almalki, the report indicates that in October 2001, the Mounties told the United States Customs Service in a letter that he was an "Islamic extremist individual suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement."
The inquiry, however, found that this claim — and similar information given to agencies in the United States about the other men — was largely based on secondhand information. In Almalki's case, some of it referred to another person.
The Canadian suspicion about Almalki seems to have come from his business, which involved exporting common, and in some cases obsolete, electronic components to Pakistan.
In May 2002, the Mounties met with the FBI and members of other United States security agencies. Those agencies are not identified in the public version of the report, which was censored. The meeting, which was apparently intended to prompt an American criminal investigation of Almalki, included a PowerPoint presentation titled, "The Pursuit of Terrorism: A Canadian Response." It described Almalki as a "procurement officer" for terrorist groups.
"Labeling of someone at a time when 9/11 was sort of recent can be a very serious matter," Iacobucci said at a news conference.
Almalki, who had traveled to Syria to join his parents on a family visit, was detained for 22 months. The inquiry concluded that he, like the other two men, was tortured and held under "inhumane" conditions.
Iacobucci was not assigned to review the actions of the three men. Despite that, all three told reporters that the report of the inquiry had cleared them of any wrongdoing.
Almalki, after noting that he was apparently a victim of identity confusion, told reporters: "My life has been ruined; my reputation has been ruined. I lost my business based on information that didn't even relate to me."
A lawyer who represented the Canadian Arab Federation in the inquiry, James Kafieh, said the report showed that "these three men were sacrificed to show the United States that Canada was doing something."
While Iacobucci found fault with actions by the Canadian police, intelligence investigators and diplomats, he added that no one had behaved improperly.
"Mistakes were made, but I don't think that's inconsistent with saying that people doing their jobs were doing so conscientiously," he said.
The three men have all filed lawsuits against the Canadian government. Last year, the government gave Arar about 10.5 million Canadian dollars in compensation.
A classified version of the report was submitted to the government on Monday. No action is required.

Iraqi Qaeda-linked group reports a leader killed
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
DUBAI: A leading member of an al Qaeda-linked group, who had Swedish citizenship, has been killed in a suicide operation, the leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq said in an Internet statement posted on Wednesday.
"God has honoured him with martyrdom so he told his soldiers 'here I am your leader I fight then I blow up my explosive belt in defence of my religion'," Abu Omar al-Baghdadi said of the militant identified by the alias, Abu Qaswara al-Maghrebi.
"Those who loved the martyr ... to avenge (our) brother and those who were with him should kill an infidel, be it an apostate or an occupier," said Baghdadi in the statement posted on a website that carries statements by militant groups including al Qaeda.
Baghdadi said Maghrebi, whose alias suggests he was a Moroccan national, had "thrown his Swedish passport in the trash bin" and joined the group's fight against U.S.-led forces and those of the Iraqi Shi'ite-led government.
Maghrebi was married to a European woman and had five children whom he did not see for three years, said Baghdadi, adding that he had fought in Afghanistan before leading the militant group in the northern region of Iraq.
Baghdadi did not give details about the operation in which Maghrebi was killed or say when it happened.
(Reporting by Inal Ersan; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Colombia smashes drug ring with Hezbollah ties
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
BOGOTA: Colombian authorities said on Tuesday they broke up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hezbollah guerrillas.
More than 100 suspects were arrested in Colombia and overseas on charges they trafficked drugs and laundered cash for Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel and for outlawed paramilitaries in a network that stretched from South America to Asia, the attorney's general office said.
"The criminal organisation used routes through Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, Middle East and Europe, bringing in cash from the sale of these substances," the statement said.
Among those arrested in Colombia were three people suspected of coordinating drug smuggling to send some of their profits to groups such as Hezbollah, the office said.
Those suspects -- Chekry Mahmoud Harb, Ali Mohamad Abdul Rahim and Zacaria Hussein Harb -- used front companies to send drug cash overseas, it said without providing further details.
Colombia, a key U.S. ally, remains the world's No. 1 cocaine producer, although over the last seven years Washington has sent more than $5 billion (3 billion pounds) in aid that has helped weaken the country's FARC rebels and reduce violence from its conflict.
Washington has often complained that Iran-backed Hezbollah and other Islamic groups that it considers terrorist organizations are active in Arab communities in South American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.
(Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

