BRAZIL: Agribusiness faces multiple anxieties
Monday, November 10, 2008
The financial crisis and subsequent credit squeeze, coupled with global recession fears, are having a serious impact on agriculture and agribusiness, a crucial source of both foreign exchange and employment.
Elusive finance. The sharp drop in the value of the real has in theory largely compensated for the fact that prices of most grains and oilseeds have fallen by 30% since mid-year highs; if the exchange rate remains weak, farmers will receive significantly more in the local currency in which most expenses are incurred. However, exchange rate uncertainty is making trade finance difficult to obtain, both for exporters and many importing countries.
The government has injected some 15 billion dollars into currency markets in recent weeks, more than half of that amount from international reserves, in part in a bid to get more money to farmers and to finance trade. However, banks are presently reluctant to lend for the long time period that elapses between commodities sales being agreed and goods being paid for.
Sugar and alcohol. In the midst of a 30 billion dollar expansion plan, Brazil's sugar industry is facing a severe crisis:
•Loans made to some 300 companies to finance expansion projects fall due in the next 12 months. While state banks may refinance debts, private banks are reluctant to do so.
•A record amount of the sugar crop is now used to produce alcohol for fuel. However, with credit restricted, new car sales will fall by up to 20% next year, slowing growth in domestic demand for alcohol. Moreover, exports of alcohol may remain static or fall next year, mainly due to the cutback in usage in the United States, the leading market.
Hedging headaches. Brazil's leading poultry producer and exporter, Sadia, has reported losses of about 400 million dollars in unwise hedging and currency speculation, exposing it to large penalties. Sadia, together with Brazil's largest pulp producer and exporter, Aracruz, and a large steel mill, has proposed to challenge contracts that oblige it to pay heavy penalties, although the steel company has admitted that its profits from hedging have far exceeded its losses thus far. It is not yet known whether other large agribusiness companies, including sugar mills, have also suffered large losses due to poor hedging decisions.
Meat matters. The chicken, beef and pork industries should have a record year in 2008. However, this situation will clearly not be repeated in 2009:
•Industry leaders have urged chicken producers to cut back production sharply, in an attempt to avoid large surpluses early next year that would push prices down further.
•Several large beef packers that bought processors in Latin America, the United States, Europe and Australia in the past two years, may have overstretched themselves financially and encounter serious difficulties. Three such companies went public in 2007 and raised large sums on the stock markets. Although their share prices have now collapsed, they received large loans from the National Development Bank.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said maintaining the relatively high growth rate of the past few years is a "matter of honor" and has promised to aid companies in agribusiness, including those which made hedging operations which turned sour. It is not clear that this will prove feasible.
European Commission proposes deep cuts in fishing
The Associated Press
Monday, November 10, 2008
BRUSSELS, Belgium: Fishermen are continuing to deplete fish populations across the northeastern Atlantic, the European Commission said Monday. It proposed deep cuts in 2009 catches for almost 30 species and a ban on fishing for several others.
Later this week, the commission will propose much higher fines for violators of EU fishing rules, arguing governments are too soft on fishermen who overfish, officials said
EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said some fish species have recovered in recent years, "but this good news remains the exception, not the rule."
His proposed fishing quotas for 2009 must be endorsed next month by EU governments to take effect. But EU governments, yielding to political pressure at home, regularly ignore EU pleas to limit fishing.
Borg proposed cuts up to 52 percent in the maximum allowed for some fish, so "stocks have a chance to recover," he said in a report to the EU governments.
"I know this will be hard on the fleets affected. But there is no other choice if we want to restore the ecological basis for a truly viable European fishing industry," he added.
For 2009, Borg proposed no fishing at all west of Scotland for cod, haddock and whiting west of Scotland; a 25 percent cut in herring catches in the North Sea and west of Scotland; a continued a ban on anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay; and a new ban on fishing for spurdog and porbeagle, two species of deep-sea shark.
Between 2004 and 2006, cod fishing from Denmark to Scotland to the English channel dropped by between 12 and 24 percent — not enough "to bring about a significant reduction in fishing mortality," the European Commission said.
Aaron McLoughlin, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund, said it was "disappointing" the European Commission made no detailed recommendations to replenish "North Sea cod stocks whose recovery currently hangs in the balance."
He also proposed changing a "days-at-sea" system that was meant to reduce fishing days, notably for cod. Exemptions approved by EU governments have made the measure meaningless, according to the European Commission.
On Friday, officials said, the European Commission will propose uniform penalties for fishing violations that would result in fines of hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars). At the moment, nationally set penalties range from 170 euros to 6,070 euros.
EU governments reported 10,362 fisheries violations in 2006, the last year for which data is available. While this was down 1 percent from 2005, the EU fishing fleet declined by 10 percent in that period.
The most common violations ranged from illegal storing and processing of fish to illegal fishing.
Little fish, big fish and the protein pyramid
Monday, November 10, 2008
Per capita meat consumption more than doubled over the past half-century as the global economy expanded. It is expected to double again by 2050. Which raises the question, what does all that meat eat before it becomes meat?
Increasingly the answer is very small fish harvested from the ocean and ground into meal and pressed into oil. According to a new report by scientists from the University of British Columbia and financed by the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, 37 percent by weight of all the fish taken from the ocean is forage fish: small fish like sardines and menhaden. Nearly half of that is fed to farmed fish; most of the rest is fed to pigs and poultry.
The problem is that forage fish are the feedstock of marine mammals and birds and larger species of fish. In other words, farmed fish, pigs and poultry - and the humans who eat them - are competing for food directly with aquatic species that depend on those forage fish for their existence. It's as if humans were swimming in schools in the ocean out-eating every other species.
The case is worse than that. When it comes to farmed fish, there is a net protein loss: It takes three pounds of fish feed to produce one pound of farmed salmon. This protein pyramid - small fish fed to farmed fish, pigs and poultry that are then fed to humans - is unsustainable. It threatens the foundation of oceanic life.
The report's authors suggest that it would be better if humans ate these small fish, as many cultures once did, instead of using them as feed. That is one way of addressing the problem of net protein loss.
The real answers are support for sustainable agriculture in the developing world and encouraging healthy, less meat-based eating habits as a true sign of affluence everywhere.
India's aborigines study, rather than shed, their culture
By Anand Giridharadas
Monday, November 10, 2008
TEJGADH, India: In a library deep in the western Indian countryside, in an academy surrounded by farms on all sides, five students are writing briskly in their ruled notebooks.
They are in their early 20s and newly enrolled, pimples dotting their faces and polish peeling from their nails.
But there is no discounting the gravity of their assignment: When they complete it, the world will have five more documented languages at its disposal.
One word at a time, they are making dictionaries of languages that they grew up with but that to the outside world scarcely exist. They are oral languages, whose sounds have perhaps never before appeared in ink.
Because these languages lack scripts, the students use the script of Gujarati, the official regional language.
"If we make this, those who come after us will profit from it," said Kantilal Mahala, 21, taking a brief respite from his work on the Kunkna language but speaking in Hindi. "In my village, people who move ahead speak only Gujarati. They feel ashamed of our language."
Like drivers speeding downtown at rush hour, these students see everyone else going the other way. A swelling class of Indian aspirants in small towns and in villages like this one sees English as a pathway to affluence, security and respect. They read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," but ask them to name a good novel in their mother tongue, and they may draw a blank.
Had it not been for Ganesh Devy, the young people in this rural community might have gone down that path. But more than a decade ago, the former English literature professor quit that work with a burning question on his mind: Why do we wait for cultures to die to memorialize them?
There are certain inevitabilities to the arc of development: Villagers emigrate. Life's pace quickens. Languages sputter and die. Years later, a foundation raises money, curators are retained and visitors explore a museum wondering what life then was like.
But what, Devy wondered, if there were a pre-emption doctrine for cultural preservation? His Adivasi Academy, where the dictionary-making was unfolding on a recent afternoon, is based on such a doctrine.
"There is a continent of culture getting submerged, and that's why I wanted to take the plunge," he said in an interview.
With funding from the Ford Foundation and other philanthropic groups, it tries to preserve a dying culture in real time, not by showcasing it globally, but by steeping a rising generation of villagers in their own fast-evaporating traditions.
India today does not lack for evaporating traditions. But this project has special resonance in a community chronically excluded even by the standards of India's chronically excluded. Tejgadh is home to one branch of India's vast population of adivasis, or "original people." They are, despite their more than 84 million members, modern India's most-forgotten group.
The adivasis, compared sometimes with Native Americans and Australia's Aborigines, are highly fragmented, with as many languages, cuisines and sartorial habits as there are clans. But there are common threads.
These clans traditionally lived in hilly or forested areas, where they hunted and foraged instead of farming, and lived nomadically instead of settling down. They are known for a respect for nature, for their bonesetters and shamans, for their worship of elephants and trees instead of abstract gods, for their lack of interest in material accumulation.
Unlike hundreds of millions of Indians, they have never had a caste system, telling them what to eat and where to work. If caste Hindus had one berth for bricklayers and another for priests, adivasis let a man lay bricks by day and lead prayers by night, and throw in toilet-cleaning and art-making to boot. Ordinary families produce necklaces and paintings in their spare time.
"Among adivasis, nobody is an artist because everybody is an artist," Devy said.
But in recent years some in Tejgadh have indeed specialized and become professional artists - the mere tip of a deeper, wider transformation.
Tejgadh is home to the Rathwa clan, famed for their wall paintings, known as pithora. When a person falls ill, the Rathwas often invite a painter to come along with a shaman. As the painter decorates the walls, the shaman enters a trance and guides his brushstrokes.
Earlier, Mansingh Dhanji, despite immense painting talent, had no way of building a name beyond the village. Then he was "discovered" by London and New York connoisseurs. He still lives in the village and creates illness-alleviation works. But now he spends much time away, painting on canvas rather than walls, for foreigners rather than kinfolk.
In various other ways, modernity is drizzling here, bringing new temptations to abandon the past.
Selfishness is creeping in, villagers say. When events demand a feast, they still do it the ancestral way. The man of the house corners a wild chicken. Feathers are plucked, tendons torn. A spicy curry is served with flat bread and flower wine.
Nowadays, though, when Dhanji's son, Hari, kills a chicken, he no longer invites the entire extended clan over for dinner. It is acceptable now to hoard everything for immediate family.
The Rathwas still make their own wine. But now, if a man brews a surplus, he sells rather than shares.
They still build their own homes. But now they hire laborers instead of calling over a cousin.
As urban mores pour into the village, young people pour out. Yet they are unprepared. They grew up speaking a language no one recognizes beyond their village, and crumbling schools leave them inexpert in Gujarati, Hindi and English, the languages of urban employment. In the cities, they cannot escape the most menial tasks.
When Devy was still an academic in Baroda, a major town in Gujarat State, he watched adivasi migrants arriving by the busload. They slept outdoors, turning up every morning at the human market where builders recruit laborers.
Devy wanted to combat this gravitational force. Could adivasis be persuaded to study their culture rather than shed it, and stay in the villages rather than flee?
The students at the academy he founded in 1996, drawn mostly from Gujarat but also beyond, study not sociology or biology, but autology: They study themselves.
In the academy's museum, adivasi culture is depicted as if it no longer existed. The exhibits feature kitchen implements, jars of adivasi foods, hand-tossed pottery, jugs for homemade liquor. If the idea were to explain adivasis to outsiders, New Delhi would be a better place. The goal is, instead, to impress upon adivasis that their culture is worthy of a museum, worthy of protection.
"If a community has a strong sense of identity and a sense of pride in that identity, it wants to survive and thrive," Devy said. "The new economy is important. The old culture is equally important. We should not throw the baby with the bath water."
Last year, India's government followed in his footsteps, chartering a National Tribal University in central India.
The Adivasi Academy's principal course is "tribal studies," which the dictionary-makers were pursuing. It also teaches sustainable agriculture, tribal linguistics and women's development, and it runs a supplementary school for young children. Its age range spans 6 to 30. Ninety percent of the faculty are adivasis, and students are generally taught in both Gujarati and Hindi, given the absence of books in their own languages.
Vikesh Rathwa, 27, graduated two years ago in tribal studies and, like most of the academy's alumni, chose to stay in the villages and work for Bhasha, the parent organization of the Adivasi Academy.
"Before, I thought I would get a B.A. and M.A. and make a film," he said. Immersion in his heritage changed his mind. His dissertation explored kitchen utensils and ancient recipes of the Rathwa clan.
"Coming here made me see my household life in a new way," he said.
He is writing a book that he plans to call "Adivasi Life: Art and Science," crammed with Rathwa folk wisdom: extracting oil from seeds, brewing liquor, kindling fires.
"We need to walk in step with our traditions," he said, quickly adding, "and with technology, too."
Mountain gorillas at mercy of Congo war factions
Monday, November 10, 2008
By Hereward Holland
East Congo's conflict has put more than a quarter of the world's last mountain gorillas at the mercy of armed groups who hunt and camp in their territory, park officials said on Monday.
With no rangers left to protect or care for them, the gorillas face even greater risk of extinction, they said.
Recent fighting between Tutsi rebels and the government army and its militia allies has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, home to the Virunga Park, Africa's oldest national park.
It has also eliminated all protection and effective conservation monitoring for 200 of the last remaining 700 mountain gorillas in the world, who live in the forested hills of Virunga, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda.
Virunga's Gorilla Sector has been in the hands of rebel General Laurent Nkunda's fighters since September 2007 and the Rumangabo park headquarters, from which conservation operations were run, fell to a rebel assault in October this year.
More than 50 wildlife rangers, who had spent years protecting the gorillas and other animals in Virunga, were forced to run for their lives, joining 200,000 other refugees sheltering around the North Kivu provincial capital Goma.
"It's not possible now to have any news about the gorillas," one displaced Virunga park ranger, Diddy Mwanaka, told Reuters.
"We don't know about their health, their security or if they remain in a secure place or not," he said, speaking at a makeshift camp housing refugee rangers and their families.
The park's website, www.gorilla.cd, chronicles the October 26 capture of the park's HQ by the rebels and its consequences.
Samantha Newport, communications director of the Virunga National Park, said park authorities were extremely concerned that the unprotected mountain gorilla families, or solitary gorillas, could now be caught up in the crossfire of combat.
"No one is looking after them in any way, shape or form," she said. At least 40 percent of the Virunga Park was no longer under the control of the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN).
Newport said that while park authorities did not believe that gorillas were being singled out for killing, they and other animals such as elephants, hippos and antelopes faced threats from armed groups, poachers, land invaders and charcoal burners who destroyed their forest habitat.
"All these rebel groups, from whatever side, use the park to train, to camp out, to rest and to eat," she said.
"We have problems of poaching of elephants, hippos, buffalo and antelope, just to name a few as a result of the presence of these armed groups in the park," Newport added, saying 40 elephants had been poached in Virunga this year alone.
Over the years, east Congo's conflict, which has persisted despite the formal end of a 1998-2003 war in the vast, former Belgian colony, has taken its toll on both the gorillas and the ICCN rangers who protect them.
More than 150 rangers have been killed in the last decade protecting parks in east Congo.
Virunga's Gorilla Sector suffered repeated attacks in 2007 during which 10 mountain gorillas were killed.
