Apart from going to the market, I have hardly been outside the house since B. went away. This is not like me.
Is it the weather, the rain, the wind that blows hard as I write. Is it her absence, the new moon, the mood, the questions I have?
My questions are nagging and they accumulate each week.
This week the IAEA announced that from June '07 to June '08 there were 250 cases of lost or stolen nuclear or radioactive materials. In one year alone - just lost.
They don't know where it is.
Today, we learn these things: that the Russians feel the need to declare the security of their nuclear arsenal; that U.S negotiations continue apace with North Korea. To find out what exactly? What they might have 'lost' too?
In the run up to American elections, we learn that prior to the previous one, in 2004, over 2000 Muslims were profiled for fear of a potential terrorist attack prior to, or immediately after, the elections. An attack involving what?
We know there is no shortage of people prepared to lose their own lives to deprive others of theirs. There is no evidence to suggest they would not be prepared to use any weapon available and how many weapons were lost when the Iron Curtain fell, where are they now; doth Russia protest too much in declaring their security?
The lost war in Afghanistan is now described as 'Afghanistan on the brink' - the brink of what? Why so late this obvious declaration? Why are we learning only now of a secret briefing to McCain and Obama advisers on this subject?
Bush's military operates out of area with an increased tempo; the Iranian prime minister is sleepless, Bush officials defend their cross border policies. Are there things in NW Pakistan, plans and people, that must be disrupted before the elections next week? Is a window of opportunity closing for the current American administration to act on Iran?
I feel something. And I think this is partly why I want to stay inside.
Naturally, this is called paranoia. I know this and know how this must read to others.
This is also how NSC, CIA and FBI officials were described, pre-9/11, who dared to raise red flags.
I wonder where they are now? Perhaps not in New York or Washington, perhaps in the countryside, perhaps inside.
By David Barboza
Friday, October 31, 2008
SHANGHAI: Chinese regulators are widening their investigation into contaminated food amid growing signs that the toxic industrial chemical melamine has leached into the nation's animal feed supplies, posing health risks to consumers.
The announcement came after food safety tests earlier this week found that eggs produced in three different provinces in China were contaminated with melamine, which is blamed for causing kidney stones and renal failure in infants. The tests have led to recalls of eggs and consumer warnings.
The reports are another serious blow to China's agriculture industry, which is already struggling to cope with its worst food safety scandal in decades after melamine-tainted milk supplies sickened over 50,000 children, caused at least four deaths and led to global recalls of goods produced with Chinese dairy products earlier this fall.
The cases are fueling global concerns about Chinese food. In Hong Kong, food safety officials announced this week that they would begin testing a wider variety of foods for melamine, including vegetables, flour and meat products. On the mainland, Shanghai and other cities are moving aggressively to test a wide variety of food products for melamine, including fish and livestock feed, according to the state-run news media, which has in recent days carried multiple reports on melamine in animal feed.
In the United States, worried consumers frantically e-mailed one another on Thursday and Friday about the possibility of melamine-tainted Halloween treats following a spate of news reports that some candies and chocolates made in China or with ingredients sourced in China had tested positive for high levels of melamine or been destroyed in recent weeks as a cautionary measure.
A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said the agency was adjusting a nationwide sampling of products for melamine "as necessary." The FDA, along with state and local authorities, have been sampling products in Asian markets since mid-September for traces of melamine.
"Thus far, most of FDA's testing of milk and milk-derived ingredients and products from China focused on human foods, but have included animal feeds as well," said the spokeswoman, Stephanie Kwisnek. "The FDA is currently re-evaluating its overall approach to keeping these products out of the U.S. market."
Asian food safety experts warned consumers not to grow too alarmed over the finding of tainted eggs because they contained much lower concentrations of melamine than the powdered baby formula that caused such widespread problems in China.
Hong Kong food safety officials said a child would have to eat about two dozen of the eggs in a single day to become ill.
Still, if eggs, milk and animal feed supplies are tainted, there is the specter of an even wider array of foods that could come under scrutiny, everything from pork and chicken supplies to bread, biscuits, eggs, cakes, seafood and candy.
China is also one of the world's largest exporters of food and food ingredients, including meats, seafood, beverages and vitamins.
Melamine was banned as an animal feed additive in China in July 2007. And last year, United States regulators put tough restrictions on the amount of melamine allowed in food products.
But interviews on Friday, and over the past year, with several Chinese chemical dealers who sell melamine suggests that melamine scrap, the substantially cheaper waste left over after producing melamine, continued to be added to animal and fish feed.
"I heard some melamine dealers still sell to animal feed producers," said Qin Huaizhen, manager at the Gaocheng Kaishun Chemical Co. in city of Shijiazhuang, though he insisted he has never sold melamine to animal feed producers. "In Shandong province many animal feed manufacturers buy melamine scrap."
Two other melamine dealers in east and south China said that only after the recent dairy scandal did government regulators begin to closely monitor the sale of melamine to animal feed producers.
Kidney experts said that there has been very little research into how the chemical disrupts kidney function. Dr. Fredric Coe, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, said that melamine is likely concentrated in the kidneys into crystals that the body cannot dissolve. Those crystals clog many of the kidney's nearly one million nephrons, which are tiny filtering units, in a process very different from the usual way kidney stones are formed, Coe said. Urination slows or ceases, and patients suffer acute kidney failure.
Some food-safety experts are perplexed as to how melamine was allowed to seep into China's food supplies after melamine-tainted animal feed exports from China were blamed last year for sickening dogs and cats in the United States, touching off international trade and food safety disputes between the two countries.
"A year ago, everybody should have been in a complete panic about it, and done something then," said Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies and public health at New York University and the author of "Pet Food Politics" (University of California Press, 2008), which examines the pet food problem in detail. "Someone should have required that melamine not be in any food product."
The pet food case led to a vast recall in the United States and other parts of the world and also sparked a lengthy food safety crackdown in China, with regulators boasting that they had closed down thousands of illegal or substandard food factories and slaughterhouses.
Still, the Chinese government never made clear last year or even this year how extensively it had tested its own food and feed supply for melamine, even though melamine dealers acknowledged it was common to sell melamine scrap into the food and feed market.
In the dairy case, Chinese investigators have arrested dozens of suspects and blamed the scandal on a group of rogue milk and melamine dealers who they accuse of intentionally adding melamine, which is commonly used to produce plastic and fertilizer, to milk supplies as cheap filler in order to save money.
High-ranking government officials, including the head of the nation's quality watchdog, have been fired in the wake of the recalls and Beijing has acknowledged that "lax regulation" contributed to the scandal.
Similarly, last year, regulators in Beijing largely blamed the pet-food debacle on a pair of small exporters, who regulators said shipped feed or feed ingredients contaminated with melamine in order to save money and cheat the buyers.
Beijing also insisted its food safety problems were exaggerated, perhaps partly as a protectionist ploy to slow the boom in Chinese imports.
But several farmers and melamine scrap dealers said in interviews last year that melamine had been used for years in animal feed, particularly fish feed. Many melamine producers say they believed melamine scrap was nontoxic and would not be harmful to animals or humans.
Melamine dealers say the government crackdown on the sale to feed producers only occurred this year, after the Sanlu Group dairy company announced that its infant milk formula was tainted with melamine. That announcement, which came in September, triggered a nationwide recall and government announcements that other major dairy brands were also selling melamine-contaminated milk.
"Before the Sanlu scandal, we were not banned from selling melamine to anyone" Niu Qinglin, manager of the Hebei Jinglong Fengli Chemical Co., said in a telephone interview Friday. "I had heard melamine dealers sell melamine to animal feed companies and food companies; it was common before the Sanlu scandal."
Niu, however, said he never sold melamine or melamine scrap to food or feed producers. And he noted that regulators had moved in on the trade. "Now, the government regulates that melamine cannot be sold to any animal feed manufacturers or food processing companies," he said.
By James Kanter
Friday, October 31, 2008
BRUSSELS: European governments agreed Friday to delay a deadline for carmakers to comply with rules on emissions, ending months of gridlock but setting the stage for further negotiations with lawmakers over the final shape of the legislation.
Carmakers will have to start complying with the new emissions target in 2012 for 60 percent to 65 percent of their vehicles, according to a report from a meeting of European Union government officials seen by the International Herald Tribune.
The auto industry would then have until 2015 before their entire fleets would have to meet the target, the report said. A previous plan envisioned conformance by 2012.
The concession came after fierce lobbying from the carmakers, whose representatives at talks here Wednesday called for a loosening of regulatory requirements and for €40 billion, or $51 billion, in low-interest loans to develop cleaner technologies. The European auto industry argues that it is vulnerable both to a looming economic slowdown and increased environmental burdens.
That message appeared to have been accepted, as reflected by the agreement Friday. The accord is a less stringent approach than the one suggested by the environment committee of the European Parliament in a vote in September.
The committee had favored sticking to proposals mandating that the average new car from an entire fleet should meet the target by 2012, a move that won widespread praise from environmental campaigners.
The target, first proposed by the European Commission, would require average fleets of new cars to emit no more than 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer with a further 10-gram reduction coming from more efficient tires and other improvements.
That compares with a current European average of 158 grams of CO2 per kilometer. The overall target of 120 grams would be the first legally binding carbon dioxide emission standard for new cars in Europe.
But the proposal unleashed a fierce battle, bringing powerful lobbying into play from industry and government in some of the biggest economies in Europe.
German automakers said they would not be able to meet the target for 2012 without significant concessions. French producers already make lightweight and efficient cars, but they were skeptical about setting a long-term target that they feared could be too ambitious and would require them to take additional, expensive technological steps.
Even so, diplomats overcame many of those differences this past week, including discord over long-term targets.
According to the report, diplomats agreed to fix the long-term target for reducing CO2 from cars at close to 95 grams, but with the caveat that agreement would be open to review ahead of 2013, to examine whether the long-term target was technically possible.
EU diplomats also agreed to ease penalties on automakers for breaking the rules.
Instead of paying a maximum of €95 for each excess gram of carbon dioxide by 2015, car manufacturers would pay €80. For manufacturers within 3 grams of the target, that penalty would be €25 and for those within 6 grams it would be €40.
Beginning in 2016, the penalty would rise to €95, but that would be reduced to €25 for manufacturers within 3 grams of the target.
That penalty would be reduced further, to €20, for any cars with emissions lower than 130 grams.
Friday, October 31, 2008
HANOI: Floods from heavy rain in Vietnam's central provinces have killed at least 14 people in the past week, including four children, the government and state media said on Friday.
Many roads in the capital, Hanoi, were submerged, with up to 1 metre (yard) of water in some places, and some residents had abandoned cars and motorcycles.
Torrential rain pounded northern Vietnam early on Friday, threatening dangerous flash floods in six mountainous provinces, state weather forecasters said.
Three girls aged 11 and 12 returning from school and a two-year-old boy were among the victims of floods that have hit nine central provinces since October 24, the government's disaster management unit said in its daily report.
Seven people died in Ha Tinh province, three in Quang Ngai and two in Nghe An, while Quang Nam and Phu Yen provinces each reported one death.
Up to 330 mm (13 inches) of rain had pounded Nghe An province, 300 km (186 miles) south of Hanoi, since Wednesday, halting traffic, while landslides had eroded many sections of the north-south Ho Chi Minh highway in Thua Thien-Hue province.
Vietnam's main agricultural area, including the Central Highlands coffee belt and the Mekong Delta rice basket, have not been affected by the floods, although rain disrupted coffee harvesting this week.
The harvest is due to peak in mid-November in the Central Highlands, two weeks earlier than usual, but rain could prolong the drying process and damage bean quality, traders said.
Typhoons and floods have killed several hundred people in northern and central provinces since the start of this year. The flood and storm season ends next month in the central region, which is widely exposed to the sea.
(Reporting by Ho Binh Minh and Nguyen Nhat Lam; Editing by Alan Raybould)
Friday, October 31, 2008
America's government spending is growing at an astounding pace. Congress and the president have thrown hundreds of billions into stimulus packages, domestic programs, military spending and other initiatives. Total federal spending is growing at a 13.8 percent annual rate.
Has all this money done anything to actually stimulate private economic activity? Not that you'd notice. Consumption is cratering. The U.S. economy just experienced the sharpest real drop in consumer spending since 1974.
The lesson here is that we have a right to be skeptical of so-called stimulus packages. The Federal Reserve can effectively stimulate the economy. There are certain automatic government programs, like unemployment insurance, which also do it. But the history of the past century suggests that politically designed, ad hoc stimulus packages rarely work.
Often they get the timing wrong; they come too late to do any real good. Often they get the pressure points wrong; the economy is simply too complicated for lawmakers to know where to apply the stimulus patch. Almost always, they get psychology wrong. When you give people a chunk of money in the midst of economic turmoil, they don't spend most of it. They save it.
Nevertheless, economists continue to propose new stimulus ideas with unshaken confidence and over the next six months, the government will almost certainly pass more gigantic programs. Republican economists are talking of plans larger than $100 billion, and Democratic ones are hatching plans in the $300 billion range.
Bad policy ideas are coming in profusion. There are plans to bail out automakers. There are plans to issue more rebate checks (even though the last ones didn't work). Barack Obama is proposing one-time tax credits for small businesses that are hiring. This is an ineffectual ploy that would shower federal money on those few firms that would be hiring anyway while doing nothing for companies in struggling sectors.
These and other plans amount to an economic sugar rush. And yet the political climate being what it is, something big is going to pass.
In times like these, the best a sensible leader can do is to take the short-term panic and channel into a program that is good on its own merits even if it does nothing to stimulate the economy over the next year. That's why I'm hoping the next president takes the general resolve to spend gobs of money, and channels it into a National Mobility Project, a long-term investment in the country's infrastructure.