U.S.-Mexico border fence will split friendship park
By Randal C. Archibold
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
IMPERIAL BEACH, California: At a time of tumult over immigration, with illegal workers routed from businesses, record levels of deportations, border walls getting taller and longer, Friendship Park here has stood out as a spot where international neighbors can chat easily over the fence.
Or through it, anyway. Families and friends, some of them unable to cross the border because of legal or immigration trouble, exchange kisses, tamales and news through small gaps in the tattered chain-link fence. Yoga and salsa dancing, communion rites, protest and quiet reflection all transpire in the shadow of a stone obelisk commemorating the area where Mexican and American surveyors began demarcating the border nearly 160 years ago after the war between the countries.
"It's hard to see each other, to touch," said Manuel Meza, an American citizen sharing coffee and lunch through the fence with his wife, who was deported and now drives three hours for regular visits at the fence. "It's strange, but our love is stronger than the fence."
But in a sign of changing times, new border fencing that the Department of Homeland Security is counting on to help curtail illegal crossings and attacks on Border Patrol agents will slice through the park, limiting access to the monument and fence-side socializing.
In addition to the fence, a second, steel mesh barrier will line the border for several yards on the United States side, creating a no-man's land intended to slow or stop crossings.
With construction expected to begin early next month, the federal and state governments are still negotiating how to provide some access to the monument. But more than a few San Diegans see a paradox in an area meant to celebrate friendship taking on tones of distance and separation. Pat Nixon, the former first lady, at a dedication here in 1971, declared, "I hate to see a fence anywhere" as she stepped into Mexico to shake hands.
"It's harmful to the kind of family culture we have at the border," said Representative Bob Filner, Democrat of California, who has urged the department not to build in the park. "We have a friendly country at the border. We have family ties across the border. It is one place, certainly in San Diego, where we talk about friendship at the border."
But Border Patrol officials, who regularly post agents there, said the park had an underside.
Although much activity may be innocent, smugglers have taken advantage by passing drugs and contraband through openings. People have even tried to pass babies through ragged metal slats that mark the border on the beach, said Michael Fisher, the chief patrol agent in San Diego. The agency now operates a checkpoint to screen people leaving the park.
"It's a real shame," Fisher said, gazing down as a young boy playing on the beach darted briefly across the border, then back again. "It is a nice area with the historical marker. Having people meet and mingle is good. But unfortunately, any time you have an area that is open, the criminal organizations are going to exploit that."
"We cannot," he added, "have it open, not at the expense of reducing the ability to patrol the border."
The new fencing is part of a 14-mile project to reinforce and build new barriers from the ocean to areas east of the Otay Mesa port of entry. The project includes filling in a deep valley known as Smuggler's Gulch, a notorious crossing point just east of the park, with tons of dirt, to the dismay of environmentalists.
Unlike the trend in the past year or two along most of the 2,000-mile Southwest border, Fisher said, illegal crossings have increased in the San Diego area, along with attacks on agents who encounter smugglers raining stones and other objects on them and their trucks. One-fourth of all such assaults, he said, occur in the San Diego sector, which more than a decade ago was one of the hottest spots for illegal crossings.
While a flood of new agents and bolstered fencing has pushed much of the crossings to the eastern deserts and the sea, where smuggling by boat is a growing problem, people still regularly climb over, tunnel under or cut through the fence, sometimes with blowtorches and sophisticated cutting tools.
But critics of the plan to extend the fencing in Friendship Park said the Border Patrol had exaggerated problems there, one of a smattering of spots along the border where the prospect of new fencing has dampened cross-border bonhomie.
Naco, Arizona, no longer plays an annual volleyball game using the fence as a net because the ragged wire one has been replaced by a taller barrier of solid plates. Residents of Jacumba, California, and Jacume, Mexico, who once freely crossed back and forth, complain that reinforced fencing has severed generation-long ties.
But Friendship Park, part of the surrounding Border Field State Park, had come to symbolize the tight embrace of San Diego and Tijuana, the border's biggest cities.
Already, construction of the new fence has cut off a long stretch of the old one. But on a recent Sunday, a steady stream of people came to greet friends and relatives there.
Jacqueline Huerta pressed her face against the fence on the Tijuana side to get her first look at her 4-month-old niece, Yisell.
"Oh, how cute you are," she exclaimed, forcing her hand through an opening to caress the baby's hair.
"Where else can she do that?" said Huerta's mother, Socorro Estrada, who drove six hours from Bakersfield, California, with family members to the fence. The baby's father said he was on probation and could not leave the country and, in any case, Estrada had advised them against traveling into Mexico with such a young infant.
Nearby, the Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister, offered his weekly communion through the fence, passing the wafer through a hole to a small gathering on the Mexican side. (Technically, that was a customs violation, but Border Patrol agents nearby tolerate most casual contact.)
"Arresting a clergy person for passing a communion wafer through the fence would be a public relations nightmare for them," Fanestil said with a smile just before beginning.
Juventino Martin Gonzalez, 40, accepted the wafer. He had been deported to Mexico a month ago after living and working in the United States for 20 years, fathering three children, now teenagers, here.
He came, he said, for a glimpse of the American side he still considers home.
"It is hard because I was the one paying the rent," he said. "I belong over there, not here. But until then, this is the closest I can get, but it is not close enough for them."

Mexico holds smuggler suspect in beheadings
Thursday, October 23, 2008
MEXICO CITY: Mexico has captured a drug trafficker who once tried to smuggle a tonne of cocaine through the capital's airport in 25 suitcases and was sought for the beheading of customs agents, police said on Wednesday.
Jesus "The King" Zambada, whose brother Ismael is a leader of the feared Sinaloa cartel, was captured with 16 others after a gunbattle with police in a Mexico City neighbourhood on Monday.
More than 100 police and soldiers transported the prisoners in a heavily armed convoy to jail, where they were presented to the media along with confiscated rifles plated with silver and gold and pistols with pearl holsters.
Zambada was known for moving massive amounts of drugs through Mexico City airport with the help of corrupt customs authorities, a source from the attorney general's office told Reuters.
In February 2007 he dispatched $18 million (11 million pounds) worth of cocaine stuffed into 25 suitcases to Mexico from Venezuela. Officers found them on an airport carousel.
Police also believe Zambada was behind the killings of several employees of a private customs firm who were found beheaded near the capital's airport.
The Sinaloan drug traffickers are locked in a battle for dominance with the Gulf cartel and gruesome tit-for-tat killings have claimed more than 3,725 lives this year alone.
President Felipe Calderon has deployed thousands of troops and police to drug hot spots around the country, but failed to quell violence and extortions by cartels.
On Wednesday, businesses in Ciudad Juarez, across the U.S. border from El Paso, Texas, vowed to withhold taxes until the government provides improved security in the city with the highest death toll from the drug war.
(Reporting by Anahi Rama and Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City and Robin Emmott in Monterrey; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