Newport said Nkunda's rebels saw the south of the border park as strategic territory. They used it as a supply route.
"At the moment, there is no chance of going back to the gorilla sector... When you have such a vulnerable, critically endangered population of animals, you really need to keep track of what is going on," she added.
Newport said that unlike other endangered species, mountain gorillas had never managed to reproduce in captivity.
"So the ones we have in the wild, that's it, when they're gone, that's it, they've gone," she said.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/ )
(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Dakar: Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Strong quake hits China's Qinghai region
Monday, November 10, 2008
BEIJING: A strong earthquake measuring 6.5 hit a sparsely populated area in China's western province of Qinghai on Monday, but there were no reports of deaths or injuries.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) originally put the magnitude of the quake at 6.7 but quickly revised it down to 6.5. China's Xinhua news agency put the magnitude of the tremor at 6.3.
Buildings shook in the remote mining city of Golmud and the regional capital, Xining.
State television said there had been no reports of deaths or injuries.
"We are on the tenth floor, so I felt a very strong tremor 10 minutes ago, but there's been no damage," said a Xining government official who only gave her surname, Wang.
The USGS said the epicentre of the quake was 161 km (101 miles)) north-northeast of Golmud at a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 km). Golmud is an industrial city that is dependent upon potassium mining.
Xinhua said some mud houses in Da Qaidam, near the epicentre, had cracks in their walls and a few huts had collapsed. Schools have also been closed.
Seven mining firms in the immediate vicinity had shut as a safety precaution, the Xinhua news agency said, listing coal mines and a base metals mine.
An official at the province's largest lead-zinc miner, Western Mining, said the company had not received any reports of damage at its mines.
(Reporting by Liu Zhen; Writing by Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani)
European tram makers stand to gain from U.S. streetcar push
By John Tagliabue
Monday, November 10, 2008
PARIS: America may have invented the streetcar, but Europe perfected it.
As a result, as gas prices soared over the past couple of years and dozens of North American communities sought to reintroduce electric streetcars as an alternative to diesel buses, some of the biggest beneficiaries were European tram builders.
Now, as the U.S. government gears up to support an expanded infrastructure program to counter the deepening recession, trams are likely to be one of building blocks for reviving the American economy and improving the nation's energy efficiency.
"If we get a program funded at the federal level, a lot of cities will be expressing interest," said Jeffrey Boothe, a Washington lawyer specializing in public transport. "At the end of the day, only lack of federal money was stopping them."
To be sure, there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome, particularly as state and local governments struggle to sell bonds in the midst of a credit market collapse.
But that is not stopping European companies like Siemens of Germany, AnsaldoBreda of Italy, CAF of Spain and Skoda of the Czech Republic from jockeying for position at the head of the line, eager to supply sleek new streetcars, now tagged light rail vehicles, for one of the few fast-growing markets for trams. Competition from elsewhere comes primarily from Bombardier of Canada and Kinki Sharyo of Japan.
In the second quarter of 2008, use of public transport rose by 5.2 percent, while light rail use jumped 12.3 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Association, or APTA. As of last year, almost 1,800 miles, or 2,900 kilometers, of tramways were operating or planned in American cities.
In May, Siemens, the market leader, landed a $277 million contract to supply streetcars to the Utah Transport Authority. The vehicles will be ready for service by 2012 and will be built at a Siemens factory in Sacramento, California. Earlier this year, Siemens signed a $184 million order for a new light rail line in Denver.
"The Denver development was not atypical," said Oliver Hauck, president and chief executive of Siemens Transportation Systems. "We began with an initial, small order" that eventually mushroomed into a substantial commitment. Siemens first delivered eight streetcars to Denver in 1993; the last order was for 55 cars, and Hauck expects more.
But the recent financial turmoil threatens the market. Cities and other local governments have been effectively shut out of the bond market. In October, at the annual gathering of the American Public Transportation Association in San Diego, California, discussions ran hot and cold.
"At one level, the gathering had the highest attendance ever," said Boothe, who took part. "At another level, as you talked to friends, everybody was looking at stock values."
American contracts have served as a crucial support for European tram builders, offsetting a slump in domestic markets. Other regions, like Eastern Europe and Asia, are controlled by local competitors.
Meanwhile, West European countries are close to saturation. A recent survey for the Association of the European Rail Industry by the Roland Berger consulting group forecast annual growth of about 1 percent for European light rail over the next decade, against more than 10 percent in North America.
Most European cities, even those with extensive subway systems, also rely on trams. For American cities, trams are increasingly seen as an alternative to far more expensive underground systems.
"Recent developments with trams, like lower noise levels," said Michael Clausecker, the association's director general, "have led to broad acceptance in city centers."
Streetcars mostly disappeared from U.S. cities after World War II, put out of business by the auto industry's support for buses and a general push to keep the streets clear for automobiles. Siemens got the North American trolly sales rolling again in 1975, when it signed deals to deliver modern light rail streetcars to Calgary and Edmonton, in Canada. Five years later, it delivered its first tram cars to the United States, to San Diego.
Obstacles abounded for the European manufacturers. For one thing, the Buy American Act, which applies to most government purchases, required that 60 percent of a tram car, by value, come from the United States.
Siemens, to meet the requirements, opened an assembly line in Sacramento to put together its trams for U.S. cities.
"We are now at 70 percent local content, with a potential for 90 percent," said Robin Stimson, a Siemens vice president.
Siemens has trams operating in Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston; Norfolk, Virginia; Portland, Oregon, and many other cities.
Buy American rules have required fancy footwork, while other European players have made the market increasingly competitive. The Czech Skoda group (no relation to Volkswagen's Skoda subsidiary) has delivered trams to Portland, Oregon, and Tacoma, Washington, and is now bidding for a contract in Toronto.
AnsaldoBreda, an affiliate of the Finmeccanica group of Italy, has delivered streetcars to Cleveland, as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, or CAF, of Spain has supplied transit systems in Pittsburgh and Sacramento.
Apart from the market for trams, Alstom, a large French conglomerate best known for making the high-speed TGV and Eurostar trains, has sold subway cars to several U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and Washington.
Though the Federal Transit Administration manages a $1.6 billion program for light rail, little of it, subject to complex distribution conditions, has been distributed to streetcar construction under the Bush administration. Financing has come mainly from local communities.
Federal spending on light rail systems totaled $473.4 million last year, down from $935.7 million in 2006, according to the Federal Transit Administration. "Cities opt to build locally, and eschew federal money," Boothe said.
That is likely to change under the incoming administration of Barack Obama. But other obstacles remain.
European standards differ from those in America. Moreover, trams in America travel at higher speeds than their counterparts in Europe, since they usually operate over longer distances, connecting city centers with suburbs, rather than circulating in downtown areas.
To reach the 60 percent local content level, some manufacturers, like Siemens, have opened factories in the United States; others have hitched up with local partners. Skoda, for example, assembled trams for Portland and Tacoma in conjunction with the Oregon Iron Works, near Portland.
Competition is fierce. Bombardier of Canada knows the U.S. market well. Kinki Sharyo of Japan, an affiliate of Kintetsu, is known for sharp elbows. The Japanese have supplied trams to California's Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority; to New Jersey's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, and to the Sound Transit Central Link in Seattle.
Cities that want copies of old-fashioned trolley cars, like Charlotte, Little Rock, Arkansas and Tampa, Florida, have acquired them from Gomaco Trolley, a unit of Gomaco, an Iowa-based maker of construction equipment.
The Europeans are optimistic that light rail will continue to spread in the United States and Canada.
"Of course we're closely monitoring financial markets," Clausecker, the European association director, said. "But we have strong order books," he added, and "at this point in time we don't recognize an impact. That doesn't say there won't be one."
Obama's top aide urges help for auto industry
By Anahad O'connor
Monday, November 10, 2008
In his first televised interviews since being named the chief of staff for President-elect Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel on Sunday called for swifter action to lift the struggling auto industry and suggested Obama and President George W. Bush might clash over a stimulus package.
On the first weekend since Obama was elected president, several of his aides said his administration would attempt to roll back a number of Bush administration policies, including tight restrictions on stem cell research and a push for oil and gas drilling in Utah. The statements indicated that the first few months of an Obama administration could bring about stark reversals on controversial policies.
But Obama's aides emphasized that his first priority would be finding ways to repair the battered economy, whose latest woes include a steep drop-off in retail sales and the loss of about one million jobs. The auto industry has been particularly hard hit, with Ford and General Motors pleading for government help after car sales plummeted 18 percent this quarter. General Motors, the country's largest carmaker, reported a $4.2 billion third-quarter operating loss, and said it may be on the brink of collapse.
Over the weekend, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, sent a letter to the Bush administration requesting that funds from the $700 billion bailout package — intended for Wall Street — be used to help carmakers as well. But the White House has signaled that it would oppose such a measure.
When asked on the ABC television program "This Week" where Obama stood on the issue, Emanuel seemed to suggest that Obama, as a last resort, might be open to tapping the rescue fund to help carmakers, calling the auto industry an "essential part of our industrial base."
He added that Obama has asked his economic team to look at ways to involve the industry in shaping an energy policy that weans the country off foreign oil, seeking ways to use the $25 billion in loans that Congress passed in September to help make auto plants more capable of producing fuel-efficient cars. But industry officials asked last week for an additional $50 billion for other costs. When pressed on whether Obama would endorse using some of the $700 billion rescue package for that purpose, Emanuel would not say whether Obama specifically opposed or supported the idea.
"So there's no reason to think he's opposed to what Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid want?" George Stephanopoulos, the host of "This Week," asked.
"George, I just outlined the four basis points," Emanuel responded. "There's authorities, both on the $25 billion that's been laid out, as well as other authorities to help the auto industry, but all part of a strategy that's going forward on a retooled auto industry that's focused on our energy independence and our economy."
In his first months in office, Obama could stir controversy by seeking to overturn a number of Bush initiatives that have frustrated Democrats for eight years. On "Fox News Sunday," John Podesta, a co-chair of Obama's transition team, said that Obama might consider using his executive authority to change stem cell and oil-drilling policies without waiting for congressional action.
"I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," he said. "They want to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah."
"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority," he added, "and I think we'll see the president do that to try to restore the — a sense that the country is working on behalf of the common good."
On ABC, Emanuel was clear on where Obama also stood on questions about a stimulus plan for the economy, and suggested it may be an issue on which Obama and Bush butt heads before the inauguration on Jan. 20. Obama has said he wants to see a plan put in place quickly, but the Bush administration has said it would be reluctant to support one unless Congress attached to it the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Asked if Obama would accept that compromise to move the plan forward, Emanuel was blunt.
"You don't link those essential needs to some other trade deal," he said.
"There's an economic recovery package in front of the Congress," he added. "Washington should get it done."
On ABC and CBS's "Face the Nation," Emanuel would not say whether Obama would consider postponing a tax increase on upper-income Americans.
Emanuel also avoided drawing the president-elect into some smaller political skirmishes. Stephanopoulos asked whether Obama thought it was appropriate to deny Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee as punishment for his ardent campaigning on behalf of Sen. John McCain. "What happens on the House and Senate, on chairmanship, is their business," replied Emanuel, a House member from Illinois and a former Clinton aide.
Emanuel was also asked about a Chicago television report that Obama had chosen Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and the co-chair of his transition team, to replace him in the senate. Emanuel said he had not seen the report, but added "I don't think there's been any decision or any discussion" on the issue.
Jarrett, who also appeared on "Meet the Press," did not discuss whether she had been tapped to succeed Obama.
GM shares collapse after negative analyst comment
Monday, November 10, 2008
NEW YORK: General Motors' shares fell as much as 31 percent in Monday after a raft of negative comments from analysts.
GM will probably fall below its minimum cash needs of $11 billion to $14 billion in the first quarter of 2009 if the troubled automaker does not receive additional funding, a Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson, said.
He downgraded GM to "underweight" from "equal weight."
Deutsche Bank also cut GM to "sell" from "hold," and saw an equity value of $0 for the stock, according to a report on theflyonthewall.com. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.
"While further government assistance would decrease the likelihood of a GM bankruptcy, we believe any government assistance would likely significantly dilute GM's equity," Johnson of Barclays wrote in a note to clients.
Johnson cut his price target on the stock to $1 from $4.
"Of the four broad options for government assistance for GM, we believe that political pressure to protect taxpayers may lead to a solution similar to the 1979 Chrysler bailout, which was accompanied by concessions from debt holders, labor, suppliers and management," Johnson said.
"In any scenario, we see little value for current equity," he added.
Separately, an analyst at JP Morgan Securities said both GM and Ford Motor were likely to receive government aid, even as he widened his loss estimates for both companies after they reported far deeper-than-expected quarterly losses.
"Ford management's commentary on the third-quarter call as well as GM's comments raises our optimism that some form of government help is likely given dire Big 3 liquidity," the JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel wrote in a note to clients.
On Friday, President-elect Barack Obama said help for the U.S. auto industry was a high priority and urged the administration of George W. Bush to do "everything it can" to accelerate disbursement of $25 billion of loans to the industry previously approved to make fuel economy improvements.
"We view government aid as probable and likely sufficient in amount, but significant uncertainty exists surrounding the form of this aid," Patel said.
Any government aid for GM is likely to come with significant taxpayer protection measures, suggesting near-term or eventual equity dilution, he added.
"GM equity could be interesting longer term, but we advise near-term caution given uncertainty on the structure of any potential government aid," Patel wrote in a note to clients.
The analyst widened his 2008 loss estimates for GM to $27.86 per share from $21, and for Ford to $3.35 from $3.20.
He also widened his 2009 loss estimates for GM to $22 from $16.25, and for Ford to $3.10 from $1.90.
On Friday, GM and Ford said their rate of cash depletion had accelerated. The two burned through a combined $14.6 billion in cash in the face of deepening global downturn.
Ford and GM also said they expected their rate of cash use to decline in the fourth quarter.
JP Morgan's Patel said he expected GM would end 2008 with $12.6 billion of cash on hand, exclusive of government loans and modeling only $3 billion of capital raise.
Shares of GM were trading down $1.31 at $3.04 Monday morning on the New York Stock Exchange, while those of Ford were down about 5 percent at $1.92.
Retired GM workers struggle to replace health care
By Nick Bunkley
Monday, November 10, 2008
DETROIT: General Motors is living on borrowed time, spending more than $2 billion in cash a month and lobbying the U.S. government for a bailout to keep it out of bankruptcy.
And for about 100,000 of its white-collar retirees, time is about to run out on GM's gold-plated medical benefits.
To conserve its dwindling cash reserves, GM is eliminating lifetime health care coverage for its legions of retirees at the end of this year, leaving people like Ken Hewitt to fend for themselves in deciding how to cover their doctors' bills and prescription drug costs.
"Everybody felt like they were set for life," said Hewitt, 81, who retired from the former Chevrolet Engineering Center in 1982 and lives north of Detroit. "It's been difficult, but the information they've given us has been beneficial. Still, when you get to be our age, it's tough to make any big changes like that."
GM has had little choice this year but to make deep cuts wherever it can, including benefits that were long considered sacred.
The move was announced in July as part of a package of broad cutbacks to increase the company's liquidity, including a 20 percent reduction in payroll for salaried workers and suspension of GM's annual stock dividend of $1 a share.