Major highway projects take about 13 years from initiation to completion - too long to counteract any recession. But at least they create a legacy that can improve the economic environment for decades to come.
A major infrastructure initiative would create jobs for the less-educated workers who have been hit hardest by the transition to an information economy. It would allow the U.S. to return to the fundamentals. There is a real danger that the U.S. is going to leap from one over-consuming era to another, from one finance-led bubble to another. Focusing on infrastructure would at least get Americans thinking about the real economy, asking hard questions about what will increase real productivity, helping people who are expanding companies rather than hedge funds.
Moreover, an infrastructure resurgence is desperately needed. Americans now spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, a figure expected to double by 2020. The U.S. population is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 42 years. American residential patterns have radically changed. Workplaces have decentralized.
Commuting patterns are no longer radial, from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn't adapted.
The smart thing to do is announce a short-term infrastructure initiative to accelerate all those repair projects that can be done within a few years. Then, begin a long-term National Mobility Project.
Create a base-closings-like commission to organize federal priorities (Congress has forfeited its right to micromanage). Streamline the regulations that can now delay project approval by five years. Explore all the new ideas that are burgeoning in the transportation world - congestion pricing, smart highways, rescue plans for shrinking Midwestern cities, new rail and airplane technologies. When you look into this sector, you see America is on the cusp of another transportation revolution.
A mobility project would dovetail with the energy initiatives both presidential candidates have offered. It would benefit from broad political support from liberals and business groups alike. It would rebalance the economy, so there is more productive weight to go along with Wall Street wizardry.
Smart investors are going to take advantage of the current panic to make money. A smart president could take advantage of it to build something that will last for decades and decades to come.
By Bill Vlasic
Friday, October 31, 2008
DEARBORN, Michigan: With U.S. vehicle sales down nearly 13 percent this year, most car companies have been cutting production rather than increasing it.
But with 1,200 hourly workers cheering them on, top executives of the Ford Motor Company said Thursday at the ceremonial introduction of a new version of Ford's most important product, the F-150 pickup, that they would call back 1,000 laid-off workers to help build more trucks.
"You're going to pull us out of this by building the best truck that's ever been built," William Clay Ford Jr., Ford's executive chairman, said to the crowd at the River Rouge assembly complex.
While its Detroit rivals General Motors and Chrysler wrestle over terms of a possible merger and seek help from Washington to survive the steepest downturn in the industry in decades, Ford says it can survive, and thrive, on its own.
Ford executives and directors rejected overtures in August to join forces with GM, choosing instead to focus on better coordinating its own far-flung global operations, where it sees considerable potential to cut costs and improve quality.
"Our biggest opportunity is to make sure we integrate Ford," said Mark Fields, president of Ford's Americas division. "Merging Ford is our Job 1."
Ford is gearing up for a new-product blitz that will replace 40 percent of its production with fresh models by next year. And the company — sandwiched between the bigger GM and the smaller Chrysler in Detroit's traditional Big Three — hopes to take advantage of the potential merger of its rivals and the distractions that come with it.
"I don't know what they're going to be spending their time on if they're merging," said James Farley, Ford's vice president for sales and communications. "But I know we're spending our time on launching products."
Ford's tough talk, however, cannot mask its own continuing problems.
Its United States sales have dropped 17.2 percent this year, and the company lost $8.6 billion in the first six months of the year. It is expected to report another big quarterly loss next week.
And the merger discussions between GM and the owner of Chrysler, the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, underscore the woeful state of the overall industry.
GM and Chrysler are determined to merge to cut costs and ensure their long-term survival, according to people with knowledge of the merger discussions.
The talks, which began more than a month ago, appear to hinge on whether the automakers can get financial aid from the U.S. government. GM's chairman, Rick Wagoner, has lobbied the Treasury Department and other U.S. government agencies for as much as $10 billion in assistance to support the deal.
Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm, attended Ford's event Thursday and said that aid from Washington was crucial for Detroit.
She was among six governors from states with large automotive operations who sent a letter this week requesting immediate aid from Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board.
"We need to get some quick loans so that the industry can get make it through these next 6 to 12 months," she said.
Ford executives have said they expect their company to have access to any loans that might be made to GM and Chrysler. But Ford, despite its losses and sinking sales, is not in as dire shape as its two domestic competitors.
Under Alan Mulally, who became chief executive two years ago, Ford has streamlined its operations by selling its luxury-vehicle divisions Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin.
Ford also borrowed heavily to improve its cash position before the credit markets collapsed. At the end of June, Ford had $26.6 billion in cash while the much larger GM held $21 billion.
While GM is burning through $1 billion in cash each month and could exhaust its reserves by next year, Ford has somewhat more time to execute its turnaround plans.
But with the auto market expected to continue to deteriorate into next year, Ford's time is running short.
Moody's Investors Service said this week that it was considering downgrading Ford's credit further into junk bond status because the automaker was spending an estimated $500 million in cash each month.
Ford is counting on a wave of product introductions to increase its revenue during the market downturn.
In addition to the F-150, Ford is bringing out new versions of its Taurus and Mustang passenger cars next year and accelerating development of a series of new smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Analysts say they believe Ford has some opportunity to take market share from GM and Chrysler if the two companies merge and go through a prolonged restructuring.
"Ford could definitely make some hay while all the turmoil is going on at GM and Chrysler and they try to put those two companies together," said Joseph Phillippi, principal in the consulting firm AutoTrends in Short Hills, New Jersey
Ford is moving faster than its rivals to replace its big, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles with small cars. But any hope Ford has for a revival depends largely on strong sales of its new F-150 pickup. Sales of the F-150 have fallen nearly 27 percent this year, as consumers have fled from bigger vehicles of all types.
But through the first nine months of the year, the F-series was still the top-selling vehicle in America. The new version, Ford executives said, is aimed directly at buyers who need trucks for work and other practical purposes, rather than because of their macho image.
"We're not going after those 'never, never' customers, meaning those people who have never hauled anything or never towed anything," Farley said.
By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Friday, October 31, 2008
SINGAPORE: On an average day, Ford Tamer receives six to seven proposals inviting him to invest in all sorts of green technology projects. "We do get approached a lot," said Tamer, a venture capitalist and operating partner at Khosla Ventures. "There is definitely no shortage of renewal-energy plans; if anything, there is an increase in the number of plans we're seeing."
Khosla Ventures, started in 2004 in Silicon Valley by Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has quickly become one of the top venture capital firms investing in clean technology. It has already put money into more than 70 companies, and Tamer, who joined the firm in September 2007, said he was mostly looking at mechanical and electrical efficiency, solar energy and information technology services.
So far, he has provided seed money to nine companies, including EcoMotors, which is developing a fuel-efficient diesel engine; Kaai and Soraa, companies that focus on laser development; and Topanga, a lighting company.
"But we've done the math; and for these nine companies, we probably received 1,000 plans, looked at 500 of them, selected to meet over 100 and did detailed due diligence on 20," he said on a trip to Singapore in September.
Though most of his firm's investments have been in the United States, Tamer said Khosla Ventures, which is based in Menlo Park, California, was now looking to invest internationally.
"One of my goals being here is to start identifying and making more contacts," Tamer said. "We're going to want to do more in India and China because the end markets there are pretty large, and having a locally based company that can take advantage of those markets would be good. We've invested in one company in India and are looking to do more there."
According to Cleantech Group, a research firm that tracks investments in environmental energy, venture capital firms invested $2.6 billion in the sector in the third quarter of this year, an all-time record and a 37 percent increase from a year earlier. U.S. companies received $1.75 billion in the quarter, while the European tally was $742 million and Chinese companies raised $111 million.
Khosla Ventures was one of the top five investors for the quarter, according to Brian Fan, senior director of research at Cleantech. "Khosla has a systematic approach to investing that is focused on the following strategies: replace oil, replace coal and increase the efficiency of materials, machines, electrical devices and electrical transmission," Fan said. "Khosla's portfolio reflects these strategies, as he has invested in biofuels, solar, geothermal, smart grid, lighting, engine and materials companies."
As the turmoil in financial markets intensified in October, Tamer said in an e-mail exchange that sustained financing for projects would "naturally be tougher and more expensive."
"We've been very proactive in reviewing our portfolio companies' strategies and quickly reducing operating expenses where needed," he said, "This has been my life for the past three weeks."
But with venture capital's enthusiasm for environmentally friendly technologies still intact, Tamer worries about some of the valuations in the sector.
"This year, solar thin film has been very hot, with billion-dollar valuations for low-efficiency PV solutions," he said in September, referring to photovoltaic cells. "We've instead maintained valuation discipline, and invested in high-efficiency PV and solar-thermal which make more sense."
He added, "The concern is that if there is a solar bubble and investors lose money, it could put a break on investment in the sector, which wouldn't help anybody."
Fan, the Cleantech executive, calculated that thin-film solar start-ups raised $620 million in the third quarter, with companies focusing on copper-indium-gallium-selenide, or CIGS, technology for panels attracting the bulk of these funds. They include SoloPower, which raised $200 million, and OptiSolar, at $78 million. Sulfurcell Solartechnik, a German company specializing in copper-indium-sulfide, or CIS, technology for panels, raised $134 million.
Tamer, who was born in Lebanon and educated in the United States, has spent most of his professional career at the receiving end of venture capital funds, having started several technology companies from the ground up.
While obtaining a doctorate degree in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he set up his first company, a provider of artificial intelligence tools, with two partners and some seed money. The company, MegaKnowledge, was sold to IntelliCorp in 1990 for $6 million.
Tamer stayed on for four years before leaving to help set up Dazel, a company that managed business planning systems. He led the marketing and international operations at the company, which was later bought by Hewlett-Packard for $150 million.
In 1998, he co-founded Agere, a provider of network processors, and served as its chief executive until it was acquired by Lucent Microelectronics in 2000 for $430 million. He stayed with the company for a couple of years before switching to another semiconductor manufacturer, Broadcom, where he headed the networking business group, expanding it into a $1.2 billion business.
Tamer met Khosla when the two were on the board of eASIC, a semiconductor company. After hearing Khosla talk passionately about solar-thermal energy and biofuels, Tamer decided to join Khosla's firm "and sort of go on the other side."
Tamer said that while he enjoyed the opportunity of being able to contribute more effectively to the development of clean technologies, he needed to learn to be patient.
"You're not the quarterback anymore, you're the coach, and you must make the transition, and it's a big one," he said. "I'm told it takes a couple of years to let go of the urge to do it yourself."
Is there a finer student of American history writing today than David Hackett Fischer? If so, I don't know who it would be.
This veteran professor of history at Brandeis has turned out one dazzling study after another. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2004 book "Washington's Crossing," which used the dramatic thrust by the Continental Army across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, as the focal point for an illuminating study of the American Revolution. But his true masterpiece was "Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America," published almost 20 years ago. It argued that much of the regional variation in American culture since the 17th century can be explained by the different geographical origins of various groups of early British settlers.
Fischer's latest work is not quite as novel or daring but, in a smaller way, it helps to shed light on the settlement by the French in what became Canada. Although the French lost any hopes of political dominance after Wolfe's defeat of Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, their progeny continue to play an important role not only in Canada but also in Louisiana.
"Progeny" is not just a figure of speech: Fischer writes that more than two-thirds of the French inhabitants of North America today "are descendants of 1,100 French women who came to Quebec between 1630 and 1680."
Such success the French had was due, Fischer argues, in large measure to one man: Samuel de Champlain. He was never the senior official of New France; that job always fell to a titled viceroy safely back in France. But during the pivotal years from the founding of Quebec in 1608 until his death in 1635, he was the senior man on the spot. Thus he became known as the father of New France, as well as a soldier, mariner, cartographer, writer, artist, naturalist and ethnographer of renown.
But he wasn't just a man of the frontier. Some of his most important achievements, Fischer suggests, occurred not in the North American wilderness but in the gilded salons of Paris, where his incessant lobbying kept alive royal support for the daring North American enterprise. Not the least of his achievements was surviving 27 crossings of the North Atlantic in 37 years without losing a major ship, at a time when every voyage risked disaster.
For all of Champlain's achievements, few biographers have ever chosen a tougher subject. His papers were lost, and little is known about his early life or inner life.
Fischer scours the record, archaeological as well as historical, to find out what we can reliably conclude, and then fills in the holes with some informed speculation. Because he is a rigorous historian, not a historical novelist, he is always scrupulous about drawing a firm line between facts and inferences, and he presents a wide variety of views.
Fischer is not a prose stylist to rival the great popular historians. Arguably he is not a popular historian at all but simply an academic who has reached a wide audience. Yet even when he writes books of doorstop heft, as he invariably does, his plain style is never dry or boring, in part because he so often sprinkles intriguing ideas into the narrative.
His thesis in "Champlain's Dream," which these days might be considered daring, is that Champlain was an admirable, heroic figure - a stance that runs counter to the recent trend in historiography to debunk and demean most "dead white males," especially those who were explorers and settlers. Many of them richly deserve this opprobrium for slaughtering and otherwise mistreating the indigenous peoples they encountered. But Champlain was different. He was more interested in learning from and cooperating with Indians than in exploiting them. He treated most of those he met with "dignity, forbearance and respect," and, Fischer writes, they largely reciprocated: "He had a straight-up soldier's manner, and Indian warriors genuinely liked and respected him."
That does not mean he was able to avoid conflict altogether. By drawing closer to certain tribes, notably the Montagnais, Algonquin and Huron, he incurred the wrath of their enemies in the Iroquois League. Champlain and a handful of other Frenchmen went along with war parties of allied Indians in three campaigns in 1609, 1610 and 1615. He and his men, although few in number, made a crucial difference with their arquebuses, which scattered the terrified Iroquois.
