The Associated Press
Friday, November 14, 2008
KIWANJA, Congo: Thousands of hungry and homeless lined up for food on Friday deep in rebel-held territory in eastern Congo as the United Nations began its first large-scale delivery in the area since fighting broke out in late October.
More than 100 tons of food were going to 50,000 civilians in the area north of the provincial capital of Goma over the next four days, said Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the UN World Food Program.
This part of eastern Congo has served as a breadbasket to the region, its verdant hills and valleys made especially fertile by dark, rich volcanic soil. But many of the refugees say it is too dangerous to return to their fields.
"They told me I had to pay them if I wanted to take my food," said Musi Batai, an elderly man who said pro-government militiamen had occupied his fields near Kiwanja, rich in beans and corn. The men chased him away at gunpoint and said they were going to sell his food, Batai said at a Catholic church where WFP was handing out food.
Fighting between the army and fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has displaced at least 250,000 people despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, with some 17,000 troops.
At a stadium in Rutshuru where a second UN distribution was taking place, thousands gathered around neat stacks of corn meal and beans lined on a green field. The bags are meant to last a family 15 days.
"There is plenty of food, but I can't go back to my farm," said 29-year-old Ibrahim Masumbuku, who was waiting in line for rations. "There is no security anywhere."
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency plans to move tens of thousands of refugees from two camps in Kibati to a new site 9 miles, or 15 kilometers, west next week because the area is just too close to the tense front line.
Aid groups have expressed concern about rape and other violence in the government-controlled camps.
There are fears the country could slide back into a ruinous war such as the 1998-2002 conflict that drew in more than half a dozen African nations and tore Congo into rival fiefdoms.
During that conflict, rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda seized vast territory rich in coffee, gold and tin in the east. Angola and Zimbabwe sent tanks and fighter planes to back Congo's government in exchange for access to lucrative diamond and copper mines to the south and west.
Eastern Congo has been unstable since millions of refugees spilled across the border from Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which saw more than 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus slaughtered.
Many of the Hutu extremists who orchestrated the mass killings have remained in Congo, prompting Tutsi-led Rwanda to invade the mineral-rich nation twice.
Nkunda, who quit Congo's army in 2004, claims he is fighting to protect Tutsis, who, like Hutus, are a minority and one of an estimated 200 ethnic groups in Congo.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain said he would support a UN plan to send 3,000 more troops to Congo, but he said the force must have better leadership and equipment.
Friday, November 14, 2008
RANCHI, India: Six tribal children died and more than 60 fell ill after drinking adulterated milk in a state school in eastern India, officials said Friday.
The students in Jharkhand state, aged between 8 and 13 years, began vomiting and complaining of stomach aches after drinking milk and eating snacks Thursday evening, officials said.
More than 30 children are in hospital in the state capital Ranchi, nine in critical condition, doctors said.
"Adulterated milk seems to have caused food poisoning," said Bandhu Tirkey, the state's Human Resources Development Minister, without elaborating further.
The school is run by the state's welfare department to give free education and food to children of ethnic tribespeople, among the poorest and least-developed communities in India.
The state government has suspended teachers from the school for dereliction of duty, because food and drink is prepared under their supervision, an official said.
Villagers gathered near the school Friday to protest against the deaths.
"We never imagined that free education and free food would cause the death of my son," the father of one of the children said.
(Reporting by Nityanand Shukla; Editing by Matthias Williams and Valerie Lee)
By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Friday, November 14, 2008
Until recently, green investment funds were mostly a niche for individual investors. But now investing with the idea of improving the environmental actions of corporations, not just maximizing profit, is catching on among big pension funds and foundations, particularly in Europe and even in a few outposts in the United States.
This is particularly challenging in the rocky global markets today. The pioneers in this field, however, are not backing down. They hope to make a big difference by leading the way in redirecting investment toward companies that do the least environmental damage and those that try to limit their output of carbon emissions thought to contribute to global warming.
The leading advocates in this movement include the Norwegian Government Pension Fund-Global; ABP, the huge Dutch government pension fund; and the pension fund of the British Environment Agency. In the United States, the California State Teachers' Retirement Fund, one of the largest pension funds in the United States, is one of the few American funds that has taken on a similar mantle.
Howard Pearce, director of the pension fund for the British Environment Agency, said, "Quite simply, we decided that we should do this because our investment strategy was not linked to our mission."
But most institutional investors, including a number of foundations already committed to environmental goals as part of their giving, have resisted the movement, or taken only small steps, out of fear that it would hurt earnings.
These include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, universities like Harvard and Yale, and even the United Nations pension fund.
"From the environmental perspective, the great nonplayer is the investor community," said Matthew Kiernan, founder of Innovest, a global sustainable investing company. "The attitude is, 'We don't cut down any trees.' But money is the oxygen for all the other sectors."
Proponents of green investing say companies, foundations and governments can fight climate change through their investments even more effectively than through charities and other activities.
Some big investors are even going out of their way to divest publicly from companies deemed environmentally lax. More commonly, however, they try to put pressure on management through private meetings and shareholder resolutions to modify their effect on the environment.
"This can be the most important voice that they have - the money talks," said Frederic Hauge, chief of the Bellona Foundation, the largest nongovernmental environment organization in Norway, which pushed the Norwegian pension fund to act. This pension fund is the largest state fund in the world. Pension funds hold an estimated one-third of equities in the world.
Hauge and others emphasize that they are not suggesting that investors entirely avoid companies engaged in necessary but polluting industries like oil, mining and cement. They say investment funds can be directed to companies producing energy and engaging in other carbon-intensive activities in the most sustainable way possible.
In Britain, the Environment Agency's pension managers last year shifted contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars away from U.S. fund companies like Capital International and State Street Global Advisers because they did not pursue what the agency considered adequate environmental standards.
Last month, the Norwegian global pension fund, which introduced a new sustainability strategy at the end of 2004, divested itself of the mining company Rio Tinto over its practices in Indonesia. This was the latest of seven companies the fund has sold for environmental reasons.
The California teachers' fund, known as Calstrs, with a $169 billion portfolio, has declared climate change its signature issue and has pushed companies like Exxon Mobil and Southern, a giant utility in the southeastern United States, to fully disclose their climate-changing emissions.
To encourage greater involvement on this front, three years ago the United Nations released Principles for Responsible Investing, a pact in which signatories pledged to integrate environmental issues with investments. Membership doubled to 381 in 2008, representing $14 trillion in management assets.
But its effect has been limited.
"The momentum is really huge, with the number of signatories increasing year on year," said James Gifford of London, the executive director of Principles for Responsible Investing. But he added that "many are, in fact, in early stages, doing things like looking for people with experience in green investing when they hire fund managers."
Advocates of sustainable investing say they are disappointed that many organizations professing support for environmental goals have done so little.
"You'd think the first movers would be the universities and the foundations, but there's been little movement there," said Paul Hawken, the former owner of the Smith and Hawken garden retail chain and the founder of the Natural Capital Institute, which tracks sustainable investing in the United States. "You see solar panels on the libraries, but you don't see them in the portfolio."
There is no requirement for foundations or pension funds to publicly list investments. In the interest of focusing investment decisions on achieving the greatest return, many foundations and universities have erected a wall between their investing arms and their donations for good works.
When asked about sustainable investing, Amy Fritsch of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said "we have a two-entity structure."
The foundation, the richest in the world, distributes money and grants for projects separately from the management of its investment portfolio, which is run by a separate group, BGI, which did not return telephone calls.
Josh Poupore , a spokesman for Harvard, said the university was "doing so much across the board to promote sustainability on campus" but "unfortunately can't talk about what we're doing in investments."
The United Nations pension fund did not return more than half a dozen calls for comment.
The idea of social investing originated in the 70s and 80s, as companies divested themselves of companies that supported the Vietnam War or apartheid in South Africa. Over the past decade, as concerns about the environment have risen, there has been more interest among private investors.
But foundations and pension funds often have an obligation to maximize returns. They say they fear lower returns on green investments. Pension fund pioneers in the field say the two goals are not necessarily incompatible.
"We have the same return expectations as from our conventional investments," said Jack Ehnes, the chief executive of Calstrs, which has a billion-dollar sustainability investment program. "We are using our portfolio as leverage to tackle climate change."
Rob Lake, who manages a large European national pension fund that could not be identified because of its public investing policies, emphasized that his primary legal responsibility was still to the people invested in the fund. "We're not trying to become some $217 billion deep green fund that invests only in wind farms," he said. "But we think there are huge potential opportunities and risks in climate change."
For example, he noted, companies that do not prepare for the possibility of more restrictive carbon emissions standards could take a huge hit in earnings in the future, harming those who invested in the companies.
Even for those committed to green investments, choosing acceptable companies is a big challenge.
Last year, ABP, the $350 billion Dutch fund that is a leading state pension fund in Europe, hired a consultant to review all of its investments - nearly half a million equities, real estate, infrastructure holdings - and it has started a $1 billion fund to invest in alternative energy.
About five years ago, the United Nations started the Global Compact for businesses promising to improve their actions in human rights, labor, the environment and fighting corruption. This year, the Global Compact had to throw out 700 companies that failed to undertake concrete measures. An additional 150 companies are on probation.
That leaves many investment funds on their own.
"Active engagement and shareholder involvement can be very effective," said Gifford of the UN program Principles for Responsible Investing. "But that takes significant resources and few do it well."
By Karina Robinson
Friday, November 14, 2008
OSLO: Martin Skancke is director general of the Norwegian Ministry of Finance and head of the asset management department. In this capacity, Skancke, a 42-year-old former McKinsey management consultant, has responsibility for Norway's sovereign wealth fund. Known as the Government Pension Fund - Global, it began in 1996 investing the proceeds of Norway's excess oil and gas revenue for future generations.
The fund has $400 billion in assets, about equal to Norway's gross domestic product, and will be worth around $1trillion in 2020, according to internal estimates. It is thought to be the world's second-largest such fund, after the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which does not publish its assets.
In his office in Oslo, Skancke spoke recently about ethical standards and transparency, two areas where Norway is trying to break new ground for sovereign wealth funds.
The purpose of the fund is to maximize profit. But surely there is a contradiction between, for instance, investing in clean-energy companies and maximizing returns for the Norwegian nation?
As owners, it is legitimate for us to have a broader set of perspectives. In particular, it is legitimate for us to avoid contributing to unethical acts through our investments. This is important to preserve the legitimacy of the fund. We are asking the Norwegian public for their trust in setting aside every year between 15 percent and 20 percent of GDP in this fund. We would not be able to do that if the investment policy diverged too much from the basic, core, ethical belief of the average Norwegian.
The ethical criteria governing the fund include a decision not to invest in companies that produce cluster bombs and land mines. Given that Norway is an active member of NATO, are you opposed to investing in weapons companies in general?
No, we are not. We have just excluded some weapons. The criterion is that their normal use contravenes basic humanitarian principles, like land mines or cluster bombs. Of course, any weapon can be used in a bad or inappropriate way.
Why are you currently conducting a broad review of your ethical principles, including consulting nongovernmental organizations?
We have a Council of Ethics which is independent from the Ministry of Finance but gives advice to us on how to interpret the general guidelines we have set up. We have had the principles for a few years and it is important for us to see if we can improve them and to preserve their legitimacy by inviting people to have their say.
Also, we have an ambition to match ourselves against the best funds internationally and identify international best practice. We do this in all areas where we operate: investment strategy, risk management and so forth. There are big changes internationally in terms of what people think in the area of ethical policies.
Your rules say you can hold up to 10 percent of any company but your actual maximum is 5 percent. This is at odds with the behavior of many other SWFs, which have taken much larger stakes.
That is a decision taken mainly to ensure we are diversified in terms of risk. And also, once you cross the 10 percent threshold, you need to take a different, more active ownership role. We are a financial investor. We do not have strategic interests in the companies we invest in. We will not take over companies. We will not put our people on the board. We will not interfere with management.
You have invested virtually nothing in private equity and very little in hedge funds, while many of the funds you measure yourselves against have done so. Does this mean your performance suffered during the last decade?
The largest asset class outside the portfolio currently is real estate. So for us the focus has been to set out a strategy for real estate investments.
There are segments of private equity that could be interesting to us. However, in other segments of private equity we have concerns about fee structures and transparency issues. It is true that some alternative investments have had good returns over the last few years, but a lot of that is probably just an effect of a lot of leverage and cheap credit. It remains to be seen whether that is a sustainable business model for an investor with a 100-year time horizon, like we have.
You made the decision last year to increase the equities portion of your portfolio to 60 percent from 50 percent. Does that mean you were bullish on global stock markets?
No. The decision was taken last year and it did not reflect any views on market timing. It reflects a long term view on the attractiveness of equities in the portfolio.
Critics argue that more of the fund should be used to lower taxes and/or build more infrastructure in Norway, rather than being mainly safeguarded for future generations.
You could spend that money either on reducing taxes, or increasing investments. It is a political decision how you want to prioritize in these areas, but I am not a politician, so I am not going to get into that.
By Liz Robbins
Friday, November 14, 2008
A fast-moving wildfire raced overnight and into the morning through the California hill town of Montecito, a popular hideaway for celebrities near Santa Barbara. The fire, the worst in the area in 30 years, destroyed more than 100 houses, along with a dormitory and several other buildings at Westmont College. At least 13 people were injured and more than 5,000 were evacuated, local officials said.
At daybreak Friday, firefighters were trying to contain the blaze, which was spread to more than 2,500 acres by 70-mile-an-hour winds overnight. Although the winds had died down to 15 miles an hour by morning, the weather forecast for later Friday called for warm temperatures, low humidity and rising winds, which would make the fire harder to contain.
The injured included at least two firefighters, but none were students at Westmont, a small Christian liberal arts college, according to the Associated Press.
"There's imminent threat to many structures, and still an imminent threat within 24 and 48 hours," said Jackie Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the Montecito Fire Protection District. A total of 1,141 people were deployed to fight the fire as of Friday morning, she said.
A number of well-known entertainers own homes in the area, including Oprah Winfrey. "I can tell you for sure that Oprah's house is safe, and so is Rob Lowe's," Jenkins said. The blaze is being called the Tea Fire because it started in a local park called the Tea Garden.
The most concentrated damage so far has occurred on the Westmont campus, which covers about 111 acres in the hills near Montecito and has about 1,000 students.
The college was caught off guard by the rapidly moving flames, according to the Associated Press.