AIG agrees to suspend millions in executive payouts
By Jonathan D. Glater
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The beleaguered insurer American International Group has agreed to suspend payments to executives from a $600 million bonus fund as well as $19 million in payments to its former chief executive, New York's attorney general announced on Wednesday.
The moves are the latest steps in an effort by the attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, to prevent bonuses and other compensation to former executives at AIG, which in recent weeks has received tens of billions of dollars in loans from the Federal Reserve. "There should not even be any contemplation of bonuses for executive performance because I find it hard to conceive of a situation that you could justify a performance bonus for management that virtually bankrupted the company," Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
According to a letter Cuomo sent to AIG's current chief executive, Edward Liddy, the company has agreed to freeze $19 million in remaining payments to Martin Sullivan, the company's former chief executive who was ousted in June. Cuomo said he did not know how much Sullivan might have already been paid under his employment contract.
The company also agreed not to make any payments from a $600 million deferred compensation and bonus fund for executives of AIG's financial products unit, which undertook many of the complex financial transactions that pushed the company to the brink of collapse. Cuomo said that Joseph Cassano, who headed that unit, stood to receive $70 million from the fund.
"We have received the letter, and the letter is consistent with our discussions with the attorney general and with actions we have taken," said Joe Norton, a spokesman for AIG.
Cuomo has already called on AIG to assist in efforts to recover payments already made to executives at the company. On the call with reporters, Cuomo suggested that his actions offered a template for dealing with executive compensation at companies now receiving taxpayer money through the bailout approved by Congress this month.
"Once a company accepts tax dollars, there are different rules," Cuomo said. "These are taxpayers who did not voluntarily make an investment in these companies. In many ways it was a forced investment."

Stocks drop sharply in Europe and Asia
FTSE closes 4.5 percent lower

A matter of life and debt
By Margaret Atwood
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
This week, credit has begun to loosen, stock markets have been encouraged enough to reclaim lost ground (at least for now) and there is a collective sigh of hope that lenders will begin to trust in the financial system again.
But we're deluding ourselves if we assume that we can recover from the crisis of 2008 so quickly and easily simply by watching the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the broken moral balance that let this chaos loose.
Debt - who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid - is a subject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fairness, a sense that is embedded in all of our exchanges with our fellow human beings.
But at some point we stopped seeing debt as a simple personal relationship. The human factor became diminished. Maybe it had something to do with the sheer volume of transactions that computers have enabled. But what we seem to have forgotten is that the debtor is only one twin in a joined-at-the-hip pair, the other twin being the creditor. The whole edifice rests on a few fundamental principles that are inherent in us.
We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit, and - the negative version - who harbor grudges when we feel we've been treated unfairly.
Without a sense of fairness and also a level of trust, without a system of reciprocal altruism and tit-for-tat - one good turn deserves another, and so does one bad turn - no one would ever lend anything, as there would be no expectation of being paid back. And people would lie, cheat and steal with abandon, as there would be no punishments for such behavior.
Children begin saying, "That's not fair!" long before they start figuring out money; they exchange favors, toys and punches early in life, setting their own exchange rates. Almost every human interaction involves debts incurred - debts that are either paid, in which case balance is restored, or else not, in which case people feel angry. A simple example: You're in your car, and you let someone else go ahead of you, and the driver doesn't wave or honk. How do you feel?
Once you start looking at life through these spectacles, debtor-creditor relationships play out in fascinating ways. In many religions, for instance. The version of the Lord's Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for "debt" and the word for "sin" are the same. And although many people assume that "debts" in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don't pay back what's owed, you cause harm to others.
The fairness essential to debt and redemption is reflected in the afterlives of many religions, in which crimes unpunished in this world get their comeuppance in the next. For instance, hell, in Dante's "Divine Comedy," is the place where absolutely everything is remembered by those in torment, whereas in heaven you forget your personal self and who still owes you five bucks and instead turn to the contemplation of selfless Being.
Debtor-creditor bonds are also central to the plots of many novels - especially those from the 19th century, when the boom-and-bust cycles of manufacturing and no-holds-barred capitalism were new and frightening phenomena, and ruined many. Such stories tell what happens when you don't pay, won't pay or can't pay, and when official punishments ranged from debtors' prisons to debt slavery.
In "Uncle Tom's Cabin," for example, human beings are sold to pay off the rashly contracted debts. In "Madame Bovary," a provincial wife takes not only to love and extramarital sex as an escape from boredom, but also - more dangerously - to overspending. She poisons herself when her unpaid creditor threatens to expose her double life. Had Emma Bovary but learned double-entry bookkeeping and drawn up a budget, she could easily have gone on with her hobby of adultery.
For her part, Lily Bart in "The House of Mirth" fails to see that if a man lends you money and charges no interest, he's going to want payment of some other kind.
As for what will happen to us next, I have no safe answers. If fair regulations are established and credibility is restored, people will stop walking around in a daze, roll up their sleeves and start picking up the pieces. Things unconnected with money will be valued more - friends, family, a walk in the woods. "I" will be spoken less, "we" will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good.
On the other hand, if fair regulations are not established and rebuilding seems impossible, we could have social unrest on a scale we haven't seen for years.
Is there any bright side to this? Perhaps we'll have some breathing room - a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our relationship to the living planet from which we derive all our nourishment, and without which debt finally won't matter.
Margaret Atwood is the author of "The Handmaid's Tale" and, most recently, "Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth."

Obama takes 10-point lead on McCain
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
Democrat Barack Obama has expanded his national lead over Republican John McCain in the U.S. presidential race to 10 points, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
Obama leads McCain 52 percent to 42 percent among likely U.S. voters in the latest three-day tracking poll, up from an 8-point advantage for Obama on Tuesday. The telephone poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
It was the third consecutive day Obama gained ground on McCain as the two begin the final sprint to the November 4 election.
"Obama just keeps growing, he has expanded his lead among almost every major voting group," said pollster John Zogby. "McCain seems to be out of steam for the moment."
The 10-point lead was the first time Obama's advantage over McCain, an Arizona senator, reached double-digits in the poll. Obama's lead had floated between 2 and 6 points in the more than two weeks of polling until stretching to 8 points on Tuesday.
Obama made gains with two key swing voting blocs. His advantage with independent voters grew to a whopping 27 points from 15 points and his edge with women voters grew to 16 points from 13.
Obama, an Illinois senator, led among all age groups and in every income group except for the most wealthy voters. He now has the support of 21 percent of self-described conservatives -- his best showing with those voters.
McCain narrowly trails Obama by 2 percentage points among men and saw his lead among whites drop to 6 points from 9 points, 50 percent to 44 percent.
The poll, taken Sunday through Tuesday, showed independent Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and Libertarian Bob Barr each registering 1 percent support.
Three percent of voters remain undecided.
The rolling tracking poll surveyed 1,208 likely voters in the presidential election. In a tracking poll, the most recent day's results are added while the oldest day's results are dropped to monitor changing momentum.
The U.S. president is determined by who wins the Electoral College, which has 538 members apportioned by population in each state and the District of Columbia. Electoral votes are allotted on a winner-take-all basis in all but two states, which divide them by congressional district.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)