Even then, Fischer writes, Champlain "did not intend a war of conquest." Rather, his objective was to deliver "one or two sharp blows" that would deter Iroquois attacks "by raising the cost of raiding to the north." He largely succeeded in keeping the Iroquois from attacking the French until 1640 - after his death.
Champlain was considerably more enlightened in his attitude toward the Indians than most of his contemporaries. He did use the word sauvage, but in the 17th century it simply meant "forest-dweller." He did not believe Indians to be inferior to Europeans. He found them, Fischer writes, "to be the equal of Europeans in their intelligence, and superior in physical strength and the proportion of their bodies." Not that Champlain ever "went native." He censured his Indian friends for not having a king, a monotheistic religion or a body of laws - and for torturing their captives. Fischer concedes that he was "ethnocentric in some of his attitudes," but argues that "his thinking was more generous and large-spirited than some of the judgments that have been made against him" in our time.
Champlain's relatively tolerant attitude was the product, Fischer argues, of his upbringing. He was born to an haute-bourgeois seafaring family in Brouage, a "cosmopolitan town" whose traders sailed to the farthest reaches of the globe. It also lay in a region of western France contested by Protestants and Catholics, who, in the late 16th century, were often at each other's throats. As a young man, Champlain fought in France's costly wars of religion, giving him his fill of violence and intolerance. He also visited Spain's New World colonies from 1599 to 1601, where he was revolted by the abuses inflicted on African slaves and Indian laborers. "Champlain strongly favored the spread of Christianity in the New World, but not by cruelty and violence," Fischer writes. He wound up dreaming "of a New World where people lived at peace with others unlike themselves," and tried to make New France the realization of his dream.
Thanks in no small part to Champlain's humanistic philosophy, the French were able to establish more amicable relations with local tribes than were the Spanish, Dutch or English. In fact many Frenchmen wed Indian women with the encouragement of their leaders, who "were more tolerant of marriages with Indians than of unions with Protestants."
Although Fischer does not mention it, the close French-Indian connection would be viewed in a more sinister light by New Englanders, who were subject to vicious attacks in the 17th and 18th centuries by what Cotton Mather described with horror as the "half-Indianized French, and half-Frenchified Indians." Those Anglo-French conflicts were prefigured by an English expedition in 1629 that drove Champlain and his small cohort out of Quebec. (The settlement was returned in 1632 following a peace treaty with France.) That the English ultimately triumphed in the battle for North America was due mostly to the fact that they vastly outnumbered the French.
Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author, most recently, of "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today."
Friday, October 31, 2008
WASHINGTON: Senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats will meet in New York next week, the State Department said on Friday, as the Bush administration seeks to advance an arms-for-disarmament deal with the poor, isolated state.
U.S. diplomat Sung Kim will meet Ri Gun, director general for North American Affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, when the North Korean visits New York next week to attend a meeting arranged by a U.S. nongovernmental group.
The State Department provided no details about the meeting or what might be discussed.
North Korea tested a nuclear device in 2006.
Under a 2005 multilateral deal, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives. The agreement, however, appeared in danger of collapse this year when North Korea began to reverse the disablement of its Soviet-era nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.
The United States took North Korea off its terrorism blacklist earlier this month after the two countries agreed on a series of measures to verify Pyongyang's nuclear program and Pyongyang resumed disabling the reactor.
The verification steps still have to be formally agreed on by the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and China -- the six nations struck the 2005 agreement on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008
MOSCOW: Russia on Friday defended the security of its nuclear arsenal, rejecting U.S. allegations that tens of thousands of aging Soviet weapons might not be fully accounted for.
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded Friday to remarks by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said there were uncertainties about the old Soviet arsenal. Russia said those remarks were groundless "insinuations."
The ministry stressed that all nuclear weapons in Russia have been under reliable protection since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"Despite all the difficulties our country faced in the beginning of the 1990s, standards of security and physical protection of Russian nuclear arsenals remained high," the ministry said in a statement. "There have been no 'leaks' of nuclear weapons."
The tone of the statement reflected a growing chill in ties between Russia and the United States. Relations have been strained over U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, by the Russian war with Georgia in August and other issues.
Gates made his comments this week at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, expressing worries that some Russian nuclear weapons from the old Soviet arsenal may not be fully accounted for.
"I have fairly high confidence that no strategic or modern tactical nuclear weapons have leaked" beyond Russian borders, Gates said. "What worries me are the tens of thousands of old nuclear mines, nuclear artillery shells and so on, because the reality is the Russians themselves probably don't have any idea how many of those they have or, potentially, where they are."Libyan leader visits Moscow
Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya arrived Friday in Moscow for talks focusing on energy and weapons trade, The Associated Press reported.
A Kremlin official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Russia and Libya would consider cooperating in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. He also said that negotiations would address prospective Russian arms supplies to Libya, which was a major buyer of Soviet weapons during the Cold War.
During a trip to Libya in April, then President Vladimir Putin agreed to write off $4.5 billion in Libyan debt in exchange for lucrative energy and arms deals. At the same time, Russia's state gas monopoly, Gazprom, signed a deal to develop six prospective oil and gas fields in Libya.
By Eric Lichtblau
Friday, October 31, 2008
WASHINGTON: An operation in 2004 meant to disrupt potential terrorist plots before and after that year's presidential election focused on more than 2,000 immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, but most were found to have done nothing wrong, according to newly disclosed government data.
The program, conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, received little public attention at the time. But details about the targets of the investigation have emerged from more than 10,000 pages of internal records obtained through a lawsuit by civil rights advocates. Parts of the documents were provided to The New York Times.
The documents show that more than 2,500 foreigners in the United States were sought as "priority leads" in the fall of 2004 because of suspicions that they could present threats to national security in the months before the presidential election and the inauguration. Some of those foreigners were detained and ultimately deported because they had overstayed their visas, but many were in this country legally, and the vast majority were not charged.
The internal reports show that immigration agents questioned the foreigners about what they thought of America, whether violence was preached at their mosques, and whether they had access to biological or chemical weapons. A sampling of 300 cases turned over by federal officials showed that none of those interrogated were charged with national security offenses. Fewer than one in five were charged, most of them with immigration violations.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Richard Rocha, would say only, "Due to ongoing litigation, ICE is not at liberty to provide any comment."
Officials said they were not aware of any similar programs now under way.
At the time of the 2004 operation, the immigration agency said publicly that it was tracking leads in an effort to disrupt potential terrorism plots, but emphasized that its investigations were being conducted "without regard to race, ethnicity or religion."
But the records showed that 79 percent of the suspects were from Muslim-majority countries, according to an analysis by students at the National Litigation Project at Yale Law School, who obtained the records, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Each group sued for the records under the Freedom of Information Act, and both say the operation showed that the government was using ethnic profiling to identify terrorism suspects.
"This was profiling," said Michael Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School who helped lead the research effort. He added that the findings raised questions about both the effectiveness and the propriety of the program.
"The resources devoted to this were enormous," he said, "but the results clearly were not."
The issue of ethnic profiling in counterterrorism programs has taken on added significance because of new Justice Department guidelines that go into effect Dec. 1 and give investigators even broader authority to open terrorism investigations without evidence of wrongdoing. The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups argue that the new guidelines will allow federal investigators to make targets of Muslims, Middle Easterners and others without evidence of links to terrorist groups.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the administration began a series of efforts that strained relations with Muslims and Arab-Americans in particular. The detention of more than 700 illegal immigrants as terrorism suspects — often for months at a time without lawyers — generated a blistering report from the Justice Department on the "unduly harsh" treatment of the prisoners. Follow-up efforts in 2002 and 2003 led to the questioning of thousands of Muslims and Middle Easterners as well as measures requiring that immigrants from some countries register their presence with federal authorities.
The investigations conducted in the fall of 2004 were part of what federal authorities called Operation Front Line. It was unusual in that it relied on intelligence data from across the government to identify "priority leads" and then conduct interrogations in October 2004, just before Election Day.
One foreigner, in the country on a student visa, was asked his "opinion of America," according to internal investigative reports. He responded that he was "living the American dream and cared greatly for the equal opportunities, rights and values that are afforded in America." Another person, from South Asia, was asked about a mosque he attended and told an agent that "the mosque did not espouse any radical or fundamental form of Islam or denounce the United States in any way." A third visa holder was asked if he owned any chemical or biological explosives. He said he did not.
The Homeland Security Department announced several hundred arrests at the time, mostly of visitors whose visas had expired, but the records obtained in the lawsuit show that the scope of the operation reached much further. More than 2,500 people were interrogated, with more than 500 arrests for immigration violations like overstaying visas.
A former immigration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because aspects of the program remain classified, said the operation analyzed data, gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies, to identify people who might pose particular threats to national security. "I think the intelligence we were getting was bona fide and mineable, and we were doing the best we could to follow it up," the former official said.
Kareem Shora, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he considered the findings a "slap in the face" because they contradicted the claims of American officials.
"It is very disappointing to see that despite all the reassurances that they were not profiling people, this comes out," Shora said. With nearly 80 percent of the targets in the 2004 operation coming from Muslim nations, he asked, "how can you tell us you're not focusing on people from these countries?"
By William Glaberson
Friday, October 31, 2008
WASHINGTON: Saying he questioned the government's claim that a Guantánamo Bay detainee had planned a radioactive-bomb attack in the United States, a federal district judge ordered the Justice Department on Thursday to give the detainee's lawyers documents on his treatment.
The documents are central to the claim of the prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, that he falsely confessed to the dirty-bomb plot and other offenses only after being tortured in Morocco at the direction of the United States.
"My concern is getting to the truth," the judge, Emmet Sullivan, said at a hearing.
The case of Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born former British resident, has drawn international attention and been at the center of diplomatic tensions between the United States and Britain. This week, British officials said they had referred questions about his treatment for possible criminal investigation by their law enforcement authorities.
The tension between the governments has intensified in recent weeks after the Pentagon dropped war crimes charges against Mohamed and the Justice Department said it would no longer rely on its dirty-bomb claims as a justification for holding him.
At the Thursday hearing, Judge Sullivan asked why, after more than six years, the government had stepped away from its claims about a dirty-bomb plot. "That raises a question as to whether or not the allegations were ever true," the judge said.
In 2002, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, announced that a plot to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States had been foiled and an American citizen, Jose Padilla, detained. The Pentagon has claimed that Mohamed assisted Padilla.
After Padilla was held for three and a half years in a naval brig, the Justice Department abandoned its dirty-bomb claims against him. He was convicted of other charges in 2007.
Pressed by Judge Sullivan on Thursday as to whether the government stood behind its assertion of a dirty-bomb plot, a Justice Department lawyer, Andrew Warden, said, "The short answer is yes."
But Warden said the government could prove that Mohamed was being properly held without evidence of that plot. Military prosecutors have said they will file new charges against Mohamed with the Guantánamo war crimes tribunal, but they have not said whether the bomb plot will be among those charges.
The government claims Mohamed confessed to the plot and to attending Qaeda training camps.
But Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer for Mohamed, said in court Thursday that all his confessions were made after "he was tortured again and again and again until he just parroted what his torturers wanted him to say." In Morocco, Katznelson said, Mohamed was beaten and repeatedly cut with razor blades on his genitals and elsewhere.
Mohamed's lawyers have laid out a detailed argument that he was subjected to the government's program of rendition to other countries. They say evidence shows that American intelligence agents transferred him to Morocco.
The documents Judge Sullivan directed the government to turn over concern Mohamed's treatment during the two years he was held in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan after he was first detained at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. Katznelson said evidence of torture would prove that Mohamed had never voluntarily admitted to the dirty-bomb plot or any other involvement with Al Qaeda.
The government has said Mohamed's claims of torture are not credible. A Moroccan consular official, Karim el-Mansouri, said in an interview that he had no details on Mohamed's case but that Morocco protected human rights. Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, said: "The CIA does not conduct or condone torture. Nor does it transport individuals anywhere for the purpose of torture."
Last week, a British court ruled that 35 documents in British intelligence files concerning Mohamed's treatment should be turned over to his lawyers. The court said the documentation "lends some support to his claim that the confession was obtained after a period of two years incommunicado detention during which he was tortured."
The material Judge Sullivan has now ordered the government to turn over would be any additional information about Mohamed's treatment.
The British court had said it would wait to order the actual release of the 35 documents, to give Judge Sullivan an opportunity to rule on the issue first. By the time they arrived in court Thursday, however, Justice Department lawyers had turned over those documents. That followed a letter Tuesday from a British government lawyer to the British court's judges that said the home secretary had referred to law enforcement officials in Britain "the question of possible criminal wrongdoing" in the treatment of Mohamed.
By Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt
Friday, October 31, 2008
WASHINGTON: Two weeks ago, senior Bush administration officials gathered in secret with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The group was there to deliver a grim message: the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse.
Their audience: advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama.
Over two days, according to participants in the discussions, the experts laid bare Afghanistan's most pressing issues. They sought to make clear that the next president needed to have a plan for Afghanistan before he took office on Jan. 20. Otherwise, they said, it could be too late.
With American casualties on the rise and Taliban militias gaining new strength, experts on Afghanistan say the next president will need to decide swiftly if he intends to send more troops there, because even after deployment orders are issued, it could take weeks or months for American forces to arrive.