But even these and other measures have not been enough to stabilize the company's finances, as the auto industry suffers from a weakening economy and tight credit that makes it hard for shoppers to get loans.
On Friday, GM warned that it might run short of cash by mid-2009, and it is asking for federal help with greater urgency.
GM has estimated that eliminating white-collar retiree medical benefits, in addition to pay and staff cuts in its current white-collar work force, will save the company about $1.5 billion annually. Union contracts prevent the company from revoking coverage for former factory workers. Ford and Chrysler already have cut health coverage for salaried retirees.
In fact, paying the cost of hospital stays, surgeries and expensive drugs for retirees, a group larger than GM's active work force, is a major reason the company's financial woes are so great. GM says it spent $4.6 billion in 2007 on health care for its one million employees and retirees and their dependents.
Many retirees say they are aware of the burden these costs represent to the company, so they do not blame GM for cutting them off. Even so, they lament the demise of such a valuable perk.
"If the company goes out of business, we'll lose everything anyway," said Richard Moore, 70, who held management positions at GM plants in New York and Illinois before retiring in 1991 to suburban Phoenix. "You can't survive by giving away everything."
GM's decision to halt health care benefits for salaried retirees at age 65 means that nationwide, former engineers, plant managers and executives are anxiously trying to decipher various combinations of Medicare and other insurance plans.
For months they have been poring over stacks of brochures and sitting through sometimes-baffling sales pitches ahead of an enrollment window that opens this month and ends Dec. 31. Because GM told them that it would cover their health care for life, few studied up on Medicare and other coverage options as they approached retirement.
"Some of these people have been on GM's plan for 40 or 50 years, and now all of this is thrown at them," said Jack Dickinson, a GM retiree who runs the Web site OverTheHillCarPeople.com. "People are highly upset, confused and totally lost. The Medicare system is very hard for older people to tackle."
To help retirees pay for their new coverage, GM is raising monthly pension payments by $300, which typically means $240 or $255 after taxes.
The cost of replacement coverage varies, depending on a person's needs. Some find that they can get adequate benefits for about the same amount as their pension increase, but others must now find several hundred dollars more in their monthly budget.
"Anyone that thinks they can go out and replace insurance that you had with General Motors for $255 and get the same kind of coverage, I'd like to sell them a bridge in Wisconsin somewhere," said Dickinson, 65, whose irritation with GM's move is apparent in the headline "GM Robs Their Elderly Retirees" on his Web site atop information about the changeover.
Shift to solar and wind power could threaten U.S. electrical grid
By Matthew L. Wald
Monday, November 10, 2008
WASHINGTON: Adding electricity from the wind and the sun could increase the frequency of blackouts and reduce the reliability of the U.S. electrical grid, an industry report says.
The North American Electric Reliability Corp. says in a report scheduled for release Monday that unless appropriate measures are taken to improve transmission of electricity, rules reducing carbon dioxide emissions by utilities could impair the reliability of the power grid. The corporation is the industry body authorized by the U.S. government to enforce reliability rules for the interlocking system of electrical power generation and transmission.
Such carbon-reduction rules are already in place in 27 American states and four Canadian provinces, and new ones could be mandated nationally in both countries. They may force changes in the utility industry, the group said, including the shutting down of coal plants that are located near load centers, and substituting power from wind turbines or solar plants in remote areas.
These actions would impose new demands on a transmission system that was never designed for large power transfers over extremely long distances.
The group also said that the carbon emission rules could increase reliance on natural gas, making power generation vulnerable to supply interruptions.
Carbon emission initiatives are the "No. 1 emerging issue" for the grid, according to Rick Sergel, president and chief executive of the group, which is based in Princeton, New Jersey. Renewable energy can form a larger portion of electricity supplies without reducing reliability, Sergel said, but not without investments in transmission.
The overhauled electric system that has emerged in the last two decades already has inadequate transmission capacity, he said. Independent power producers have built generating stations that compete in a geographically vast marketplace to serve distant consumers. "The transmission system is being used closer to its limits more of the time than at any time in the past," Sergel said.
The report was based on information from 50 utilities, power generators and other electric system participants. It quotes Kenneth Farmer, executive director of the Beauregard Electric Cooperative, of DeRidder, Louisiana, saying, "It appears that greenhouse gas issues and electric utility reliability are on a collision course."
The report calls for construction of new power lines, which has become more difficult in some regions because of the diminished clout of utilities and the growing strength of preservationists trying to protect rural areas. Building new lines to reach distant areas with great potential for power generation will take a new approach to planning, the report said.
One solution, it said, might be greater use of "demand-side resources," or deals with customers to cut consumption in periods of high energy use. In these arrangements, some retail customers agree to have equipment like central air-conditioners or swimming pool pumps controlled by utilities, which can limit their use at peak times. Some big customers, like factories, may voluntarily shut down on peak use days. Both groups get a discount or a regular payment in exchange for becoming "interruptible."
Such measures can relieve pressure on generating stations and transmission lines, but require reliable integration with the transmission system, the report said.
Some experts say they think that imposing hard limits on carbon dioxide emissions could threaten the reliability of the power supply.
Peter Carney, an environmental engineer at the New York Independent System Operator, which runs the bulk power transmission system in New York, said that such problems could result from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, of which New York is a member. Under that agreement, utilities get allowances for carbon emissions. But under some conditions — a spike in demand because of severe weather, or the lengthy shutdown of a nuclear plant — the only way to obtain more power could be to burn more coal, increasing carbon emissions. It is not clear how such conflicts would be resolved.
Nigeria militants threaten new "oil war" if attacked
Monday, November 10, 2008
By Randy Fabi
Nigeria's most prominent militant group threatened on Monday to renew attacks on the oil sector if soldiers stormed its hideouts, but a military spokesman denied such plans.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it believed the military was planning to launch an assault on two of its camps in Delta and Bayelsa states in southern Nigeria.
"This will be a big mistake as it will lead to another oil war where we are sure of a landslide victory," it said in an e-mailed statement.
Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Musa, spokesman for the military task force in Bayelsa, denied any plan to attack militant camps.
"It is always a media war. They are just trying to hype the tension," he said.
In September MEND staged what it called a six-day "oil war," attacking oil installations and forcing Royal Dutch Shell to warn it might not be able to meet all its export commitments from Nigeria.
The group has since declared a cease-fire and repeatedly accused the military of trying to provoke it into confrontation.
Attacks by MEND have cut Nigeria's oil output by around a fifth since early 2006. The country is currently pumping just under 2 million barrels per day, well below its capacity of around 3 million bpd, because of the insecurity and chronic funding shortfalls.
The militant group said on Sunday it would continue to hold two Britons hostage until the British government dropped plans to train Nigerian soldiers in the delta, the heart of the OPEC member's oil sector.
The two captives were among 27 oil workers kidnapped by gunmen in early September.
At least 21 of the hostages have been released and MEND said it freed four others late on Sunday. But a military spokesman on Monday could not confirm the release of the four hostages.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)
Racers in Vendee Globe start nonstop solo quest
Monday, November 10, 2008
Before leaving the dock in Les Sables d'Olonne on the west coast of France, the British sailor Alex Thomson had already passed his first major challenge of the Vendee Globe, the grueling single-handed, nonstop around-the-world race that began Sunday.
Thomson, a race favorite, has spent the past 22 days completing the repair of a 5-by-12-foot hole in his 60-foot carbon fiber racing sailboat, Hugo Boss, which was run through by a fishing boat while being delivered for the race.
This year's race includes a record 30 competitors, and for the first time the world's top solo ocean-racing sailors will be on the 26,000-nautical-mile course together. And this time, Thomson, 34, is determined to keep his slick black boat on course to victory. He dropped out of the last running of the Vendee Globe in 2004-5 and abandoned his first Hugo Boss sailboat in last year's Velux 5 Oceans Race.
"I have had to just focus on fixing the boat and nothing else," Thomson said in a telephone interview Sunday before the 1 p.m. start.
"It wasn't until yesterday that I was able to think I need to get into race mode."
Thomson and his rivals motored past more than 100,000 cheering spectators along the beaches and jetties of this old port city, the host to all six Vendee Globes since the event began in 1989. The race started against a calm south westerly breeze in the Bay of Biscay that was expected to rise to a full gale by Monday afternoon.
The sailors are racing the newest Open 60 boats, designed to a measurement rule that allows for innovation but keeps the boats evenly matched. They are made for the downwind prevailing breezes of the west-to-east course, with wide, flat, stable sterns that skim across the waves at high speeds and massive sails made of strong, lightweight fibers like Kevlar and Spectra.
The boats have been refined to top 40 miles an hour in the open ocean. And with "intelligent" autopilots that steer the boat like a human more than 90 percent of the time, skippers are free to track the fastest routes and fine-tune each sail for speed. They do all this while sleeping in 15-minute spurts for an average of two hours each day.
"This is the World Cup in this sport," Denis Horeau, the race director for the Vendee Globe, said via telephone. "Everyone, all the best sailors want to be here. It's their Everest."
Compared with other global ocean races - including the Volvo Ocean Race, the crewed, multileg sprint that started with eight teams from Spain last month - the Vendee Globe is considered the most extreme sailing event in the world.
Vincent Riou, a Frenchman who broke the race record in 2005 when he finished in 87 days 10 hours 47 minutes, appeared on track for another record attempt this year. But he collided with what he said he thought was a shark during the Artemis Transat Race in May and had to abandon his PRB. He was rescued by the race winner, Loick Peyron, one of his fiercest competitors. His boat was recovered, but, like Thomson, he is sailing a repaired boat.
Peyron, Riou and the rest of the fleet will be pushing hard to complete the race in 80 days. It has been 15 years since a crewed catamaran circled the globe in less than 80 days, but that record has yet to be broken by a monohull. Horeau said he believed this latest generation of Open 60s, most launched this year, would shave more than a week off the current record.
Although Thomson finished second in this year's Barcelona World Race, a double-handed, nonstop around-the-world race, he has yet to make that trip solo. He said he was hoping that his 11th-hour repairs would hold up to the bashing he expected from the weather and his competitors.
"I love the challenges of the southern Ocean," Thomson said. "To get out there racing and focusing on boat speed, this is what I have been training towards. It's really amazing, more people have climbed Mount Everest than who have achieved our feat."
Order allows U.S. military to attack Al Qaeda worldwide
By Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti
Monday, November 10, 2008
WASHINGTON: The U.S. military since 2004 has used broad secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militant groups in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior U.S. officials.
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 at the direction of President George W. Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack Al Qaeda anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.
In 2006, for example, a U.S. Navy Seal team raided a compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan that was suspected of being used by militants, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission - captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft - in real time in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center at the agency's headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles, or 11,000 kilometers, away.
Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the CIA, according to senior U.S. officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of CIA-directed operations, senior U.S. officials said.
But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on evidence not sufficient to justify an attack.
More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials as well as senior Bush administration policymakers, described details of the 2004 military order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.
Apart from the 2006 raid into Pakistan, the U.S. officials refused to describe in detail what they said had been nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries. They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested that U.S. forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using different classified directives.
According to a senior administration official, the authority was spelled out in a classified document called "al-Qaida Network Exord," or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Whereas in the past the Pentagon needed to obtain approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the order specified a way for Pentagon planners to receive permission for a mission far more quickly, the official said.
It also allowed senior officials to think through how the United States would respond if a mission went badly. "If that helicopter goes down in Syria en route to a target," the official said, "the American response would not have to be worked out on the fly."
The 2004 order was a step marking the evolution of how the U.S. government sought to kill or capture Qaeda militants around the world. It was issued after the Bush administration had already granted U.S. intelligence agencies sweeping power to secretly detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in overseas prisons and to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications.
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush issued a classified order authorizing the CIA to kill or capture Qaeda militants around the world. By 2003, U.S. intelligence agencies and the military had developed a much deeper understanding of Al Qaeda's extensive global network, and Rumsfeld pressed hard to unleash the military's vast firepower against militants outside the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 2004 order identifies 15 to 20 countries, including Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and several other Gulf states, where Qaeda militants were believed to be operating or to have sought sanctuary, a senior administration official said.
Even with the order, each specific mission requires high-level government approval. Targets in Somalia, for instance, need at least the approval of the defense secretary, the administration official said, while targets in a handful of countries, including Pakistan and Syria, require presidential approval.
The Pentagon has exercised its authority frequently in recent years, dispatching commandos to countries including Pakistan and Somalia. Details of a few of these strikes have previously been reported.
For example, shortly after Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia in late 2006 to dislodge an Islamist regime in Mogadishu, the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command quietly sent operatives and AC-130 gunships to an airstrip near the Ethiopian town of Dire Dawa. From there, members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of a Qaeda cell believed to be responsible for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
At the time, U.S. officials said Special Operations troops were operating under a classified directive authorizing the military to kill or capture Qaeda operatives if failure to act quickly would mean the United States had lost a "fleeting opportunity" to neutralize the enemy.
Occasionally, the officials said, Special Operations troops would land in Somalia to assess the results of airstrikes. On Jan. 7, 2007, an AC-130 struck an isolated fishing village near the Kenyan border, and within hours, U.S. commandos and Ethiopian troops were examining the rubble to determine whether any Qaeda operatives had been killed.
But even with the authority, proposed Pentagon missions were sometimes scrubbed because of bad intelligence or bureaucratic entanglements, senior administration officials said.
The details of one of those aborted operations, in early 2005, were reported by The New York Times last June. In that case, an operation to send a team of navy Seals and army Rangers into Pakistan to capture Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy, was aborted at the last minute.
Zawahri was believed by intelligence officials to be attending a meeting in Bajaur, in Pakistani tribal areas, and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command hastily formulated a plan to capture him. There were strong disagreements inside the Pentagon and the CIA about the quality of the intelligence, however, and some in the military expressed concern that the mission was unnecessarily risky.
Porter Goss, the CIA director at the time, urged the military to carry out the mission, and some in the CIA even wanted to execute it without informing Ryan Crocker, then the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. Rumsfeld ultimately refused to authorize the mission.
Former military and intelligence officials said that Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who recently completed his tour as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, pressed for years to get commando missions into Pakistan approved. But the missions were frequently rejected because officials in Washington determined that the risks to U.S. troops and the alliance with Pakistan were too great.
Captain John Kirby, a spokesman for McChrystal, who is now director of the military's Joint Staff, declined to comment.
The recent raid into Syria was not the first time that Special Operations forces had operated in that country, according to a senior military official and an outside adviser to the Pentagon.
Since the Iraq war began, the official and the outside adviser said, Special Operations forces have several times made cross-border raids aimed at militants and infrastructure aiding the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The raid in late October, however, was much more significant than the previous raids, which helps explain why it drew a sharp protest from the Syrian government.
Negotiations to hammer out the 2004 order took place over nearly a year and involved wrangling between the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department about the military's proper role around the world, several administration officials said.
U.S. officials said there had been debate over whether to include Iran in the 2004 order, but ultimately Iran was set aside, possibly to be dealt with under a separate authorization.
Senior officials of the State Department and the CIA voiced fears that military commandos would encroach on their turf, conducting operations that historically the CIA had carried out, and running missions without an ambassador's knowledge or approval.