Obama takes time for a woman dear to him
By Julie Bosman
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Senator Barack Obama spoke of how his grandmother started as a secretary without a college degree and worked her way up to be a vice president of a bank.
"She's the one who taught me about hard work," Obama said in that speech in Denver. "She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well."
Obama's maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has been a powerful figure throughout his life, one he has frequently invoked in his speeches, in his television advertisements and in his memoir. But now 85, she has a broken hip and other ailments, and her medical condition has been described by his campaign as "very serious." He is therefore canceling his campaign appearances for two days to fly to her bedside on Thursday, with less than two weeks to go in his quest for the presidency.
The timing is something Obama could not have foreseen when writing in his memoir about the grandmother he calls Toot, a tough-as-nails woman who loved playing bridge, reading Agatha Christie mysteries and coming home from work to slip into a muumuu and have a smoke.
Dunham has rarely been interviewed, but Obama has woven her into the narrative of his campaign as the influential presence who was there even when his father, a black Kenyan, abandoned him, and his mother, a free-spirited anthropologist, lived thousands of miles away. She is the last survivor of the people who raised him.
In a television advertisement, Dunham was deployed as a reminder of Obama's family roots in Kansas. In a voice-over, he said she "taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland."
Obama talked about his grandmother in March when he defended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. in one of the most wrenching speeches of his career. "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother," Obama said. "A woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."
And in his memoir "Dreams from My Father," Obama recalled an incident from his childhood, when his grandmother refused to take the bus to work after being harassed by a panhandler at a bus stop.
"She's been bothered by men before," Obama's grandfather told him at the time. "You know why she's so scared this time? I'll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black. That's the real reason why she's bothered."
Obama recalled that his grandfather's words were "like a fist in my stomach."
The trip on Thursday will be the second time since August that Obama has flown to Hawaii, where he grew up. While on a weeklong vacation there, Obama visited Dunham at her modest apartment building in Honolulu nearly every day, often with his wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters in tow.
During the trip, Obama told reporters that Dunham was "sharp as a tack," but that her osteoporosis prevented her from traveling.
While in Hawaii, Obama also visited Punchbowl National Cemetery, where his grandfather Stanley Dunham, a World War II veteran, is buried. During the war, Dunham worked on a bomber assembly line in Kansas while her husband was overseas.
Dunham's illness may remind some voters of Obama's white, Midwestern family at a time when Republicans are trying to create doubts about his identity. Some supporters worry, however, that the visit to Hawaii will cost him precious time on the campaign trail.
But Obama may be troubled by the painful memory of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died of ovarian cancer in 1995.
"The biggest mistake I made was not being at my mother's bedside when she died," he told The Chicago Sun-Times in 2004. "She was in Hawaii in a hospital, and we didn't know how fast it was going to take, and I didn't get there in time."

Maureen Dowd: Moved by a crescent
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Colin Powell had been bugged by many things in his party's campaign this fall: the insidious merging of rumors that Barack Obama was Muslim with intimations that he was a terrorist sympathizer; the assertion that Sarah Palin was ready to be president; the uniformed sheriff who introduced Palin by sneering about Barack Hussein Obama; the scorn with which Republicans spit out the words "community organizer"; the Republicans' argument that using taxes to "spread the wealth" was socialist when the purpose of taxes is to spread the wealth; Palin's insidious notion that small towns in states that went for W. were "the real America."
But what sent him over the edge and made him realize he had to speak out was when he opened his New Yorker three weeks ago and saw a picture of a mother pressing her head against the gravestone of her son, a 20-year-old soldier who had been killed in Iraq. On the headstone were engraved his name, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, his awards - the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star - and a crescent and a star to denote his Islamic faith.
"I stared at it for an hour," he told me. "Who could debate that this kid laying in Arlington with Christian and Jewish and nondenominational buddies was not a fine American?"
Khan was an all-American kid. A 2005 graduate of Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, New Jersey, Khan loved the Dallas Cowboys and playing video games with his 12-year-old stepsister, Aliya.
His obituary in The Star-Ledger of Newark said that he had sent his family back pictures of himself playing soccer with Iraqi children and hugging a smiling young Iraqi boy.
His father said Kareem had been eager to enlist since he was 14 and was outraged by the 9/11 attacks. "His Muslim faith did not make him not want to go," Feroze Khan, told The Gannett News Service after his son died. "He looked at it that he's American and he has a job to do."
In a gratifying "have you no sense of decency, Sir and Madam?" moment, Colin Powell went on "Meet the Press" on Sunday and talked about Khan, and the unseemly ways John McCain and Palin have been polarizing the country to try to get elected. It was a tonic to hear someone push back so clearly on ugly innuendo.
Even the Obama campaign has shied away from Muslims. The candidate has gone to synagogues but no mosques, and the campaign was embarrassed when it turned out that two young women in headscarves had not been allowed to stand behind Obama during a speech in Detroit because aides did not want them in the TV shot.
The former secretary of state has dealt with prejudice in his life, in and out of the army, and he is keenly aware how many millions of Muslims around the world are being offended by the slimy tenor of the race against Obama.
He told the news anchor Tom Brokaw that he was troubled by what other Republicans, not McCain, had said: "'Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no. That's not America. Is something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?"
Powell got a note from Feroze Khan this week thanking him for telling the world that Muslim-Americans are as good as any others. But he also received more e-mails insisting that Obama is a Muslim and one calling him "unconstitutional and unbiblical" for daring to support a socialist. He got a mass e-mail from a man wanting to spread the word that Obama was reading a book about the end of America written by a fellow Muslim.
"Holy cow!" Powell thought. Upon checking, he saw that it was a reference to Fareed Zakaria, a Muslim who writes a Newsweek column and hosts a CNN foreign affairs show. His latest book is "The Post-American World."
Powell is dismissive of those, like Rush Limbaugh, who say he made his endorsement based on race. And he's offended by those who suggest that his appearance Sunday was an expiation for Iraq, speaking up strongly now about what he thinks the world needs because he failed to do so then.
Even though he watched W. in 2000 make the argument that his lack of foreign policy experience would be offset by the fact that he was surrounded by pros - Powell himself was one of the regents brought in to guide the bumptious Texas dauphin - Powell makes that same argument now for Obama.
"Experience is helpful," he says, "but it is judgment that matters."