The next president will also face what could be politically fraught decisions about how aggressively to pursue a campaign against militants taking shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas and whether to embrace negotiations under way in Afghanistan aimed at getting elements of the Taliban to lay down their arms. The discussions were started earlier this month in Saudi Arabia, and talks among Afghan officials and Taliban representatives have continued in Kabul at the request of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
The Bush administration has been wary of these talks, on the grounds that they could involve fighters who have killed American troops, and in the belief that senior Taliban leaders have no interest in serious negotiations. But some senior American officials, including William Wood, the American ambassador in Kabul, are said to have pressed the White House to at least consider flexibility in its position.
The briefing on Afghanistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It was organized by Barnett R. Rubin, an Afghanistan expert and a professor at New York University, and included John Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who is now at NATO headquarters; and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan, according to some participants.
"The intent was to ensure that everyone understand that the situation is very fast-moving, and if the new administration spends three months trying to figure out what to do, it's too late," said one administration official who participated in the discussion.
The Obama campaign sent Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joseph Biden Jr., and Craig Mullaney, another Afghanistan adviser for Obama, participants said. They said the McCain campaign was represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials.
The sessions were unclassified, but the participants agreed not to discuss their briefings or the contents of their discussions publicly.
The briefing was part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to ease the transition to the next team in a time of war and economic dislocation and allowed officials to try to have some influence over the next administration's plans.
Both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. Many in Washington are awaiting the results of a review to be led by General David H. Petraeus, who takes over command of all United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan at Central Command on Friday.
American intelligence officials believe that Taliban commanders are convinced that they are winning. Not only are they establishing themselves in larger swaths of the country, but their campaign of violence is shaking the will of European countries contributing troops to the NATO mission.
Petraeus's review will ultimately make recommendations about whether additional troops are needed in Afghanistan and, if so, how many. General David McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has requested three additional brigade combat teams for the mission, above the one extra army brigade and one Marine Corps battalion already approved by President George W. Bush.
McKiernan's request, if approved, would be expected to add more than 15,000 combat and support troops to the mission, beyond the 8,000 or so scheduled to arrive in January under the orders issued by Bush.
American commanders have also spoken of the importance of better engaging Afghan tribes as a weapon against Taliban encroachment. Some have suggested using the model of the "tribal awakening" that occurred in Iraq, when the American military teamed with some former Sunni insurgents to try to drive out Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
But McKiernan has cited significant differences in the history and culture of Afghanistan, as well as a greater complexity in the Afghan tribal system, as reasons why the Iraqi model does not directly apply in Afghanistan. Of the more than 400 major tribal networks inside Afghanistan, the general said recently, most have been "traumatized by over 30 years of war, so a lot of that traditional tribal structure has broken down."
The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan: Suspected U.S. missiles slammed into two villages Friday, killing 27 people including foreign fighters in the latest strikes inside Pakistan, intelligence officials said.
One of the raids targeted an Arab militant identified as Abu Kasha Iraqi, but it was unclear if he was killed, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Suspected U.S. unmanned planes have fired at alleged militant targets in Pakistan at least 17 times since mid-August, putting pressure on extremists accused of planning attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan - and perhaps terror strikes in the West.
But the increased frequency of the missile attacks is straining America's seven-year alliance with Pakistan, where rising violence is exacerbating economic problems gnawing at the nuclear-armed country's stability.
Scores of foreign Al Qaeda members are believed to be hiding out in the lawless border area, which is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden.
The United States rarely confirms or denies firing the missiles and the identities of those killed are also rarely made public.
Locals frequently say civilians, sometimes women and children, are among the dead.
The first attack happened in Mir Ali village in North Waziristan after drones had been flying overhead for several hours, the intelligence officials said.
The drones fired twice, hitting the house frequented by the Arab fighter and a nearby car, killing 20 people, the officials said, citing reports from agents and informers in the field.
Around two hour later, a second set of missiles hit a village in South Waziristan, killing seven people, including an unspecified number of foreign fighters, the officials said.
Friday, October 31, 2008
By Luke Baker
A country should have the right to attack another if it is harbouring a potential terrorist threat, the U.S. homeland security chief said in remarks appearing to justify recent U.S. raids in Pakistan and Syria.
Laying out what amounts to a broadened definition of self-defence, Michael Chertoff said international law should accommodate a country's need to deter a possible threat abroad even if it meant taking pre-emptive action.
His remarks, at a discussion on democracy held in the parliament, follow recent secret raids by U.S. forces into Pakistan and Syria that were justified using a similiar rationale and drew condemnation from those countries.
"International law must begin to recognise that part of the responsibility of sovereignty is the responsibility to make sure that your own country does not become a platform for attacking other countries," Chertoff told an audience on Thursday night.
"There are areas of the world that are ungoverned or ungovernable but nevertheless technically within the sovereignty of boundaries. Does that mean we simply have to allow terrorists to operate there, in kind of badlands, where they can plan, they can set up laboratories, they can experiment with chemical weapons and with biological weapons?" he said.
His remarks, challenged by some members of parliament in the audience, follow comments made by U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on Tuesday in which he said Washington would hold countries fully accountable for their actions.
Gates' remarks, made to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, included a warning that the United States should modernize its nuclear arsenal as a hedge against "rogue nations" such as Iran and North Korea.
The expanded definition of what constitutes self-defence and could be permitted under the concept of deterrence has important implications for U.S. foreign policy at a time when it is engaged in two wars in unstable regions and when it has expressed frequent concern about actions by Iran.
In Afghanistan in September, the United States conducted a raid across the border into Pakistan, striking at suspected Taliban militants hiding there despite objections from Pakistan, which said its sovereignty had been violated.
Last weekend, U.S. troops went across the border from Iraq into Syria and attacked a suspected insurgent hideout. The U.S. military says the head of a militant cell and his accomplices were targetted. Syria says eight civilians were killed.
Chertoff described a world in which the United States, and other democracies, were facing extraordinary threats that required them to be super-vigilant and responsive. Waiting to see if others would attack was not good enough, he said.
"If country X, within its borders, is openly tolerating or incapable of managing a location where people are consistently attacking a neighbour, is it sufficient to say, 'well, it's within their sovereign territory, nobody can do anything about it'? I think that's not true and I think there's a serious question about whether that's what the law ought to be.
"The larger question of the responsibility to make sure your own country is not a platform for attacking others is a matter that needs to be seriously considered in terms of what the law should be," he said.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Friday, October 31, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A suicide bomber killed nine people Friday in an attack on police in the northwestern Pakistani town of Mardan.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, mainly in the northwest, since last year with security forces attacking militants in sanctuaries near the Afghan border and the militants responding with suicide bomb attacks.
The violence has unnerved investors and compounded an economic crisis that looks set to force Pakistan to agree to International Monetary Fund assistance.
Mardan police chief Akhtar Ali Shah said he was about to leave his office when the attacker detonated his explosives outside.
"I was about to leave the office. As my escort went out, the blast took place," he told Reuters.
"The attacker blew himself up close to the escort when my guards tried to stop him entering the office premises. Had he entered the office, he would have caused more losses."
Mohtasim Billah, a senior doctor at Mardan's main government hospital, said four policemen and five civilians had been killed and about 30 people were wounded, five of them seriously.
A severed head, apparently that of the bomber, had been found, Shah said. Suicide bombers usually strap explosives to their bodies and their heads are cut off in the blast.
President Asif Ali Zardari denounced the attack and said terrorism and extremism would not be tolerated, the state APP news agency reported.
Mardan, 110 km (70 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is the gateway to the Bajaur region on the Afghan border where security forces have been fighting militants since August.
(Reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Alamgir Bitani; writing by Robert Birsel; editing by Roger Crabb)
By Fatima Ayub
Friday, October 31, 2008
A suicide bomber attacked the Ministry of Information and Culture today. The building, decrepit though still in use after Afghanistan's many wars, was blown apart.
It was just another security incident in Afghanistan's downward spiral, except that my grandfather, 35 years ago, served as head of this ministry, shortly before Afghanistan fell prey to revolutions, occupation and endless war. The contrast between Afghanistan then - progressing, optimistic - and Afghanistan today - violent, besieged, uncertain - could not be sharper, or more disheartening.
Once upon a time, Afghanistan was on the cusp of change. A spell of reform before Mohammad Daoud Shah's 1973 coup seemed to promise a new and better future. But it was merely a last breath of air before an unrelenting choke hold of war and violence.
My grandfather, an outspoken journalist and proponent of political freedoms, was taken prisoner for two years at Kabul's infamous Pul-e-Charkhi prison during the upheavals following the 1978 Communist coup.
Lucky to be released with his life under a surprise political amnesty, my grandfather fled. The rest of my family - parents, aunts, uncles - trickled out over the months and years following the 1979 Soviet invasion. Using forged documents and passports, hiring traffickers, my parents followed my grandfather to Pakistan, then to Germany, and finally to the United States.
From Soviet occupation, Afghanistan plunged into civil war, snuffing out the flickering hopes my grandfather had for returning to work in Afghanistan.
In my childhood, Afghanistan was only an idea, a place "over there," with war and orphans and mujahedin. It was no place I ever intended to visit, and it carried an indefinable mythical quality. Thousands of Afghans in the diaspora were desperate to visit their homeland after the fall of the Taliban in 2001; my parents were not among them. Friends of mine went and came back; some spent several years working under the new transitional government or with international agencies.
Precious few Afghans from the diaspora come to Afghanistan anymore now that the original allure has faded into the ever-thickening mists of war.
I never "returned" to Afghanistan, as I had never left. I simply came. Traveling to Afghanistan in 2007 for the first time as a researcher for a human rights organization, I came with no sense of national pride or longing for the land of my ancestors, but merely the same sense of curious wonderment that endured from childhood.
Though I came with no expectation, I could not and cannot easily process the realities of life in Afghanistan. Crushing poverty, growing violence, inept governance and the corresponding collapse of hope suggest a grim future for the average person in Afghanistan today.
The general consensus, after seven years of a haphazard nation-building process, is that the country is now more violent and conflicted than before the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, formerly a safe haven, is now rocked by violence that was inconceivable four years ago.
That the insurgency, once limited to the Afghan-Pakistani border, has literally infiltrated the halls of government is explosive in more ways than one. Last year, much of the debate in the international community was whether Afghanistan had reached a turning point. They should not have to look any further for an answer. Afghanistan has again turned a corner, but it has not been for better.
No doubt, in the last seven years, Afghanistan has seen a number of luminaries, thinkers and activists dedicated to meaningful, lasting development and political progress - not simply for the benefit of their own ethnic group or region, but for every citizen of the nation. They are and will remain in the minority.
The international community in Afghanistan still fails to acknowledge its first critical missteps, as early as 2001 and 2002. Supporting a heavily centralized government in Kabul, failing to encourage the growth of legitimate government at the local level and drawing former paramilitary leaders - many of whom are accused of widespread human rights abuses - to posts of power , the international advisors in Afghanistan undermined themselves from the outset.
No one, goes the constant refrain among Afghans, wants to live in a country ruled by thieves, murderers and criminals. In no small part, this reckless insurgency owes its survival to the corrupt and inefficient apparatus that is the Afghan government.
Tonight, almost exactly eight years to the day of my grandfather's passing, I stand disconsolately in front of the Ministry of Information and Culture, its windows shattered and dark, its entrance blown open. Thirty-five years after my grandfather walked through the halls of this very building, I try to resurrect his vision and his pains for his country. I find only death and dust.
Fatima Ayub is a researcher on human rights in Afghanistan. Her grandfather, Sabahuddin Kushkaki, served as minister of information and culture in 1972-1973 under Prime Minister Musa Shafiq.
The Boston Globe
Friday, October 31, 2008
Nothing quick or dramatic may come of the tribal council attended by 50 Afghan and Pakistani political and tribal leaders this week in Islamabad.
Still, the very fact of the meeting, or jirga, and its promise of "a dialogue with opposition groups" suggest a promising change of attitudes on both sides of the world's most conflict-ridden border.
Most encouraging was the recognition that Pakistan and Afghanistan share an interest in countering what the attendees called militancy and terrorism.
"The destinies of Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely interlinked, and the peace and stability in one is sine qua non for peace and stability in the other," said the Islamabad Declaration released at the council's conclusion.
It was not always thus. Pakistan's intelligence agency sponsored the Taliban in the mid-1990s. And until recently, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai held Pakistan responsible for permitting Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to enjoy a safe haven on the Pakistani side of the border. So this week's get-together is a necessary new stage in the struggle to cope with a growing Taliban threat to both countries.
On the Pakistani side, two recent developments account for the new interest in cooperation. The first was the election of a civilian government led by secular politicians who are not tied to the Taliban, as some officers of the intelligence service and the army have been.
A second, and perhaps more compelling, cause of the new stance is an acute economic crisis in the country. Simultaneous with the jirga, Pakistani negotiators were begging the International Monetary Fund for billions in loans to meet otherwise unpayable debts.
The Karzai government and its U.S. backers are wisely exploring the possibility of co-opting those Taliban elements that are not irreconcilable. This effort is based on a realization that no purely military elimination of the Taliban threat can be achieved any time soon.
Moreover, the insurgent forces are hardly uniform or united; a number of local commanders have indicated they are open to switching to the government side under the right conditions.
The best way of reducing the Taliban threat to manageable proportions is to divide and conquer: Pull independent local commanders away from the fanatical true believers of the Taliban, and subtract as many tribal groups as possible from the orbit of Al Qaeda.
If successful, this is the strategy most likely to accommodate the interests not only of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, but also of more indirectly concerned countries such as India, Russia, and Iran.
By Thom Shanker
Friday, October 31, 2008
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Florida:
Thousands of miles from the deserts of the Middle East, General David Petraeus took charge Friday of the U.S. Central Command, with responsibility for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the region.