Rumsfeld had pushed in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks to expand the mission of Special Operations troops to include intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations in countries where U.S. commandos had not operated before.
Bush administration officials have shown a determination to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provided a legal rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries' consent.
Several officials said the negotiations over the 2004 order resulted in closer coordination between the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA, and set a very high standard for the quality of intelligence necessary to gain approval for an attack.
The 2004 order also provided a foundation for the orders that Bush approved in July allowing the military to conduct raids into the Pakistani tribal areas, including the Sept. 3 operation by Special Operations forces that killed about 20 militants, U.S. officials said.
Administration officials said that Bush's approval had paved the way for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to sign an order - separate from the 2004 order - that specifically directed the military to plan a series of operations, in cooperation with the CIA, on the Qaeda network and other militant groups linked to it in Pakistan.
Unlike the 2004 order, in which Special Operations commanders nominated targets for approval by senior government officials, the order in July was more of a top-down approach, directing the military to work with the CIA to find targets in the tribal areas, administration officials said. They said each target still needed to be approved by the group of Bush's top national security and foreign policy advisers, called the Principals Committee.
Guard says Turkish military shells northern Iraq
Monday, November 10, 2008
SULAIMANIYA, Iraq: Turkish artillery shelled northern Iraq on Monday, Colonel Hussein Tamor, head of the border guards in Iraq's northern Kurdish province of Dahuk, told Reuters.
PKK Kurdish separatist fighters use northern Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region as a base to launch attacks on targets in southeastern Turkey, and Turkish forces have frequently retaliated with air and artillery strikes.
Triple bombing kills 28 in Baghdad
By Anwar J. Ali, Katherine Zoepf and Stephen Farrell
Monday, November 10, 2008
BAGHDAD: A synchronized triple-bombing killed 28 people in northern Baghdad early Monday morning, the Interior Ministry said. It was the deadliest attack in Baghdad since June, when a car bombing killed 51.
The bombers struck a main street of a mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhood in the Adhamiyah district about 8:15 a.m., when the street was bustling with street cleaners and commuters heading to work.
Bombs planted in two parked cars exploded about five minutes apart, according to an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. As a crowd gathered in the chaos, a suicide bomber darted into it and detonated his payload.
Two local hospitals reported that a total of 49 people were brought in for treatment, some with serious injuries, but the Interior Ministry said 68 people were wounded.
The bombings, along with a suicide attack in Baquba on Monday, seem to be part of an uptick in violence after a relatively quiet few weeks here. On Sunday, at least 12 Iraqis were killed in a spate of attacks, many of them in provinces outside of Baghdad where Iraqi-led security operations had taken place recently. On Saturday, at least 11 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad and Anbar Province.
An hour after the blasts in Baghdad on Monday, shattered glass and pools of blood covered the street between two large restaurants. One sold shawarma sandwiches, a popular snack, and chunks of grilled meat were strewn across the road, along with torn-open canisters of cooking gas.
A burst sewer pipe leaked murky water, and a municipal bus was badly damaged, its white plastic seats splashed with blood.
Ganiya Kareem, 60, who was walking through Kasra with her toddler grandson, said she witnessed "a bus turned into a lump of coal."
Hamza Abdul Kareem, a 37-year-old army sergeant, said that until Monday his neighborhood had been "peaceful and beautiful." That morning, he said, he saw a young mother sitting in the bus with a baby in her arms, both of them dead.
In Medical City, a hospital in central Baghdad where the largest number of wounded were taken, Ahmed Abdul Kadr, 13, a day laborer, lay dazed on a bed in the ground floor emergency room, his green cotton shorts caked with blood.
Ahmed said he had come to the capital last week from his home in Hilla, to the south, in search of work. He found it as a ditch digger, and was helping to excavate a stretch of pavement in Kasra when the first explosion knocked him flat.
"I was digging together with one man, but he died right there," Ahmed said. "My legs are filled with shrapnel, but I'll be all right. I'm going to go home for a while, but then I'll come to Baghdad and find another job."
Also Monday, a young female suicide bomber blew herself up at a checkpoint near Baquba, north of Baghdad, killing four and wounding 15, according to a local security official. The bomber appeared to be aiming for members of the Awakening movement, a Sunni counterinsurgency group, who were staffing the checkpoint. Two of the dead and seven of the wounded were Awakening members.
Security officials in Diyala Province, of which Baquba is the capital, said that only the head and the feet of the bomber had been recovered, but that she appeared to be about 15 years old.
She was the second female suicide bomber to strike in Iraq in two days. On Sunday, a woman blew herself up at a hospital in Anbar Province, killing another woman.
In Baghdad Province the Iraqi government has begun taking over the payment of tens of thousands of Awakening members, a group of mostly Sunni Arabs who have worked with the Americans to fight Islamic extremists and until Oct. 1 were paid by the U.S. military.
The Iraqi payouts began this week in west Baghdad, and will continue later in the month in other areas.
At a joint U.S. and Iraqi outpost in Jihad neighborhood, scores of Awakening guards received 354,000 dinars, the Iraqi equivalent of their old $300 monthly salary under the Americans. Awakening leaders will receive $425.
Staff Colonel Ali Aboud Thamer, the Iraqi commander of Jihad and Furat districts, pronounced himself "very happy." As he spoke each of the Awakening guards, very likely including former insurgents who once fought his own men, lined up at a table covered in piles of fresh banknotes, some saluting as they were handed the cash.
The colonel estimated that 60 percent of the new Awakening guards who had just come under his command were good, adding: "I have the utmost confidence in them. They are our people. Whether they are bad or good I am going to mold them into good men, to be good sons of Iraq."
Critics of the Shiite-led Iraqi government have expressed fears that it would fail to engage with the Sunni-dominated Awakening groups, some of whom said they feared being arrested or marginalized by their new masters.
However the first Awakening recipients of Iraqi salaries on Monday pronounced themselves delighted to be on the Iraqi payroll.
Brigadier General Robin Swan, a deputy commanding general of American forces in the Baghdad division, also said he believed that the transition from American control to that of the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki would continue to go smoothly.
"Prime Minister Maliki has made it very clear that this is an important program," he said. "He has taken extraordinary measures. I think that this will be a success story as a reconciliation measure."
Abducted Canadian reporter describes ordeal
The Associated Press
Monday, November 10, 2008
KABUL: Mellissa Fung says her captors kept her blindfolded for four weeks in an underground cave so low that the Canadian journalist could barely stand. Chains bound her hands and feet during her last week as a prisoner.
Afghan tribal elders and government officials won her safe release late Saturday, 28 days after she was taken from a refugee camp in Kabul while conducting interviews for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
In a video released Sunday, Fung was seen meeting with the Afghan intelligence chief and the Canadian ambassador. Fung insisted she was fine but apologized for the situation, despite the fact that the refugee camp where she conducted interviews had been visited by many journalists previously and was considered safe to visit.
"I'm sorry for all the trouble," Fung said.
In the videotape, taken by Afghan intelligence agents and released Sunday, Fung tells the Canadian ambassador that she is not hurt and that she hopes people won't make "a big fuss" over her situation.
Fung was held captive for a month in a dangerous region of Wardak Province, an area west of Kabul that is overrun by Taliban militants. No officials would say whether Fung was held by the Taliban or a criminal gang, but given the location, Taliban involvement seemed likely.
Crimes against Westerners have spiked in Kabul in recent weeks.
An aid worker with dual South African-British citizenship was killed by Taliban gunmen in a Kabul neighborhood last month, and a French aid worker was kidnapped at gunpoint in Kabul on Nov. 3.
One day before Fung's release, a second Western female journalist - a Dutch citizen, Joanie de Rijke - was freed a week after being kidnapped, Belgian officials said.
Fung, a well-known television journalist in Canada, was taken on Oct. 12. Neither her abduction nor de Rijke's were widely reported. Western news organizations honored requests by the reporters' employers and governments not to report the abductions to protect the women's lives during efforts to win their release.
As the two journalists were held hostage, the French aid worker was abducted off the street in Kabul last Monday. News organizations reported the man's abduction, in part because an Afghan intelligence agent died in the process. The French worker's aid group never made a request to news media outlets not to report the news, though the kidnapping was publicly reported so quickly that it probably would not have done any good.
John Cruickshank, publisher of CBC News, had appealed to news organizations not to publicize Fung's capture and said after her release that he had no doubt it would have been more dangerous and difficult for Fung if negotiations had been conducted "in the full glare of international media attention."
"In my view, when we know that public scrutiny can imperil the safety of innocent victims of a crime such as this, our choice is unavoidable," he said. "We must put the safety of the victim ahead of our instinct for full transparency and disclosure."
Afghan news media reported the kidnapping, but no international outlets did so aside from a few Chinese Web sites.
Minister says Canada won't extend Afghan commitment
Monday, November 10, 2008
TORONTO: Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said on Sunday that a stepped-up emphasis by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on fighting terrorism in Afghanistan won't change Canada's plans to pull its military out of that country in 2011.
"While we welcome of course the Americans' renewed interest in Afghanistan, particularly President-elect Obama's position during the campaign ... the U.S. position will not change Canada's position as defined in our parliamentary resolution," Cannon said in an interview with CTV.
"We will be pulling out our military forces in 2011 and that is quite clear."
Canada has about 2,500 troops deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in the southern province of Kandahar. It has committed to extending its mission there until the end of 2011.
Since the Afghan deployment began in 2002, 97 members of the Canadian Forces have been reported killed there.
Cannon, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after a Conservative minority government was returned to power in an October 15 federal election, also said he saw similarities between Obama's environmental policies and those of the Canadian government.
"We feel that this could eventually lead to a North American approach to the environment as well as finding ways to ... reduce greenhouse gases, Cannon said. "So we are quite enthusiastic about this."
(Reporting by Frank McGurty, Editing by Philip Barbara)
Formal report drafted on Syria atom probe
Monday, November 10, 2008
By Mark Heinrich
The U.N. nuclear watchdog is drafting an investigative report on Syria for the first time, suggesting to Western diplomats the agency has found some sign of undeclared activity at a site bombed by Israel last year.
Moreover, Syria has been made an official agenda item at the year-end November 27-28 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, unlike previously when IAEA officials said initial inquiries were inconclusive.
The IAEA has been probing Syria since May over U.S. intelligence allegations that it was close to completing a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor with North Korean help before Israel flattened the site in an air strike.
Syria denies pursuing nuclear energy for atomic bomb purposes in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It says the unverified U.S. intelligence was fabricated.
A restricted copy of the 35-nation meeting's agenda said Syria was added to address a pending report by IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei, similar in format to those issued quarterly on an agency probe into Iran's secretive nuclear programme.
"The agency clearly thinks it has something significant enough to report to put Syria on the (nuclear safeguards) agenda right after North Korea and Iran," said a senior diplomat with ties to the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog.
"We do not have firm word on what the inspectors found (at the site), only that the findings suggest there are more questions to pursue," said another senior diplomat accredited to the agency.
The diplomats asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing politically sensitive and confidential information.
Syria -- an ally of Iran, which is subject of a much longer-running, and now stalled, IAEA investigation -- has one declared nuclear site -- an old research reactor.
ElBaradei told an IAEA board meeting in September that preliminary findings from test samples taken by inspectors granted a visit in June to the desert location hit by Israel bore no traces of atomic activity.
Diplomats said the IAEA apparently had now evaluated all the environmental swipe samples but exactly what the sleuths found remained unclear and would be laid out in the report.
Syria says all that was there was a disused military building, not a clandestine nuclear complex of North Korean design that could have yielded plutonium for atomic bomb fuel as Washington has maintained.
It told the IAEA in September it was cooperating fully with the IAEA inquiry but would not go as far as opening up military sites because this would undermine its security.
ElBaradei said then that Syrian cooperation had been "good" but Damascus needed to show "maximum cooperation" for the agency to draw conclusions.
Diplomats close to the IAEA say Syria has ignored agency requests to check three military installations that may have harboured materials connected to the alleged reactor site.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)
Georgians fleeing border town
By Olesya Vartanyan and Ellen Barry
Monday, November 10, 2008
PEREVI, Georgia: Dozens of Georgians crowded onto a rickety bus Monday, clambering over one another to flee this remote mountain village, which has become a flash point of mounting tensions on the boundary of South Ossetia.
They left behind a nearly deserted village, whose remaining residents are afraid to come out onto the streets for fear of attracting the attention of Ossetian soldiers patrolling the area. Russian troops continued to withdraw from the main checkpoint at the western edge of Perevi, leaving Ossetians in charge of a tense population.
Darejan Bakradze, 50, removed most of her valuables from Perevi on Monday morning, but returned in the afternoon to look after her mother-in-law. Passing the checkpoint, she grew pale and shaky at the sight of Ossetian soldiers.
"I want the Russians to come back," Bakradadze said. "They were perfect people."
European monitors urged both sides to remain calm on a day marked by tension along the boundary with South Ossetia. Two Georgian policemen were killed outside the village of Dvani when a remote-controlled mine exploded near their car, according to Shota Utiashvili, a spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry. When a patrol arrived to investigate, a second mine exploded, wounding three more policemen, he said.
Ambassador Hansjörg Haber, head of the EU monitoring mission, called the attack "an unacceptable breach of the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement." He was referring to the peace deal brokered by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and endorsed Sept. 8 by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, after the brief war between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"Today's attack risks escalating the still-tense situation along the administrative boundary lines," Haber said Monday. "We repeat our call on all sides to prevent further provocations."
The South Ossetian interior minister, Valeri Valiyev, said his forces were not involved. "It is Georgian territory," he said. "What happens there has nothing to do with us."
Though no violence has occurred in Perevi, home to about 1,000 ethnic Georgians, it was the focus of angry rhetoric Monday from Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, the separatist capital. Both sides claim it is on their territory. The European Union said in a statement Saturday that it is "clearly" on the Georgian side of the line.
Ibragim Gaseyev, the South Ossetian deputy minister of defense, said the village has belonged to South Ossetia "for countless centuries," and promised to "give an adequate answer to any provocative act by the Georgian side on the territory of our republic."
President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia said his country would protect the village.
"We will do everything not to yield to the occupants' provocations," Saakashvili said Monday. "We must understand that Georgia began a hard and long fight for the liberation of its lands. And in this fight we must act together with our partners."
Irina Gagloyeva, a spokesman for the South Ossetian government, said that Perevi was not controlled by Tskhinvali before the war, but that it had become necessary to protect it because Georgians "are trying to create tension here." She said its residents were friendly to South Ossetia, and "have more than once applied for citizenship" in the enclave.
But Georgians in Perevi said they were frightened. The school has shut down, and most of the women and children have left. Alik Dzhokhadze, 24, said he and his friends were toasting the withdrawal of Russians when Ossetian soldiers entered the village, shooting in the air. Dzhokhadze said he had been hiding in his house for two days.
Lomauridze Zina, 48, had watched many of her neighbors leave the village and gathered for comfort with several families who remain. She said she did not want to leave for fear that her house would be robbed.
Violence has been reported from both sides in recent days. Last Thursday, the South Ossetian authorities reported that a villager, Oleg Gigolayev, was fatally shot by a sniper from the Georgian side of the line. The Georgian authorities denied any involvement.