Kundera wants paper to apologize for spy charge
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: Milan Kundera, the author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," has demanded that a Czech weekly apologize for publishing allegations that he once informed on a purported Western spy, his representative said Wednesday.
The Respekt weekly was given two weeks to apologize in a letter delivered to the publisher Oct. 16, said Jiri Srstka, the director of the Dilia agency, which represents Kundera in the Czech Republic.
"We haven't heard from them yet," Srstka said.
He said if Respekt does not comply, Kundera will sue. He declined to give details.
No representative of Respekt was immediately available for comment. Editor-in-chief Martin Simecka was quoted by the CTK news agency as saying the request is being studied by lawyers and Respekt will comment later.
On Oct. 13, Respekt published an article written by a historian from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and co-signed by a Respekt journalist. The article reported that a team of historians and researchers had found a Czech Communist police document identifying the Czech-born Kundera as the person who in 1950 informed on a man later imprisoned for 14 years.
The usually reclusive Kundera quickly denied the charge, accusing the institute and the media of "the assassination of an author."
Kundera joined the Communist Party as a student, but was expelled after criticizing its totalitarian nature.
Kundera, 79, has lived in France since 1975 and it is there that he published his most famous books, including "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," "The Art of the Novel" and "Immortality." He was granted French citizenship in 1981.
The author lives in virtual seclusion, only travels to his former homeland incognito and never speaks to reporters.

The moral dilemma of turning Maoist propaganda into camp décor
By Richard Bernstein
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
NEW YORK: Among the vintage French liquor and movie advertisements, the British Empire posters, and the American publicity art on display at an annual show in New York last week, you could see a rarity from China that, to me at least, summoned up one of the moral paradoxes of our time.
The print, from 1960, shows a line of workers and peasants marching under a giant red banner. Underneath is a caption that brought a kind of chill: "Oppose Rightist Tendencies," it reads. "Arouse Enthusiasm; Continue the Great Leap Forward."
The poster is one of the more expensive ($1,000) on sale at the East is Red booth within the poster show - East is Red ( being the avocation of Dwight McWethy, an American business consultant who lives in Beijing and sells memorabilia from China's Cultural Revolution and other political movements, mostly to foreigners.
But why the chill? Certainly there's nothing wrong with collecting memorabilia from China's Maoist revolutionary period, which, despite the horrors it caused, certainly produced many arresting images and slogans - the Great Leap Forward, which was actually a horrific slide backward, among them.
The country's best artists were required to make Maoist propaganda, and some of them managed to make extraordinary works out of the mandatory acts of visual fealty to Mao.
In fact, a group of those paintings is now on display at a remarkable exhibition at the Asia Society in New York, entitled "Art and China's Revolution," bearing the message, among others, that propaganda can be art.
And yet there's something funny, a sort of willed amnesia, in the idea of collectors in New York buying revolutionary art from the radical Maoist days, turning it into a camp kind of décor.
Take that poster from 1960 on sale this week at The East is Red booth, the one whose caption gave me the chills.
The poster is a call on people to perpetrate terrible deeds, specifically to denounce alleged "rightists" during the anti-rightist campaign that reached its height in 1957 and was aimed largely at punishing people who took seriously Mao's earlier call (the Hundred Flowers Campaign, another catchy phrase) to criticize the Communist Party for its shortcomings. Hundreds of thousands of these supposed rightists, real and manufactured, were incarcerated for years in labor reform camps where thousands of them died.
Then there are those images of socialist plenty evoked by the poster, precisely at the time when China was afflicted by one of the worst famines of the 20th century - brought about by the same Great Leap Forward whose continuation is urged on the poster.
The poster, in other words, was part of the Big Lie of Maoism, a terrible reality covered up by exciting slogans and arresting images created by brilliant artists. Should we collect them?
Well, of course, no harm is done, and, certainly, the posters have both great visual and historical value. McWethy himself told me that he got interested in Cultural Revolution memorabilia because of the images themselves.
"Look at them," he said. "They are from a bygone era."
So here's a question: Would anybody feel the same interest in posters from the Nazi era in Germany calling on people to advance the cause of Aryan racial superiority? Well, O.K., Mao was not Hitler; indeed he was Hitler's opposite when it came to racism, which Mao opposed. And while he did bad things, as China now officially admits, he did restore Chinese pride and make great strides in public education and health.
What about Stalin then? Would New Yorkers feel comfortable with portraits of "Uncle Joe" in their family rooms or offices? Maybe some would, but probably not very many.
And yet, Mao, who was strikingly similar to Stalin in many ways, including their responsibility for the deaths of millions, seems to benefit from a kind of public indulgence that has never been extended to Stalin. Why the difference?
"If you ask people in China, Mao is still held in high regard as the modern-day founder of the nation," Melissa Chiu, one of the two curators of the Asia Society show, said in a telephone interview.
"In the West," she continued, "it's well-known that Mao had a terrible record and did some terrible things, like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. However, his visual image has been transformed into an icon. It's become divorced from his political record and his historical role."
That explanation would seem to be absolutely correct.
It probably started with Andy Warhol, Chiu said, whose silk-screen images of Mao, made in 1972 and 1973, just as China and the United States began to thaw their long frozen relationship, began the process by which the Chinese dictator was domesticated, turned from a fearsome Communist revolutionary into an object of popular culture, like Marilyn Monroe or Campbell's Soup.
I used to call it the panda-ization of China to refer to the tendency to translate what was actually a brutal dictatorship into something almost cuddly. The panda - not Mao's elevation into a god whom it was mandatory to worship - became the chief symbol of China. It was a propaganda feat of astounding effectiveness.
And yet, the truth is, I would collect Cultural Revolutionary memorabilia too, if I could afford it. I once kept in my office two framed Cultural Revolution-era posters, even though I had also, during a few years as a correspondent in China, interviewed people victimized both by the regime and who were not inclined to look at Mao as a figure of Pop Art.
In his recently published book, "Out of Mao's Shadow," Philip Pan, the former Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post, tells the story of Lin Zhao, an amazing young poet who, during the Hundred Flowers period did utter some criticisms of China's leadership, and then, almost alone among people who did so, refused to confess what were deemed to be her ideological "crimes."
In 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Lin was executed for being so stubborn. Her family was informed of the fact when a soldier appeared at the door demanding five Chinese cents for the bullet that had been used to kill her.
It's an uncommonly harsh story, but it speaks more to the reality of Mao's political campaigns than the images on the posters. So, yes, by all means, collect them, as I have done. They might even be good investments, but don't forget the truths that they conceal.