As the commander of forces in Iraq, Petraeus has overseen the troop escalation that has been credited with helping to reduce the violence there, although he still views recent gains as extremely fragile. With the ceremony Friday, he becomes responsible not only for overseeing military operations in Iraq, but also for a strategic crescent that includes Afghanistan, where violence has increased markedly since last year.
As chief of the central command, his responsibilities also will include Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Petraeus replaces Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who was acting commander for seven months. Dempsey is scheduled to receive his fourth star and take over the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, where he will shape the thinking of the service's next generation of officers and the preparation of its soldiers.
Petraeus has become one of the most recognizable U.S. officers of his generation. His third tour in Iraq was as senior commander there, carrying out a significant troop increase ordered by President George W. Bush nearly two years ago.
But it was not solely the addition of five combat brigades that helped score gains in security in Iraq. The troop surge was accompanied by a shift in strategy to adopt a counterinsurgency doctrine written under Petraeus's leadership.
The United States jettisoned a previous emphasis on achieving victory through capturing or killing adversaries, with American troops rolling out each day from major bases. That strategy was replaced by one that pushed combat forces out to smaller hubs in Iraqi cities and villages, with a new emphasis on protecting the population.
The U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, lavished praise on Petraeus, saying that "history will regard him as one of our nation's great battle captains," and as an officer who is a "soldier, scholar, statesman."
Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both praised the efforts of Dempsey, the acting commander. Dempsey exhibits strategic vision, Gates said, and is a leader who "always placed the war-fighter at the forefront."
Mullen also complimented Dempsey, saying, "There was nothing 'acting' about the way Marty has exercised the full spectrum of command throughout his entire area of responsibility - nothing 'acting' about the way he orchestrated two wars at a critical time in our nation's history."
Dempsey has served two tours in Iraq, as commander of the 1st Armored Division responsible for security in Baghdad during the difficult first year of the war, and then as the senior officer overseeing efforts to train Iraqi security forces.
Dempsey became acting commander after the unexpected resignation of Admiral William Fallon, who had made public comments that some interpreted as contradicting Bush administration policy, especially regarding relations with Iran.
Both Petraeus and Dempsey are graduates of the West Point class of 1974. More than 80 members of that class attended the ceremony Friday.
Friday, October 31, 2008
BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces hunting al Qaeda members arrested 220 people in a raid in western Anbar province, a former insurgent stronghold, the province's police chief and the U.S. military said Friday.
Police backed by the Iraqi army stormed houses in the village of Owesat, in southern Anbar where they believe the Sunni Islamist insurgents were hiding, Thursday morning, Anbar police chief Major General Tareq Yusuf told Reuters.
"Those gunmen were controlling this area and they thought it would be safe for them there. We took the initiative and executed a bold raid," he said.
The area is in a zone along the Euphrates river by the border between Anbar and Babil provinces, dubbed the "triangle of death" by U.S. forces in the years after the 2003 invasion for its stubborn insurgency, although it is now quieter.
Yusuf said a few of the militants resisted. No one was killed but two policemen were wounded during the offensive. Yusuf did not think all of those arrested belonged to al Qaeda.
"An investigation is under way to sift the good guys from the bad guys," he said.
The U.S. Marines handed Anbar back to Iraqi security control last month, two years after the desert region was considered lost to insurgents and al Qaeda militants. They put Iraqis in control of neighbouring Babil this month.
But security officials say remnants of the Sunni Islamist group and other insurgents still roam the region, occasionally planting bombs and attacking security forces.
(Reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
By Christopher M. Schnaubelt
Friday, October 31, 2008
Less than two years ago, many politicians, analysts and pundits believed that the war in Iraq was lost. Yet today, following the "surge" ordered by President Bush in January 2007, progress in Iraq is widely recognized.
This emerging success in Iraq stands in contrast to the situation in Afghanistan. Violence is on the rise, extremists are gaining strength, the government is weak and corrupt and expectations of an economy that benefits the average Afghan have yet to be fulfilled.
Are there lessons from Iraq that might be applied to Afghanistan?
Of course, a cookie cutter cannot be used to simply duplicate successful practices in Iraq and export them to Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency efforts must be tailored to the specifics of each locality. Afghanistan does not have the oil wealth that the Iraqi government is able to draw upon.
Nonetheless, it would be shortsighted to believe that none of the lessons from Iraq are relevant. As NATO struggles to deploy sufficient additional military forces to Afghanistan, it may be particularly useful to consider factors other than the increase in U.S. troop strength that were critical in reversing the situation in Iraq.
The change in Iraq had as much to do with a shift in strategy as it did with the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. soldiers and marines.
There are three key lessons from in Iraq that NATO should consider for Afghanistan, even if there is no substantial increase in troops.
First, there must be a broad and candid analysis of the situation. The December 2006 Iraq campaign review signed by General George Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the military commander and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq at the time, concluded that the coalition was failing in almost every line of operations. This recognition was a catalyst for the difficult decisions that led to a change in strategy and the increase in the number of troops.
Likewise, NATO, in coordination with the Afghan government, the European Union and the United Nations, should convene a strategic assessment team that represents a wide range of viewpoints and includes academic experts as well as diplomatic and military personnel.
Their assessment must take into account the situation not only in terms of security but also governance, economic development and the regional context - especially in regard to neighboring Pakistan.
It should be used to drive the development of a comprehensive civil-military campaign plan that integrates all the diplomatic, informational, military and economic elements of power and influence.
Second, probably the most important change in Iraq was shifting the military focus to protecting the population - a task that should be the cornerstone of any counterinsurgency operation.
While the increase in troop strength helped enable this shift, the new strategy also played a key role by moving coalition forces that were there before the surge off large bases and increasing their presence among the Iraqi population through more patrols and joint security stations with Iraqi soldiers and police.
NATO similarly needs to change the way International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan are deployed in order to cover greater areas for longer periods of time. Under the current operational construct, it is too easy for extremists to move back into a given area and threaten villagers once the ISAF troops depart.
Finally, the change in strategy in Iraq included a "civilian surge" that doubled the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq. The increased capability helped to promote national reconciliation efforts and to improve the legitimacy of Iraq's government by facilitating connections between the central government and provincial and local leaders.
Development of such linkages complemented other efforts to build a capable Iraqi central government while developing representative and capable governments at the provincial and local levels.
Similar teams exist in Afghanistan, but they are primarily engaged in local economic development and pay insufficient attention to improving the political and economic linkages between the central government and the periphery.
Making significant changes in NATO's operations in Afghanistan will not be easy.
In Iraq, putting the new strategy into operation entailed difficult decisions and risk, such as accepting the probability of increased casualties in the short run in order to increase coalition force presence in the Iraqi population.
Sharing decision-making authority and resources across military and civilian sectors will be particularly challenging for NATO and its civilian partners.
However, maintaining the status quo or making only small adjustments is unlikely to reverse the deterioration of security. If NATO fails to make a major shift, it risks losing the war in Afghanistan.
Christopher M. Schnaubelt holds the Transformation Chair at the NATO Defense College in Rome.
Friday, October 31, 2008
By Biswajyoti Das
Indian authorities suspect that Islamist groups in collusion with separatist militants carried out coordinated bomb blasts in the Assam state that killed 77 people and wounded more than 320.
Separatist movements have riddled India's remote northeast for decades, but the level of sophistication and precision of Thursday's bombings also echo similar blasts across India over the past year which have been blamed on Islamist groups.
Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami (HuJI) is one of the main suspects in Thursday's attack. Police say the Islamist group could have sought to avenge attacks on Muslim settlers by indigenous tribes that killed at least 47 people last month.
"Our initial investigation points that these attacks were carried out by jihadi forces with the help of local militant groups," Khagen Sharma, inspector general of police in Assam and chief Assam's intelligence services, told Reuters.
The separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is also suspected, but some police and security experts say the group may have only played a supporting or logistical role. ULFA has denied any involvement.
"We had information about jihadi and Ulfa elements planning strikes in Assam," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
Seven people were injured in Guwahati Friday after angry residents protesting against the blasts clashed with police near one blast site. Police fired into the air and a curfew was later imposed in the market area to thwart further protests.
Assam is one of seven states in the remote northeast racked by insurgency, connected to India by a thin strip of land and surrounded by Bangladesh, China, Myanmar and Bhutan.
Over the years Muslim settlers, mostly from Bangladesh, have moved to this Hindu and tribal-dominated region, leading to increased ethnic tensions that could have played into the hands of both separatists and Islamists.
Analysts say plastic explosives were used in the blast to cause maximum damage and were remotely detonated within five minutes of each other using timer devices -- hallmarks of strikes by suspected Islamist groups in India.
"HuJI has actually been fingered by Assam police as being involved in the attack, an accusation substantiated by the discovery of RDX (plastic) explosives," U.S. private intelligence firm Stratfor said in a report.
Indian home ministry officials said Friday they had warned the Assam government of a possible militant strike after Indian authorities intercepted a telephone conversation between Pakistan and HUJI operatives in Bangladesh referring to Assam.
"The Islamic groups from Bangladesh were using the state as a transit route to move in the rest of the country," Sharma said.
"Their activities in Assam were confined to supplying weapons and explosives, but they have become more active in Assam recently," he said.
The bombings in Assam have underscored the fragile nature of India's internal security, analysts say.
"At the moment, we don't have a long-term strategy, things look really bad," security analyst C. Uday Bhaskar told Reuters in New Delhi.
A wave of bomb attacks has hit India in recent months, killing more than 125 people. Police have blamed most of those attacks on Islamist militants, although Hindu militants have also been suspected of carrying out several attacks.
With general elections due by early 2009, India's main Hindu-nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said the government had failed to check the influx of militants from Bangladesh, a sentiment echoed by Indian newspapers.
"India can no longer afford the growing perception of being led by an excessively gentlemanly prime minister and a dandy but weak home minister," The Times of India newspaper said in an editorial headlined "India Under Siege."
The Assam blasts also exposed poor disaster preparedness.
"There is a shortage of blood in hospitals and we have sought help from NGOs," said C.K. Bhuyan, an official in Guwahati, Assam's main city where 41 people died in four separate bombings. Seven other bombs went off in three other towns in the state.
(Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sanjeev Miglani).
By Norimitsu Onishi
Friday, October 31, 2008
TOKYO: A high-ranking Japanese military official was dismissed Friday for writing an essay stating that the United States had ensnared Japan into World War II, denying that Japan had waged wars of aggression in Asia and justifying Japanese colonialism.
The Defense Ministry fired General Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff of Japan's air force, late Friday night, only hours after his essay was posted on a private company's Web site. The quick dismissal seemed intended to head off criticism from China, South Korea and other Asian nations that have reacted angrily to previous Japanese denials of its militarist past.
The Defense Minister, Yasukazu Hamada, said the essay included an "inappropriate" assessment of the war, adding: "It was improper for a person in his capacity as air force chief of staff to publicly state a view clearly different from the government's."
In the essay, Tamogami, 60, elaborated a rightist view of Japan's wartime history shared by many nationalist politicians. But it was a rare formulation from inside Japan's military, which, as Japan has been shedding its postwar pacifism in recent years, has gained a more prominent role.
Japan's military — whose operations are restricted by the nation's war-renouncing Constitution — should be allowed to possess "offensive weaponry" and widen its defense activities with allies, the general also wrote.
The article was posted on the Web site of a real estate developer called Apa Group after taking the $30,000 first prize in an essay-writing contest sponsored by the company.
General Tamogami wrote that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and thereby drew the United States into World War II after being caught in "a trap" set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"Roosevelt had become president on his public pledge not to go to war, so in order to start a war between the United States and Japan, it had to appear that Japan took the first shot," he wrote.
He denied that Japan had invaded China and the Korean Peninsula, arguing that Japanese forces became embroiled in domestic conflicts on the Asian continent.
"Even now, there are many people who think that our country's aggression caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War," he wrote, using the term favored by Japan's right to refer to World War II. "But we need to realize that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."
Since the mid-1990's, the Japanese government has officially apologized for its wartime past and acknowledged its aggression in Asia. But in recent years, nationalist politicians belonging to the rightist of the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party have waged a campaign to revise Japan's wartime history.
Few politicians have spoken as comprehensively as General Tamogami did, telegraphing instead their sympathies with the rightist view of history. The current prime minister, Taro Aso, in the past publicly praised Japanese colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula. Aso, whose family's mining business used forced laborers during World War II, also said Koreans gladly adopted Japanese names.
Hours before the general's dismissal, Aso said, "Even though he published it in a private capacity, given his position, it is not appropriate."
Last year, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister at the time, caused anger in Asia and the United States by denying the Japanese military's involvement in recruiting wartime sex slaves known euphemistically as "comfort women."
His comments led the House of Representatives to adopt a non-binding resolution calling on Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its wartime sex slavery. Japan has yet to respond.
The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008
WASHINGTON: Libya has paid $1.5 billion into a fund to compensate the families of American victims of Libyan-linked terror attacks in the 1980s, clearing a final hurdle to full normalization of ties between Washington and Tripoli.
In exchange, under a deal worked out earlier this year, President George W. Bush on Friday signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government's immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing pending compensation cases, the White House said.
The State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called it "a laudable milestone" giving "a measure of justice to families of U.S. victims of terrorism and clearing the way for continued and expanding U.S.-Libyan partnership."
The money will go into a $1.8 billion fund that will pay $1.5 billion in claims for the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of a German disco. Another $300 million will go to Libyan victims of U.S. airstrikes ordered in retaliation for the disco bombing.
Libya has sought donations from private businesses to help cover its share of the fund. The Bush administration has vowed that no American taxpayer money will be used for the U.S. portion but has not said where the money will come from.
The final deposit had been expected in early September but was inexplicably delayed, angering some in Congress who have thus far refused to lift holds on the nomination of a new U.S. ambassador to Libya and funds for the construction of a new U.S. embassy in Tripoli.