"It came pretty fast," Tyler Rollema, a 19-year-old sophomore told the agency. She said she first heard of the fire when she was eating dinner Thursday evening in the cafeteria and students were told to head for the gym immediately. "We came out, and it was just blazing."
Some of the injured were being treated for burns and smoke inhalation at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman, Janet O'Neil, told the Associated Press.
The fire started because of "sundowner" winds, unique to the area of Santa Barbara County, and named because of the time of day when they occur. The "sundowners" (a variation of Santa Ana winds) are winds that race down the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains toward the ocean around nightfall. Their dangerous force on Thursday sent embers flying that showed no discretion in causing damage, from a college dorm to luxury homes.
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Jim Loney
The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season tested the New Orleans levees rebuilt after Katrina, hammered the Texas oilpatch and killed 800 in Haiti, but may be best remembered as one of the worst in Cuba's history.
Three "major" hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, Gustav, Ike and Paloma, caused an estimated $10 billion (6.76 billion pounds) damage in the Communist-ruled Caribbean island, where it damaged nearly half a million homes and flattened sugar cane and tobacco fields.
With about two weeks remaining in the six-month season, 16 cyclones have formed -- eight tropical storms and eight hurricanes -- making it the busiest Atlantic season since the record-breaker of 2005, which produced 28.
The official season ends on November 30 and chances for another storm are ebbing. But three years ago, Tropical Storm Zeta formed on December 30 and lasted into January.
"The hurricane season's over for the United States, that's for sure," AccuWeather forecaster Joe Bastardi said.
"It's the natural endgame," he said, citing cooling sea surface temperatures, strong upper-levels winds and a drier atmosphere, which all work against hurricane formation. "You might get something developing in the middle of nowhere."
But 2008 will go down in the record books as another in a string of exceptionally busy seasons. The average hurricane season produces about 10 storms, of which six become hurricanes.
In 1995, researchers believe, the Atlantic basin entered a new cycle of prolific hurricane production that could last anywhere from 25 to 40 years.
For impoverished and nearly treeless Haiti, the 2008 season brought a rapid succession of soggy storms -- Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- and deadly floods. Gonaives, the seaside city where 3,000 were killed by Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004, was buried in a sea of mud.
The storms triggered a global call for aid for the poorest country in the Americas and proved another setback for a government still reeling from April riots sparked by skyrocketing food prices.
After crushing Haiti, Gustav cranked up to Category 4 over Cuba's west end and took dead aim at New Orleans, which was quickly abandoned by residents with fresh memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion damage across the U.S. Gulf coast.
The levees, rebuilt but untested since Katrina, cracked and leaked but did not break when a weakened Gustav hit shore far enough west of the city to spare the floodwalls a direct hit.
Gustav and Ike disrupted oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering widespread shortages and long lines at gas pumps across the U.S. South.
Ike destroyed tens of thousands of homes when it smashed into the barrier island of Galveston on September 13, killing over 30 in Texas. Dozens of people are still missing from communities along the Texas coast, especially the remote Bolivar Peninsula.
In Cuba, the official hurricane death toll was seven, all from Ike, thanks to the government's efficient evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from danger zones. But the three powerful cyclones ripped the island from end to end.
Gustav registered a gust of 212 mph (340 kph) in Paso Real de San Diego, the strongest wind ever recorded in Cuba.
This season has bested 2005 in one regard. According to tropical storm expert Jeff Masters, founder of the Weather Underground website, it was the first time a major hurricane had formed in each of five months -- Bertha in July, Gustav in August, Ike in September, Omar in October and Paloma in November. The previous mark was four.
"Having major hurricanes five months in a row is a considerable highlight ... when put in the context that we only average six hurricanes a year," said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the U.S. National Hurricane Centre. "To get five majors anytime, in any season, is not normal."
If it ends without another tropical storm, 2008 may be remembered as a year when storm prognosticators almost got it right, after some shaky forecasts in the past.
At season's start, pioneering forecaster Bill Grey and his Colorado State University team predicted 15, as did the U.K. Met Office. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expected 12 to 16. London-based Tropical Storm Risk said 14.8.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Franks in Havana and Chris Baltimore in Houston; Editing by Tom Brown)
Gas prices fall, but Americans keep their wallets pinched
By Christopher Maag
Friday, November 14, 2008
CLEVELAND: Drivers in the United States are breathing a sigh of relief as gasoline prices plunge across the country.
Gas below $1.50 a gallon, or 40 cents a liter, has appeared in a few places in recent days, and the national average has dropped almost in half since July, to $2.18 a gallon.
But even as worry about gas prices fades, it is being replaced by fear about the broader economy. Each 10-cent drop per gallon in gasoline prices puts $12 billion a year back in consumers' pockets. Instead of spending that cash, people are trying to save it or cut their debt, many said in interviews.
"All that money is going right into paying off my credit cards," said Jose Martinez, 33, as he pumped gas into his Dodge Charger at Ohio Gas Station No. 1 in Cleveland.
Moreover, the fall in gasoline prices is not translating into improved fortunes for automakers, at least not yet. Consumers said they remained wary of gas-guzzling cars on the theory that prices would rise again.
"I don't think anyone who's been paying attention for the last eight years would think that now is the time to go out and buy a Hummer," said Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA, the automobile club.
When gasoline topped $4 a gallon this summer, Celeste Vazquez of Cleveland started working 10 hours of overtime every week to make ends meet. But lately, with prices falling below $2 a gallon at many stations here, she has been able to cut her hours.
"I finally get to spend time with my kids, which is wonderful," said Vazquez, 34, as she paid $1.93 a gallon to fill her Chrysler PT Cruiser. "I doubt it will last, though. I'm not about to go buy a new wardrobe or anything."
Lower gas prices meant that Art and Lisa Ritchie, who are farmers, could afford to spend $12 on breakfast last week at the Lighthouse Cafe in Lodi, Ohio. But they have no plans to spend tens of thousands of dollars to furnish and landscape their new house.
"I'd love to do those big projects," said Ritchie, 49, who farms 16 acres, or 6.5 hectares, of cherries, peaches, nectarines and figs in northwest Ohio. "But I just know that gas prices will go right back up."
Lower gasoline prices have followed a rapid drop in the price of oil, to less than $59 a barrel on Thursday, from more than $145 a barrel in July. The pace of the recent drop in fuel prices is "absolutely unprecedented," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.
"People are just excited about it," said Dennelle Fisher, director at the Maverik store in Wheatland, Wyoming, which sold gas for $1.45 a gallon on Thursday, and even giving a 2-cent break on that price to people with the store's loyalty cards. "They come in and they ask how long are we going to keep it down," Fisher said.
Many experts say they believe that gasoline prices are close to bottoming out and that the national average will hover around $2 a gallon through the holidays before creeping up in the new year.
In the terrible economic climate, the gas price cut was not enough to bolster consumer spending in October, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, a report based on MasterCard purchases and estimates of cash, check and other credit card sales.
"It would be very surprising if things recovered based solely on gasoline prices," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis of MasterCard Advisors, which produces SpendingPulse.
Dan Stone certainly has not started spending again. Stone, of Cleveland, stopped driving his 1996 Dodge Ram pickup on vacations to Arizona and Florida when gas prices rose this year. He also quit buying tickets to Cleveland Indians baseball games and Cavaliers basketball games. Now that prices have dropped, the only change he has made is to resume driving his 12-year-old daughter to basketball practice himself instead of arranging car pools.
"I still eat all my meals at home," said Stone, 59, as he filled his pickup's tank recently. "And I haven't started going back to sports games because I'm pretty sure the gas prices will go right back up."
Sitting around the communal table at the Lighthouse Cafe in Lodi, three couples enjoyed breakfast last week before leaving for a group camping trip in the Hocking Hills of Ohio, 150 miles, or 240 kilometers, away. One of the campers, Bob Leonard, replaced his Chevrolet S-10 pickup four months ago with a Toyota Prius. His brother, Bill Leonard, 65, swapped his Ford Ranger pickup for a compact Toyota Yaris last year.
"I don't see gas prices staying this low," said Bob Leonard, 63, a nutrition adviser from Medina, Ohio. "I'm glad I bought the Prius when I did."
Their friend Bob Keller, 62, had parked his Toyota Highlander sports utility vehicle and started riding the bus to work in downtown Cleveland. With lower gas prices, riding the bus costs as much as he would spend on gas and parking, but he has not considered switching back.
"I get to nap on the bus," said Keller. "Besides, why start driving again when the gas prices will only go right back up?"
Across the United States, high prices seem to have produced lasting changes in public habits. As prices rose, many people parked their cars and took the bus or train, and that change is evidently sticking even as gas falls. At 22 transit systems surveyed last week by the American Public Transportation Association, ridership either stayed the same or increased over the last two months, said Virginia Miller, spokeswoman for the group.
Likewise, MasterCard Advisors reports show that national gasoline demand remains down compared to previous years though by only 3 to 4 percent a week, compared with the 8 or 9 percent drops of earlier this year.
When prices topped $4 a gallon over the summer, Jim Booth of Cleveland could not afford gas for his 1992 Dodge Caravan to visit his 2-year-old son, who lived just eight miles away.
Last month, those visits started again. "So that's wonderful," said Booth, 51. "But it's not like I can afford to buy a new car or anything."
Not everyone is cutting back. Alexander Kudryk paid $2,000 last week for a 1988 Cadillac Brougham with flashy rims so he could cruise the streets of Cleveland in style.
"I love it," said Kudryk, 20. "But if gas prices go back up, I'll have to sell it."
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Philip Waller
Centrica is reviewing the economic viability of planned wind farms due to soaring costs and the credit crunch, the owner of British Gas said.
Centrica, which is raising 2.2 billion pounds to help fund its proposed 25 percent stake in nuclear power generator British Energy, said it was "revisiting the economics of wind farms given rising raw material and credit costs."
The company, which hopes to start full operation of its new Lynn & Inner Dowsing wind farms off the coast of eastern England by the end of the year, has yet to approve investment for three more farms that it plans to build in the North Sea.
"The costs of building offshore wind are at a very high level," a Centrica spokesman told Reuters.
"This, coupled with the rising cost of credit given the economic situation, means we need to revisit all our numbers to ensure our projects are economic before we give them the go-ahead."
Centrica said in a statement last month that it currently expects to invest about 1.5 billion pounds during the next few years in renewable energy generation schemes.
The company remained committed to developing further renewable generation capacity, provided it could see clear returns, the spokesman said.
Centrica has won government permission for its proposed 250 megawatt Lincs wind farm off the east coast and has said it plans to build two 500 megawatt farms, Race Bank and Docking Shoal, in the next eight or nine years.
The firm said in last month's statement that it expects to seek government consent for Race Bank and Docking Shoal, which would be off the north coast of East Anglia, by the end of this year.
The high costs of developing offshore wind farms are among a number of issues that industry executives, investors and environmental groups say could threaten the government's efforts to hit a target of producing 15 percent of Britain's energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Offshore wind currently costs in the region of 2.5-3 billion pounds per gigawatt of capacity to build, according to industry figures.
By comparison, an equivalent one gigawatt gas-fired power station would cost 600 million pounds and nuclear is about 1.8 billion pounds per gigawatt.
The government has said the UK now generates three gigawatts of power from wind energy, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes.
Other hurdles highlighted by the industry include planning delays, difficulties in connecting farms to the UK's national power grid and a shortage of wind turbines.
Ministers are facing calls to boost incentives to encourage firms to build more farms and to increase wind turbine manufacturing capacity.
The recent fall in oil prices has also cast doubt on the viability of renewable energy schemes such as wind farms, as the costs of traditional fossil fuel generation decline.
(Reporting by Philip Waller; Editing by Hans Peters)
By Roderick Conway Morris
Friday, November 14, 2008
VENICE: In the France that emerged from World War I, George Barbier, then in his 30s, was one of the best-known artist-designers, especially famous as a creator of the brilliantly colored fashion plates that had been launched by the couturier Paul Poiret a decade earlier, and of jewelry for Cartier. He also made his mark as a writer and reviewer for magazines, a designer for theater and film, and a book illustrator.
Yet when he died in 1932, at the age of 50, his name rapidly sank into obscurity. "George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco" at the Fortuny Museum in Venice, is the first posthumous exhibition of his work. The show of more than 200 paintings, fashion plates, drawings, dresses, books, articles, manuscripts, photographs and other pieces continues until Jan. 6.
Contributing to his disappearance were his own reticence and a surprising sparseness of biographical information. Born into a prosperous bourgeois family in the provincial town of Nantes, he lived a clearly very different lifestyle in Paris, where he frequented unmistakably, if not exclusively, homosexual circles - he was, for example, an intimate of the dandy and poet Robert de Montesquiou, who introduced him to Marcel Proust.
His burial in his home town was conducted with a discretion bordering on the furtive, and none of his descendants seem to have tried to keep his memory alive.
His library, containing many rare editions, was auctioned off and his collection of Japanese and European erotica was donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale, where it was placed in the restricted "Enfer" section, reserved for works considered threatening to public decency.
His own surviving works are now dispersed in many archives and private collections.
The subtitle of the exhibition, "The Birth of Art Deco," risks giving a misleading impression. The term Art Deco only came into use in the late 1960s and is easier to define in architecture, interior design and household wares than in the visual arts. Barbier's work differs from that of obvious Art Deco artists like Tamara Lempicka, for example, and he was untouched by Cubism, one of the principal inspirations of later Art Deco.
From the outset an ardent admirer of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, he produced sumptuously colorful albums celebrating Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, and designed costumes for the ballerina Anna Pavlova. But he parted company with the Ballets Russes aesthetically and musically with the Cubist-style production "Parade" in 1917, which he condemned in print as "strange, noisy, eccentric" and "the apotheosis of the sneer."
Although Barbier's fashion plates in the 1920s inevitably reflected current styles of dress, his backdrops hark back to earlier, and in his eyes more elegant, eras and other worlds: the sacred groves and frescoed bedchambers of ancient Greece; the harems of the One Thousand and One Nights; the courts of imperial China and Japan; rococo Versailles and the carnivalesque frivolity of 18th-century Venice.
One of the first works on display is a gouache and watercolor, "Les Dames Seules" (Single Women), from around 1910, the year before his first solo show, in which an absinthe-drinking, Oscar Wilde-ish figure in black morning coat, waistcoat, starched collar and tie casts a louche, predatory, sideways glance at a daintily feminine, powdered and rouged coquette with a black choker and plunging neckline next to her at the bar.