Bosnia Serb jailed for six years over Srebrenica
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
By Maja Zuvela
Bosnia's war crimes court sentenced an ex-Serb policeman Wednesday to six years in jail for crimes against humanity in the Srebrenica massacre in which up to 8,000 Muslims died in the last months of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
Vaso Todorovic, 40, was found guilty of aiding and abetting the execution of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and the forcible transfer of Bosniak civilians from the U.N. protected zone of Srebrenica, said trial chamber president Senadin Bektasevic.
Todorovic had been first charged with genocide but the original indictment was overturned in a plea bargain deal.
"The fact that Todorovic expressed deepest remorse and regret for his actions as well as his willingness to testify in related cases were seen as mitigating factors in the final verdict," said Bektasevic.
Less than a dozen Bosnian Serbs have been convicted by Bosnian courts over the atrocity and only wartime Bosnian Serb commander Radislav Krstic has to date been convicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
The eastern town of Srebrenica was put under the protection of the United Nations Protection Forces during the war but was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic on July 11, 1995.
Men and boys among the 50,000 Muslim refugees from nearby towns and villages sheltering in Srebrenica tried to escape through the woods after the town fell but most were hunted down, detained and executed by the Serb forces.
Todorovic was found guilty of taking part in the forced resettlement of 25,000 Muslim women, children and elderly who were separated from male family members and sent by bus to areas under the command of the mainly Bosnian Muslim army.
He also participated in capturing thousands of Bosniak men trying to escape Srebrenica and escorting several hundred of them to an agricultural co-operative in the village of Kravica, Bektasevic said.
"After imprisoning the Bosniaks inside the warehouse, members of the Second Sekovici Special Police Detachment killed the detainees with automatic weapons and hand grenades, while Todorovic performed his duty of a guard so that no prisoner under attack could escape," said Bektasevic.
Thousands of victims of the Srebrenica slaughter, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two, have been found in dozens of mass graves in eastern Bosnia.
General Mladic, indicted by The Hague court for genocide for his role in the massacre, is at large.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Adam Tanner and Matthew Jones)

Bosnia in danger of collapse warn former envoys
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
SARAJEVO: Bosnia could disintegrate if the international community does not become more involved in this Balkan nation beset by factional divisions, former peace envoys Richard Holbrooke and Paddy Ashdown warned on Wednesday.
"Almost exactly 13 years ago, American leadership brought an end to Bosnia's war through the Dayton peace agreement. As in 1995, resolve and trans-atlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis," they said in an article published by a Bosnian daily.
Holbrooke, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe negotiated the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian war and Ashdown served as High Representative in Bosnia from 2002 to 2006.
"It is time to pay attention to Bosnia again, if we don't want things to get very nasty quickly. By now, we should all know the price of that," they said.
The Dayton treaty which ended the war split Bosnia into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation, that have co-existed since in an uneasy alliance under a weak central government based in Sarajevo.
Animosities have deepened since rival leaders Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim chairman of the state inter-ethnic presidency, and Serb Republic Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, came to power in the 2006 parliamentary vote.
"Dodik professes to respect Dayton and Silajdzic wishes to revise it, but both men are violating its basic principle: a federal system within a single state. This toxic interaction is at the heart of today's Bosnian crisis," the diplomats warned.
They said that as a result of these animosities "the suspicion and fear that began the war in 1992 has been reinvigorated."
"This tipping point is the result of a distracted international community," they said, adding the U.S. administration had turned its back on Bosnia, while the European Union has not developed a coherent strategy for the country.
They said the disintegration can be avoided if the EU realises the risks and the new U.S. administration actively engages in preserving the Bosnian state through an effective troop presence and by finding ways to untie Bosnia's constitutional knot.
"The EU has weakened not only its own influence in the country, but also the Office of the High Representative and the international military presence...the drivers of progress in Bosnia since Dayton," they said.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Adam Tanner and Matthew Jones)