But on Friday, the chief congressional critic, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, welcomed the final payment.
"American victims and their families have waited decades for Libya to pay for its deadly acts of violence and today they have received long-overdue justice," he said in a statement. "I am pleased that our relentless pressure and support for terror victims has led to this historic moment."
A first partial payment to the fund was received on Oct. 9, just days after the opening of a U.S. trade office in Libya's capital and a historic visit there last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in more than 50 years.
U.S.-Libyan relations hit a low point in the 1980s but began to improve after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi - whom President Reagan called the "mad dog of the Middle East" - renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in 2003.
The rapprochement stalled after Libya halted payments to the families of Lockerbie victims under a previous compensation deal that would have paid $8 million to each and in the absence of an agreement on the La Belle disco bombing in Berlin.
But it picked up again in August when Libya and the United States agreed to a new, comprehensive package that would cover compensation for all the 1980s-era claims.
All 269 passengers and crew, including 180 Americans, on the Pan Am flight and 11 people on the ground were killed in the Lockerbie bombing. Three people, including two American soldiers, were killed and 230 wounded in the Berlin disco attack. That attack prompted Reagan to order airstrikes on targets in Tripoli and Benghazi that Libyans say killed 41 people, including Gadhafi's adopted daughter.
The developments come amid a huge increase in interest from U.S. firms, particularly in the energy sector, in doing business in Libya, where European companies have had much greater access in recent years. Libya's proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world, close to 39 billion barrels, and vast areas remain unexplored for new deposits.
The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008
PRAGUE: A Czech weekly has refused to apologize to the author Milan Kundera for publishing allegations he once informed on a Western spy.
In a letter delivered to the publisher Oct. 16, Kundera, the author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" gave the Respekt weekly two weeks to apologize.
Jiri Srstka, the director of the Dilia agency, which represents Kundera in the Czech Republic, said Friday that Kundera was considering what steps to take next. The author had threatened to sue.
"We won't apologize," said Martin Simecka, editor-in-chief of Respekt.
The publisher, Respekt Publishing AS, said in a statement its articles were in line with Czech law.
"Milan Kundera's rights have not been affected in any improper way," said Tomas Sidlo, director general of Respekt Publishing.
On Oct. 13, Respekt published an article by a historian from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and co-signed by a Respekt journalist. It reported that a team of historians had found a Czech Communist police document identifying the Czech-born Kundera as having informed in 1950 on Miroslav Dvoracek, who served 14 years in prison after being uncovered as a spy.
Kundera denied the charge, accusing the institute and the media of "the assassination of an author."
Kundera, 79, joined the Communist Party as a student, but was expelled after criticizing its totalitarian nature.
He has lived in France since 1975 and it is there that he published his most famous books, including "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," "The Art of the Novel" and "Immortality."
He lives in virtual seclusion, only travels to his former homeland incognito and never speaks to reporters.
By Jeffrey Gettleman
Friday, October 31, 2008
KIBUMBA, Congo: Bodies of dead government soldiers were sprawled in the mud.
Famished villagers were living off raw carrots and hard, green unripe papayas.
Victorious rebel soldiers, shirtless and chiseled, pumped iron on a former United Nations military base, using a makeshift dumbbell fashioned from plundered UN equipment.
This is what eastern Congo looked like behind rebel lines Friday. As thousands of displaced people began the long trudge home, the rebels who routed Congo's national army earlier this week tightened their control over the territory they had seized.
The cease-fire the rebels called on Wednesday night, right as they were about to march into the strategic city of Goma, seemed to be holding. Aid workers took advantage of it to resume food distributions to the hundreds of thousands of people uprooted in recent weeks. High-level diplomats pressured both sides, the Congolese government and the rebels, to return to the negotiating table.
And civilians who had been trapped by the fighting finally got a moment to assess the destruction that sent them fleeing.
"Just look at this place," said Wabo Gatambara-Kari, a chief in Kibumba, scanning his ransacked village, which had been bombed by the rebels, trashed by retreating government soldiers and then stormed by rebel fighters.
Even some refugee camps did not appear safe. UN officials are now investigating claims that rebels looted and burned down camps about 90 kilometers, or 55 miles, north of Goma, in territory the rebels control.
"We are extremely concerned about the fate of some 50,000 displaced people living in these camps," said Ron Redmond, chief spokesman of the UN refugees agency, according to its Web site.
Congo has endured seemingly ceaseless rounds of rebellion for more than a decade. But this week marked some of the heaviest fighting in recent years, as an insurgent group led by Laurent Nkunda, an enigmatic renegade general, nearly captured Goma, a city that up until now had been thought to be a safe haven.
A journey down the 30-kilometer road from Goma to Kibumba, a village of about 15,000 people, tells part of the story.
It starts in central Goma, where shops were open on Friday for the first time in days and life began to creep back to normal.
Just on outskirts of town, thousands of people were streaming down the road in endless columns, headed back to their villages, and in the process emptying out the large, impromptu refugee camps where they had been sleeping.
"Who knows if peace will last," said Kabando Rusisi, a farmer marching along in yellow flip-flops. "But we were starving."
No food. No shelter. Pounding rain. Sick babies. Rusisi described a joyless choice: to venture back to his home now under rebel control or to wither away in the grass waiting for help that didn't seem like it would come.
"We're better on our own," he said.
The massive exodus of the previous days, of people pouring out of their villages to the presumed safety of Goma, flowed in reverse. On the road to Kibumba, boys pushed wooden bicycles piled with heaps of clothing and blankets. Old women with thick, swollen feet tramped next to them, occasionally sitting down in the road to catch their breath.
About 15 kilometers outside of town, in the Kibati refugee camp, aid workers handed out high-energy biscuits to malnourished children with protruding bellies, the first such distribution in several days. Until now, it had been too dangerous to venture into the countryside.
"It's a real emergency," said Jaya Murthy, a Unicef official, as he stood in a circle of children who tugged at his pockets, pleading, "biscuit, biscuit."
A few kilometers more and the government army posts disappeared. Gone were the teenage government troops with crooked berets and high-top gym shoes, the soldiers who have been accused of looting hospitals, shooting at UN workers, raping women and killing children as they hastily fled Goma on Wednesday night.
An empty, bucolic no-man's land stretched for several miles. The scenery in this part of Africa is like a dream. Emerald green volcanoes, their conical heads buried in the clouds. Quilted fields of corn, beans, potatoes and bananas climbing up the hillsides. Muddy streams the color of chocolate milk trickling past.
At one point, a mob of angry motorcycle taxi drivers blocked the road and swarmed a carload of journalists. They seemed aggressive and jumpy. Some brandished sticks. They were free to do what they wanted. There is no law and order in many parts of Congo, especially in conflict zones where the government has all but fled.
But in the end, all the motorcycle drivers seemed to want was a little sympathy. They said the rebels were preventing them from returning to Goma and they let the journalists pass after venting their outrage.
Nearby lay the bodies. One government soldier was on his back, shot in the head, his worn boots sinking into the mud. Another soldier had been shot in the chest, apparently through a small Bible that had he had carried in his breast pocket, which now had a jagged little hole drilled through it.
The road was littered with tank shells, spent rifle cartridges, busted up wooden ammunition boxes, ration cartons, soggy discarded uniforms and other rain-soaked residue from the fleeing Congolese army.
The rebels finally emerged near Kibumba. One, two and then groups of five or six. They carried themselves differently from the government troops, more erect, more serious. They wore proper camouflage and sported well-oiled Kalashnikov assault rifles and shin-high black rubber Wellington boots. They were listening to their radios and cleaning their guns in military bases that just five days ago were manned by government soldiers and United Nations peacekeepers.
They said their job was to welcome back the refugees.
"The only safe places in this country are under our control," said rebel spokesman Babu Amani.
Kibumba is clearly theirs. Rebel soldiers were working with village elders on Friday to assess the damage caused by the departing government forces, who residents said picked clean dozens of homes and robbed the local bank, cracking open the safe and stealing the villagers' savings. But Nkunda's troops may have committed similar abuses.
"These guys are bad too," one man whispered in Kibumba.
But he didn't want to elaborate.
Instead, he slipped away, down a path toward the bright green bean fields. It is planting season now and many people have said that if they don't go back to work, soon again there will be nothing to eat.
By Souren Melikian
Friday, October 31, 2008
PARIS: There is a special fascination about precocious dazzling talent. When it leads to lightning success and great wealth as it did in the case of Antoon Van Dyck, later Anthony Van Dyck, whose portraits are on view at the Musée Jacquemart-André until Jan. 25, its spell becomes irresistible.
The Flemish painter's life story reads like a novel full of drama penned by Honoré de Balzac. Born in Antwerp in 1599, Antoon was the seventh child of Frans van Dyck, a prosperous cloth merchant trading in silk.
Tragedy struck when Antoon was eight. He lost his mother. Reckoning that the boy who sketched tirelessly would find happiness in a new environment, his father apprenticed the child, aged 10, to Hendrick van Balen, dean of the Saint Luke guild of painters.
Six years later disaster struck again. The father, whose business went bust, was bankrupt. Franchois, his sons-in-law and his children all became entangled in protracted legal wrangles.
Luckily, Antoon's skills were developing fast and in 1617 he had a fantastic fluke. The Antwerp Dominican church commissioned renowned artists to execute a cycle of paintings. Somehow, the young Van Dyck was invited to paint "Jesus Bearing the Cross" for which he received the same amount as his celebrated elders van Balen and Rubens. Fame seemed to be beckoning. Within a year, the artist who was already running his own studio was officially recognized as a master by gaining admission to the Saint Luke guild.
Rubens, who had probably been employing him since 1617 to paint tapestry cartoons, wrote in a letter to a patron that he rated the youth, then 19, as the best among his disciples.
Little wonder. Van Dyck's early portraits look like variations on a Rubensian theme, minus the dash. From the likeness of a merchant standing against the conventional backdrop of a red curtain allowing a patch of sky to be visible, to the picture of another wealthy member of the Antwerp bourgeoisie seated next to his wife who holds their baby in her lap, the imprint of the grand master of the Antwerp school is unmistakable.
To boot, his protégé was attracted to the great and the good, just like Rubens.
Yet, even at that early date, amid the many pictures in the master's manner endeavoring to convey the sitters' features in flattering fashion, flashes of sharp psychological perception come through.
In the portrait of an elderly man clutching what appears to be a scroll, the posture may be conventional, but the intensity of the burning stare combined with the nervously tense hands suggests repressed tragedy.
Van Dyck, the favorite painter of the rich bourgeois and powerful aristocrats, promptly caught the finer nuances of the human mind.
While in Italy, he portrayed a middle-aged member of the Genovese establishment, Porzia Imperiale and her daughter Maria Francesca. Seated in grand attire in the posture that Rubens gave to queens and princesses, the woman's hard haughtiness comes across with chilling effectiveness. The smiling young girl's freshness is striking, and yet she too looks as self-assured as the older woman, like one who knows she will find her way around in the privileged world into which she was born.
Van Dyck was equally penetrating when scrutinizing his own persona. In one of his many self-portraits done in his early 20s, the painter is decked out in rich black finery. Leaning on a stone ledge, he peers at the viewer with an expression of eagerness and self-satisfaction. The likeness curiously anticipates the appearance of 18th-century foppish young men from the English establishment.
Did Van Dyck see this affectation of nonchalant elegance as a badge of aristocratic belonging? Or was it a sign of self-incriminating lucidity? One wonders. When portraying a scion of the d'Este family, perhaps Filippo Francesco, Van Dyck represented him sporting a long gold chain with self-conscious pseudo nonchalance. The teenager's face oozes with adolescent smugness. For good measure, the Antwerp artist painted the man's dog seated at his side, giving his master a look of knowing commiseration. Irony in a highly paid commission was never carried further.
If anything surpasses it, this is the portrait of Evrard Jabach, the German banker from Cologne who wheedled his way into the inner circle of the autocratic but vain Louis XIV. Jabach, who loved art, was what the 20th century would come to call a drawing room art dealer. He built a major art collection, sold it to the king, and went on to build another collection. In a portrait from the Koelliker Collection which leaves well behind the master's famous Hermitage portrait of the banker, the man's smile conveys all at once his slyness and the merest suggestion of contemptuous satisfaction. The art hunter had probably just pulled off a coup. This is the connoisseur's silent laugh at the naiveté and lack of culture of those around him, Sun King included. Van Dyck might like to portray famous clients who paid him handsomely, but he was unable to repress in himself the clear-eyed and sometimes impish observer of mankind.
Yet, when the painter came across tragedy among the great and the good, he also took note.
At an unspecified date, Van Dyck portrayed a newlywed couple from the Antwerp upper middle class, Jacob de Witte and Maria Nuyts, whose family name was given the latinized form "Nutius," indicating high aspirations to gentility. Maria, although only 17, was already a widow from an earlier marriage to a man about whom nothing is known other than his surname, Hannicart.
Curiously, Van Dyck depicted Maria holding a rose twig that has no blossom. The flower symbolized the joy of love (with its blossom) and its pain (with its thorns). Was it the artist's idea to paint a blossomless twig? Or did the sitter request it? Heavily made up, Maria looks deeply distressed. Her burning eyes give the impression of a woman who has been crying for hours and has at last recovered her composure. Her austere elegance merely enhances the cruel message.
When portraying the husband, Van Dyck gave him an imperious, almost defiant expression. It is hard to repress the feeling that the painter had read too much in their faces. He could not stand the man.
It is to this subtle sensitivity to distress that we owe the greatest portrait of an infant in Western art.