A fashionable sapphic subtext is often present in Barbier's exquisitely composed fashion plates of highly feminine couples and trios, sometimes with companions in immaculate white-tie evening dress, who are either ambiguously epicene or clearly women in drag. "Real" males seldom appear in the artist's oeuvre. When they do, they are usually abject slaves of haughty or indifferent females, or mere props, such as the husband or lover blithely ignored by the gorgeously and provocatively dressed, utterly self-absorbed creature putting the final touches to her maquillage in "Le Grand Décolletage."
A kind of lipstick lesbian chic even appears in some of Barbier's advertising images - he created around 50 for 30 different advertisers - such as his gouache draft design for a publicity poster for the town of Aix-les-Bains, executed around 1925 and his 1928 work for the French carmaker Renault.
Barbier turned his skills to the more explicit depiction of lesbian relationships in a series of editions of the erudite poet and novelist Pierre Louÿs's "Chansons de Bilitis" - the results, however, being more decorously erotic than pornographic by modern standards.
"Bilitis," first published in 1894, purported to be a prose translation of newly discovered lyrical verses by an eponymous Greek courtesan and friend of Sappho, celebrating physical love between women. So adept was Louÿs that the imposture at first fooled even classical scholars.
The exposure of the hoax did nothing to undermine the popularity of the book, and it became a favorite text for illustrators and producers of limited, deluxe editions.
Some of the verses were even set to music by Debussy. The author followed up the success of the verses with a novel published in 1896, "Aphrodite: Ancient Manners," the tale of a courtesan in Hellenistic Alexandria, which became a best seller and for which Barbier also did illustrations.
The artist's plates from the second two of his three sets of illustrations for "Bilitis," executed between 1910 and 1929, are included in the Fortuny show, as are some from his "Aphrodite" set, which was first published only in 1954.
His color plates for publications like the luxurious monthly "La Gazette de Bon Ton," published from 1912 to 1925, were produced using "pochoirs" or stencils, a technique criticized by some purists but vigorously defended by Barbier as a way to present "the artist's work in all its freshness without that often slightly cold transfer produced by mechanical means."
The hand printing process involved, inspired by the methods of the classical Japanese masters, produced a still-undimmed, jewel-like quality in the resulting images that testifies to Barbier's judgement in championing the pochoir technique.
By Nazanin Lankarani
Friday, November 14, 2008
PARIS: Less than four months after the death of the French couturier Yves Saint Laurent, his longtime partner and companion Pierre Bergé announced in September that he intended to sell the art collection that they had compiled over 50 years together. The three-day sale by Christie's France in collaboration with Pierre Bergé & Associés, Bergé's own auction house, will start here Feb. 23.
Labeled the "sale of the century" by Christie's, it will include over 700 lots with an estimated total value of 200 million to 300 million, or $255 million to $380 million.
The decision to sell almost the whole collection was made by Bergé as a way to find closure. "I wanted this sale," he said at a press conference. "This collection could only have two destinies - end up in a museum, which would have been too onerous, or on the auction block. I chose the sale because I felt the collection would not be truly complete until the hammer fell on the last lot."
Still, not everything from the collection will go. Bergé will keep an Andy Warhol portrait of Saint Laurent and a Senufo African bird sculpture, the first object that the two men purchased together.
While news of the sale has excited the market, Bergé's choice of Christie's over the Hôtel Drouot, a venue for local auction firms, including his own, has revived questions about the ability of French auctioneers to compete with the international houses.
For Bergé the choice reflected reality. "I am aware of our limitations," he said. "My auction house could not handle a sale of this size."
It may also have been mixed with a dash of rancor, after an unsuccessful bid to take control of Drouot in 2002. "Drouot's auctioneers preferred to hold on to their cardboard crowns rather than sell their interests to me," he said at the press conference. "Drouot is barely surviving now," he added in a later magazine interview.
That view, unsurprisingly, is not shared by Drouot's managers. "Drouot generated 500 million in sales in 2007. We average 2,000 sales a year," said Georges Delettrez, president of Drouot Holding, in an interview. "In 2003, we handled the André Breton sale with 4,100 lots generating 46 million and the Vérité sale in 2006 for 44 million, the most important primitive art auction to date. Mr. Bergé has simply not lived down his failed takeover attempt."
Still, some independent observers agree that the structure of Drouot, a collective of separate auction houses, puts it at a disadvantage in competing against the big international houses.
"It is crucial that Drouot, which is today just a sale venue, become a unified auction house. It is behind in the times," said Christian Giacomotto, president of the Conseil des Ventes Volontaires, a French auction watchdog.
Christie's, meanwhile is preparing to pull out all the stops to make the auction a success. "To celebrate this fabulous collection gathered by two extraordinary personalities, we will be holding the sale preview and the auction at the Grand Palais," said François de Riqlès, vice president of Christie's France. The Grand Palais, built for the 1900 World Fair, is one of the grandest public exhibition halls in Paris.
"The extraordinary force of this collection is that it contains one-of-a-kind pieces not seen on the market in over 35 years," de Riqlès said. "The entire art world is waiting for this sale."
"We began collecting in the early 1970s when we started making real money," said Bergé, who met Saint Laurent in 1958 and helped him open the couture house that bore his name in 1962.
A mix of styles and periods, the collection reflects an eclecticism developed through contact with some of Saint Laurent's prominent clients, including the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, a Parisian hostess and art patron. "Saint Laurent's obsession was to build a collection of silver gilt objects like the one he had seen at the home of the Noailles," Bergé said.
As collectors, Bergé and Saint Laurent avoided auctions and mainly bought from a handful of dealers, among them Alexis and Nicolas Kugel, owners of the Galerie J. Kugel, near the Orsay Museum. The Kugels sold them Renaissance bronzes, Venetian and Limoges enamels and 17th-century German silverware, including a series of 14 silver gilt standing cups made around 1640 in Lüneberg.
"The cups had belonged to the duke of Cumberland, king of Hanover," Nicolas Kugel said in an interview, referring to Ernest Augustus, an uncle to Queen Victoria of Britain, who became king of Hanover in 1837. "Similar ones are in the Armory Chamber collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museum."
Another highlight of the collection is a late-16th-century Italian gilded silver-mounted crystal vessel set with 24 rubies, estimated at 100,000 to 150,000. Formerly in the collection of Louis XIV, it bears the inventory markings of the Apollo Gallery in Versailles.
"This collection is the last flicker of a long heritage of French taste, now faded," Kugel said.
Among the collection's 60-odd paintings are several early-20th-century masterpieces, including Pablo Picasso's "Instrument de Musique sur un Guéridon," a rare 1914 oil painting from the artist's analytical Cubist period, once in the collection of the American artist and collector Mary Callery, estimated at 30 million to 40 million.
An ensemble of works by Henri Matisse includes "Les Coucous, Tapis Bleu et Rose," painted in 1911 - Saint Laurent's personal favorite - estimated at 15 million to 20 million. Five early oils by Piet Mondrian include "Composition avec Bleu, Rouge, Jaune et Noir," estimated at 6 million to 8 million, an abstract work painted in 1922 that inspired the couturier's iconic Mondrian shift dress in 1965.
The collection's Art Déco furniture is exceptional for a number of unique, made-to-order pieces, including a pair of leopard skin-covered lacquered wood and bronze banquettes estimated at 2 million to 3 million, signed by Gustave Miklos and formerly owned by Jacques Doucet, another famed French couturier whose own collection was scattered posthumously in a record-breaking auction in Paris in 1972.
Also unique are four pieces designed by Eileen Gray, including a sculptural armchair "Fauteuil aux Dragons," estimated at 2.5 million to 3.5 million, made in 1920 for the Parisian apartment of the French fashion designer Suzanne Talbot.
Although the collection celebrates French savoir-faire, French 18th-century furniture, which Bergé dismissed as "profoundly dull," is absent. Instead, a rare series of Italian rococo chairs is on offer, estimated at 300,000 to 500,000.
"The series of 18 chairs, made in 1740, come from the Gilded Gallery of the Palazzo Carrega Cataldi, owned by the noble Genoese Carrega family," said Bill Pallot, furniture expert at the Galerie Didier Aaron where the chairs were acquired in the late 1980s. Other pieces with the same provenance are in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Toledo Museum of Art, in Ohio, and in a few prestigious private collections, Pallot said.
Proceeds of the sale will be divided between the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, created in 2002 to preserve the couturier's work, to which Saint Laurent bequeathed his share of the collection, and a foundation that Bergé plans to create for the advancement of AIDS-related medical research.
"This sale is like a separation," said Bergé. "You can continue to love, even after the divorce is final."
By Ethan Bronner and Taghreed El-Khodary
Friday, November 14, 2008
JERUSALEM: Tensions between Hamas, the radical Palestinian rulers of Gaza, and Israel increased markedly on Friday after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, sending 18 Israelis to the hospital with shock and mild injuries.
Hamas officials said the attack was revenge for the deaths over the past 11 days of 11 militants and the recent increased Israeli closure of Gaza crossings. They said that while they wanted to continue the five-month-old truce with Israel, it seemed to them that Israel did not and if that was the case, Israel would pay the consequences.
Israeli officials, who say they have been keeping the crossings into Gaza shut in retaliation for the rockets, thereby greatly decreasing the supply of supplies and fuel, said it was Hamas that was breaking the truce. Senior Israeli officials met in Tel Aviv on Friday and vowed not to back down from any provocation.
The confrontations, following five months of relative calm, began to spike earlier this month when the Israeli military destroyed a tunnel being dug toward Israel. The army feared that the tunnel would be used to seize an Israeli soldier as a bargaining chip, like Corporal Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for more than two years.
The Israelis said it was a one-off operation, not a violation of the ceasefire agreed to in June, and asked Egypt to pass that message to Hamas in advance. But six Hamas militants were killed during the tunnel's destruction, leading Hamas to retaliate with rockets, which led to more closures and operations and then more rockets.
There are several factors at work beyond the tit-for-tat of the past week and a half. Hamas, which took over Gaza in June 2007 by kicking out its Fatah rivals, is feeling under unusual pressure because hundreds of its men have been arrested by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in recent weeks.
The arrests have been part of increased Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in which American-trained Palestinian troops are moving into West Bank cities, leading to some pullback by Israeli troops.
A second factor is that Egyptian efforts to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah have foundered, with Hamas alleging that Fatah had not made good on a mutual prisoner release.
Finally, under American and Israeli pressure, Egypt has started to destroy or shut tunnels into southern Gaza that have been a key source of supplies and fuel and weapons that have offset the Israeli closures.
As a result, Hamas is now feeling besieged not only by Israel but by Fatah and Egypt as well.
A campaign against Fatah started on Hamas television in Gaza two days ago, with a countdown of the days until the legal term ends for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas has said he will stay in power an extra year but Hamas is trying to pressure him to step down.
A large demonstration was also held on Thursday in Gaza demanding the release of Hamas prisoners in the West Bank.
Israel has come under criticism for shutting off supplies to Gaza in the past 10 days. Oxfam International issued a statement on Friday calling on the world to force Israel to end the closure.
"As a matter of humanitarian imperative, Israeli leaders must resume supplies into Gaza without further delay," the statement, by Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs, said. "If Israelis and Palestinians alike don't exert every effort now to maintain the truce which has held since last June, the result could be catastrophic for civilians both in Gaza and in nearby Israeli towns."
Electricity production has plunged for lack of fuel, leaving much of the coastal strip darkened. Israeli officials suspect there is actually enough fuel, and say that Hamas officials are trying to embarrass them by closing electricity plants.
The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was scheduled to last for six months, meaning it has another month to go. Both sides are saying they are examining their options as the date approaches.
"We knew when we took out the tunnel that there would be a response and then we would try to get things back to normal," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We have no desire to see a humanitarian crisis there. Unless the rockets stop, though, how can we move the supplies in? December marks the end of the six-month truce. Are they upping the ante before a new agreement?"
In Gaza, Mahmoud Zahhar, a senior Hamas leader, said, "We are still very committed to the truce. If Israel decides not to be committed, let it declare clearly its position. We have only been responding to their actions. Now, with the renewal date approaching, we are going to evaluate it and the crossings and will decide if we are going on with the truce."
By Helene Cooper and Scott L. Malcomson
Friday, November 14, 2008
On Jan. 20, Barack Obama will inherit a world very different from the one his predecessor found in January 2001. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has faced great challenges and nurtured grand ambitions; it has tried hard to remake the world. Condoleezza Rice has been a central player in that effort since becoming the chief foreign policy adviser in 2000 to Bush, then a candidate, so we arranged to interview her at the State Department late last month. The interview turned into a wide-ranging discussion of where this government has taken the United States and what sort of world it will leave for the next president.
The highlights of her remarks follow.The United States and democracy
What an Obama presidency means to everybody else
Electing a black president says around the world that you can overcome old wounds. I've said in our case, we have a birth defect, but it can be overcome.
What the election that he won means
I've heard people commenting on how in this election, in far places, people talk about what is a caucus and how does that differ from a primary. I think that links up with the fact that the United States under this president has been more active and more insistent that democracy is not just something for a few. People are watching, and I think they're trying to learn from democratic experience.
What U.S. promotion of democracy can do
I think that over the last several years, because of a more assertive American voice on this, there have been some real gains - like women in Kuwait voting or like Iraq, which is an imperfect and fragile and still-emerging democracy but one that is multiconfessional, multiethnic and in the center of the Arab world.
And why the United States should not stop promoting it
If the U.S. doesn't remain that lodestar, then I think democracy moves off the international agenda at a time when you're beginning to see, for instance, the Europeans unafraid to give their award to a Chinese dissident, despite the blowback from Beijing. (Last month the European Parliament awarded its Andrei Sakharov prize to Hu Jia, a dissident who is serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for his human rights advocacy.) The Egyptians know that their next election is going to be an important transitional election. I think they're going to insist on a different kind of election.The fate of superpowers
The problem Russia has
They've got problems, and the basis of this is that the legitimacy of the Russian government is not ideology; it is not a pretension to a different route for human development as Communism was. It is the ability of Russians to, if they can't afford those Cartier shops near Tverskaya, to be able instead to go to the Ikea store that now completely dominates the Tank Trap Monument that celebrates the repulsion of the final push of the Germans into Moscow.