India chases China to moon
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
By S. Murari
India launched its first unmanned moon mission on Wednesday, joining the Asian space race in the footsteps of rival China and reinforcing its claim to be considered a global power.
Chandrayaan-1 (moon vehicle), a cuboid spacecraft built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) blasted off from a southern Indian space centre shortly after dawn in a boost for the country's ambitions to gain more global space business.
"What we have started is a remarkable journey," G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of ISRO, told reporters.
The successful launch comes less than a fortnight after India closed a landmark nuclear energy cooperation deal with the United States, ending decades of isolation and making it a de facto nuclear power.
The space operation is ostensibly about mapping the moon, but the mission comes on the heels of China's first space walk last month, when Chinese astronauts were feted as national heroes.
It also follows unmanned probes from China and Japan in 2007.
India does not want to fall behind in an Asian race to space that could have technological and military implications. There is disquiet in the West that China has military ambitions in space, with developments like anti-satellite missiles.
India's national television channels broadcast the countdown to the launch live. Some scientists thumped their chests, hugged each other and clapped as the rocket shot up into space.
"Our scientific community has once again done the country proud and the entire nation salutes them," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, while visiting Japan.
Greeted with patriotism in the media, the launch appeared to have distracted India from an economic slowdown, collapsing stock prices and outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence.
"India signals that it could be much more important player geo-politically and regionally," said Seema Desai of London-based political risk consultants Eurasia Group. "The mission and the nuclear deal have together put India in a different place."
Perhaps remarkably in a nation where hundreds of millions of people live in poverty and millions of children are malnourished, the cost of the mission has scarcely been questioned.
"Destination Moon ... Historic Day For India" blazed one TV channel on its screen.
Barring any technical failure, the spacecraft will reach the lunar orbit and spend two years scanning the moon for any evidence of water and precious metals.
A gadget called the 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.
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.
India's project cost $79 million (48 million pounds), considerably less than the Chinese and Japanese probes and ISRO says the moon mission will pave the way for India to claim a bigger chunk of the global space business.
ISRO scientists visited temples to seek the blessings of Hindu gods before the launch, and afterwards some expressed relief that rain had held off until the rocket was in space.
"The rain gods have been kind to us," Madhavan said.
For many proud Indians, the launch is another notch in the country's global ambitions.
"I'm very proud," said Sunil Tambe, a taxi driver in Mumbai. "It means India can do these big projects and I think it will also benefit us because there will be more information and we can learn new things."
In April, India sent 10 satellites into orbit from a single rocket, and ISRO says it is plans more launches before a proposed manned mission to space and then onto Mars in four years time.
"With China forging ahead in the space field, India cannot afford to lag far behind," wrote security analyst Ajey Lele in The Indian Express.
(Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Simon Denyer)

Talking to the other
By Diana Bletter
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
SHAVEI ZION, Israel: It was a few days after the recent riots in Acre, Israel - a 10-minute drive from my house - and my youngest son and I were walking through the winding alleys of the souk in this ancient city.
There were several reasons why this was not such a smart idea. The riots pitched Arabs against Jews, the souk is predominantly Arab, and neither Ari nor I look the part.
But I wanted to go to eat humus at Said's Restaurant, the souk's most famous eatery. More crucially, I wanted to step over the invisible divide that has cleaved the city in two.
The riots began on Oct. 8 after Yom Kippur services had just ended. People and children were milling about on streets in Acre that had become pedestrian zones for the night. An Arab man drove through a Jewish neighborhood - witnesses say he was driving recklessly - and Jews surrounded his car and threw rocks.
Perhaps the Jews overreacted, but people were wary: Last year on Yom Kippur an Arab driver deliberately drove his vehicle through a similar crowd in a nearby town and killed a nine-year-old girl.
The latest incident left the driver unhurt but a rumor spread that he had been killed and Arab-instigated riots began. The first night, Arabs shouted "Death to the Jews," and smashed cars and store windows. The following two nights, Jews shouted "Death to the Arabs," and threw Molotov cocktails into several Arab homes.
As a well-seasoned peace protestor who grew up listening to John Lennon's "Imagine," I felt heartsick. I moved to Israel in 1991 thinking we can overcome, and yet I'm confronted daily with how much hatred and hurt there still is to overcome.
Jewish friends in Acre complain that their daughters cannot walk alone down the streets because Arab teenagers harass them (I've seen it happen). Arabs friends say that religious Jewish families are moving into Acre not so much for the real estate or for reconciliation but as a political move with no sensitivity toward their neighbors (I've seen that happen, too).
What could I do? I attended an emergency meeting of my Acre peace group consisting of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze women and we talked about rising religious extremism and fanaticism. We made plans to organize more meetings and workshops to bring both sides together. And the only other thing I could think of doing eat humus.
There had been calls during the riots for Jews to boycott Arab businesses. Going to the souk, therefore, was not only a culinary outing but also an act of good will, an attempt to start the reconciliation process all over again.
As we walked through the passageway, normally crowded with noise and sounds and jostling but now eerily empty, I felt that my son Ari and I were goodwill ambassadors.
He's also aware that people's lives in this country are intertwined. I've tried to teach him and his siblings tolerance and the importance of communicating with "the other," which is why Ari began studying Arabic. Not for use in the military (he just finished his three-year service in the Israel Defense Forces), but because he wanted to speak the language of his fellow countrymen.
So there we were, eating humus at Said's. On an ordinary day, we'd have to wait a long while for a table but now we sat right down among Said's diverse crowd of Arabs and Jews. Ari talked and joked in Arabic to the waiters and to Sultan, the owner's son (who sometimes plays soccer with my oldest son and stepson), and I was kvelling over the linguistic skills of my nice American-born Jewish son.
After we left, we stepped into another store to buy a can opener. Ari spoke in Arabic to the store owner, who began searching for the opener. Then I stopped dead in my tracks.
In front of me was a map that looked like Israel with Arabic writing and the date 1948. To me, that date represents the birth of Israel, my adopted country.
But it was obvious that the map showed the land without Israel, thereby erasing our existence from reality. This wasn't a map of nostalgia, I realized, it was a map of negation.
So there I stood listening to my son chat away with the owner who said he didn't have a can opener but he'd be happy to order us one. I stood there trying my utmost to hold onto my naïve belief that we can work it out while feeling deep down that our predicament is far too overwhelming for a couple of well-meaning folks to tackle.
Diana Bletter is a writer living in Israel.