When Van Dyck executed a preliminary study in oil for the portrait of Elizabeth and Anne, the daughters of Charles I of England, Anne must have been a few months old. The little princess, who was to die within three years, is seen head thrown back, mouth open, with that expression of intense, incomprehending suffering that ailing babies can have.
By then Van Dyck had been in England for six years, with only one brief interruption. The Flemish master had been persuaded to come to London by Charles, a passionate collector and patron of the arts. Appointed "principalle Paynter in Ordinarie to their Majesties" and elevated to knighthood in St James's Palace, Anthony Van Dyck as he was now called promptly embarked on producing likenesses of the royal family and any well-heeled members of the aristocracy, English or foreign, who might request his services.
With the exception of Charles I, the characters he painted strangely tended to look alike. In the double portrait of the king's German nephews, Charles Louis and Rupert barely differ from each other. Both stare with the same frozen expressions, reminiscent of Madame Tussauds' wax dummies.
Sir William Killigrew who was "Gentleman Usher" to Charles I strikes a conventional posture, leaning, one does not quite understand how, against the sharp edge of the base of a pillar. He too stares into emptiness.
Van Dyck's art had become formulaic. Was Rubens's disciple an uneven artist whose occasional flashes of psychological insight died out after he arrived in England? Or did he paint what he thought his patrons wanted, having succumbed to the lure of money? Either way, the craftsman's considerable talents could not make up for the frequent lack of inspiration. Van Dyck was not another Rubens.
By Sam Wang and Joshua Gold
Friday, October 31, 2008
As we enter the last days of a seemingly endless election campaign, opinion polls continue to identify a substantial fraction of voters who consider themselves "undecided." Although their numbers are dwindling, they could still determine the outcome of the race in some states. Comedians and other commentators have portrayed these people as fools, unable to choose even when confronted with the starkest of contrasts.
Recent research in neuroscience and psychology, however, suggests that most undecided voters may be smarter than you think. They're not indifferent or unable to make clear comparisons between the candidates. They may be more willing than others to take their time - or else just unaware that they have essentially already made a choice.
Neuroscientists have begun to tease out the brain systems that make decisions. Even when it takes no more than a second, decision-making is thought to involve two parts, gathering evidence and committing to a choice.
In tasks as simple as deciding whether a shifting pattern of dots is moving to the left or to the right, brain activity in the parietal cortex rises as evidence is gathered, eventually reaching a tipping point (though it's not yet known which brain regions drive the final choice).
Inherent to this process is a trade-off between speed and accuracy. Commit early and you can get on with your life. Take more time and you might make a wiser or more accurate decision.
Since a commitment to John McCain or Barack Obama is not required until Nov. 4, for the greatest accuracy, one should gather evidence until that date. So then why aren't there even more undecided voters?
In measurements of decision-related neural activity, after there is enough evidence to reach a person's decision threshold, his brain can ignore further input even when it might improve accuracy. The brain goes ahead and decides, freeing up mental resources to deal with other problems.
This logic suggests that undecided voters might simply require a higher degree of confidence before they commit. Pollsters know this, and so push "uncommitted" voters to state a preference.
Although this approach may seem heavy-handed, it gives a fairly accurate reading of a candidate's support. In psychological studies, people who describe themselves as undecided often reveal a pronounced preference when they are forced to choose. When someone reports being only "moderately sure" of a decision like whether to accept a new job, his eventual choice is all but certain.
Still, the person may not be aware of that internal commitment. In one study, people were asked to play a gambling game in which they could choose cards from several decks, some of which were secretly stacked against them. After losing repeatedly, most subjects began to nervously avoid the less favorable decks but were unable to say why until after much further play. People with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex lack this intuition, and so they take inordinate time to make decisions in general.
Of course, undecided voters aren't suffering from brain damage, it's just that their brains may require an especially long amount of time to develop confidence in or awareness of a choice.
In these cases, hidden commitments can be queried in creative ways. In a recent study, 33 residents of an Italian town initially told interviewers that they were undecided about their attitude toward a controversial expansion of a nearby American military base. But researchers found that those people's opinions could be predicted by measuring how quickly they made automatic associations between photographs of the military base with positive or negative words.
If decisions are lurking somewhere in the brains of undecided voters, could brain imaging methods reveal their inclinations?
Not yet. Recent research has shown that when undecided voters looked at images of candidates, their brains' emotional centers were often activated. But this reveals little information about the content of their thoughts. Such research serves mainly to demonstrate how hard it is for scientists to physically trace complex concepts like preference.
It is more effective to pose indirect questions. Pollsters can learn which way "undecided" voters lean by using questions they already ask that are likely to correlate with support for either candidate: Who do you think understands your problems better? Are you more concerned about the economy or terrorism? Which candidate has the better temperament? The answers of decided voters could be used to predict the final choice of undecideds.
No matter how deeply they delve into people's thought processes, however, polls will never be perfect predictors of election results.
Like the brain of an undecided voter, the electorate as a whole may lean toward one candidate or another, but until the ballots are cast on Nov. 4, it remains undecided.
Sam Wang is an associate professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. Joshua Gold is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.
Friday, October 31, 2008
PRINCETON, New Jersey: The long-feared capitulation of American consumers has arrived. According to Thursday's GDP report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter; real spending on durable goods (stuff like cars and TVs) fell at an annual rate of 14 percent.
To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn't been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation.
Also, these numbers are from the third quarter - the months of July, August, and September. So these data are basically telling us what happened before confidence collapsed after the fall of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, not to mention before the Dow plunged below 10,000. Nor do the data show the full effects of the sharp cutback in the availability of consumer credit, which is still under way.
So this looks like the beginning of a very big change in consumer behavior. And it couldn't have come at a worse time.
It's true that American consumers have long been living beyond their means. In the mid-1980s Americans saved about 10 percent of their income. Lately, however, the savings rate has generally been below 2 percent - sometimes it has even been negative - and consumer debt has risen to 98 percent of GDP, twice its level a quarter-century ago.
Some economists told us not to worry because Americans were offsetting their growing debt with the ever-rising values of their homes and stock portfolios. Somehow, though, we're not hearing that argument much lately.
Sooner or later, then, consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate. One is tempted to echo St. Augustine's plea: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." For consumers are cutting back just as the U.S. economy has fallen into a liquidity trap - a situation in which the Federal Reserve has lost its grip on the economy.
Some background: One of the high points of the semester, if you're a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, comes when you explain how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off. The point is that if consumers cut their spending, and nothing else takes the place of that spending, the economy will slide into a recession, reducing everyone's income.
In fact, consumers' income may actually fall more than their spending, so that their attempt to save more backfires - a possibility known as the paradox of thrift.
At this point, however, the instructor hastens to explain that virtue isn't really vice: In practice, if consumers were to cut back, the Fed would respond by slashing interest rates, which would help the economy avoid recession and lead to a rise in investment. So virtue is virtue after all, unless for some reason the Fed can't offset the fall in consumer spending.
I'll bet you can guess what's coming next.
For the fact is that we are in a liquidity trap right now: Fed policy has lost most of its traction. It's true that Ben Bernanke hasn't yet reduced interest rates all the way to zero, as the Japanese did in the 1990s. But it's hard to believe that cutting the federal funds rate from 1 percent to nothing would have much positive effect on the economy. In particular, the financial crisis has made Fed policy largely irrelevant for much of the private sector: The Fed has been steadily cutting away, yet mortgage rates and the interest rates many businesses pay are higher than they were early this year.
The capitulation of the American consumer, then, is coming at a particularly bad time. But it's no use whining. What we need is a policy response.
The ongoing efforts to bail out the financial system, even if they work, won't do more than slightly mitigate the problem. Maybe some consumers will be able to keep their credit cards, but as we've seen, Americans were overextended even before banks started cutting them off.
No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn't spend.
Let's hope, then, that Congress gets to work on a package to rescue the economy as soon as the election is behind us. And let's also hope that the lame-duck Bush administration doesn't get in the way.
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By Svea Herbst-BaylissReuters
Friday, October 31, 2008
BOSTON: Dozens of hedge funds have told investors that they cannot get their money back right now as managers try to limit a wave of redemptions to safeguard all their clients' investments - as well as their own futures.
Only a few months ago, hundreds of the world's estimated 9,000 hedge fund managers made it tough for wealthy investors to put money into their funds by requiring minimum investments of $1 million or more and charging heavy fees.
Now managers are making it hard for investors to get out.
"Everyone is looking at their gate provisions," or mechanisms that limit redemptions, "and what rights they have to close their gates," said Timothy Mungovan, a partner who advises hedge funds at the law firm Nixon Peabody.
On Thursday, Knight Capital Group's Deephaven Capital Management halted redemptions at two of its hedge funds.
Recently, the hedge fund firm Basso Capital told investors that it was postponing redemptions. The hedge fund firm Ore Hill Partners imposed a gate in late August.
Before that, Drake Capital Management and Pardus Capital Management began restricting clients' departures. Ellington Capital Management stopped allowing investors to exit one of its portfolios last year.
Blocking investors' exits, even if only briefly, was once a highly unusual move that often signaled that a hedge fund was on the verge of collapse, managers and investors acknowledged.
That is changing now as ever more managers and investors engage in a tug of war over who can receive money right now.
Managers argue that if they had to return investors' money exactly when investors demanded funds would have to unload securities at fire-sale prices and many clients who were not looking to get out would be hurt by those moves.
Already, hedge funds have been blamed for accelerating the stock market's tumble by dumping shares to get liquidity.
"Restricting redemptions allows the managers to withhold selling into unfavorable markets," said Michael Tannenbaum, a partner at the law firm Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse and Hirschtritt, explaining that panic selling in these markets can be "harmful to both sides: the investor and the redeemer."
But investors are not wholly convinced by this argument. Many are still asking to get their money back now.
Spooked by hedge funds' worst-ever returns - the average fund has lost 20 percent this year - pension funds and wealthy individuals alike are leaving hedge funds faster than ever before, lawyers and managers said.
Between July and September, investors pulled out a record $31 billion, which helped shrink the industry 11 percent to $1.7 trillion. And more redemptions are expected to flood in by Nov. 15, the deadline to get money back by the end of the year, industry lawyers and investors said.
"A lot of people are looking for liquidity, which is causing people to redeem investments," said Dean Junkans, the chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Client Services. "And hedge fund managers are looking for a variety of ways to keep the capital."
By Ben White and Jonathan D. Glater
Friday, October 31, 2008
NEW YORK: Wall Street is coming under mounting political pressure to cut bonuses for top executives, traders and bankers in what was already expected to be a down year for pay.
Under pressure from members of Congress to curtail compensation, banks now face a new threat from Andrew Cuomo, the New York attorney general, who sent a letter Wednesday to nine big financial institutions receiving government aid.
Cuomo gave the companies a week to provide a "detailed accounting regarding your expected payments to top management in the upcoming bonus season."
That could prove difficult for the banks, which typically do not complete bonus pools until later this month at the earliest.
Cuomo's letter also warned that payments worth more than the services provided by executives might violate New York law.
The letter follows one sent earlier this week to the same banks by Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, urging them not to use any government money for bonuses or other payments and asking for data on pay going back to 2006.
The demands from Cuomo and Waxman reflect an increased concern among lawmakers and regulators about payments to executives, which have drawn strong public reactions since the government approved a $700 billion bailout to stabilize the financial system. Other politicians have also held private meetings with bank executives to warn them that big bonus figures this year would create enormous political problems.
Any suit based on the law cited by Cuomo would take some creative legal footwork, said Edward Morrison, a law professor at Columbia. The law permits creditors to try to recover or block payments. "You have to find a way for the attorney general, for Cuomo, to shoehorn himself into the position of a creditor," Morrison said. "It's not implausible." The attorney general could act under the law, Morrison said, if New York State pension funds hold bonds issued by the nine companies. Cuomo might also claim jurisdiction over any of the companies that might owe taxes to New York.
The attention raised questions on Wall Street, because bonus payments are already expected to be as much as 50 percent smaller than last year and perhaps even far smaller at banks that posted big losses. The New York State comptroller estimated that Wall Street paid $33.2 billion in bonuses for 2007, compared with $33.9 billion the year before.
Even banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, which produced decent profits this year, are expected to award significantly smaller bonuses.
Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, received bonus and stock awards worth about $68.5 million last year, while Goldman's co-presidents got just slightly less. Those numbers will not be repeated. John Mack, Morgan Stanley's chief executive, declined to take a bonus last year.
Last week, Cuomo reached an agreement with the American International Group, the insurance conglomerate that has received tens of billions of dollars in loans from the Federal Reserve, to freeze millions in payments to former executives. His latest move appears to expand the inquiry into executive compensation at companies participating in the government's financial bailout program.
"Taxpayers are, in many ways, now like shareholders of your company," Cuomo wrote, "and your firm has a responsibility to them."
In his letter, Cuomo asked specifically for a description of bonus pools for this year, a description of how money in those pools would be allocated, an explanation of how that allocation might have changed since each company received money under the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program and a description of bonuses paid to executives earning more than $250,000 in 2006 and 2007.
Cuomo's letter was sent to Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo, all of which received capital injections from the government as part of a wide-reaching program to stabilize the financial system. Representatives of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo declined to comment on the letter.
Citigroup said it would "cooperate with federal and state inquiries about our global expenditures for wages, health insurance and other benefits, which we believe reflect compensation best practices. In addition, we will of course adhere to applicable legal and regulatory requirements, including those in the federal government investment program, such as restrictions on executive compensation."
In an e-mail message, a spokeswoman for State Street said the bank was "carefully evaluating" Cuomo's request.
Other financial institutions did not return calls.