The bigger problem Russia has
Russia has an aging population that's not being replaced and unfortunately a sickly population, and an economy that did not take advantage of higher oil prices to diversify. It's still an infrastructural nightmare if you get outside of major cities and certainly if you start going toward the Far East. So I think we should be calm.
How Bush held the West together
It's a myth that we have poor relations with the Europeans. We have excellent relations with all European states at this point. Now, it may be that we still have some disagreements, but even on something like how to fight terrorists, I think there's a growing recognition that this isn't just law enforcement and that it puts difficult questions on the agenda about the relationship of gathering information to civil liberties and so forth.The Middle East and Beyond
How we change the conversation
There have been some real gains, but there also has been a complete change in the conversation, particularly in the Middle East, where some form of popular legitimacy is being sought in almost every country. The American voice has got to stay strong in that conversation.
How to move the conversation forward
I really think we have the best atmosphere between Palestinians and Israelis since the mid-'90s, so I'm very gratified that that has come into place. The Palestinian leadership is avowedly in favor of negotiations, renounces violence, recognizes the right of Israel to exist. There is a robust negotiating process, and they have made a lot of progress on how to get to a two-state solution.
Why speed is essential to dealing with Hamas
The Hamas takeover of Gaza is a problem, but thanks to good Egyptian work, at least there is calm for now. One reason to try and get an agreement done pretty quickly is that I think Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas needs to be able to take an agreement to the Palestinian people through either referendum or elections in order to sideline Hamas politically or to have Hamas buy in, which I think is unlikely, or to sideline Hamas by demonstrating that they don't have a solution for the Palestinian problem.
How to change a regime
We have said to Iran that this is about changing your regime's behavior, not changing your regime. That has been the message all along. Would we hope that the Iranian people ... do they deserve to have a different regime than they've got? Absolutely. But the way that we have tried to help with democracy in Iran is to help indigenous forces there, to bring everyone from people who do disaster relief to artists to sending our wrestlers there.Twilight of the institutions?
Where "never again" never quite got done
I have regrets about Darfur, real regrets. I don't know that there were other answers. The president considered trying to do something unilaterally - very difficult to do.
Discovering whether the "responsibility to protect" means anything
I think we thought "the responsibility to protect" meant something. (In 2006, the United Nations adopted this principle, which stipulates that the international community must protect the rights of people inside a sovereign country if the government of that country is failing to protect them.) I remember when the responsibility-to-protect language came up at the 2006 United Nations General Assembly, and I remember thinking at the time: If this turns out to be nothing but words, the Security Council is going to have a real black eye, and in the Darfur case it has turned out to be nothing but words. I think it has been an enormous embarrassment for the Security Council and for multilateral diplomacy.
Why the UN Security Council neglected Darfur
We worked day in and day out. Almost not a day passes in this office that we're not trying to find some way to get more forces into Darfur. To make the Sudanese government live up to the multiple agreements that it has made and then walked away from. We go to the Security Council, and nobody wants there to be consequences, well, not nobody, sorry, some don't wish there to be consequences. And so we end up sanctioning again, unilaterally. The Europeans do some things but other interests seem to then trump the responsibility to protect.
How NATO really works
First of all, the NATO alliance took on this mission in Afghanistan by consensus. It only operates by consensus. And I think what you see is steadily increasing alliance participation. The French have increased their numbers; most of the small states have increased their numbers over time.
An alliance of democracies is never simple
There's this past image of NATO as in total, complete unity with exactly the same views during the Cold War. Simply fiction. Fiction. Do you remember that in 1989 the big NATO 40th-anniversary summit was going to see a breakdown around short-range nuclear forces being deployed? So, NATO has always been an alliance of democracies ... Yes, I'd like to see NATO do more. Yes, we push hard for NATO to do more. Yes, we don't like the caveats, and some of them have come off in time. (NATO countries operating in Afghanistan have frequently insisted on conditions of service, or "caveats," rather than agreeing simply to place their forces at the NATO commander's disposition.) But you look at what this alliance is doing, it's impressive.Legacy of the Bush agenda
Why Bush set the freedom agenda
George W. Bush deserves credit for recognizing that the terms were now going to be set for the next big historical evolution. The president recognized that freedom was something that was not just desirable but essential for the United States; that it meant not just freedom from tyranny but also freedom from disease, from poverty. And that if you were going to have democratic leaders, they had to be able to deliver for their people. Thus the president supported the Millennium Challenge and the HIV/AIDS and malaria projects. (Bush announced the Millennium Challenge initiative in 2002. It emphasized good governance and accountability in the structuring of foreign aid and resulted in the formation of the Millennium Challenge Corp. in January 2004.)
And linking up the great compassion of the United States with our security interests. Making it about democracy, defense and development. We're at the beginning of that historical transformation, and yes, sometimes it's lonelier at the beginning than at the end.
It's really recognizing that this is about a single answer to what is the right form of government, and that's democracy. It takes different forms: There is Japanese democracy, and there's American democracy, and there are fragile democracies, and there are emerging democracies, and there are states that are trying to find some form of popular legitimacy.
Immigration policy is foreign policy
We didn't get comprehensive immigration reform ... I think everybody knows that this president tried. I remember the first foreign-policy meeting that I went to with the then-governor, before he was inaugurated, was with the then-governor, soon to be president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and they talked about the need to fix this problem. I am a firm believer in defending our laws and defending our borders ... But it's also true that there are a lot of hard-working people in this country who live in the shadows.
Immigrants are central to the U.S. identity
I was a major proponent of the temporary-worker program and finding some way to normalize the status for these people. I think that it goes to the core of who we are.
What should not be abandoned
The other thing that I'm worried about out of this current global financial crisis and whatever economic fallout there may be is, I really hope we don't sacrifice foreign assistance. The Millennium Challenge and programs like it say: Invest in your people, fight corruption, be democratic, and we'll help you. If you can't fulfill that promise, then good governments around the world that have staked their futures on that argument are going to be in very deep trouble. And so I hope that foreign assistance, if anything, continues to increase.
We found it flat. The president doubled it in Latin America, quadrupled it in Africa, tripled it worldwide. The president authorized 300 new U.S. AID officers and 1,100 new Foreign Service officers, because we believe that transformational diplomacy is a word for not thinking that your job as a diplomat is to sit in the capital and talk to other governments. It's to get out and help those governments. Without the tools of foreign assistance, we won't be able to do it.
(Helene Cooper is diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times and author of "The House on Sugar Beach." Scott L. Malcomson is an editor of The New York Times Magazine and author, most recently, of "One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race.")
By Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah
Friday, November 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: A Japanese journalist and an Afghan colleague were shot and wounded in an attempted kidnapping in the northern city of Peshawar on Friday after conducting interviews with Taliban fighters in the nearby tribal region, police and local journalists said.
The incident comes amid an upsurge of militant violence in Peshawar, including the assassination of an U.S. aid worker Wednesday, and the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat on Thursday.
Motoki Yotsukura, the bureau chief of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, and Sami Yousafzai, a correspondent for Newsweek, were in a car in the Hayatabad section of Peshawar, when a gunman opened fire on them, according to accounts by the police and local journalists.
They were returning from Khyber, an area of the tribal region that abuts Peshawar, and where Taliban militants have a strong presence, when the shooting occurred, according to the accounts.
"They went to Khyber to interview Taliban commanders," said Mushtaq Yusufzai, a journalist in Peshawar. "There was a car with gunmen who wanted to kidnap them. The driver didn't stop and they opened fire on them, and they escaped."
The bureau chief for Newsweek in Pakistan, Ron Moreau, said Yusufzai had been shot in the chest, hand and arm, and had been admitted to the hospital in Peshawar. Yotsukura was shot in the right leg and was being taken to Islamabad for further treatment, the Japanese Embassy said.
The assassination on Wednesday of Stephen Vance, an experienced development expert who was involved in a project to bring jobs to the tribal area funded by the United States Agency for International Development, shook the community of foreign aid workers, diplomats and journalists in Pakistan.
Vance was killed by gunmen as his car approached a house where his office was located in a relatively quiet residential section of Peshawar.
The Hayatabad neighborhood where the two journalists were shot on Friday has become a notoriously dangerous area of the city where kidnappings for ransom have become very frequent. The Taliban remain active in the nearby tribal region of Khyber, despite attempts by Pakistani authorities to halt them.
A sprawling city of several million that serves as the frontline urban center for the tribal region, Peshawar has become an increasing focus of the militants. There have been 20 attacks by suicide bombers in the city so far this year, including on Tuesday night when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the sports stadium in the city center.
According to official records, 127 policemen have been killed in Peshawar, and 260 injured by bomb blasts, explosive devices and suicide bombers this year. In 2006, 22 policemen died in such attacks.
Also on Friday, missiles from a pilotless aircraft killed 11 people and injured three others in North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, according to Pakistani accounts. The Bush administration has intensified the drone attacks after backing away from using American commandos for ground raids into the tribal belt.
Some of those killed in the attack were apparently foreign fighters, perhaps Arabs, Chechens or Uzbeks, Pakistani television stations said.
The target of the strikes was a family compound in Uddin Khel, near the town of Razmak, about 50 miles, or 80 kilometers, south of the Afghan border, said Safdar Hayat, a journalist in North Waziristan.
Three of the dead were members of the family of Amir Gul, a local resident who appeared to have sheltered the foreigners, Hayat said. Other bodies were destroyed beyond recognition and may have been those of the foreigners, he said.
The attack appears to have been at least the 20th by a remotely piloted Predator aircraft in the tribal areas since the beginning of August. In the first seven months of 2008, there were five such strikes.
President Asif Ali Zardari has complained that the intensified American air strikes in the tribal area of Waziristan are a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. He has called on the United States to stop them.
The United States has not publicly responded to the Pakistani government's calls to cease the attacks, which Pakistani officials say cause a surge in anti-American feeling among Pakistanis and few results in the campaign against the militants. Canadian journalist abducted in Pakistan Canadian officials have been working with Pakistani authorities to seek the release of a Canadian woman who was kidnapped in Pakistan earlier this week, Canada's foreign affairs department said Friday, The Associated Press reported from Toronto. Lisa Monette, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, confirmed that a Canadian woman has been abducted and said her agency is in discussions with the Pakistani authorities, but refused further comment and to identify the woman, citing her own safety. "I can only tell you that we are certainly aware of the kidnapping of the Canadian citizen in Pakistan and Canadian officials are working with Pakistan for her early release," Monette said. Canadian newspapers including The Globe & Mail and The Vancouver Sun have reported that Beverly Giesbrecht, 52, from Vancouver, British Columbia, was on a freelance reporting assignment when she was kidnapped in northern Pakistan on Tuesday. Giesbrecht runs the Web site www.jihadunspun.com, which is critical of the U.S.-led war and the mainstream media's coverage of it. She adopted the name Khadija Abdul Qahaar after she converted to Islam in 2002 following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. Giesbrecht left Vancouver on April 7, and flew to London, England, going on to Lahore, Pakistan, on Aug. 4, The Globe & Mail reported. Mamoona Malik, a spokeswoman for the High Commission for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Ottawa, said Giesbrecht's visa application was supported by two letters verifying she was doing freelance work, reporting on the political situation in Pakistan. A few weeks before she was abducted, Giesbrecht appealed for financial help to get out of the country. She posted an entry on her Web site on Oct. 22, titled, "An Urgent Request From Khadija Abdul Qahaar." "Pakistan is now erupting into a full-scale war zone. We have been in some very sensitive areas and even Islamabad is now locked down. As foreigners we must leave the country however we do not have the funds to get out," she wrote. "Allah knows that I really dislike having to ask but please know how hard we work for Allah. We have managed to get very good material out of the country to our production group but our physical safety is now paramount." "As a woman, I have already had a few close calls in the tribal areas as kidnappers and thieves are running loose even in Peshawar." News of Giesbrecht's kidnapping comes only days after Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reporter Mellissa Fung, 35, was safely released in Afghanistan after being held by kidnappers for a month. Canadian media kept details of Fung's 28-day abduction quiet until after her release, fearing the publicity could jeopardize efforts to save her.
The Associated Press
Friday, November 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Missiles apparently fired by unmanned U.S. aircraft hit a village near the Afghan border on Friday, killing at least 12 people including several foreign militants, Pakistani officials said.
The missile attack occurred in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region and stronghold of fighters from the Taliban and Al Qaeda suspected of mounting attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, they said.
The United States has launched a number of cross-border missile strikes over the past two months, part of a surge in violence across northwestern Pakistan that includes a Pakistani Army offensive against militants and a wave of retaliatory suicide bombings.
Security has also crumbled in the regional capital, Peshawar, a strategically vital city and a hub for Western-financed relief work in the region, where extremists have found a firm foothold among an impoverished and isolated population.
Pakistan's tribal belt is considered a likely hiding place for Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. U.S. officials say they fear that militants there could be planning terrorism in the West.
Three Pakistani intelligence officials said that early Friday, at least two missiles hit a house in Ghari Wam, a village about 30 kilometers, or 20 miles, from the border.
Two officials put the death toll at 12 and said it included several people suspected of being foreign militants. Another official put the toll at 13 and said 10 were foreigners. Taliban gunmen cordoned off the area and removed the bodies, one official said.
The officials cited reports from agents and informers in the area, and the different tallies could not immediately be reconciled. The officials asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Officials from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan did not respond to a request for comment. The spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could not be reached.
Pakistani leaders have pressed U.S. officials, including President-elect Barack Obama, for an end to the missile attacks, saying they undermine their efforts to combat extremism.
Violence in Peshawar goes on
A Japanese journalist and an Afghan colleague were shot and wounded Friday in Peshawar, Reuters reported, citing the police. The previous day, an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped and his bodyguard shot and killed in the city. On Wednesday, an American aid worker also was shot and killed.
By Noor Khan and Heidi VogtThe Associated Press
Friday, November 14, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: No students showed up at Mirwais Mena girls' school in the Taliban's spiritual birthplace the morning after it happened.
A day earlier, men on motorcycles attacked 15 girls and teachers with acid.
The men squirted the acid from water bottles onto three groups of students and teachers walking to school Wednesday, said Mehmood Qaderi, principal of the school. Some of the girls have burns only on their school uniforms, but others will have scars on their faces.
One teenager still cannot open her eyes after being hit in the face with acid.
"Today the school is open, but there are no girls," Qaderi said Thursday. "Yesterday, all of the classes were full." His school has 1,500 students.