Migrants storm border of Spanish enclave in Africa
The Associated Press
Monday, November 10, 2008
MADRID: African migrants armed with sticks and rocks stormed the border of a Spanish enclave in North Africa on Monday, but the police, using tear gas, repelled them, the Spanish Interior Ministry said.
Border guards held off two waves totaling about 200 Africans in the fifth and largest such attempt to reach the Spanish city of Melilla from Morocco in less than a month, said Gregorio Escobar, the ministry's top representative in Melilla.
No migrant managed to cross into the Mediterranean city of 70,000 people.
The Moroccan authorities detained most of the 150 Africans who tried to rush a border crossing in a first attempt. Less than an hour later, a group of about 60 turned violent as they tried to force their way across and the Spanish authorities used riot gear and tear gas to keep them out, Escobar said.
Two Spanish police officers were slightly wounded and six other officers were treated after inhaling tear gas, he said.
Thousands of African migrants seeking a better life in Europe try to enter Spain each year. Most try to reach the Canary Islands by boat and others try enter Melilla or Ceuta, another Spanish enclave on Morocco's coast.
The police have prevented migrants from crossing into Melilla on all of the previous attempts over the past several weeks except on one occasion when 37 migrants got through. They were later detained on Spanish soil.
Each time, migrants tried to get through a section of border fence damaged in torrential rains in late October. On Monday, however, they targeted a regular border crossing used daily by thousands of people.
The migrants often spend weeks or months living in a forest on the Moroccan side of the frontier as they await a chance to cross into Melilla.
The rains in October washed away most of their belongings and made living conditions even worse, said Khalil Jemmah, head of the Association of Friends and Families of Victims of Clandestine Immigration, a nonprofit organization in Morocco.
"They're desperately trying to cross because they've got nothing left to lose," Jemmah said during the weekend after a group of 50 sub-Saharan migrants fought with the Moroccan police protecting the breached fence.
Serbia steps up efforts to find Mladic
The Associated Press
Monday, November 10, 2008
BELGRADE: Serbia began a major search Monday for General Ratko Mladic, the war crimes fugitive, sending scores of special police officers to comb through a western town on orders from the office of the Serbian war crimes prosecutor.
The search focused on the town of Valjevo - previously mentioned as one of the possible hiding places for the former Bosnian Serb Army commander. Amateur video posted on YouTube showed masked special police officers with automatic weapons searching a furniture factory compound in Valjevo.
"I haven't seen Mladic for a long time," said Vidoje Vujic, the factory owner, adding that he had met Mladic's son last year.
He said the police took his mobile phones and seized several pictures, including one of the former Bosnian Serb Parliament speaker, Momcilo Krajisnik, who is on trial in The Hague.
A source close to the police, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Mladic was not found after the operation, which involved up to 100 policemen. He said the hunt also focused on people who are believed to be helping Mladic evade justice.
Bruno Vekaric, spokesman for Serbian war crimes prosecutor's office, said: "This is one in a series of actions" that are planned to locate Mladic and another war crimes fugitive, Goran Hadzic, the former Croatian Serb leader.
Mladic has been on the run since 1995, when he was indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
The United Nations court charged him with masterminding the 1995 slaughter of about 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and orchestrating an armed siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Mladic's extradition to the UN court in The Hague is the major precondition set by the European Union for granting premembership status to Serbia.
Serbia arrested the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, in July and handed him over to The Hague after more than 10 years on the run.
President Boris Tadic said in an interview published Monday that Serbia is determined to capture Mladic if he is in the country.
Serbia had hoped that the arrest of Karadzic would help its EU aspirations, but the 27-nation bloc said Mladic also must be arrested.
The chief war crimes prosecutor at The Hague, Serge Brammertz, is expected to visit Serbia next week to report on the country's progress in the hunt for Mladic and Hadzic.
Mladic hid in Serbian Army facilities until 2002 and later moved around several apartments in the New Belgrade district of Belgrade.
African leaders work to defuse conflict in Congo
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Celia W. Dugger
Monday, November 10, 2008
NAIROBI: While skirmishes continued to test a cease-fire in eastern Congo, leaders in southern Africa agreed to send military advisers to the region immediately and a peacekeeping force later if necessary.
After an emergency summit meeting Sunday in Johannesburg, members of the Southern African Development Community called for an immediate cease-fire and the opening of safe corridors for aid to get through.
"We are aware we are facing a tragedy and time is not on our side," Tomaz Salomao, the group's executive secretary, said at a midnight news conference.
Rebel forces led by General Laurent Nkunda have been battling Congolese government troops since August in a region where violence has raged on and off for a decade. Human rights groups say that about 250,000 people driven from their homes urgently need assistance.
Salomao said the military advisers were being sent immediately. Peacekeeping troops, he said, would be sent "if and when necessary."
A communiqué issued after the meeting said the group's goal was to assist the Congolese Army, and it described Nkunda as a threat to the integrity of the country.
"We firmly believe that there is no military solution to the problem," said President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa. "We call for an immediate cease-fire to allow humanitarian assistance to the displaced people."
On Monday, Nkunda said he would welcome African peacekeepers if they were coming as an impartial force, but he warned that his rebel forces would fight peacekeepers if they backed government troops against him, Reuters reported.
A UN spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, said the fighting had broken out about dawn Sunday in Ngungu, a small village west of Goma, the provincial capital and a strategic trade hub.
Local Mai-Mai militias, who are aligned with the Congolese government and see themselves as protectors of their land, ambushed rebel soldiers with assault rifles. Several dozen men from the two sides then fought each other at close range, Dietrich said.
The skirmish lasted five hours, and about 500 people fled Ngungu before UN peacekeepers brokered a truce. Preliminary reports indicate that one person was killed and several were wounded.
"The Congolese Army considered this minor fighting," Dietrich said.
Still, UN officials said, it showed the complexity of the multisided conflict, which has involved rebels, often-predatory government troops, local militias and UN peacekeepers.
Fighting like this has flared up several times in the past few days, threatening to plunge eastern Congo back into full-fledged war.
In late October, just as the rebels were about to march into Goma, they declared a cease-fire. Since then, Western diplomats and top African officials have been meeting around the clock to solidify the cease-fire and to find a more permanent solution.
On Friday, the presidents of seven African nations met in Nairobi and urged all parties to stop fighting and to open corridors for aid workers. Many of the people displaced by the conflict are hungry and sick, and aid workers are struggling to contain a cholera outbreak in the makeshift camps near Goma.
There are dozens of local militias in eastern Congo who call themselves Mai-Mai, a reference to a belief in spiritual powers like holy oil and amulets, which the fighters often wear in battle.
UN officials have said that Mai-Mai fighters are getting increasingly aggressive, in contrast to Congolese troops, who seem to have calmed down.
"The government wants to stick to the agreement," Dietrich said.
But, he added, "the Mai-Mai seem to be getting frustrated. This is a problem."
Celia W. Dugger reported from Johannesburg.
Nkunda warns Africa as fears grow of wider war
Monday, November 10, 2008
By Hereward Holland
Congolese rebel chief Laurent Nkunda said on Monday he would fight African peacekeeping troops if they attacked him, as concerns grew that east Congo's conflict could suck in neighbouring armies.
Leaders from Africa's southern and Great Lakes regions have offered to send troops to try to help pacify east Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting between Nkunda's Tutsi rebels and the army has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.
Aid agencies in Congo's North Kivu province are struggling to provide shelter, food and medical care for more than 200,000 refugees around the provincial capital Goma, but say tens of thousands more are cut off in the bush. They warn of the risk of cholera and measles epidemics in the camps.
African and Western governments are worried the recent upsurge in fighting in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, risks drawing in Congo's neighbours as occurred during a previous 1998-2003 war. That war involved six African armies and the conflict and its aftermath killed several million people.
Countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said after a regional summit in South Africa on Sunday the group would send military advisers to help the government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
SADC would send a peacekeeping force to east Congo "if and when necessary," its executive secretary Tomaz Salamao said.
Nkunda, whose Tutsi fighters are battling Congo government soldiers (FARDC) and their Rwandan Hutu rebel (FDLR) and Mai-Mai militia allies, said he would welcome African peacekeepers if they came as an impartial force to stabilise North Kivu.
But, speaking to Reuters by telephone from eastern Congo, he added: "If they come in and fight alongside the FARDC and the FDLR ... I am ready to fight them."
Some military experts expressed doubts about how quickly a SADC security force could be dispatched to east Congo and how effective it would be against Nkunda's battle-hardened guerrilla army of 4,000, and against other marauding armed factions.
"This is good rhetoric, but I'm not sure it will happen," said Henri Boshoff, a military analyst for the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg, told Reuters.
The United Nations, which already has its largest peacekeeping force in the world, 17,000 strong, in Congo, is seeking up to 3,000 extra troops to reinforce its operations there. It says its existing force is thinly stretched across a country the size of Western Europe where armed groups abound.
It was not immediately clear whether the proposed African peacekeepers would operate under the U.N. mandate or separately.
EU ACCUSED OF "SHAMEFUL" FAILURE TO ACT
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday echoed African leaders' calls for a cease-fire to be respected and for a political solution for east Congo. But they did not mention any move to send European peacekeeping troops to Congo, an idea mooted last month by EU chairman France.
An EU official said a European military deployment to Congo was excluded for the moment.
The EU ministers' meeting prompted an angry reaction from one charity, Oxfam International, which accused the bloc of a "shameful" failure to take concrete action.
"Europe has a proven history and expertise in peacekeeping. It has created special standby battalions precisely to respond rapidly to crises like this. What more needs to happen for Europe to provide Congo with the help it so urgently needs?" Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in Congo, said.
"We need action and we need it now, not more excuses and procrastination," she added in a statement.
The North Kivu conflict traces its origins back to Rwanda's 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus which helped trigger the 1998-2003 Congo war. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing Nkunda, who says he is defending Congolese Tutsis from attacks by FDLR Rwandan Hutu rebels he says fight with the Congolese army.
Rwanda, which has twice invaded Congo before, officially to fight Hutu rebels there, denies this and in turn accuses the Congolese government of not acting to disarm the Hutu rebels.
Analysts say that to avert the risk of a wider regional war, world and regional powers need to exert firm pressure on both Congo and Rwanda to demobilise the rival rebel groups.
"The international community has already invested billions of dollars to build and maintain peace in the Congo. To not invest hugely in diplomatic terms right now would risk it all," Francois Grignon and Fabienne Hara, Africa program director and vice president of International Crisis Group, wrote recently.
African Great Lakes leaders, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, said at a summit in Nairobi on Friday they could also send peacekeepers if required.
Congo's government has asked neighbour Angola, which backed it during the 1998-2003 war, for help. The appearance in North Kivu of Portuguese-speaking soldiers on the government side has fuelled speculation Angola may have already sent troops. But Angola's Foreign Ministry denied this.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)
(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi, Jack Kimball in Kigali, Henrique Almeida in Luanda, Ingrid Melander in Brussels; Writing by Pascal Fletcher)
U.S. Treasury subjects AIG to executive pay curbs
Monday, November 10, 2008
WASHINGTON: The U.S. Treasury said on Monday its $40 billion (25 billion pounds) investment in American International Group will subject the firm to the same curbs on executive bonuses and golden parachutes as other financial institutions that receive government capital injections.
In a statement, the Treasury said its $40 billion investment in AIG senior preferred stock was part of a comprehensive plan to restructure federal aid to the "systemically important company."
It said AIG must comply with the most stringent limitations on executive compensation for its top five senior executive officers under the Treasury's $700 billion financial rescue plan, enacted after the initial AIG bailout in September.
(Reporting by David Lawder)
Miriam Makeba, South African singer, dies at 76
By Alan Cowell
Monday, November 10, 2008
LONDON: Miriam Makeba, a South African singer whose voice stirred hopes of freedom among millions in her own country though her music was formally banned by the apartheid authorities she struggled against, died overnight after performing at a concert in Italy on Sunday. She was 76.
The cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to Vincenza Di Saia, a physician at the private Pineta Grande clinic in Castel Volturno near Naples in southern Italy, where she was brought by ambulance. The time of death was listed in hospital records as midnight, the doctor said.
Makeba collapsed as she was leaving the stage, the South African authorities said. She had been singing at a concert in support of Roberto Saviano, an author who has received death threats after writing about organized crime.
Widely known as "Mama Africa," she had been a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid since the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother's funeral after touring in the United States.
Although Makeba had been weakened by osteoarthritis, her death stunned many in South Africa, where she stood as an enduring emblem of the travails of black people under the apartheid system of racial segregation that ended with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the country's first fully democratic elections in 1994.
In a statement on Monday, Mandela said the death "of our beloved Miriam has saddened us and our nation."
He continued: "Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us."
"She was South Africa's first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours," Mandela's was one of many tributes from South African leaders.
"One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing," Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement. "Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."
For 31 years, Makeba lived in exile, variously in the United States, France, Guinea and Belgium. South Africa's state broadcasters banned her music after she spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations. "I never understood why I couldn't come home," Makeba said upon her return at an emotional homecoming in Johannesburg in 1990 as the apartheid system began to crumble, according to The Associated Press. "I never committed any crime."
Music was a central part of the struggle against apartheid. The South African authorities of the era exercised strict censorship of many forms of expression, while many foreign entertainers discouraged performances in South Africa in an attempt to isolate the white authorities and show their opposition to apartheid.
From exile she acted as a constant reminder of the events in her homeland as the white authorities struggled to contain or pre-empt unrest among the black majority.
Makeba wrote in 1987: "I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa, and the people, without even realizing."
She was married several times and her husbands included the American black activist Stokely Carmichael, with whom she lived in Guinea, and the jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who also spent many years in exile.
In the United States she became a star, touring with Harry Belafonte in the 1960s and winning a Grammy award with him in 1965. Such was her following and fame that she sang in 1962 at the birthday party of President John F. Kennedy. She also performed with Paul Simon on his Graceland concert in Zimbabwe in 1987.
But she fell afoul of the U.S. music industry because of her marriage to Carmichael and her decision to live in Guinea.
In one of her last interviews, in May 2008 with the British music critic Robin Denselow, she said she found her concerts in the United States being cancelled. "It was not a ban from the government. It was a cancellation by people who felt I should not be with Stokely because he was a rebel to them. I didn't care about that. He was somebody I loved, who loved me, and it was my life," she said.
Makeba was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, the daughter of a Swazi mother and a father from the Xhosa people who live mainly in the eastern Cape region of South Africa. She became known to South Africans in the Sophiatown district of Johannesburg in the 1950s.
According to Agence France-Presse, she was often short of money and could not afford to buy a coffin when her only daughter in 1985. She buried her alone, barring a handful of journalists from covering the funeral.
She was particularly renowned for her performances of songs such as what was known as the Click Song — named for a clicking sound in her native tongue — or "Qongoqothwane," and Pata Pata, meaning Touch Touch in Xhosa. Her style of singing was widely interpreted as a blend of black township rhythms, jazz and folk music.
In her interview in 2008, Makeba said: "I'm not a political singer. I don't know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us — especially the things that hurt us."
In a tribute, Jacob Zuma, head of the ruling African National Congress, said the party "dips its banner in tribute to an African heroine, Miriam Zenzile Makeba, a freedom fighter and outstanding African cultural figure."
