Did the Republican Party of George W. Bush want to win this election? I wonder.
With many of its moderate senators and congressmen unseated, that party still exists and it's not evident it belongs to Senator John McCain.
But either way, this was a hospital pass election if ever there was one. Perhaps either McCain, or the GOP grandees, came to the conclusion that this wasn't a ball they wanted to receive, that only a Democrat administration could wipe clean the slate for the GOP or at least begin to. Were I a Republican party grandee, I'd be quite happy to let the Democrats pick up the check for the last 8 years and try and pay it off, because the chances are they'll end up having to wash dishes in the kitchen to sort this mess out.
McCain began his primary campaign well before the financial meltdown, before the war in Afghanistan was lost, before Mexico began the final journey to becoming a narco state (a government plane crashed on the day of the election, an accident we are told, at least for now, but a fine time for a cartel to murder the U.S.A.'s southern neigbbour's Interior Minister); before Bhutto's assasination and a nuclear Pakistan possibly falling to the Taliban, before the escalation of Iran's nuclear capabalities; beforethe Congo, before India degenerating into ethnic chaos, before global recession/depresssion, before Obama won the democractic primary.
Surely he must have realised that the presidency was a poisoned chalice. Chosing Palin, someone so clearly incompetent and in the very midst of an ethics investigation, a person who who stood a 1 in 8 chance of becoming President, given all the variables, was the equivalent of scuttling his campaign. McCain may have started out wanting to become President of the U.S.A but by the time it looked like he might actually have a chance, he bailed.
Palin moved the undecided and previous moderate republicans firmly to Obama. Race relations in the U.S.A are so appalling that only such a fine W. mess could possibly have allowed a black man to be elected, even a half white one who has spent his entire adult life less than 12 miles from an elite American university campus.
Berlusconi's tasteless remarks about Obama being young, handsome and even tanned pretty much summed up what type of black man is 'in'. Gays on the other hand are still very much 'out' as judged by the large number of anti-gay marriage ballot successes.
Nevertheless there was a photo from the campaign trail of a confederate flag with the slogan "Even Rednecks Have Had Enough".
Perhaps so had McCain.
Now China points finger at foreign milk products
Thursday, November 6, 2008
BEIJING: China, embroiled in a tainted milk scandal that has made thousands of infants sick, has published a list of foreign companies that failed to meet quality standards for imported products ranging from milk powder to rosewater.
At least four children died and tens of thousands were made ill by drinking milk powder adulterated with melamine, prompting many worried parents to switch to foreign-made formula.
Melamine, a compound used in making plastic chairs among other uses, is added to food to cheat nutrition tests and has since been found in other dairy products, eggs and animal feed, prompting recalls of Chinese-made products around the world.
China's quality watchdog intercepted 191 batches of problem foreign goods in July, including milk powder and other dairy products made by Australian and South Korean companies, the Beijing News said, citing the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
Nearly nine tonnes of "Ausnutria" brand milk powder produced by Australian dairy company Tatura Industries and supplied to an Australian-Chinese joint venture in southern Hunan province had failed a standard for E. sakazaki, a bacteria, according to a list posted on AQSIQ's website (http://www.aqsiq.gov.cn ).
A company official at Tatura said the problem batch had passed quality inspections in Australia before being seized at Chinese customs.
"The products never made it into the local market," Tony McKenna, general manager of Nutritionals at Tatura, told Reuters by telephone.
"We've absolute faith in our quality systems, but we will comply with all of (the Chinese) requirements," McKenna said.
More than 14 tonnes of "Pauls" brand milk imported from Australia had also failed a bacteria standard, the notice said.
"Pauls" milk is produced by Parmalat Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Italian dairy giant Parmalat.
Parmalat Australia said in a statement emailed to Reuters it had never been informed of any problems with its products by Chinese authorities.
"We are keen to assist in any way to clarify the issue but it is unusual that the issue has just been raised now and only through the media," the statement said.
"All Parmalat products are subject to stringent quality standards, passing quality inspections in Australia prior to export," it added.
Authorities also seized more than 4,000 pounds (1,970 kg) of a brand of cheese supplied by an American company to Chinese dairy producer Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, and other products ranging from British biscuits to chicken feet from Argentina.
It was not clear why the customs authority posted the list more than three months after the inspections, but the publication comes as China battles to improve its food safety system in the wake of a series of food and product-safety scandals.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom)
One woman's genome hints at causes of cancer
By Denise Grady
Thursday, November 6, 2008
For the first time, researchers have decoded all the genes of a person with cancer and found a set of mutations that may have caused the disease or aided its progression.
Using cells donated by a woman in her 50s who died of leukemia, the scientists sequenced all the DNA from her cancer cells and compared it with the DNA from her own normal, healthy skin cells. Then they zeroed in on 10 mutations that occurred only in the cancer cells, apparently spurring abnormal growth, preventing the cells from suppressing that growth and enabling them to fight off chemotherapy.
The findings will not help patients immediately, but researchers say they could lead to new therapies and will almost certainly help doctors make better choices among existing treatments, based on a more detailed genetic picture of each patient's cancer. Though the research involved leukemia, the same techniques can also be used to study other cancers.