The Afghan government condemned the attack as "un-Islamic" and blamed it on the "country's enemies," a typical reference to Taliban militants. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, denied the insurgents were involved.
Girls were banned from schools under the rule of the Taliban, the hard-line Islamist regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Women were only allowed to leave the house wearing a body-hiding burqa and accompanied by a male family member.
Qaderi said he believed there were multiple teams of assailants because the attacks took place at the same time in different neighborhoods. The provincial police chief, Mati Ullah Khan, said three people had been arrested. He would not provide further details because the investigation was not completed.
The country has made a major push to improve access to education for girls since the Taliban were removed from power. Fewer than one million Afghan children - nearly all of them boys - attended school under Taliban rule. Roughly six million Afghan children, including two million girls, attend school today.
But many conservative families still keep their girls at home, and the acid attacks are a reminder that old biases remain.
"They don't want us go to school. They don't like education," said Susan Ibrahimi, who started teaching at Mirwais Mena four months ago. She and her mother, also a teacher at the school, were wearing burqas on their walk to work when the motorbike stopped next to them.
"They didn't say anything. They just stopped the motorbike, and one of the guys threw acid on us, and they went away," Ibrahimi said in an interview by telephone.
The acid ate through the cloth covering Ibrahimi's face and left burns down her left cheek. The acid also burned her mother's hand.
"I am worried that I will have scars on my face," said Ibrahimi, who is 19 years old and not married.
Fifteen people were hit with acid in all, including four teachers, Qaderi said.
Ibrahimi said it was the Taliban that attacked her but then explained that she used the term to refer to anyone who was against education for women.
The United Nations called the attack "a hideous crime."
Laura Bush, first lady of the United States, on Thursday decried the attack as cowardly, saying in a statement that the "shameful acts are condemned by honorable people in the United States and around the world."
The attacks are "contrary to previous assurances Afghans have been given that there would not be further attacks against schools or students," the UN said in a statement.
Arsonists have repeatedly attacked girls' schools and gunmen killed two students walking outside a girls' school in Logar Province last year. Unicef says there were 236 school-related attacks in Afghanistan in 2007. The Afghan government has also accused the Taliban of attacking schools in an attempt to force teenage boys into the Islamic militia.
In the Wednesday attack, three young women were hospitalized for burns. Two were released Thursday morning, but 17-year-old Shamsia Husainai was still lying on a hospital bed unable to open her eyes.
Her brother Masood Morbi said her body shook about every 10 seconds.
She could talk, but her brother said her words were mangled. Her face was covered with a cream to treat her burns. The doctors were giving her pills to blunt the pain.
By Mark Mazzetti
Friday, November 14, 2008
WASHINGTON: Even as Al Qaeda strengthens its hub in the Pakistani mountains, its leaders are building closer ties to regional militant groups in order to launch attacks in Africa and Europe and on the Arabian Peninsula, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said Thursday.
The director, Michael Hayden, identified North Africa and Somalia as places where Qaeda leaders were using partnerships to establish new bases. Elsewhere, Hayden said, Al Qaeda was "strengthening" in Yemen, and he added that veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan had moved there, possibly to stage attacks against the government of Saudi Arabia.
He said the "bleed out" from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also extended to North Africa, raising concern that the countries there could be used to stage attacks into Europe. Hayden delivered his report in a speech to the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, and it offered a mixed assessment of Al Qaeda's ability to wage a global jihad.
He drew a contrast between what he described as growing Islamic radicalism in places like Somalia and what he said had been the "strategic defeat" of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia the network's affiliate group in Iraq.
Still, Hayden said that Pakistan's tribal areas remained Al Qaeda's most significant operations base because the group's close ties to Pashtun tribes in the region gave Qaeda militants a sanctuary to plan attacks on Western targets.
"Today, virtually every major terrorist threat my agency is aware of has threads back to the tribal areas," he said.
His remarks were the first public appraisal of Al Qaeda's Pakistan sanctuary since the CIA escalated what had been a secret campaign of airstrikes in the tribal areas over the summer.
President George W. Bush signed orders in July allowing the CIA to broaden the campaign.
The CIA used to focus remotely piloted Predator aircraft attacks on a relatively small number of Arab fighters in the tribal areas, but it has begun striking Pakistani militant leaders as well as convoys bound for Afghanistan to resupply militant fighters there.
Hayden pointedly refused to give details about the strikes by remotely piloted aircraft, or even to acknowledge that they occurred. He did say that the recent killing of senior Qaeda operatives had disrupted the group's planning and isolated its leadership.
In mid-October, a missile fired from an American drone killed Khalid Habib, the latest senior Qaeda planner to be killed this year in Pakistan.
"To the extent that the United States and its allies deepen that isolation, disturb the safe haven, and target terrorist leaders gathered there, we keep Al Qaeda off balance," Hayden said.
The radicalization of Pashtun tribes, and their strengthening ties to Qaeda operatives, date in part to the decision by the Pakistani president at the time, General Pervez Musharraf, to raid the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, the CIA director said. That raid, at the end of an eight-day siege of the mosque by government troops, killed scores of Pakistani militants.
At the end of his remarks, Hayden deflected questions about whether he would consider remaining at the CIA during the Obama administration and declined to say whether President-elect Barack Obama had asked him to extend his tenure.
"This is the business of the transition team," Hayden said. "This is the business of the president-elect."
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Randall Mikkelsen
Al Qaeda in Yemen has claimed responsibility for a suicide car-bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in September that killed 17 people, and warned of more attacks on the Arabian Peninsula, a U.S.-based terrorism monitor said on Friday.
The claim, which the SITE Intelligence group said was posted to a militant Web site this week, said the attackers were responding to a call by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
It described in detail how al Qaeda attackers in two vehicles carried out the September 17 car bomb attack. It hailed the memory of the six attackers who died in explosions outside the heavily fortified embassy. A Yemeni embassy guard, an 18-year-old American woman and her Yemeni husband were among the other 11 killed.
"Tighten your guard (and) increase your security measures for all embassies," the statement warned. It said al Qaeda's enemies appear as though they "will not leave the Arabian Peninsula, but they will be killed in it."
A U.S. counterterrorism official said the claim reinforces an earlier assessment that the attack bore "all the hallmarks" of al Qaeda. Yemeni authorities arrested at least 30 people in the strike, and a group called Islamic Jihad in Yemen claimed responsibility and an affiliation with al Qaeda.
The attack was the biggest against a U.S. target in Yemen since the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole. It was seen by analysts as demonstrating al Qaeda's ability to regroup in a strategically important country and a shift in focus from Iraq.
CIA Director Michael Hayden on Thursday called Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral home, an attractive location for al Qaeda recruitment and training and a source of worrisome threats to neighboring Saudi Arabia.
"Yemen is another country of concern, a place where Al Qaeda is strengthening. We've seen an unprecedented number of attacks this year," Hayden said in a Washington speech to the Atlantic Council of the United States.
"Plots are increasing not only in number, but in sophistication, and the range of targets is broadening," he said.
The al Qaeda statement in Yemen emphasized that the attack did not take place in Muslim markets or other gathering places, but rather "in the den of cunning and deception, the security quarters of the global Crusade."
The deaths of Muslims in attacks on marketplaces and other gathering spots have cost al Qaeda Muslim support, Western analysts have said. Zawahri earlier this year denied that the group targeted "innocents," and said any Muslim deaths were unintentional.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle)
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Mark Heinrich
Western powers have questioned an International Atomic Energy Agency offer to help Syria look into building a nuclear power plant while it is under investigation for alleged covert atomic activity, diplomats said on Friday.
But they said that whether the United States and close allies act to bar the "technical cooperation" project at an IAEA governors meeting in two weeks -- a rare and politically divisive step -- will depend on the findings of the agency's first investigative report on Syria due next week.
Diplomats tracking the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday that traces of uranium turned up in some test samples taken by IAEA inspectors from a Syrian site Washington says was a nascent atomic reactor before it was bombed by Israel in 2007.
The IAEA declined comment pending the report.
Syria has said the site was a disused military building and that U.S. intelligence driving the IAEA investigation is fabricated. It suggested that the uranium particles came with munitions Israel dropped on the site.
Some diplomats and analysts said the traces were more likely to have come from uranium that was at some stage of processing for fuel, but the origin remained unclear.
The IAEA was expected to caution that the findings warranted further investigation before conclusions could be drawn.
Vienna diplomats, who asked for anonymity, said the mere fact Syria was being probed over nuclear proliferation concerns meant that approving the nuclear power plant study now could send the wrong message.
A restricted IAEA document obtained by Reuters listed a proposal for a "technical and economic feasibility study and site selection" for a power station at a cost of $350,000 (234,960 pounds) from 2009 through 2011.
OTHER PROJECTS NOT IN DISPUTE
This was one of eight draft technical cooperation (TC) projects in Syria of the sort the IAEA does in many member states seeking to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
TC plans come up for ratification by the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors every November. Such projects must be approved by consensus.
The other seven projects listed for Syria had innocuous medical, farming or safety applications and diplomats said these would face no objections.
The United States, Britain and France -- among the biggest contributors of funding for IAEA aid projects -- aired the issue of power plant study in a meeting of Western diplomatic missions accredited to the IAEA, diplomats said.
"Eyebrows were raised and questions were posed about the timeline for this power plant study, whether it's premature before other issues are resolved," said one European diplomat.
"There was some question as to whether it would be appropriate first to assess Syria's energy needs," said another.
But diplomats said many delegations on the global governing body were loath to "politicise" IAEA technical aid without urgent reasons and Western powers were awaiting the IAEA report before deciding a course of action.
In a rare step, the board stripped Iran of some TC projects two years ago. But, unlike Syria, Iran had already been found by the IAEA to have hidden proliferation-sensitive activity and had come under U.N. sanctions which prohibited such IAEA aid.
Long, hard road ahead for Lehman creditors
Fidelity to cut 1,700 jobs in 2nd round of layoffs
By John W. Snow
Friday, November 14, 2008
The recent financial turmoil has highlighted the interconnected and rapidly changing nature of the global economy.
Recognizing that fact, the leaders, finance ministers and central bank governors of key Western and emerging market economies are meeting this weekend in Washington in an attempt to grapple with the longer term implications for the international financial architecture.
Just as the consequential events of this fall were unfolding, I was participating in a similar international forum with a kindred group of global financial leaders, this time at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Little did we know how prescient our proceedings would, in retrospect, turn out to be. My colleagues and I - all former finance ministers from many of the same G-20 countries - met and, despite divergent political, social and economic backgrounds, were able to come together around a number of core principals and proposals that frame an international response to the ongoing financial crisis.
The results of this joint effort are a worthy action plan for the G-20 leaders assembling this weekend.
We concluded, first, that our leaders need to act to fundamentally fix a broken financial system and move toward a new financial architecture for the global economy.
Events in the United States underscore the need for a strengthened policy framework for both market participants and regulators to help minimize spillover effects from the underpricing of risk and excessive leverage.
The core of such a new architecture would be to create far greater transparency on the size and extent of leverage and risk, because it is the critical lack of such transparency that masked the true nature of the risks building up in the global financial system and led us to the current crisis.
Second, while financial regulation properly remains the responsibility of nation states, the approach to regulation must change so that all institutions engaged in similar activities are regulated in a common fashion.
This approach is needed to create a level playing field for market participants, avoid regulatory arbitrage and minimize risks to stability. In the United States, this means consolidating the alphabet soup approach to financial regulation to create a single systemic risk regulator with the 360-degree field of view necessary to spot systemic risks, and the authority to step in when necessary.
While at Treasury, I commissioned work on a fundamental overhaul of the U.S. regulatory system with an eye toward creating such a systemic risk regulator. For market participants, building off of the Sarbanes-Oxley law, publicly traded financial companies should also be required to establish a chief risk officer who, like the chief executive and chief financial officers, would have to attest that financial statements properly reflect the true status of their enterprise.
Third, more rapid convergence of national standards and greater cooperation of national authorities is needed to minimize the costs of contagion. Just as the United States must consolidate its crazy quilt regulatory scheme, so in a global economy we must move toward more common regulatory approaches across borders.
Fourth, responses to the crisis need to be carefully balanced in order to preserve growth and innovation. We need to avoid an overreaction that could set prosperity back for years to come. More regulation is not the answer, but better regulation that preserves essential market dynamics.
Fifth, the financial industry should be held accountable for promises made to strengthen risk management, credit underwriting and lending standards and compensation reform. Already, markets are correcting - even overcorrecting. The days of covenant light and liar loans are over. The more the private sector does visibly by way of reform, the greater chance there will be of avoiding regulatory overkill.
In addition to these steps to fix the financial system, the crisis has underscored the need to remake the institutions of international finance for new times - what some are now calling a new "Bretton Woods" understanding. Otherwise, they risk irrelevance.
Even without this short-term crisis, the longer-term phenomenon of the full entry of once emerging economies into the global framework already highlighted the deep strains on the present system that have shaken the foundations of international financial governance. If the current institutions - the World Bank, the IMF, the G7 - are going to regain relevance, they will require both new direction and new tools.
First, this means having a "G-next" that includes China, India and Brazil. The world's most exclusive economic club must finally recognize the realities of the global economy.
Second, it means recasting the IMF to be more inclusive, and empowered to head off crises and deal with the spillover effects of national economic policies such as those we are currently experiencing.
Third, it means strengthening a forum such as the G-20, which includes all of the systemically important economies, not just the largest ones.
Fourth, we need a World Bank that focuses on poverty and sustainable growth. The poorest nations should not be forced to bear the brunt of a global downturn.
Fifth, we need to keep job-creating capital flows open, especially to the new forms of capital like the Sovereign Wealth Funds.
Even with the recent troubles in the United States, and the need for a thorough revamping of financial regulation, there was a surprisingly strong affirmation of the need to stick with what, in this diverse group's view, worked so well in raising incomes and lifting people out of poverty all around the world over the last 35 years: "the global system based on the principles of trade, open and competitive markets, and free flows of labor and capital ...still offers the best foundation for ordering economic activity to face present and future challenges."
While the potential for retrenchment and overreaction is real, if steps are taken to provide greater transparency in the markets and to bring new life and relevance to our international institutions, I remain hopeful that this weekend's meetings and those that follow can make a real contribution toward getting the global economy back on the right path.
John W. Snow was the U.S. secretary of the Treasury from February 2003 to June 2006.
By David Brooks
Friday, November 14, 2008
Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm, ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target.