"Miriam Makeba used her voice, not merely to entertain, but to give a voice to the millions of oppressed South Africans under the yoke of apartheid," Zuma said.
Hedge fund winners amid the rubble
By Louise Story
Monday, November 10, 2008
NEW YORK: Bernard Drury is a rarity on Wall Street: a hedge fund manager who is making money, rather than losing it.
While most hedge funds are declining this year and unsettling the markets in the process, a handful are posting spectacular gains. Drury's fund, for instance, is up 60 percent since Jan. 1.
How has he done it? Drury, a former grain trader, is not giving away his secrets. He relies on proprietary computer models to chart tides in the markets and to ride the prevailing currents.
But however smart or lucky the moneymakers have been, a few bad trades can end any hot streak. Despite Wall Street's reputation as a place of big money and bigger egos, many of the winners are reluctant to boast, particularly given the gaping losses threatening some rivals.
"There's going to be, naturally, a lot of forms of disillusionment with hedge funds," said Drury, who opened his fund, Drury Capital, in 1992.
Indeed, gloomy talk of an industry shakeout is getting louder as returns at most funds sink lower. Over the past few months, some funds have been forced to dump stocks and bonds because their investors wanted their money back. Wall Street traders worry that another big wave of withdrawals in mid-November could further unsettle the markets.
All of which makes the big winners stand out even more. Hedge fund returns, on average, are down 20 percent. But one in every 50 funds is up more than 30 percent - an astonishing performance, considering that the broad stock market is down even more than that.
Winners include trend-followers like Drury; market-spanning macro funds, which dart in and out of an array of markets and bet on everything from Apple to zinc; and niche players that are buying insurance policies or making loans to small companies.
Some of the stars this year are familiar names on Wall Street. For instance, a fund managed by John Paulson, who reportedly was paid $3.7 billion in 2007 after betting against the subprime mortgage market, has gained nearly 30 percent this year in his largest fund, investors say.
But some of the other moneymakers are not well known. They could benefit as competitors close and investors look for new places to park their money. Hedge-fund traders who make a killing are often lionized within the industry. One good year can vault a small player to the big leagues.
But with so many funds down - only one in three has made any money this year - the price of admission to the winner's circle has fallen.
A showing that would have been considered dismal only a year ago is now viewed as a standout success. Traders even joke that being down 10 percent is the new breaking even.
Actually making money is all the more rare.
"This year, anything north of 10 percent is spectacular," said Pierre Villeneuve, managing director of Mapleridge Capital, a $750 million hedge fund in Canada that is up 18 percent.
Other funds with big winnings include R.G. Niederhoffer Capital Management; Conquest Capital Group; MKP Capital Management; the Tulip Trend Fund, run by Progressive Capital; and funds run by John Henry.
Never before have so many funds been down. In five of the past 10 years, fewer than 15 percent of hedge funds lost money. Even in the worst year, 2002, 31 percent finished down, according to estimates from HedgeFund.net, a unit of Channel Capital Group. This year, about 70 percent of hedge funds lost money from Jan. 1 through the end of September.
To a degree, hedge funds are hostage to their stated investment strategies, and investors judge them accordingly. Funds that specialize in convertible bonds and stocks, for example, are among the worst performers this year because those markets have been hit hard in the financial crisis.
Losers include well-known traders like Kenneth Griffin, who runs the Citadel Investment Group; Lee Ainslie, head of Maverick Capital; and David Einhorn, the head of Greenlight Capital, who called attention to the troubles at Lehman Brothers before many others.
Still, funds that specialize in investment strategies that have suffered could come out looking good if they manage to post even modest gains. For instance, Exis Capital, a $150 million fund that trades stocks, is up 9 percent this year, even after the fund's manager took a 50 percent fee, according to investors. The average stock fund, by comparison, is down 22 percent, according to estimates from Hedge Fund Research. In commodities trading, Touradji Capital Management is up 11 percent; its competitor, Ospraie Management, was forced to liquidate a large fund.
At some hedge fund companies, the performance this year is mixed.
Trafalgar, a hedge fund in London, manages 10 funds. Three are down, but two - a volatility fund and a "special situations" fund - are up more than 20 percent, according to an investor.
Trafalgar declined to say what special situations it had pounced on. Volatility funds, a category that is broadly doing well, focus on trading options and try to profit when the markets swing wildly as they have lately.
Lee Robinson, co-founder of Trafalgar Asset Managers, said his firm's success set it apart from competitors.
"Every investor is going to say, 'What did you do in September '08, what did you do in October '08?' and if you were down significantly, you're going to have trouble raising money," Robinson said. "The most important question is not, 'How much money am I getting back?' it's, 'Do I get my money back?"'
Several managers who are doing well did not want to brag at a time when so many of their industry colleagues were struggling.
"You don't do victory laps," said Adam Stern, a partner at AM Investment Partners, whose volatility fund is up 6.75 percent this year. "It's a very sad time for a lot of people. People worked very hard, and they're losing a lot of money and net worth."
Marek Fludzinski, one of the winners this year, remembers what it was like to be a loser. Fludzinski, the chief executive of Thales Fund Management, was among the computer-loving quantitative fund managers who suffered in 2007, when his fund lost 8 percent. Investors immediately began asking for their money back, so Fludzinski shut the $1.6 billion fund and started anew.
Now his computer-driven fund, created in May, has grown to $350 million in assets from $80 million and is up 14 percent.
Fludzinski said the important factor in running a hedge fund these days was simply surviving.
"Don't do something that will kill you," said Fludzinski, who uses a database with 14 years of prices on thousands of stocks to try to spot patterns like the forced selling of stocks.
Marc Malek, a former UBS trader who manages $611 million, is up 44 percent in his macro fund. But even as new investors approach his company, Conquest Capital, the firm is also receiving redemption requests from investors who want their money back, Malek said. Investors are pulling cash from whatever they can.
A growing number of troubled hedge funds are temporarily refusing to give investors their money back by freezing their funds, in industry parlance. But others are profiting from the waves of panic that have convulsed the markets this year.
Roy Niederhoffer, founder of RG Niederhoffer Capital Management, whose more famous brother, Victor, made and then lost a fortune trading, is up more than 50 percent. To predict how investors will behave, Roy Niederhoffer, who majored in neuroscience at Harvard, delves into psychological research.
But Niederhoffer does not need much research to tell him that some investors chase winners. With his fund soaring, investors are piling on. His assets under management have climbed to $2 billion, from $700 million earlier this year.
Still, Niederhoffer is not planning any celebrations.
"The greatest danger at a time like this is hubris," he said. He has banned fist-pumping victory poses on his trading floor.
Paul Krugman: Franklin Delano Obama?
Monday, November 10, 2008
PRINCETON, New Jersey: Suddenly, everything old is New Deal again. Reagan is out; FDR is in. Still, how much guidance does the Roosevelt era really offer for today's world?
The answer is, a lot. But Barack Obama should learn from FDR's failures as well as from his achievements: The truth is that the New Deal wasn't as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for FDR's limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious.
About the New Deal's long-run achievements: The institutions FDR built have proved both durable and essential. Indeed, those institutions remain the bedrock of America's economic stability.
Imagine how much worse the financial crisis would be if the New Deal hadn't insured most bank deposits. Imagine how insecure older Americans would feel right now if Republicans had managed to dismantle Social Security.
Can Obama achieve something comparable? Rahm Emanuel, Obama's new chief of staff, has declared that "you don't ever want a crisis to go to waste." Progressives hope that the Obama administration, like the New Deal, will respond to the current economic and financial crisis by creating institutions, especially a universal health care system, that will change the shape of American society for generations to come.
But the new administration should try not to emulate a less successful aspect of the New Deal: Its inadequate response to the Great Depression itself.
Now, there's a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that FDR actually made the Depression worse. So it's important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.
That said, FDR did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the 1930s, by the MIT economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: Fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful "not because it does not work, but because it was not tried."
This may seem hard to believe. The New Deal famously placed millions of Americans on the public payroll via the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. To this day we Americans drive on WPA-built roads and send our children to WPA-built schools.
Didn't all these public works amount to a major fiscal stimulus?
Well, it wasn't as major as you might think. The effects of federal public works spending were largely offset by other factors, notably a large tax increase, enacted by Herbert Hoover, whose full effects weren't felt until his successor took office. Also, expansionary policy at the federal level was undercut by spending cuts and tax increases at the state and local level.
And FDR wasn't just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion - he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections.
What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy's needs.
This history offers important lessons for the incoming administration.
The political lesson is that economic missteps can quickly undermine an electoral mandate. Democrats won big last week - but they won even bigger in 1936, only to see their gains evaporate after the recession of 1937-38. Americans don't expect instant economic results from the incoming administration, but they do expect results, and Democrats' euphoria will be short-lived if they don't deliver an economic recovery.
The economic lesson is the importance of doing enough. FDR thought he was being prudent by reining in his spending plans; in reality, he was taking big risks with the economy and with his legacy. My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. It's much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.
In short, Obama's chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold.
Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.
Harnessing a cause without yielding to it
By Sam Tanenhaus
Monday, November 10, 2008
The historic victory of Barack Obama contained many dramas, but none was more important than the climactic turn it symbolized in the present-day fortunes of two outsize forces in recent political history — the civil rights movement and the conservative movement.
Together they have probably been the most powerful engines of political change during the past half-century, but they have also exacted large demands from the two parties and their leaders. And it happened again in this election.
For Senator Obama, the fraught alliance between the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party was a persistent though unwelcome theme in this campaign — whether it was the crisis occasioned by the recorded sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or the defeats Obama was dealt in the primary by blue-collar voters whose distrust of him seemed to replay the racial anxieties of the 1960s, when civil rights protest loosed a white "backlash" that divided the Democratic Party.
John McCain, for his part, was haunted by his uneasy and at times hostile dealings through the years with the movement conservatives who helped elect every recent Republican president. In choosing to solicit their support, McCain alienated the moderates and independents who ultimately deserted him.
The tangled nexus between movements and parties has been complicating American politics since the middle of the 19th century. To a great extent, both major parties owe their identities to movements.
The modern Democratic Party was shaped by the populism of the 1890s, the antibusiness reformism of the 1930s and the civil rights crusade of the 1960s. The Republican Party was formed by abolitionism in the 1850s, anti-Communism in the 1950s, antitax revolts in the 1970s and 1980s and the evangelical conservatism of the 1990s and 2000s.
In each instance, a movement and a party came together. But the partnership was seldom satisfactory to either side. This isn't surprising. While movements are driven by specific causes (punishing "robber barons," ending "big government"), parties stay relevant by adjusting to new conditions.
This is why movement activists often think politicians are either spineless or unscrupulous — and sometimes both — while practicing politicians sometimes find movement activists more trouble than they're worth.
A classic example is the mutual distrust that festered between Abraham Lincoln and the radical abolitionists of his day. Lincoln patiently tolerated them even as they raged that he was an opportunist — "a first-rate second-rate man," in the opinion of the antislavery agitator Wendell Phillips, "a mere convenience waiting like any other broomstick to be used."
In the end, Lincoln fulfilled most of the abolitionists' hopes — as circumstances allowed. "I claim not to have controlled events but confess plainly that events controlled me," Lincoln said in 1864.
The conservatives who today lionize Ronald Reagan forget how often he, too, disappointed them — whether by increasing taxes or bargaining with Mikhail Gorbachev. "So was the critical election of 1980 merely a mirage," Irving Kristol wondered in 1983, distraught that "the administration bumbles along in foreign policy, in social policy, in economic policy."
These grumblings aside, Reagan managed to placate his movement followers most of the time.
Two other presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush, entered the White House with reputations for being skilled politicians, but then took the unusual step of subordinating pragmatic political goals to movement ideals — and they and their parties paid a steep price. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty programs, though popular at the time, later fed the resentments of white working-class voters who deserted the Democratic Party in the 1970s and 1980s.
Bush embraced the crusading vision of two powerful movement factions — the neoconservatives and the evangelicals — when he decided to initiate the Iraq war, which damaged his presidency beyond repair.
Both Johnson and Bush succumbed, it seems, to the unusual power of the movements that dominated their years in office. This is understandable since both governed at a time when the movements they were allied with were at peak strength.
LIKE abolitionism a century and a half ago, the civil rights movement in the 1960s and ideological conservatism in the 2000s each subsumed the most intense political, economic and cultural passions of the day.
And their histories are strikingly parallel. Both emerged in the 1950s as vehicles of protest built on moral and often religious arguments. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy owed much of their authority to their exalted place in the church, as reflected in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization they led.
Prominent figures in the postwar conservative movement also made their case in religious terms. First it was anti-Communist Catholics like William Buckley Jr., Senator Joseph McCarthy and Archbishop Fulton Sheen; later it was evangelical Protestants like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
Both movements reaped their biggest gains when they channeled their arguments into political action. Civil rights leaders sponsored courtroom challenges to Jim Crow and lobbied in support of causes like voting rights, equal housing and fair employment practices.
Conservatives likewise diligently worked through legal and legislative channels on a range of issues, from school prayer and abortion and gun ownership to attacks on same-sex marriage (with the latest successes coming this week) .
Each movement did more than align itself with a party. It also played a major part in establishing that party's broadest aims and in shaping the values of its rank-and-file membership.
The civil rights movement helped guide the Democratic Party toward an agenda of equal rights and economic justice. Movement conservatives led the insurgent campaigns that transferred power in the Republican Party from the East Coast to the Sunbelt.
One telling difference between the candidates in this year's election was their contrasting approaches to the movements attached to their parties. McCain often gave the impression that he was at the mercy of the conservatives he had struggled against for so many years, while Obama harnessed the energies of the civil rights movement that made his candidacy possible and was able to balance its visionary ends with his pragmatic means.
It is a performance he may have to repeat more than once over the next four years.
William Kristol: Republican dog days
Monday, November 10, 2008
J ust before midnight on Nov. 4, I wasn't that worried.
Sure, the results in the U.S. presidential election had been bad - but they weren't devastating. Barack Obama wasn't winning the popular vote by double-digit margins, as some polls had suggested he might. Republican losses in the Senate and House were substantial but not catastrophic. Obama was ahead of John McCain by about the same margin with which Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992, and he would be taking over in January with similar congressional majorities to Clinton's in 1993.
Well, Newt Gingrich was able to lead a Republican takeover of Congress only two years later. And after his victory in 1976, Jimmy Carter had even larger Democratic margins in Congress. Ronald Reagan trounced him four years later, bringing with him a Republican Party-controlled Senate and an era of conservative governance.
What's more, this year's exit polls suggested a partisan shift but no ideological realignment. In 2008, self-described Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate and Republicans 32 percent, in contrast with a 37-37 split in 2004.
But there was virtually no change in the voters' ideological self-identification: in 2008, 22 percent called themselves liberal, up only marginally from 21 percent in 2004; 34 percent were conservative, unchanged from the last election; and 44 percent called themselves moderate, compared with 45 percent in 2004.
In other words, this was a good Democratic year, but it is still a center-right country.
Conservatives and the Republican Party will have a real chance for a comeback - unless the skills of the new president turn what was primarily an anti-Bush vote into the basis for a new liberal governing era.