The whiff of scandal in crisis-struck U.K.
By Landon Thomas, Jr.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
LONDON: Russian oligarchs, Greek villas and a Rothschild heir bent on revenge.
It could well be a blurb for a pulpy novel. But in fact these are the core elements of a lurid political scandal that has taken London by storm, jeopardizing political careers and embarrassing both the Labour and Conservative parties.
And for George Osborne, the shadow finance minister for the opposition Tory party who has been caught in the headlines, it is a scandal in which the British press is out for blood - his blood.
"We never asked for a donation nor did we receive one," Osborne said this week, as he sought to refute charges that he had solicited Conservative Party funds from Oleg Deripaska, a nuclear physicist turned post-Soviet corporate raider who is Russia's richest man.
But what adds even more frisson to the whole affair is that the conversations at issue took place aboard Deripaska's yacht while Osborne was enjoying the hospitality of a friend from Oxford days, the hedge fund magnate Nathaniel Rothschild, at Rothschild's private villa on the Greek island of Corfu this summer.
On a day when a warning of a worsening recession here by the governor of the Bank of England sent the British pound reeling, both Tory and Labour politicians found themselves ensnared in a controversy that - with its whiff of secret money, privileged access and unencumbered wealth - has struck a particularly discordant note in British politics.
Indeed, in a sign that the hubbub might have a deeper political reach, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that the matter was serious and should be investigated.
Both parties are moving quickly to distance themselves from Deripaska, who entertained both Osborne and Peter Mandelson, now a member of the cabinet and a top adviser to Brown, aboard his $150 million, 238-foot, or 73-meter, yacht as it was anchored near Rothschild's Corfu estate this summer.
But it may be too late. Courted assiduously during London's long financial boom, Deripaska is among the moneyed elite, often foreigners, who have now become anathema to British politicians as they face a souring public mood and a national election by 2010 at the latest.
"This is a long story going back 100 years," said David Cannadine, a contemporary historian who has written extensively about the impact of new money on British politics and society.
"The rich want the influence of politicians and the politicians want the benefit of getting money for their political parties while enjoying the lifestyle of the rich - which can be quite nice," he said.
The affair, whose details are just beginning to emerge, began at a 40th birthday party for Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of the press baron Rupert Murdoch, thrown by the Rothschilds this August.
That it now threatens to upend political careers in London and perhaps impact a national election underscores just how quickly attitudes toward wealth have shifted as the financial crisis threatens to produce hardship not just in Britain but in the United States and elsewhere as well.
Rothschild, 37, is in many ways a symbol of the riches and rewards that spread from Wall Street to The City, London's financial center, during the boom.
A founder of the hugely successful hedge fund Atticus, Rothschild has the kind of wealth and family ties that have attracted many, from Russian financiers like Deripaska to politicians of all stripes. Among these was Mandelson, a longtime Labour politician who had not yet entered the Brown government when he stayed with Rothschild this summer.
Opposition politicians here have questioned Mandelson about accepting Deripaska's hospitality on his yacht even as he was receiving complaints from Generali, the European insurer, over Deripaska's business practices. At the time, Mandelson was trade commissioner for the European Union in Brussels.
Mandelson has also has been accused of pushing for lower aluminum duties to help Deripaska. The Russian's now-troubled company, RUSAL, is the largest producer of aluminum in the world. Mandelson has said his visits with Deripaska were purely social.
As for the 37-year-old Osborne, who has been a member of Parliament since the age of 30, he and Rothschild were close friends at Oxford where they belonged to the elite Bullingdon club, an exclusive drinking society whose celebrated wild parties sometimes ended with the destruction of the restaurant or pub where they were held.
Its members include Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, as well as David Cameron, the Tory party leader.
"I like the sound of breaking glass" is Bullingdon's motto and Rothschild, in rupturing his friendship with Osborne and creating such a public stir has broken enough political china to make his old club mates - perhaps not the Tories, however - proud.
Furious over reports that Osborne had been the source for press accounts detailing encounters between Mandelson and Deripaska on his yacht, Rothschild responded this week with a stinging letter to The Times of London that accused Osborne of approaching Deripaska while on his boat for drinks and asking him about a £50,000, or $82,000, donation to the Conservative Party.
Rothschild charged that Osborne and a Conservative Party fund-raiser had suggested the donation be funneled through a British company belonging to Deripaska. Such a transaction, direct or indirect, would be illegal under British electoral law, which bans party contributions by foreigners.
Speculation has run deep that Mandelson was behind the letter. But a person close to Rothschild said the impetus was more old-fashioned: Rothschild was offended that Osborne, who visited Corfu with his wife and two young children, had violated his host's trust.
Osborne and Conservative Party representatives say that no money changed hands.
And while the furor is aimed squarely at Osborne and the Conservatives for the moment, the controversy also highlights the risk that Brown undertook when he persuaded Mandelson - a controversial political figure with whom he has often clashed - to leave his post in Brussels for a third run in a Labour cabinet.
Known for his political infighting skills, Mandelson resigned from his first cabinet, under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, after it emerged that he had accepted an undeclared and interest-free loan from a wealthy friend. His ties to Rothschild, a longtime friend, and Deripaska, whom he got to know more recently, might well become a liability in today's austere political climate.
Mandelson has declined to respond to questions about his own relationship with Deripaska, declaring that the matter is part of his private, not his public, life.
For now, the taint seems to hang heavier over Osborne, the son of a successful peer who has a trust fund and lives in a house in London's tony Notting Hill. Having changed his name from Gideon to George, Osborne, like the Conservative Party as a whole, has worked hard to downplay the higher-caste associations that the uproar revolves around.
"This is a garden in which no one comes out smelling like roses," said Anthony Seldon, a biographer of Tony Blair who is writing a biography of Gordon Brown. "There is a suspicion towards hedge funds, merchant bankers and oligarchs - a sense that this is unsavory. It is very hard to defend yourself against that."


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