The United States became famous for this pattern of decay and new growth. Over time, American government built a bigger safety net so workers could survive the vicissitudes of this creative destruction - with unemployment insurance and soon, one hopes, health care security. But the government has generally not interfered in the dynamic process itself, which is the source of the country's prosperity.
But this, apparently, is about to change. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.
This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.
Granting immortality to Detroit's Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. It crosses a line, a bright line.
It is not about saving a system; there will still be cars made and sold in America. It is about saving politically powerful corporations.
A Detroit bailout would set a precedent for every single politically connected corporation in America. There already is a long line of lobbyists bidding for federal money. If Detroit gets money, then everyone would have a case. After all, are the employees of Circuit City or the newspaper industry inferior to the employees of Chrysler?
It is all a reminder that the biggest threat to a healthy economy is not the socialists of campaign lore. It's Chief executives. It's politically powerful crony capitalists who use their influence to create a stagnant corporate welfare state.
If ever the market has rendered a just verdict, it is the one rendered on GM and Chrysler. These companies are not innocent victims of this crisis. To read the expert literature on these companies is to read a long litany of miscalculation. Some experts mention the management blunders, some the union contracts and the legacy costs, some the years of poor car design and some the entrenched corporate cultures.
There seems to be no one who believes the companies are viable without radical change. A federal cash infusion will not infuse wisdom into management. It will not reduce labor costs. It will not attract talented new employees. As Megan McArdle of The Atlantic wittily put it, "Working for the Big Three magically combines vast corporate bureaucracy and job insecurity in one completely unattractive package."
In short, a bailout will not solve anything - just postpone things.
If this goes through, Big Three executives will make decisions knowing that whatever happens, Uncle Sam will bail them out - just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the meantime, capital that could have gone to successful companies and programs will be directed toward companies with a history of using it badly.
The second part of Obama's plan is the creation of an auto czar with vague duties. Other smart people have called for such a czar to reorganize the companies and force the companies to fully embrace green technology and other good things.
That would be great, but if Obama was such a fervent believer in the Chinese model of all-powerful technocrats, he should have mentioned it during the campaign. Are we really to believe there exists a czar omniscient, omnipotent and beneficent enough to know how to fix the Big Three? Who is this deity? Are we to believe that political influence will miraculously disappear, that the czar would have absolute power over unions, management, Congress and the White House? Please.
This is an excruciatingly hard call. A case could be made for keeping the Big Three afloat as a jobs program until the economy gets better and then letting them go bankrupt. But the most persuasive experts argue that bankruptcy is the least horrible option. Airline, steel and retail companies have gone through bankruptcy proceedings and adjusted. It would be a less politically tainted process.
Government could use that $50 billion - and more - to help the workers who are going to be displaced no matter what.
But the larger principle is over the nature of America's political system. Is the country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country's success.
By Edward Wong
Friday, November 14, 2008
CHANG'AN, China: Wang Denggui, father of three, arrived more than a year ago in the palm-lined streets of this southern Chinese town with a single goal: toil in a factory to save for his children's school tuition.
But the plans of Wang and thousands of co-workers unraveled at noon on Nov. 1, when the Taiwan chairman of their ailing shoe factory climbed over a factory wall to flee the country and his debts. That left several U.S. shoe companies with unfilled orders and 2,000 workers without jobs.
"He just ran without telling anyone," Wang said.
For decades, the Pearl River Delta that includes southern Guangdong Province served as a primary engine for China's astounding economic growth. But an export slowdown that began this year and that has been magnified by the global financial crisis of recent months is contributing to the closure of tens of thousands of small and midsize factories here and in other coastal regions, forcing laborers to scramble for other jobs or return home to the countryside.
The slowdown also inhibits the ability of China to work with other nations in alleviating the worldwide crisis.
The Pearl River Delta, known as the world's factory, powered an export industry that pushed China's annual growth rate into the double digits and provided work for migrants from interior provinces with poor farmland. But circumstances have changed quickly. The slowdown in exports contributed to the closing of at least 67,000 factories across China in the first half of the year, according to government statistics. Labor disputes and protests over lost back wages have surged, igniting fear in local officials.
After the shutdown of their shoe factory, called Weixu in Chinese and China Top Industries in English, Wang and other workers took to the streets in protest, demanding two months of back pay, or $440 on average. The government called in the riot police. Seven workers were thrown in jail and six were beaten, including Wang, he said.
"I plan to return home once I get my money," Wang said as he stood outside the factory Tuesday, showing the bloody shin wound that he said resulted from a blow from a metal baton. (The police declined to comment.) "I'm over 50 years old, and I won't be able to find work. I'll just retire."
Under pressure from Beijing to maintain social stability, local officials are also trying to tamp down unrest by doling out back wages. Here in Chang'an, after the worker protest, the government shelled out more than $1 million to pay back wages to most of the workers at the shoe factory. (Wang and some other laborers say they are still without back pay.)
The slowdown in exports has accelerated a major shift in the nature of Chinese manufacturing: small factories that were already being pinched by rising costs of labor, transportation and raw materials, as well as by the appreciating yuan, are closing en masse. That is especially the case in these towns scattered around the city of Dongguan, known for churning out low-end products. Soon the labor-intensive factories that rely solely on migrant work could disappear from southern China, and foreign companies could contract with similar factories in Vietnam and other countries where costs are lower.
"There's very serious damage being done down there, I don't deny it, and I think it'll get worse because we haven't seen the full impact of the economic downturn in Europe," said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Dragonomics, an economic research and advisory firm based in Beijing. "I think next year we might see export growth in the country as a whole go down to 0 percent."
The export sector is still growing but has slowed considerably; year-on-year growth was at 9 percent in October compared with 26 percent in September 2007, Kroeber said.
The social problems arising from the slowdown is thought to have stirred anxiety in the top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is pushing for policies that will increase domestic consumer consumption to wean China off its reliance on exports. Last Sunday, the government introduced a stimulus package worth $586 billion over the next two years the largest ever announced in China to help create jobs, mostly by building transportation infrastructure.
Foreign governments expecting China to take the lead in addressing the global crisis will be disappointed, analysts and scholars say. Chinese officials say they are focused on trying to ease domestic problems and keeping the country's annual economic growth rate above 8 percent, which they see as vital to generating enough jobs. Some analysts say economic expansion could drop to as little as 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter this year, down from about 11 percent in 2007.
"I think China foresees that it'll need to spend a lot of money to get itself out of the current domestic situation," said Victor Shih, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University who studies the political economy of China. "On the global financial crisis, China will not take a leading role."
The mass layoffs have led to a profound change this year in the movements of migrant workers like Wang, who spend virtually the entire year away from home. Many are heading home early for the Chinese New Year, in late January, and say they might not return to work in the coastal regions. A worker in the railway station in Guangzhou said that from Oct. 11 to Oct. 27, there were 1.17 million passengers on trains leaving the station, an increase of 129,000 over the same period last year. There have been reports of a similar jump in other regions.
Once in the interior, the workers will have less incentive than before to return to the coastal provinces. Rising grain prices have made farming more profitable. The Chinese government announced changes to rural land policies last month that could spur some farmers to stay on their land and make better use of it.
A growing number of factories have opened in the interior provinces as well. Wages are still lower than on the coast, but have risen quickly in recent years.
In Zhangmutou, a town here in the Dongguan area, many of the 7,000 workers who lost their jobs when a Hong Kong-owned toy factory called Smart Union shut down last month have returned home. Li Dongmei, a former human resources employee, said her two older brothers who worked in the factory had taken the 20-hour bus ride home to Hunan Province. Li, though, still lives across from the abandoned factory building because she is eight months pregnant.
"This place isn't too stable economically," Li, 25, said as she sat on a terrace outside her cramped apartment. "Guangdong isn't so good anymore."
As was the case with the Weixu shoe factory, Smart Union closed without any notice, and hundreds of angry workers poured into the streets to demand that the local government pay them back wages. Many such factories were run by Taiwan or Hong Kong managers who fled the mainland. The mainland Chinese police and courts have limited reach in Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system, and they have almost no ability to prosecute people in Taiwan, which does not have formal political or diplomatic relations with the mainland.
The wave of factory shutdowns is taking place at a time when migrant workers are more aware than ever of their legal rights and know-how to put pressure on local governments. Two national labor laws were enacted in January that, among other things, require companies to pay severance and give out more long-term labor contracts. The laws could lead to more labor disputes and protests, said Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.
"Increasingly, the migrant workers know their rights," she said.
Here in Chang'an, nearly 200 workers showed up outside the south gate of the four-story Weixu factory Tuesday to demand from the government severance payments that generally ranged from $1,500 to $3,700 each. They signed their names on a list and put a red fingerprint stamp next to each signature.
"No one's gotten this subsidy yet," said a woman from Qinghai Province who spoke on condition of anonymity because local officials had scolded her for talking to a local newspaper. "The government has been helpful in giving us our back pay, but it hasn't been helpful in paying the subsidy."
The Taiwan chairman of the shoe factory, Zhuang Jiaying, did not return calls seeking comment. The collapse of the factory started a domino effect: Related businesses, like a smaller factory that put labels on Weixu's shoe boxes, have also failed. Hundreds of additional laborers have lost their jobs, and more than 200 creditors have yet to collect millions of dollars, said Yang Qiusheng, the manager of the factory that handled the labels.
"I had to fire people who had worked for me for a long time," he said. "When I see this shoe factory, this enterprise, I feel very sad and sorry. I never thought it would end like this."
White House rejects Detroit bailout, but offers loans
Sun plans deep job cuts as crisis hits tech sector
Freddie Mac goes back to the Treasury
EADS returns to profit but analysts see tough times ahead
Hopes dim for U.S. auto bailout
In Europe, shareholders face exclusion as banks raise capital
Bradford & Bingley chairman quits
HBOS says nationalisation a risk if Lloyds rejected
U.S. retail sales post record decline
Lehman Europe says all client cash will be returned
GKN warns again as global auto slowdown bites
Record loss forces Freddie Mac to tap $100 billion fund
Unilever abandons Phytopharm weight-loss product
HP and Dell results due as economic crisis worsens
Record fall in U.S. retail sales
Central banks ready to help economies, Bernanke says
Brown says more rate cuts "essential"
Freddie Mac posts $25.3 billion quarterly loss
Europe car sales plunge as GM's Opel seeks bailout
London house prices to fall 30 percent from 2007 peak
Insurers pull cover from suppliers to GM and Ford
New Star accepts tougher debt terms as assets sink
Worst probably isn't over for Citigroup
European new car sales down
EU might complain to WTO over U.S. car plan
Citigroup said to cut 10,000 jobs
RAB Capital closes funds
Regent Inns says recent trading remained weak
John Lewis weekly dept store sales down
Many line up for cash, but U.S. financial rescue falters
Oil eases below $58 after surge on shares rally
Euro zone falls into recession
Economic slowdown helps Wal-Mart Stores's profit
Asian shares gain but wariness ahead of G20
Oil price decline shrinks U.S. trade deficit
Nations to talk finance, without a single leader
RBS mulls axing 3,000 bank jobs
Friday, November 14, 2008
The economic news, in case you haven't noticed, keeps getting worse. Bad as it is, however, I don't expect another Great Depression.
In fact, we probably won't see the unemployment rate match its post-Depression peak of 10.7 percent, reached in 1982 (although I wish I was sure about that).
We are already, however, well into the realm of what I call depression economics. By that I mean a state of affairs like that of the 1930s in which the usual tools of economic policy - above all, the Federal Reserve's ability to pump up the economy by cutting interest rates - have lost all traction. When depression economics prevails, the usual rules of economic policy no longer apply: Virtue becomes vice, caution is risky and prudence is folly.
To see what I'm talking about, consider the implications of the latest piece of terrible economic news: Thursday's report on new claims for unemployment insurance, which have now passed the half-million mark. Bad as this report was, viewed in isolation it might not seem catastrophic. After all, it was in the same ballpark as numbers reached during the 2001 recession and the 1990-91 recession, both of which ended up being relatively mild by historical standards (although in each case it took a long time before the job market recovered).
But on both of these earlier occasions the standard policy response to a weak economy - a cut in the federal funds rate, the interest rate most directly affected by Fed policy - was still available. Today, it isn't: The effective federal funds rate (as opposed to the official target, which for technical reasons has become meaningless) has averaged less than 0.3 percent in recent days. Basically, there's nothing left to cut.
And with no possibility of further interest rate cuts, there's nothing to stop the economy's downward momentum. Rising unemployment will lead to further cuts in consumer spending, which Best Buy warned this week has already suffered a "seismic" decline. Weak consumer spending will lead to cutbacks in business investment plans. And the weakening economy will lead to more job cuts, provoking a further cycle of contraction.
To pull us out of this downward spiral, the federal government will have to provide economic stimulus in the form of higher spending and greater aid to those in distress - and the stimulus plan won't come soon enough or be strong enough unless politicians and economic officials are able to transcend several conventional prejudices.
One of these prejudices is the fear of red ink. In normal times, it's good to worry about the budget deficit - and fiscal responsibility is a virtue we'll need to relearn as soon as this crisis is past. When depression economics prevails, however, this virtue becomes a vice. FDR's premature attempt to balance the budget in 1937 almost destroyed the New Deal.
Another prejudice is the belief that policy should move cautiously.
In normal times, this makes sense: You shouldn't make big changes in policy until it's clear they're needed. Under current conditions, however, caution is risky, because big changes for the worse are already happening, and any delay in acting raises the chance of a deeper economic disaster. The policy response should be as well-crafted as possible, but time is of the essence.
Finally, in normal times, modesty and prudence in policy goals are good things. Under current conditions, however, it's much better to err on the side of doing too much than on the side of doing too little. The risk, if the stimulus plan turns out to be more than needed, is that the economy might overheat, leading to inflation - but the Federal Reserve can always head off that threat by raising interest rates. On the other hand, if the stimulus plan is too small there's nothing the Fed can do to make up for the shortfall. So when depression economics prevails, prudence is folly.
What does all this say about economic policy in the near future? The Obama administration will almost certainly take office in the face of an economy looking even worse than it does now. Indeed, Goldman Sachs predicts that the unemployment rate, currently at 6.5 percent, will reach 8.5 percent by the end of next year.
All indications are that the new administration will offer a major stimulus package. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations say that the package should be huge, on the order of $600 billion.
So the question becomes, will the Obama people dare to propose something on that scale?