Those were my thoughts when, a few minutes into his victory speech, just after midnight, Obama told his daughters, "And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House."
Not out of my deep affection for dogs, fond of them though I am. But because while we've all known that Obama is a very skillful politician, he hasn't until now been a particularly empathetic one.
Competence plus warmth is a pretty potent combination. Suddenly visions of the two great modern realigning presidents - Franklin Roosevelt (with his Scottish terrier Fala) and Ronald Reagan (with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rex) - flashed before my eyes. Maybe a realignment could be coming.
Obama was, naturally, asked about the promised-but-not-yet-purchased puppy at his press conference Friday. (If one were being churlish, one might say that it was typical of a liberal to promise the dog before delivering it. A results-oriented conservative would simply have shown up with the puppy without the advance hype.)
Obama commented wryly that the canine question had "generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything." He continued:
"We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So - so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."
Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that's tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."
Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.
It will be tougher yet if they underestimate Obama. His selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff suggests that Obama's not going to be mindlessly leftist, and that he's going to shape a legislative strategy that is attentive to congressional realities while not deferring to a congressional leadership whose interests may not be his own. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both tripped up in their first two years by their Democratic Congresses. Obama intends for Emanuel to ensure that that doesn't happen
And Obama has the further advantage of inheriting a recession that will give him a very tough first year or two (for which he won't be blamed), but that should be followed by a recovery well timed for his re-election bid.
So Obama will be formidable. But conservatives should welcome the challenge. It's good for conservatism that conservatives will have to develop refreshed ideas and regenerated political skills to succeed in the age of Obama.
And it wouldn't hurt for Governors Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and the other possible 2012 Republican Party nominees to begin bringing some puppies home for their kids.
Bloggers size up Obama
By Josie Delap
Monday, November 10, 2008
Barack Obama's election has fired imaginations around the globe, perhaps nowhere more than in the Middle East, where people wonder how the future president's approach to the Arab world will differ from that of his predecessor.
For the moment, Arabs are mainly excited about Obama's victory, and have much good will toward him and the country that chose him. But Middle Easterners are more skeptical than anyone else about American politicians and their intentions, and it seems Obama is no exception.
His speech during the primaries to Aipac, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, did little to assuage fears that America will continue to support Israel unconditionally. And there remains a more general anxiety that, like previous American presidents, Obama will somehow let the people of the Middle East down.
To provide a sense of what Middle Easterners are thinking about the American election, here are excerpts, translated by me where necessary, of blog postings from the day after Obama's victory.
- Josie Delap, an editor for Economist.com
Tamem, Egypt (tamem.wordpress.com)
The victory of Barack Hussein Obama that we, along with the rest of the world, are witnessing today is another historic moment, not just for America but for the whole world by virtue of America's huge influence, whether we like it or not. Personally I like others doubted Americans' ability to overcome racism, but in electing "Abu Hussein," they created a historic moment by accepting the first black president to govern not just America but the white West as a whole.
With this, they removed all such doubts and the impossible dream of Martin Luther King became possible.
(translated from the Arabic)
Syrian Dream, Syria (syriandream.com)
The world arose today to welcome Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, and Africa danced with joy.
The whole world is optimistic about what he offers but doubts remain about him, a great question mark. What will Syria's fate be under him? Will he give the green light to bombing us?
(translated from the Arabic)
Egyptian Chronicles, Egypt (egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com)
The Egyptian people are glad that Obama won despite their previous knowledge of his bias to Israel, and his V.P. is a Zionist. But still they are happy because they can't stand the Republicans anymore.
Good for the Americans.
Esra'a, Bahrain (mideastyouth.com)
I can honestly say that we can finally wave goodbye to the overwhelming anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry that we have suffered with for the past eight years under the Bush administration. We can expect less wars, less corruption, less political abuse. It won't be perfect, but it will get better. I am so happy and proud of all the Americans who worked extremely hard for Obama, understanding fully well the importance of change in every sense of the word. This moment is not just historical but crucial to us here in the Middle East.
This is a win for all of us, not just America.
This is a win for civil rights and justice.
For all the pessimists out there, allow us to enjoy this moment. If you learned anything from this campaign, you would learn that it starts with hope - not cynicism. And hope is what I have right now, for America and the Middle East.
We can do it, and this time, we can be sure that we can do it together.
I haven't said this in a really long time, but I am loving America right now.
The Black Iris, Jordan (black-iris.com)
Congratulations are in order to the American people and the Obama fan base.
So begins a new chapter in American history, to say nothing of world history.
Fingers crossed that it'll be a positive one, especially for this region.
The Skeptic, Egypt (elijahzarwan.net/blog)
A new day dawned in Cairo today. As it does every day.
And it started as it always does: with birds, schoolchildren and car horns. No national holiday here.
I'm looking forward to going out in the streets to hear the reaction. The best reaction I've heard so far: "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job."
Bah humbug. I confess I'm moved.
Mashrabeya, Egypt (mashrabeya.blogspot.com)
Only time would tell if Obama is real, or just too good to be true!
Sometimes, it is not enough to have a Big Dream. What matters is to have enough strength to resist the pressures to give up a Big Dream!
Land and People, Lebanon (landandpeople.blogspot.com)
My take on this is that he is the president of the United States, and not Barack Obama. That said, I would really like to hope for change. After all, Obama showed that change was possible: He himself changed from a supporter of Palestinian rights into a man who believes that Jerusalem is the historic capital of Israel. He also changed during his campaign from "No Iraq war for me please, I'm trying to quit" into "All right I'll have some, but a tiny piece please."
People in the Middle East are expecting to see Obama act differently from previous U.S. presidents because he is darker-skinned. Time will show again that the color of the skin has little to do with politics, democracy and equity. Just look at the Arab world with its homegrown dictatorships.
But the question that really interests me is about the relationship between Obama and the true center of world power, Kapital. There was an awful lot of money in Obama's campaign ... A great chunk must have come from carefully planned investments by CEO's and multinationals. Will Obama be able to confront the mega-corporations? Does he want to? The poor and the colored population of the world, including that of the U.S., is the one that suffers most from malnutrition and hunger and food insecurity. We know now that mega-corporations, pushing for more profit at any cost, are responsible for most of the damage. Will Obama do something about that? Does he want to? Can he?
An Arab Woman Blues, Iraq (arabwomanblues.blogspot.com)
So Obama, the booma, won the elections. I had already predicted that in my post "A long American-Iranian Film."
I said the following, "My hunch is and my hunches are rarely wrong, if Obama the booma wins, and he will, by a small margin, Iraq will be handed over to Iran ..."
I also said that Obama will strike a deal with Ahmadinejad on Iraq and in particular southern Iraq.
And lo and behold, the vice president for the booma Obama is none other than J. Biden. J. Biden, the Zionist, is an ardent supporter of the partition of Iraq into three statelets. No wonder Maliki & Co. were also backing the booma along with Iran. I also know that Iran had generously contributed to the Obama campaign.
... I shall not congratulate you on your 44th president. He will simply finish off what the other Zionists had started - the final partition of my country.
To hell with all of you and all of your presidents.
Neurotic Iraqi Wife, Iraq (neurotic-iraqi-wife.blogspot.com)
For me, this is not just about history, this is about someone who was able to bring down the very people that broke my country. It's a great punch to the very people that destroyed the individual Iraqi.
And that to me is an enough victory.
I will only have to say to Mr. Obama, don't let us down.
HSBC reports more bad loans at U.S. unit
U.S. overhauls rescue of AIG
Indian government debt puts it in tight corner
U.S. shares slide as initial euphoria on China stimulus plan fades
DHL to cut 9,500 jobs at U.S. unit
Circuit City files for bankruptcy protection
Plunging currency may keep South Korean students at home
How will China pull out of its swoon?
G-20 leaders face threat of depression
GM shares collapse after negative analyst comment
Steel production eases as Chinese demand slows down
Is new Russian airline self-defeating?
Starbucks profit and outlook disappoint
DHL to cut 9,500 jobs in U.S.
Governments must step up their efforts to resolve the credit crunch
Fannie Mae reports $29 billion loss
British channels face ad slowdown
Sweden takes control of Carnegie
Long drought for financial IPOs
Deutsche Post cuts 9,500 jobs in U.S.
Banco Santander to raise €7.2 billion in rights issue
HSBC to write down $5 billion but Asia helps profit
Pendragon sees 2008 loss at 30 million pounds
Dairy Crest pretax profit down 7 percent
HBOS investors unconvinced by ex-bank chiefs' plan
Nationwide profit falls 18 percent
Tesco shares fall on Asia slowdown worries
Man eyes more Asian institutional sales
Cable & Wireless postpones demerger
Rio and Fortescue cut iron ore output as China weakens
Ladies recycle last year's dress in time of recession
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
By Martinne Geller
Last year at this time, Kathy Johnson and her husband travelled to London and Paris, where she spent about $2,000 (1,281.39 pounds) on a shiny, red Louis Vuitton shoulder bag and a matching charm without much thought.
This year Johnson, who runs a tech advisory firm with her husband in the San Francisco Bay area, is recycling older dresses to save money.
"I'm thinking 'Maybe I'll just sneak in last year's dress and nobody will notice,' and I'll just accessorize it a bit differently," said Johnson, who expects to attend several holiday parties this year.
"I try to make it a little more about what I need on an everyday basis, rather than spending a bunch of money on something I'll just wear once or twice," she said.
Johnson's logic is likely to be played out across the country this season as U.S. consumers cut spending amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
That is terrible news to department stores, boutiques and apparel makers, who tend to get a boost when the fashion-conscious splurge on clothes for office holiday parties and New Year's festivities.
U.S. retail chains just posted the worst October sales results in more than three decades, prompting the International Council of Shopping Centers to pare its already grim forecast for holiday season sales. It now expects November-December sales to rise 1 percent, from a prior view of 1.7 percent.
What is more, a recent survey by executive search firm Battalia Winston Amrop found that one-fifth of U.S. businesses are not having 2008 holiday parties, effectively passing out pink slips to women's "little black dresses."
That could hurt department stores like Nordstrom Inc and Macy's Inc , already struggling with sharp monthly sales declines, as well as women's apparel stores like AnnTaylor Stores Corp , Talbots Inc and Chico's FAS Inc , which owns the White House Black Market chain in addition to its namesake stores.
"I think (consumers) are going to be very loath to buy anything," said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, which researches shopping trends.
As for herself, Liebmann guessed that she will feel the need to be festive during this gloomy holiday season.
"But I know there's a very wonderful corner of a very wonderful closet of mine, which has absolutely fabulous stuff in it that I haven't worn for some time. So I know I will be shopping in that corner."
"But if (people) do feel they need an affordable little treat ... there are a lot of places women feel very comfortable buying used, pre-owned or excess inventory products."
According to her most recent poll, about 51 percent of women had bought second-hand clothes, and Liebmann expects that to increase as times get tougher and more people realise that some used clothing stores sell vintage designer dresses.
TJX Cos Inc , an off-price retailer that buys excess merchandise at below wholesale prices, has outperformed in recent months as shoppers look for bargains at its TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores.
"We often talk about the resiliency of our off-price business model, and we are seeing that resiliency benefiting us in this difficult consumer environment," said TJX CEO Carol Meyrowitz in a statement last week.
LIFE GOES ON
A spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries International, which operates more than 2,000 second-hand stores across the U.S., said sales have increased nearly 7 percent over the first nine months of the year. More specifically, she said store managers in New York City -- the epicentre of the Wall Street meltdown -- were noticing new faces in their shoppers' midst lately.
Another discount avenue that is growing in popularity is sample sales, where fashion companies aim to unload excess goods at deep discounts. They have traditionally been held in cities like New York or Los Angeles, but a number of companies have emerged that now do the same thing online.
Top Button is one such company, which said it is getting a boost as fashionistas become more bargain-conscious and the credit crisis forces some fashion brands out of business.
"We haven't seen a decrease in shopping," said Top Button co-founder Michael Feldman. "If anything, it's been a lot more." The company's original site TopButton.com has information about actual sample sales while a newer site, TopSecret.com, holds virtual sample sales.
A recent event featured Andrew Marc coats at 65 percent off retail. Feldman said they sold 1,200 pieces in five hours.
"People still have to go to parties. They may change their shopping habits ... but life doesn't stop," Feldman said.
That sentiment is being shared by executives at Ann Taylor, which usually sells many special occasion items like dresses, cashmere sweaters and party tops during November and December.
"Even in these challenging times, we still believe there will be parties, although they may take on a slightly different tone," said spokeswoman Maria Sceppaguercio.
For Laurice Rahme, founder and chief executive of boutique perfume-maker Bond No. 9, there may be fewer party invitations this year, but no drop off in shopping, especially when it comes to her favourite designer, Marc Jacobs.
"It just happened that his collection is terrific this year. I just have to have one (item from it)," Rahme said.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Additional reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Eddie Evans)
(See http://blogs.reuters.com/category/themes/shop-talk/ for "Shop Talk" -- Reuters' retail and consumer blog.)
Electoral triumph built on a Web revolution
By David Carr
Monday, November 10, 2008
NEW YORK: In February of 2007, a friend telephoned Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape and a board member of Facebook, and asked if he wanted to meet with a young man with an idea that sounded preposterous on its face.
Always game for something new, Andreessen headed out to the San Francisco airport late one night to hear the guy out. A junior member of a large powerful organization with a thin, but impressive résumé, he was about to take on far more powerful forces in a battle for leadership.
He wondered if the power of social networking, with its tremendous communication capabilities and aggressive database development, might help him beat the overwhelming odds facing him.
"It was like a guy in a garage who was thinking of taking on the biggest names in the business," Andreessen recalled. "What he was doing shouldn't have been possible, but we see a lot of that out here and then something clicks. He was clearly supersmart and very entrepreneurial, a person who saw the world and the status quo as malleable."
And as it turned out, Barack Obama, now president-elect, was right.
Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social-networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then the Republicans.
As a result, when he arrives at the White House, Obama will have not just a political base, but a database, millions of names of supporters who can be engaged almost instantly. And there's every reason to believe that he will use the network not just to campaign, but to govern. His e-mail to supporters on Tuesday night included the line, "We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next."
The Bush campaign arrived at the White House with a conviction that it would continue a conservative revolution with the help of Karl Rove's voter lists, phone banks and direct mail. But those tools were crude and expensive compared with what the Obama camp is bringing to the Oval Office.
"I think it is very significant that he was the first post-boomer candidate for president," Andreessen said. "Other politicians I have met with are always impressed by the Web and surprised by what it could do, but their interest sort of ended in how much money you could raise. He was the first politician I dealt with who understood that the technology was a given and that it could be used in new ways."
The juxtaposition of a networked, open-source campaign and a historically imperial office will have profound implications and raise significant questions. Special-interest groups and lobbyists will now contend with an environment of transparency and a president that owes them nothing. The news media will now be contending with an administration that can take its case directly to its base without even booking time on the networks.
More profoundly, while many people think that Obama is a gift to the Democratic Party, he could actually hasten its demise. Political parties supply brand, ground troops, money and relationships, all things that Obama already owns.