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By Timothy Egan
Friday, October 31, 2008
MISSOULA, Montana: Under the Big Sky on election's eve, the cold gold cottonwood leaves catching the late October light, Lolo Peak holding its first dusting of snow, the season feels ritualistically right.
But a free-floating edginess clings to the air, a sense of possibility over the prospect of a new president, and righteous anger that things are going to be very bad for a long time.
I can't shake this line from Jon Tester, the freshman senator from Montana. Since the $700 billion bailout was first introduced, his office has been flooded with calls and letters - uniformly unforgiving toward the Masters of the Universe who destroyed the U.S. economy. Tester said people "want to see the executives that drove Wall Street into the ground in orange suits picking up cans along the side of the road."
It's a comforting image, in a comeuppance sort of way. Imagine all those hedge fund managers and soft-skinned bonus brats stooped over litter through the long night of a Montana winter.
For now, the villains have been identified, though they have yet to be paraded through the village square. Polls show banks and Wall Street are blamed for the staggering blow to the economy. By two-to-one margins, people blame Republicans over Democrats. But they also blame their neighbors for taking on too much debt.
If Americans are walking without a skip in their step, and maybe with a pitchfork in one hand, you can't fault them. Gallup found that one in five people say their finances have already been hurt "a great deal." On Tuesday, consumer confidence fell to the lowest level since the Conference Board started tracking popular sentiment 41 years ago. A bare 11 percent say the country is headed in the right direction.
We Americans are not a nation of whiners, despite what Phil Gramm has said (and he's a prime candidate for road crew.) But where does this jet stream of anxiety go after the election?
During the Great Depression, it found its violent outlets. In Iowa, farmers stormed a courtroom in mid-session, demanding that a judge not sign any more foreclosure notices. The judge was dragged from the courthouse and taken to a nearby hanging tree. His life was spared only when the mob's cooler heads (an oxymoron?) prevailed.
In Congress, at the time, taxes were raised on the wealthy, with a whiff of genuine class warfare in the air and cries of "Soak the rich!" And the wise men of finance offered few nuggets of hope, only a clunker or two of infinite despair during an age W.H. Auden called "the low, dishonest decade." The economist John Maynard Keynes was asked if there was ever a worse time.
"It was called the Dark Ages," he said. "And it lasted 400 years."
Our battery-life of pessimism is not that long, and never will be. As dark as the End of Days-Bush Era has become, most of us see some sunshine in the forecast. The Pew Research Center Poll this week found that 64 percent still believe in this sentence: "As Americans we can always find ways to solve our problems and get what we want."
But there will be blood, from Main Street to the mall. You see it every hour: businesses closing, cutting back, people walking away from houses with nothing but bad memories.
And yet Wall Street has not answered for its misdeeds, having set aside nearly $20 billion to pay in bonuses for 2008. You've just destroyed the economy - here's your reward! Even Lehman Brothers managed to sock away $2.5 billion in future bonuses before filing for Chapter 11, according to Bloomberg.
We want shelter from the storm and a pound of flesh. But how much time will a new president have? A year? A hundred days? A month? The expectations cycle, like our culture, moves at the speed of a text message.
FDR, the high standard for changes by a new president, got out of the gate like Seabiscuit on a sugar-cube high. In his first week in office, he was urged to nationalize the banks, as Bush has done in large measure. Instead, Roosevelt closed the banks for most of a week, and when they opened again, he assured all Americans, they were safe - now backed, for the first time, by the faith and credit of the United States.
It's debatable whether he saved capitalism, as many historians have said. But Will Rogers certainly got it right: "If Roosevelt burned down the Capital, we should cheer and say, 'Well, we at least got a fire started, anyhow."'
Somebody has to start a fire. That's what Americans will be looking for after next Tuesday. And quick. Otherwise, expect people to begin fitting executives in fluorescent orange vests for penance work on the side of the road - or worse.
Timothy Egan writes Outposts, a column at nytimes.com.
Friday, October 31, 2008
By Rob Taylor
A German doctor refused permission to live permanently in Australia because his son has Down Syndrome, on Friday promised to fight the decision as an immigration row erupted over his future.
Bernhard Moeller came to Australia two years ago with wife Isabella and three children to work at the Wimmera Base Hospital in rural Victoria state, and was given a temporary visa to help plug a critical doctor shortage in Australia.
But immigration officials refused permission for the Moellers to settle permanently because youngest son Lukas, 13, failed health tests and was judged by officials as likely to be a permanent drain on taxpayer funding due to his condition.
"I think they just use my skills as long as it is necessary, but they don't welcome my family," Moeller told Reuters.
Moeller, from Bad Driburg near Cologne, supervises intensive care for a community of 54,000 people. He said he was told by officials he was unwelcome because he had a mildly disabled son. Lukas is able to attend a normal school and play sports including cricket and football.
Moeller is the second German doctor to run into recent difficulties with Australian officials.
Thomas Kossman, chief trauma surgeon at a major Melbourne hospital, was suspended last year and accused of over-billing and carrying out complex surgery he was untrained for. Kossman says he is the victim a witch-hunt orchestrated by jealous rivals.
Australia has a critical doctor shortage, particularly in regional and rural areas. Many foreign doctors and nurses have been employed in the over-stretched health system.
Moeller's plight prompted thousands of public Internet and radio complaints from across Australia on Friday. Immigration officials defended their handling of the case, saying the family could seek intervention from Immigration Minister Chris Evans.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said she would immediately speak to Evans about reversing the decision, and was supported by powerful Victoria state government Premier John Brumby.
"We understand the importance of having doctors working in our rural and regional communities," Roxon said.
(Editing by Valerie Lee)
Friday, October 31, 2008
KARACHI: Pakistani police raided a child marriage ceremony in the city of Karachi and arrested a cleric who was presiding over the wedding of a 4-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy, police and residents said on Friday.
Pakistani law says people must be 18 to marry but some Islamic laws allow girls to marry after puberty. Despite the laws, young girls are often given away in marriage to settle disputes or pay off debts.
Police said they raided a house on Thursday evening following complaints from residents, including a former district government official, Nazakat Hussain, who said the girl was being married off by her father for about 500,000 rupees (6,221 pounds).
"We had noticed some gatherings at this house for a couple of days. Last night I went there and saw that the little girl was actually getting married. So we called the police," Hassan told Reuters.
Some other residents said the marriage was taking place to resolve a long-standing family dispute. Police said they had arrested the boy's father but the girl's father had run away.
(Reporting by Imtiaz Shah; writing by Aftab Borka; editing by Roger Crabb)
The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008
MADRID: A Spanish journalist on Friday defended the accuracy of her book that quotes Queen Sofia criticizing gay marriage.
The book has irked the Royal Palace.
The Spanish king and queen are largely respected as figurehead representatives of the state, and rarely speak out on political or social issues.
The veteran journalist, Pilar Urbano, released the book - "La Reina muy de cerca," or "The Queen, very close up," - this week to mark the queen's 70th birthday Sunday. The journalist said it was based on 15 interviews with Queen Sofia, and that the Royal Palace approved the book's galley proofs before it was published, according to news agency Efe.
"What the queen said is what my book says," Urbano said.
The Royal Palace has challenged the comments attributed to the monarch, however, saying in a statement they "do not correspond exactly" with what she said. The palace also said the book also fails to reflect the queen's traditional neutrality on public affairs or respect for people who suffer discrimination, like homosexuals.
"I do not answer to the queen or king, or the Royal Palace. I answer to the truth," Urbano told Efe.
In the book, the queen is quoted as addressing a wide range of issues and saying she opposes abortion and euthanasia. Spain allows the former under restricted circumstances, and outlaws the latter. But the queen's alleged remarks on same-sex marriage are the main source of friction and have angered gay rights groups.
Spain legalized gay marriage in 2005, becoming one of the few countries in the world to recognize same-sex couples as having the same rights as heterosexual ones, including the right to adopt children.
"If those persons want to live together, dress up as bride and groom and get married, they can do so, but that should not be called marriage because it is not," the queen is quoted as saying in Urbano's book.
The conservative newspaper El Mundo said the queen erred by breaking with her tradition of quiet neutrality.
"As human as this burst of royal sincerity might be, certainly there were better ways to make Queen Sofia's birthday a new tool for bringing society closer to the throne," the newspaper said in an editorial.
By Taghreed El-Khodary
Friday, October 31, 2008
GAZA: The grooms were resplendent in white shirts while the brides all wore black. At a sports stadium one recent October evening, thousands of Palestinians — 300 newly married couples along with relatives and friends — gathered for a mass wedding celebration, the 10th here this year courtesy of Hamas.
Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, has been observing a truce with Israel since June, allowing its underground fighters to resurface but leaving them without much to do. At the same time, hundreds of the group's women have been recently widowed, their husbands having been killed either in confrontations with Israel or in the fighting last year between Hamas and its secular rival, Fatah.
Taking advantage of the pause in violence, the Hamas leaders have turned to matchmaking, bringing together single fighters and widows, and providing dowries and wedding parties for the many here who cannot afford such trappings of matrimony.
"Marriage is the same as jihad," or holy war, said Muhammad Yousef, one recently married member of the Qassam Brigades, the Hamas underground. "With marriage, you are producing another generation that believes in resistance."
About 300 Qassam members, mostly in their 20s, signed up with their new wives for the most recent celebration, held at a sports stadium in the Tuffah district, east of Gaza City. Local mosques spread the word about the event and offered to help find spouses for single men whose families had not yet managed to arrange them a match.
As an added inducement, couples were promised a cash grant in lieu of a dowry, which few families could afford. But the economic embargo on Gaza, spearheaded by the Israelis who, like the United States and the European Union, classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, somewhat dampened the celebrations. While the poorest couples received a gift equivalent to $2,000, many others in less dire straits came away with only $200.
"That's the cost of a plank of wood for a bedroom suite," said one disappointed bride, Ola Dalo, 21, as she leaned her head on her new husband, Ali Msabah, 24.
Wael al-Zard, head of Al Taysir, an association affiliated with Hamas that tries to provide its fighters with the means to marry, said that many Muslims who used to contribute money from the Gulf states had stopped transferring funds "out of fear."
To make up some of the shortfall, Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, made a personal contribution of $30,000 to the Tuffah group wedding, while another senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, contributed $10,000.
"Your money is not going to casinos," Zard declared during the wedding event. His point was that the donations would be devoted only to furthering the Islamist agenda, and not going to line officials' pockets, an accusation widely leveled against the previous rulers from Fatah. "There will be more weddings, and no one will remain single."
The 300 grooms were dressed in black pants, white shirts and colorful ties but no jackets, because of recent budget cuts. The brides, sitting separately among the women, wore head scarves and black robes over their evening dresses but were easily spotted by their heavy makeup. The couples had all signed marriage contracts before the event.
The grooms danced on the stage as a male singer extolled the virtues of married life. Ehab Adas, 25, one of the grooms, said he missed fighting but was keeping busy working as a secretary at the Interior Ministry. He pointed out his bride in the crowd, and proudly displayed the last text message he had received from her on his mobile phone. "Today is my real wedding," it read. He had replied simply, "I love you."
Although Hamas has long organized joint weddings, it is now doing so with more verve, placing special emphasis on remarrying its war widows. One of them, Amani Saed, 24, attended the mass wedding with her two young sons from her first marriage, Rami, 5, and Muhammad, 3. Their father, Khaled Saed, was killed at the age of 28 during the clashes between Hamas and Fatah in August 2007.
Eight months after Khaled's death, his father sought Amani's hand for his younger son, Muhammad, 22, who also worked at the Interior Ministry. Amani said she reluctantly agreed. "Muhammad is younger. It's hard, but it's good for the kids," she said.
Muhammad Yousef, the groom who equated marriage with jihad, came to celebrate and collect $200 even though his family is considered reasonably well off. In July 2006, an Israeli tank crew fired in his direction as he and his group fired rockets at Israel. He was badly wounded in the chest and both legs, and his friends took him for dead and celebrated his "martyrdom" on the way to the hospital morgue.
But he survived, and because of his severe physical injuries, moved from firing rockets to manufacturing them instead. Yousef said he shared all the details of his past with his wife before they married, and she accepted his way of life wholeheartedly. The night before the mass wedding party, he said, his wife shared with him her ultimate wish: to carry out a joint suicide attack against Israel.
Friday, October 31, 2008
By David Milliken
Higher government borrowing is not the way to help Britain in a recession and will leave a debt burden that will hamper recovery, the Conservatives said on Friday.
The government has signalled it will suspend self-imposed limits on borrowing to sanction a massive rise in spending to help the economy get through the downturn.
"Talk of a spending splurge tries to give the impression of activity and action, when in fact it is the road to economic ruin," Conservative economic spokesman George Osborne said in a speech in London.
"It saddles this generation and the next with a burden of debt that could take a decade or more to pay off. It means damaging tax rises when you want to be reducing taxes to help the recovery."
But Osborne's speech offered little in the way of an alternative.
He has come under fire for being vague about what the Conservatives would do instead and their huge opinion poll lead over Labour has been cut by Prime Minister Gordon Brown's handling of the economic crisis.
Analysts say the Conservatives shot themselves in the foot for initially supporting the government's plans to recapitalise the banking system by ceding the intellectual argument to Labour.
Osborne and his boss David Cameron, however, have hit back in the last week, accusing the government of being reckless with the public finances.
Public sector debt is currently running at record levels and is likely to rise as tax receipts dwindle and social security spending rises in the downturn.
"We will use targeted, funded help to get money into people's pockets by freezing their council tax and protect jobs by supporting small businesses," Osborne said.
"By ensuring that we don't borrow without limits in the recession, we will open the way to lower taxes in the recovery."
(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Mike Peacock)
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