Let's hope that the answer to that question is yes, that the new administration will indeed be that daring. For we're now in a situation where it would be very dangerous to give in to conventional notions of prudence.
By Michael Kinsley
Friday, November 14, 2008
Strolling through the Pentagon City Costco last week, I could feel my consumer confidence draining away. Even the bargains at Linens 'n Things around the corner, which is going out of business, didn't tempt me.
This is new. I used to be a pretty confident consumer. Not long ago, if I had seen the Cuisinart coffee maker that even grinds the beans on an automatic timer, it would have been the work of minutes to goose myself into a state of confidence that this is something I really need. Just think about how sleek it would look on the kitchen counter. Imagine being awakened by the gentle sound of the authentic burr grinder and the aroma of coffee wafting into the bedroom. Say goodbye to that tense interval between the time my wife wakes up and the moment hot coffee brings a smile to her lips. It would even be educational: I would learn what on earth a "burr grinder" is.
To be honest, I had been eyeing this machine elsewhere at $200. Poor, bedraggled Linens 'n Things was desperately offering its remaining supply for only $179. The store was decorated appropriately for Christmas with festive little signs declaring all sales final, and colorful reminders that if you were thinking of paying with any coupons you may have received in jollier times, forget it. "Don't you understand?" the store seemed to sulk. "We're going out of business."
So just take your bargain coffee maker. Take those chirpy orange Rachael Ray pots and pans that look as if they're too stupid to understand why the other pans are so Gloomy-Gus gray. Take your linens and take your things and go. Let us grieve. See you at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
But ultimately even the bargain didn't seduce me. My mind followed an unfamiliar path. I thought of all the coffee makers we already have, and how each of them had let us down. I thought about another clock to reset twice a year or face its accusatory blinking in the kitchen dark. I asked myself whether attempting to master another set of instructions written in English as a Second Language was really the best use of a month of my time.
For possibly the first time ever, I considered the question of getting the thing home (the issue: juggle coffee maker and fare card on the Metro, or eat up my bargain with a $20 cab ride) before I owned it rather than after. I even remembered - as I had vowed to do the last time my consumer confidence boiled over like this - the trauma of disposing the corrugated cardboard box and all those infuriating blocks of Styrofoam. I went home empty-handed, and my consumer confidence was shot.
I'm not the only one. "Consumer confidence" is plummeting nationwide. Those famous attitude surveys from the University of Michigan say so and actual consumption statistics confirm it. October retail sales were down double digits from a year ago. Most of this drop represents people who suddenly are poorer, or feel that way. But there also is some concern that the great American shopping spree may be over. We have all the stuff we need.
What do they want from us, anyway? Without consumers to lead the charge, an economic recovery will be hard to achieve. And yet everyone agrees that we need to start saving more. So should I buy that coffee maker to stimulate the economy? Or should I save the money in order to "grow" the economy and provide for my own old age? I can't do both.
This is the dilemma that 30 years of Reaganomics (the real Reaganomics - keeping the economy overstimulated with huge deficits and irresponsible consumer borrowing - not the fantasy Reaganomics of government run like a family and tax cuts that pay for themselves) has left us with. So what do we do? The nearest thing to an actual plan seems to be something like this: Stimulate first, to avert various short-term disasters, and then - at some signal from the Treasury Department - turn around and start saving like mad, to avert various long-term disasters. In other words, we need to get back our consumer confidence, and then lose it again.
The first part is fun. We just keep doing what we've been doing, only more and faster. The deficit may soar to $1 trillion a year while the government hands out cash to whoever shows up at the teller's window. Each of us can do our own bit as well. Show your consumer confidence. One last shopping spree. Buy that coffee maker whether you want one or not.
Part II will not be fun. Return the coffee maker (if the store is still in business), and deposit the money in your 401(k). Start drinking instant.
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for Time magazine.
By Stephen Castle
Friday, November 14, 2008
NICE: President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia on Friday backed away from his threat last week to deploy missiles on borders of Europe, on the condition that President-elect Barack Obama take up a call Russia made with France to meet on European security by next summer.
The Russian leader, who threatened the United States just hours after Obama had won the U.S. election last week, argued at a meeting in Nice on Friday that all countries "should refrain from unilateral steps" before discussions on European security take place.
"If we share one home, we should get together and make agreements with one another," Medvedev added.
His statement was the strongest signal yet that the Russians might not follow through with their threat to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. On Thursday, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, called Cold War rhetoric associated with the threat "stupid," unusually direct language in diplomacy.
President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, who was host of the Nice meeting between Russia and the 27 European Union nations as EU president, helped Medvedev back off. The French leader supported the idea of talks on a new security architecture for Europe - a Russian proposal - and suggested they could be held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in June or July.
The organization includes both the United States and Russia and spans much of the Northern Hemisphere, from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
The French president also made it clear that he wanted the United States to reconsider its missile defense plan, which involves radar and interceptors being deployed to Poland and the Czech Republic.
"Between now and then, please no more talk of anti-missile protection systems," Sarkozy said, referring to the potential talks. The French president added that deployment of a missile defense system "would bring nothing to security in Europe."
Although he holds the rotating presidency of the EU, Sarkozy appeared to be moving beyond his official mandate, because the bloc has little power over defense matters. His intervention provoked immediate criticism from the Czech Republic, which takes over the EU presidency in January.
Alexandr Vondra, the Czech deputy prime minister, said he was "surprised" by Sarkozy's comments, which, he said, contradicted French statements on missile defense at the last meeting, held by NATO in Bucharest. He also said the comments exceeded Sarkozy's purview, as holder of the EU presidency, to speak for the bloc's 27 nations.
"It is my understanding that Mr. Sarkozy met Mr. Medvedev on behalf of the French presidency of the EU," he said by phone. "There was nothing in the EU mandate to talk about missile defense."
Diplomats saw the intervention by Sarkozy as another example of his hyperactive brand of diplomacy, which has given him a global profile but proved controversial within the EU. By taking the issue of missile defense into the EU arena, Sarkozy staked out new and dubious ground.
Nevertheless the move to defuse the missile dispute helped smooth European relations with Moscow before the Washington conference on the global economy this weekend, which aims to reform the institutions that have governed global finance for 60 years. After the one-day meeting in Nice, both Medvedev and Sarkozy left for Washington.
Ties between the EU and Russia, one of the bloc's main sources of energy, have been particularly tense since the August war in Georgia and South Ossetia. On Monday, Europeans said they would resume talks with the Russians on a partnership deal because Moscow had complied with most terms of a negotiated cease-fire in Georgia.
But Medvedev's threat to station missiles exacerbated tensions.
Moscow has refused to accept U.S. assurances that its proposed missile shield in Europe was intended to protect NATO from "rogue" states such as Iran. The sensitivity of the issue was illustrated by President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who told The Wall Street Journal that Russia had suggested deploying missiles in his former Soviet state to counter U.S. moves.
For his part, the Russian president has been pressing his vague proposals for a new European security structure. Most EU nations have treated them with skepticism, and some see them as a direct attempt to undermine NATO.
Participants said Friday that the meeting underlined improved relations. The European trade commissioner, Catherine Ashton, said talk had been "robust, but very open." "Presidents Sarkozy, Barroso and Medvedev were very direct with each other," she added, "in the spirit of having a dialogue."
By Clyde Haberman
Friday, November 14, 2008
NEW YORK: Two robbery suspects, hands cuffed behind them, were taken from a police station house in New York a few days ago. Like many young men, they wore baggy trousers. They wore them low, very low, so low that the beltless jeans of one suspect slid down almost to his knees.
Guilty or innocent, he looked ridiculous. President-elect Barack Obama, we're willing to bet, would have agreed.
The first order of business for the new president will no doubt be to get America to hitch up its pants and give the economy a kick-start. It will be interesting to see if he can also get America to hitch up its pants, period. This is a matter of no small concern to New York, where changes in fashion mean jobs, reputations and - count on it - money.
Just before Election Day, Obama appeared on MTV and took a question about laws in some municipalities that ban a popular street look among young men who go around in low-slung pants that expose way more underwear than many of us care to see. Those ordinances, the candidate said, are "a waste of time."
"Having said that," he added, "brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What's wrong with that? Come on."
"Some people might not want to see your underwear," Obama said. "I'm one of them."
The question now is whether as president he can bring about a change in urban fashion by sheer dint of example.
There is a persistent belief that President John F. Kennedy delivered a knockout blow to traditional hats by preferring to go hatless. In an earlier generation, Clark Gable supposedly devastated the men's undershirt industry when he unbuttoned his shirt in the 1934 comedy "It Happened One Night" and revealed himself to be bare-chested. (Has anyone ever explored whether hitchhiking women of that era started flashing some thigh to stop cars, as Claudette Colbert did in that classic film?)
JFK as hat killer is dismissed as a myth by many fashion experts, who say that American men were abandoning fedoras and the like even before Kennedy took office in 1961. In fashion, said Anne Hollander, the author of "Sex and Suits" and other books on how we dress, "when you look more closely, there's evidence that a thing happened before it took hold, and no single person was responsible."
Having said that, to borrow from Obama, the new president may be able to set a well-tailored example that others will follow. "It could have an influence, indeed," Hollander said. "Everybody's looking at him all the time. That means they're going to absorb it. Even unconsciously, they're going to do it."
Ruth Rubinstein, a sociology professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York, agreed. "It's very clear that what a president wears has an impact on the population," she said.
Not everyone believes that words alone are enough. One doubter is Alan Flusser, a designer of menswear who has written several books on fashion. When it comes to Obama and the brotherhood of the sagging pants, "I don't think his commenting on it one way or another is going to influence anybody," Flusser said.
Then, too, said John Birmingham, editor in chief of DNR, a menswear trade publication, the prison look reflected in this style is past its prime. "A more cleaned-up and kind of preppy" fashion is ascendant, he said.
"One of the things fashion people say is that when you see something everywhere, that means it's dead," Birmingham said. Nonetheless, the low-slung look hangs on, even if the pants themselves do not. "I don't mean to say that this is dead and you won't see it anymore," he said. "But you might see less of it and think, 'I guess Obama had some influence here."'
Never sell a president (or his pants) short. With "slight refinements," Flusser said of Obama, "he has the potential to raise the bar relative to stylishness." Flusser suggested a simple white pocket square as a nice touch. In general, the president-elect "looks pretty comfortable in his clothes," he said. "He looks like he's wearing them as opposed to them wearing him."
Maybe if he can get young men to do away with drooping pants, Obama can then take on the shrunken tailoring that has become popular - you know, the suits with sleeves that end well shy of the wrists and trouser legs that never make it to the ankles, pioneered by Thom Browne. Why anyone would spend a few thousand dollars to dress like Pee-wee Herman remains one of life's mysteries.
The economy? Iraq? Afghanistan? Never mind them. Let's see if the president-elect can persuade men to abandon the Thom Browne look. "That," Birmingham said, "would be a test of his influence."
By Christopher Benfey
Friday, November 14, 2008
The Delivery Room
The Bravermans, Peter and Mira, traffic in other people's stories. He is a "stuttery professor of Russian" and a respected translator of Solzhenitsyn. She is a psychotherapist and professional "gatherer of stories." Born in the "difficult country" known as Yugoslavia before its bloody dissolution, she is steeped in the work of Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott. The Bravermans live in the "fundamentally grubby" London neighborhood of Camden Town, the silence of their cramped and childless apartment broken only by the incessant complaints of Mira's upscale patients who, as the millennium approaches, have one thing on their minds.
"Everybody that spring seemed to be talking about children," Sylvia Brownrigg's ambitious new novel begins. "Having them, not having them." Peter takes to calling Mira's office "the delivery room," though the only babies delivered there are the children her patients once were. Each had been a child, as Mira learned from Klein, "who had suffered unfathomable, crucial sadnesses, whose excavation might make easier futures possible."
Like garrulous pilgrims from "The Canterbury Tales," these grown-up children, to whom she attaches stereotyped monikers, parade into Mira's office to offer up their narratives of woe. The Mourning Madonna cannot get over her grief for her stillborn child, Cassandra. The American, a journalist, who writes a bitchy column called "A Broad From Abroad," is looking for a sperm donor. The Aristocrat is ready to give IVF ' "like the initials of some splinter terrorist group, the Infertility Victory Front" ' one last try.
Brownrigg brings the ironist's eye of her previous novel, "Morality Tale," to these tragicomic proceedings, while deftly shifting our point of view among her whining characters. She risks monotony with so many baby-on-the-brain patients ("plenty of room for banality and repetition" as Peter complains in another context), so the reader is almost relieved when the "porcine" Bigot's turn comes around. A little like Jason Compson in "The Sound and the Fury," he fills the room with rage at his ex-wife and the thankless "children he already has." The Bigot needles Mira after he discovers, to his sadistic delight, that she is a Serb. "Everybody hated the Serbs," as the American journalist notes. "Even more than they hated Americans."
Midway through "The Delivery Room," the Bravermans, connoisseurs of other people's stories, are abruptly ambushed by stories of their own. The novel takes place from the spring of 1998 until May 1999, the uneasy period after the Dayton accords, when the troubles in Kosovo were escalating. We know that it's only a matter of time before Mira, with family, friends and a buried secret or two back in Belgrade, will be sucked into the mounting violence. Meanwhile, on the home front, Peter isn't feeling well. "Illness and its treatment made a story," he reflects; "any literature professor knew that." Mira is torn between concern for her husband and her homeland. "How would she get through Kosovo," she wonders, "whatever new hell awaited, without him?"
Brownrigg draws thorny questions from this thicket of complications. The Mourning Madonna, grieving for her child, is "newly alert to the world's disasters." But how exactly do the sufferings recounted in Mira's office stack up against what ordinary folk in Belgrade are going through, as the punitive airstrikes begin?
Mira is appalled by the "puffed-up, self-satisfied language of parents" adopted by NATO. At the same time, her training has taught her that pain "does not discriminate on the basis of religion or race," and that the suffering of her patients is no less real than the suffering of the Serbs. "They tell me of their griefs," she explains in a phone call to her Belgrade brother-in-law. "I feel sorry for them," he answers with the "shrapnel of irony" in his voice. "Their lives must be hard."