And his relationships are not the just traditional ties of Democrats - teachers' unions, party faithful and Hollywood moneybags - but a network of supporters who used a distributed model of phone banking to organize and get out the vote, helped raise a record-breaking $600 million, and created all manner of media that was viewed millions of times. It was an online movement that begat offline behavior, including producing youth voter turnout that may have supplied the margin of victory.
"Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, FDR used radio to change the way he governed, JFK was the first president to understand television, and Howard Dean saw the value of the Web for raising money," said Ranjit Mathoda, a lawyer and money manager who blogs at Mathoda.com. "But Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand, create a sense of connection and engagement, and dispense with the command-and-control method of governing to allow people to self-organize to do the work."
All of the Obama supporters who traded their personal data for a ticket to a rally or an e-mail alert about the vice presidential choice, or opted in on Facebook or MyBarackObama, can now be mass e-mailed at a cost close to zero. And instead of the constant polling that has been a motor of presidential governance, an Obama White House can use the Web to measure voter attitudes.
"When you think about it, a campaign is a start-up business," Mathoda said. "Other than his speech in 2004 at the convention and his two books, Obama had very little in terms of brand to begin with and he was up against Senator Clinton, who had all the traditional sources of power, and then Senator McCain. But he had the right people and the right idea to take them on. When you think about it, it was like he was going up against Google and Yahoo. And he won."
There is tremendous power in opening up citizen access to government - think of how much good will and support Mayor Michael Bloomberg garnered by coming up with 311, a one-stop phone number for New Yorkers who had a problem.
Obama's 20-month-long conversation with the electorate is entering a new phase. There is sense of ownership, a kind of possessive entitlement, on the part of the people who worked to elect him. The shorthand for his organizing Web site, "MyBo," says it all.
"People will continue to expect a conversation, a two-way relationship that is a give and take," said Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, the folks who helped conceive and implement Obama's digital outreach. "People who were part of the campaign will opt in to political or governing tracks and those relationships will continue in some form."
The founders of America wanted a government that reflected its citizens but would be at remove from the baser impulses of the mob. The mob, flush with victory, is at hand, but instead of pitchforks and lanterns they have broadband and YouTube. Like every other presidency, the Obama administration will have its battles with the media, but that may seem like patty-cake if it runs afoul of the self-publishing, self-organizing democracy it helped create - say, by delaying health care legislation or breaking a promise on taxes.
That's the thing about pipes today: they run both ways.
"It's clear there has been a dramatic shift," said Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference about the intersection between politics and technology. "Any politician who fails to recognize that we are in a post-party era with a new political ecology in which connecting like minds and forming a movement is so much easier will not be around long."
Math whiz finds fame by calling it for Obama
By Stephanie Clifford
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
NEW YORK: At 9:46 p.m., blogging on his site, FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver called the U.S. presidential election for Senator Barack Obama. The television networks followed suit about an hour and 15 minutes later after most polls in Western states closed.
Of course, Silver had a head start: He had forecast that Obama would beat Senator John McCain back in March.
Late last year, Silver, an Obama supporter, became frustrated with how primary poll results were being reported, and how sloppy polls and rigorous polls were given the same attention.
"What you heard on television was, Hillary was inevitable, she's up 20 points," he said. "She's up 20 points because people had heard of her. They hadn't heard of Obama."
Silver posted his speculations on the liberal Web site DailyKos.com and earned attention when he projected Obama would win 833 Super Tuesday delegates, which was within about a dozen of the actual vote estimates.
He began feeding a database with every poll available, from the University of Akron to Zogby International, state demographics and election results from 1952 forward. He weighted all the polls on historical accuracy and adjusted them for whether they tended to favor Democrats or Republicans and other factors; then he built a model that simulated elections.
He began to see patterns, suggesting that leads in polls over the summer should be discounted or that a shift in opinion in North Carolina usually moves with one in Virginia.
In March, he introduced his Web site, FiveThirtyEight.com, and it quickly became a destination for readers whose interest in raw numbers had grown after the close - and miscalled - elections in 2000 and 2004. As his reputation grew online the mainstream media he disparaged for sloppy reporting called.
Political predictions were "big this year because of Nate Silver," said Sam Wang, who runs the rival site Princeton Election Consortium. "He loves discussing the details of the data, and his commentary is quite good. He's made this hobby mainstream."
Between his live television appearances on election night, Silver updated his model and determined around 8 p.m., after New Hampshire went to Obama, that McCain had no way of winning. By the end of the night, Silver had predicted the popular vote within 1 percentage point, predicted 49 of 50 states' results correctly, and predicted all of the resolved Senate races correctly.
In an election season of unlikely outcomes, Silver, 30, is perhaps the most unlikely media star to emerge. A baseball statistician who began analyzing political polls only last year. Other sites combine polls, notably RealClearPolitics and Pollster, but FiveThirtyEight, which drew almost five million page views on Election Day, has become one of the breakout online stars of the year.
Silver recognized that people wanted to play politics like they played fantasy baseball, and pick apart poll numbers for themselves, instead of waiting for an evening news anchor to interpret polls for them.
FiveThirtyEight is "among the very first things I look at when I get up in the morning," said Allan McCutcheon, who holds the Clifton chair in survey science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "He helped make sense of some of the things that didn't seem sensible."
Silver has also become an in-demand analyst, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, "The Colbert Report" and Fox News.
"From a marketing standpoint, I'd rather hedge a little bit more," he said, "but we're the ones who are bold enough and are stupid enough to say what the polls translate to."
Silver has believed in numbers the way authors believe in words, as capable of expression and provocation, since he was young.
He "was a numbers fanatic," said his father, Brian Silver, a political science professor at Michigan State University.
"When we took him to preschool one time, we dropped him off, and he announced, 'Today, I'm a numbers machine,' and started counting," Brian Silver said. "When we picked him up two and a half hours later, he was 'Two thousand one hundred and twenty-two, two thousand one hundred and twenty-three."'
By kindergarten, he could multiply two-digit numbers in his head.
By 11, he was conducting multivariate analysis to figure out if the size of a baseball stadium affects attendance. By age 13, he was using statistics to manage a fantasy baseball team. When his parents refused to buy him computer games, he taught himself the Basic programming language and made his own.
He graduated from the University of Chicago in 2000 and was working for - and bored by - the accounting firm KPMG when he began manipulating baseball statistics. He tried to predict players' performances based on their similarity to players from the past, like Bill James, a pioneer in baseball statistics, had done. But unlike James, Silver adjusted for body type, including factors like height and weight, discovering, for example, that taller pitchers age better.
He built a predictive system called Pecota around that and sold it to Baseball Prospectus, a statistical organization, in 2002, staying on as a writer and consultant for the company.
"I think everybody in our field is pleased and proud to see Mr. Silver's work in political analysis taken seriously, and I'm sure that analysis is shaped to some extent by the ways of thinking that have been developed in our field," James said in an e-mail message. "It's a vicarious pride, much as one takes in the performance of the old school's football team."
Middle East negotiators press for 2-state solution
By Isabel Kershner
Monday, November 10, 2008
SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt: Leaders of the quartet of Middle East peace mediators reaffirmed their backing on Sunday for the continuation of Israeli-Palestinian efforts toward a two-state solution, yet they shed no light on whether there had been any political progress after a year of negotiations.
Those negotiations, which began last fall at an American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, have proved inconclusive so far. The Bush administration has conceded that the original goal of an agreement by the end of this year is unlikely to be met. The first year of discussions also ended short on details, with quartet representatives pledging to respect the "bilateral and confidential nature" of the negotiations.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister of Israel, briefed the representatives of the quartet, which includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, on Sunday in the lush gardens of a hotel in this Red Sea resort.
Despite a lack of obvious evidence of political progress, representatives of the quartet were clearly hoping that the peace process would survive the political transition in the United States and a possible change of government in Israel, where elections are scheduled for Feb. 10.
Abbas said that he and the Israelis would continue to meet until the Israeli elections were over and the new American administration was in office, and that joint technical committees would continue with their work.
Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and the quartet's special envoy, said the "single most important thing is that the new administration in the United States grips this issue from Day 1."
The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that while obstacles remained, the parties to the talks "shared their assessment that the present negotiations are substantial and promising" and that they have put in place a "solid negotiating structure for continued progress in the future."
The quartet representatives — including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia; Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief; Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Europe's external relations commissioner; and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France — also pledged to respect the Israeli and Palestinian principle that there should be no partial agreements toward a two-state solution.
Livni said she was aware that the need for discretion could sometimes lead to "mistrust" and "cynicism," but she said it was necessary to conduct the negotiations the right way.
The quartet again floated the idea of an international conference in Moscow to promote Middle East peace, saying that next spring "could be an appropriate time" for such a meeting — the same language the quartet used in a statement delivered in New York six weeks earlier.
Lavrov told reporters in Sharm el Sheik that such a conference would be devoted primarily to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but that it would also deal with issues related to Syria and Lebanon.
Gil Messing, a spokesman for Livni, said that Israel would have "no problem" with such a meeting, as long as the agenda was coordinated between the sides in advance.
But Israeli officials have made it known that, seeking to avoid international pressure and new deadlines, they are not eager for a Moscow meeting, and there are doubts it will actually take place.
The quartet also stated that in the absence of a joint request by the parties, "third parties should not intervene in the bilateral negotiations."
Unable to detail any progress in the talks, the sides have instead been focusing on highlighting what they call changing realities in the West Bank, where Palestinian security forces have started to exert more control.
Rice and others have recently been emphasizing that the work started in Annapolis is an "integrated process" that includes elements of domestic Palestinian state-building, and they have been presenting at least that aspect as a success.
Abbas has also been trying to convince skeptical Palestinians and others that the process has not been in vain, even if it has not produced conclusive results.
At a news conference with Rice on Friday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas cited the Paris donors' conference last December as an example of the many benefits of Annapolis. There, the international community pledged more than $7 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority over three years. "Many of them fulfilled their obligations and commitments," Abbas said.
Brazil gang blows up police station
Monday, November 10, 2008
RIO DE JANEIRO: A group of men used dynamite to blow up a police station in a town in Brazil's Sao Paulo state on Monday, after seizing machine guns and a large cache of confiscated drugs from the building.
Globo TV network showed images of the wrecked building with its roof blown off and patrol cars nearby covered in rubble after the attack, which took place in Botucatu around 150 miles (240 km) west of Sao Paulo city at about 5 a.m.
"I opened my window and saw a fire, the wall falling down, there was a lot of noise from things falling, one explosion after another," Neide Albertini, a cook who lives next door to the station, told Globo.
Witnesses said the men arrived at the station in a small truck and broke down the station's front door.
They took pistols, machine guns, bullet-proof vests, 220 pounds (100 kg) of marijuana and 50 pounds (23 kg) of cocaine paste and cocaine and then set fire to all the files in the building, police said.
"It was a very audacious act," said police chief Carlos Antonio Juliao Filho. "The station was completely destroyed."
Violence by organized crime groups funded by illegal drugs is a major problem in Brazil. A wave of attacks by a prison gang against police in the financial capital Sao Paulo shocked the country in 2006, but there has been no repeat of such large-scale organized violence.
(Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
By Henry Alford
Monday, November 10, 2008
NEW YORK: I sometimes find strangers' manners so lacking that I have started engaging in an odd kind of activism. I call it reverse etiquette: I supply the apology that they should be giving me.
When the ebullient young woman behind the cash register at the grocery store dropped my apple on the ground, she smiled nervously, picked it up and put it in my bag, but said nothing. So I offered, in a neutral tone of voice, "Oh, I'm sorry." This did not elicit the remorse I hoped it would - she simply grimace-smiled and said, "That's O.K." So I added, "Sorry about that - I really didn't mean for you to drop that." At which she stared off into the mid-distance as if receiving instructions from outer space.
A few weeks later, the skinny, 20-something gentleman manning the cash register at the pizzeria told me, "I can't break a 20." So I asked, "Would you mind terribly if I went next door and got change?" He said, "That's fine." When I returned, no thanks or apology forthcoming from him, I said in a flat, nonsarcastic voice, "So sorry - I hope I didn't keep you waiting?" Confused, he shook his head no.
"I forget stuff sometimes," I said - a cue that went unmet.
How did I get here? I'd feel like a scold if I told a stranger that he has bad manners; so instead I wage a campaign of subtle remonstrance. That this subtle remonstrance was, in its initial forays at least, mostly lost on my interlocutors did not faze me: Being able to sublimate my irritation was its own reward.
But I like to think that in some instances my behavior, by causing others to wonder what I'm going on about, may help to carry out etiquette's mandate: to promote empathy. It's my distinct hope that the person who is apologized to when she drops my apple is a person who will have an epiphany the next time someone drops her apple.
And yet sometimes the angry little man inside me wants more. Much more. To wit, an apology.
So I have become more explicit in my acts of reverse etiquette. The other day I apologized to a tall, bearded man who slammed his duffel into me at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street in Manhattan. Then I told him, "I'm saying what you should be saying." He responded, in toto, "Oh, right."
This response gave me enough ground to see that I was on the right track. I realized that I just need to be even more explicit with people. So the other day, when a stroller-pushing mother semivigorously bumped into me at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street - this corner is apparently the Bermuda Triangle of manners - I expressed remorse, and added, "No one says I'm sorry anymore, so I do it for them."
"My idea is that if I say I'm sorry, then at least the words have been released into the universe."
She stared at me with equal parts irritation and faint horror, as if I had just asked her to attend a three-hour lecture on the history of the leotard.
I continued: "The apology gets said, even if it's not by the right person. It makes me feel better. And maybe you'll know what to say next time."
"Wow," she said.
And then, finally, came the words I have longed these many months to hear: "I'll think about it."
Henry Alford is the author of the forthcoming "How to Live."
Monday, November 10, 2008
SYDNEY: Australia backs Timana Tahu and Berrick Barnes are to return home from the Wallabies' tour of Europe after being injured in Saturday's 30-20 win over Italy in Padua.
Both players limped off during the match and underwent scans when the squad arrived in London on Sunday to prepare for the next match against England.
The tests revealed Tahu had torn a hamstring while Barnes had damaged the ligaments in his left knee, ruling the pair out for the rest of the tour.
"It's obviously disappointing for both those players," Australia flyhalf Matt Giteau told reporters in London.
"They've been training really well and, in particular, Berrick has consistently been playing well.
"Timana hasn't had many opportunities, but I thought yesterday when he was given his opportunity he was playing well.
"It's disappointing in that aspect. But, having said that, with injuries always come opportunities."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
Monday, November 10, 2008
SYDNEY: Super 14 referees will be chosen on merit rather than nationality under a new plan to be introduced to the competition next year.
Under the current rules, matches between teams from opposing countries have to be handled by a "neutral" referee in the annual tournament for provincial teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia (SANZAR).
However, SANZAR officials have agreed to scrap the rule from 2009 and appoint the best referees for the best matches, regardless of their nationality.
"This is a significant step and was taken simply because we wanted to have the best refereeing the best," SANZAR Managing Director Andy Marinos said in a statement Monday.
"It obviously means that a South African, Australian or New Zealander could referee his countrymen when they play against a team from one of the other two nations. But we are confident in the ability of our officials to handle the change." SANZAR said the appointments would be decided by a refereering panel, which would judge the performances of match officials throughout the season.
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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