Mira's psychoanalytic training turns out to be no match for the bombs raining down on Belgrade. The drift of Brownrigg's novel has been to contest the idea that the Balkans are mired in ancient tribal loyalties, immune to the enlightened ideology of the modern world. But Mira reverts to precisely such "rooted, historic passion." She is, we learn, a devout Orthodox Christian, finding a weekly delivery room of her own in "the stark hushed dusk of her church." When The American expresses regret at the news of the NATO strikes, Mira explodes, "If it's Kosovo they want ... they won't get it." Sounding a bit like "radish-faced Milosevic" himself, she explains that "it was not simply a bit of territory under threat, some acres of land, but rather poetry, God, a people; her people, Serbian people;the monasteries, the relics, the bones of the saints."
The reader is left with an uneasy choice: to sympathize with Mira and her atavistic attachment to blood and country, or to assume that she has had a temporary setback, brought on by severe stress, in her own therapeutic growth. I'm not sure Brownrigg herself has a clear idea which choice she wants the reader to make. Like the political events at its core, the novel unleashes ambivalence at every turn. But Mira Braverman, however "old and kind and long-suffering" she might appear to her patients, seems a morally diminished character as the novel moves toward its closing revelations, and her airless delivery room delivers up its long-buried secrets.
By Chelsea Cain
Friday, November 14, 2008
Susan Cheever is a sex addict. She wants you to know that she has had sex - a lot of sex - with all sorts of men. She has committed adultery. She has been up to hanky-panky in hotel rooms. She has made eyes at lawyers and book salesmen and the guys from the moving company.
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about her new book, "Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction." (A fine title, but an even greater name for a club in the meatpacking district.) In "Desire," Cheever explores the nature of sex addiction, interspersed with her own experiences, specifically her relationship with her long-term adulterous lover turned third husband, a rakish, hard-drinking journalist named Warren. The result floats somewhere between psychology essay and issue memoir ' "A straight look at some crooked feelings," Cheever calls it ' and is slim enough to fit nicely into a copy of Smithsonian, if you want to read it on the train without advertising your innocent interest in the horizontal mambo.
Not that anyone would care. When David Duchovny recently announced that he was entering in-patient rehab for sex addiction, the whole world shrugged knowingly. We love sex ' within certain boundaries. "We are," Cheever writes, "a nation of puritanical love junkies." We are also a nation of addicts: shoe addicts, chocolate addicts, Sunday crossword addicts. The word "addict" is so overused that sex addicts have a hard time getting taken seriously, much less getting sympathy. Cheever aims to fix this.
The book ' like a manual on crabgrass control ' is divided into three parts, "What is it?" "What causes it?" and "What can we do about it?" The definition of sex addiction is tricky to pin down. What separates the addict from what Cheever terms the "passionate amateur"? It all comes down to how you feel in the morning. "Addiction," Cheever writes, "is alwaysa broken promise, whether it's a promise made to oneself or to another person." If you promise yourself you won't do it ' won't drink, won't have sex with the doorman ' and you do it anyway, it might be time to start going to 12-step meetings.
Why pursue carnal relations with the wrong people again and again? It can't all be blamed on Axe body spray. Cheever ticks off some theories ' childhood trauma, genetics, society, underlying psychological conditions, longevity. That last one is my favorite. Staying true to the missis was easier when you were dead before the seven-year-itch could hit. In the end, Cheever settles on "all of the above" ' or maybe, more accurately, a little of each.
Chastity belts, while effective, are bulky under clothing. So what is a sex addict to do? Cheever suggests we all stop giggling (and making jokes about chastity belts) and redefine how we look at addiction. "So the highschooler smokes dope and steals from his parents' liquor cabinet," she writes, "while the businessman rents videos and hires prostitutes on trips to faraway cities, and the college freshman buys bags of groceries, eats them and vomits in the communal bathroom. Isn't this all really the same thing?"
The moral equivalency of smoking dope and cheating on your spouse is sketchy. Cheating hurts a loved one. Smoking dope makes the Grateful Dead sound better. Whatever. The argument Cheever's making is that if you scratch an overeater, you'll find a shopoholic, and so on. What makes sex addiction different, she suggests, is that "addiction to other people ' especially addiction to sex partners ' is the only addiction that is applauded and embraced."
Cheever began mulling over sex addiction when she was working on "My Name Is Bill," her biography of Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Wilson, married for 53 years, liked to engage in the forbidden dance with women who were not his wife. Cheever, the author of a memoir about her own drinking problem, got to wondering if Wilson might just have replaced one addiction with another. Then she took a long hard look in the mirror.
Susan Cheever created a stir when she revealed the bisexuality of her father, John Cheever, in her memoir "Home Before Dark." In "Desire" she goes further, describing him as gay. You could say that her childhood was full of privilege and adventure. Or, she writes, you could say "that my parents were miserable partly because my father was a closeted gay alcoholic and that he sometimes took it out on me. Both are true." Her father hid his sexuality. She couldn't keep a leash on hers. If Cheever sees a connection, she doesn't mention it.
But that's in keeping with the book's approach. "Desire" asks considerably more questions than it answers. It's a conversation starter - like telling strangers you slept with your dying mother's oncologist or left your daughter's hospital room for an adulterous romp. True to this confessional bent, as well as Cheever's sly sense of humor, the book is dedicated "To whom it may concern." Her children, according to the acknowledgments, suggested an alternative: "To my children, who died of embarrassment."
By A. O. Scott
Friday, November 14, 2008
A reviewer may come to a new James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace," directed by Marc Forster and opening Friday, is the 22nd official installment of the series in 46 years with a nifty theory or an elaborate sociocultural hermeneutic agenda, but the most important thing to have on hand is a checklist. It's all well and good to reflect upon the ways 007, the Harry Potter of British intelligence, has evolved over time through changes in casting, geopolitics, sexual mores and styles of dress.
But the first order of business must always be to run through the basic specs of this classic entertainment machine's latest model and see how it measures up.
So before we proceed to any consideration of the deeper meanings of "Quantum of Solace" (or for that matter the plain meaning of its enigmatic title), we need to assess the action, the villain, the gadgets, the babes and the other standard features.
The opening song, performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys (an intriguing duo on paper if nowhere else), is an abysmal cacophony of incompatible musical idioms, and the title sequence over which those idioms do squalling battle is similarly disharmonious: conceptually clever and visually grating. The first chase, picking up exactly where the 2006 "Casino Royale" left off, is speedy and thrilling, but the other action set-pieces are a decidedly mixed bag, with a few crisp footraces, some semi-coherent punch-outs and a dreadful boat pileup that brings back painful memories of the invisible car Pierce Brosnan tooled around in a few movies ago.
Picturesque locales? Bolivia, Haiti, Austria and Italy are featured or impersonated, to perfectly nice touristic effect. Gizmos? A bit disappointing, to tell the truth. Technological advances in the real world may not quite have outpaced those in the Bond universe, but so many movies these days show off their global video surveillance set-ups and advanced smart-phone applications that it's hard for this one to distinguish itself.
What about the villain? One of the best in a while, I'd say, thanks to a lizardy turn from the great French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays Dominic Greene, a ruthless economic predator disguised as an ecological do-gooder. The supporting cast is studded with equally excellent performers, including Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini, both reprising their roles in "Casino Royale."
And the women? There are two, as usual not counting Judi Dench, returning as the brisk and impatient M one (Gemma Arterton) a doomed casual plaything, the other a more serious dramatic foil and potential romantic interest. That one, called Camille, is played by Olga Kurylenko, whose specialty seems to be appearing in action pictures as the pouty, sexy sidekick of a brooding, vengeful hero. Not only Daniel Craig's Bond, but also Mark Wahlberg's Max Payne and Timothy Olyphant's Hitman.
James Bond is a much livelier character than either of those mopey video-game ciphers, but he shares with them the astonishing ability to resist, indeed to ignore, Kurylenko's physical charms.
This is not out of any professional scruple. The plot of "Quantum of Solace" is largely propelled by Bond's angry flouting of the discipline imposed by his job, and anyway when did James Bond ever let work get in the way of sex? No, what gets in the way is emotion. 007's grief and rage, the source of his connection to Camille, are forces more powerful than either duty or libido.
Brosnan was the first actor to allow a glimmer of complicated emotion to peek through Bond's cool, rakish facade, and since Craig took over the franchise two years ago the character has shown a temperament at once rougher and more soulful than in previous incarnations. The violence in his first outing, "Casino Royale," was notably intense, and while "Quantum of Solace" is not quite as brutal, the mood is if anything even more grim and downcast.
The death in "Casino" of Bond's lover Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), along with the possibility that she had betrayed him before dying, provides an obvious psychological explanation for his somber demeanor in "Quantum." But while the exploration of Bond's psychology makes him, arguably at least, a deeper, subtler character and there is certainly impressive depth and subtlety in Craig's wounded, whispery menace it also makes him harder to distinguish from every other grieving, seething avenger at the multiplex.
Which is to say just about every one. And here, I suppose, the deeper questions bubble up. Is revenge the only possible motive for large-scale movie heroism these days? Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?
I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight's baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty's suave, cynical cold war paladin. His wit was part of his of our arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.
Are these weapons now off limits for the good guys? Or can moviegoers justify their vicarious enjoyment of on-screen mayhem and luxury hotels, high-end cocktails and fast cars only if there are some pseudoserious bad feelings attached? The Sean Connery James Bond movies of the 1960s were smooth, cosmopolitan comedies, which in the Roger Moore era sometimes ascended to the level of farce. With Craig, James Bond reveals himself to be sigh a tragic figure.
"Quantum of Solace," a phrase never uttered in the course of this film (though it has something to do with Greene's diabolical scheme, itself never fully explained), means something like a measure of comfort. Perhaps that describes what Bond is looking for, or maybe it is what this kind of entertainment tries to provide a fretful audience. If so, I prefer mine with a dash of mischief.
By Marcel Theroux
Friday, November 14, 2008
Kieron Smith, Boy
Throughout his substantial and highly praised body of work, James Kelman has sought to portray the life of Scottish working-class people in fiction that is sympathetic to their predicament and accurately reflects their language. He's done so, by his account, out of a sense that English literature's institutional elitism has blinded it to the significance of the lives of "people of my own background." The typical Kelman hero - like the narrator of the 1994 Booker Prize-winning "How Late It Was, How Late" - is a mouthy and indignant character down on his uppers, assailing the reader in a lively and foul-mouthed Scots vernacular.
Now in his 60s, and with his sense of injustice apparently undimmed by his standing as a senior eminence of British letters, Kelman has written "Kieron Smith, Boy," a novel about a hardscrabble Glasgow childhood. The exact time of the story isn't clear from the book, but the details fit the period starting in the 1960s when dwellers in the city's slum tenements were moved to new housing estates on its outskirts.
Kieron, the youngest of two brothers and a perennial outsider, grows from childhood to early adolescence against a background of unstated but obvious poverty. The Glasgow of the novel's era is a rough, sectarian city, its divisions echoing the bloodier conflict across the Irish Sea. Kieron's family is Protestant, but his Celtic name sounds Catholic. He doesn't appear to fit in anywhere. He even speculates that he might be adopted; his socially ambitious mother certainly seems to prefer his older brother, Matt.
The book unfolds in an unnumbered series of episodes, all told in Kieron's rambling, recursive voice. Events lead Kieron from the inner city to his new home on its outskirts, and include tangles with rough kids, visits to watch the soccer at the Glasgow Rangers' home ground, stints in two new schools, clashes with his brother, faltering steps into a first job and a taste of financial independence. There are so few moments of warmth and intimacy at home that when his dad fixes up an old bicycle it seems like Christmas (at least until the bike gets stolen a page later). Other bright spots in Kieron's rather cheerless world are the library, his grandparents' house and the facility he discovers he has for climbing drainpipes.
Although the novel is written in the first person, it would be wrong, I think, to say that Kieron narrates the book. There's no implied moment of narration and indeed no reason for Kieron to be telling us his story. Instead, the text dramatizes the boy's unfolding consciousness in a way that recalls the modernist experiments of Joyce and Woolf. As the book progresses, the voice alters slightly, its preoccupations change, and the bashful self-censorship ' nude, for instance, appears as n**e ' gives way to full profanities. I think Kelman intends this as a kind of progress, that he approves of Kieron speaking unapologetically in his own voice. But it's hard to know: Kelman passes no judgment on his young hero. He just starts him up and lets him talk:
"I always went the messages for my grannie and would always go them, so if it was a train to take, I would still go them. I liked going them, only if it was a heavy pile of potatos and all vegetables, carrots and turnips, it was just a heavy bag and it was two hands going up the stair. The shops were round the corner along the road and I knew the ones to go to, if they gived ye good food, some of them did not. My grannie said the ones that were not good, Oh do not go there he is a cheat if his potatos are old and how his carrots are just soft."
This is difficult writing of an unexpected sort. If you're not thrown by the Scots usage of "went messages" to mean "got the groceries," you'll still struggle to find the sentence's center of gravity. Kieron, and Kelman, give you no help, declining to distinguish what might be important from what's not. And that, in miniature, is how the book works as a whole.
Kelman is a profoundly political writer, concerned with the way that representing speech or policing speech can be a form of social control. Throughout the novel, Kieron's mother and other authority figures try to make him forsake the marked Scots features of his language and use more socially prestigious forms. "Ye had to speak right all the time, Oh it is not cannay it is cannot, you must not say didnay it is did not. If it is the classroom it is not the gutter. It is the Queen's English, only you must speak the Queen's English."
It's clear, by contrast, that Kelman wants his creation to speak in his native idiom, even at the risk of banality. He goes out of his way to avoid anything that smacks of fine writing. There's not a memorable sentence in the entire book. Occasionally, the result is a moving artlessness or a pungent, rhythmic vitality. More often, the effect is one of eye-watering dullness; the words just aren't doing enough heavy lifting to keep the reader interested. Kieron rambles on like the worst kind of bore, in repetitious, loosely connected flights of fancy.
Still, this isn't a bad book. Kelman is a writer of singular will and sincerity. He is, like many highly original artists, proposing to create the taste by which he is judged. In language and structure, he rejects forms that have worked for other writers. He willfully ducks anything that resembles a decisive climax - as if to write one would do violence to the naturalism of his material. Instead, grittily, by inches, and yammering all the time, Kieron pulls himself virtually unaided into young manhood.
Indeed, one of the most persistent motifs in the book is of Kieron climbing; up trees, or up ronepipes - drainpipes - at the new housing estate. The drainpipe climbing could stand as an image for Kelman's achievement in this book as a whole: the courage and tenacity required to pull it off are undeniable - but there is scant pleasure to be had watching him do it.
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