"This is the first of many of these whole cancer genomes to be sequenced," said Richard Wilson, director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and the senior author of the study. "They'll give us a whole bunch of clues about what's going on in the DNA when cancer starts to bloom."
The mutations - genetic mistakes - found in this research were not inborn, but developed later in life, like most mutations that cause cancer. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of all cancers are thought to be hereditary.
The new research, by looking at the entire genome - all the DNA - and aiming to find all the mutations involved in a particular cancer, differs markedly from earlier studies, which have searched fewer genes.
The project, which took months and cost $1 million, was made possible by recent advances in technology that have made it easier and cheaper to analyze hundreds of millions of DNA snippets. The study is being published Thursday in the journal Nature.
Wilson said he hoped that in five to 20 years, decoding a patient's cancer genome would consist of dropping a spot of blood onto a chip that slides into a desktop computer and getting back a report that suggests which drugs will work best.
"That's personalized genomics, personalized medicine in a box," he said. "It's holy grail sort of stuff, but I think it's not out of the realm of possibility."
Until now, Wilson said, most work on cancer mutations has focused on just a few hundred genes already suspected of being involved in the disease, not the 20,000 or so genes that make up the full human genome.
The older approach is useful, Wilson said, "but if there are genes mutated that you don't know about or don't expect, you'll miss them." Indeed, 8 of the 10 mutations his group discovered would not have been found with the more traditional approach.
A cancer expert not involved with the study, Dr. Steven Nimer, chief of the hematology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, called the research a "tour de force" and the report "a wonderful paper."
He said the whole-genome approach seemed likely to yield important information about other types of cancer as well as leukemia.
"It is supporting evidence for the idea that you can't just go after the things you know about," Nimer said.
"It would be nice to have this kind of information on every patient we treat," he added.
Nimer also predicted that oncologists would quickly want to start looking for these mutations in their patients or in stored samples from former patients, to see if they could help in predicting the course of the disease or selecting treatments.
Studying cancer genomes has become a major thrust of research. In the past few years the U.S. government has spent $100 million for genome studies in lung and ovarian cancers and glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain tumor.
The person who gave her cells for the study at Washington University became not only the first cancer patient, but also the first woman to have her entire genome decoded. Her information will be available only to scientists and not posted publicly, to protect her privacy and that of her family.
The only other complete human genomes open to researchers so far have come from men, two scientists who ran decoding projects and chose to bare their own DNA to the world: James Watson and J. Craig Venter.
Shower time's up
There are many useful ways to conserve water. (No, drinking beer is not one of them.) The ECO Showerdrop bills itself as being the world's first low-cost, universal shower meter. The device uses a numerical display to show how many liters of water you have used and how much time you have spent in the shower. The shower meter also comes with a man-shaped icon that displays how much water you have been using. When the icon reaches 35 liters, or about 9 gallons, a buzzer sounds for five seconds. The meter continues to measure water use up to 99 liters, after which, well, get out already. Customers in the United States can tailor the ECO Showerdrop to read in gallons. It is also possible to change the recommended 35-liter benchmark. The product is available for £10, or about $16, plus shipping from the Ethical Superstore (ethicalsuperstore.com).
- AZADEH ENSHA
China to spend billions on quake reconstruction
Thursday, November 6, 2008
BEIJING: China will spend 1 trillion yuan (92.6 billion pounds) over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the Sichuan earthquake, local media reported on Thursday, citing the country's top planning agency.
The May 12 quake killed 80,000 people and left about 10 million homeless as whole villages were razed across a broad swath of southwest China.
The funds would have the goal of making "basic living standards and economic development match or exceed pre-quake levels," the Beijing News said, citing the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
The budget, allocated to 51 of the hardest-hit counties in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, would include 120 billion yuan for health, education and other basic services, the NDRC said in a notice on its website (www.ndrc.gov.cn).
Other funds would be divided among housing construction, industrial development, environmental protection and big-ticket infrastructure projects, including a multi-billion yuan railway connecting Sichuan capital Chengdu with the quake-damaged town of Dujiangyan.
The quake reconstruction budget follows calls from Chinese officials for swift measures to lift government spending to cushion the impact of the global financial crisis.
China plans to spend 5 trillion yuan on roads, waterways and ports in the next three to five years, a massive increase over initial budget plan of 2 trillion yuan, according to a report in the semi-official China Business News on Wednesday.
Chinese media has also reported that the government has approved a total of 2 trillion yuan for railway investment since the start of 2004, of which 1.2 trillion has already been spent.
(Reporting by Lucy Hornby and Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Energy group sounds dual warnings
By Jad Mouawad
Thursday, November 6, 2008
NEW YORK: In a stark warning, the International Energy Agency said Thursday that the world's energy systems would need extensive new investment to meet growing demand, while warning at the same time that urgent action was required to curb carbon emissions that cause global warming.
The agency, an adviser to industrialized nations, said the world's energy systems were strained by dueling forces. First, growing energy consumption in developing nations is stretching the ability of many producers to increase their supplies, which could result in a prolonged period of high and volatile prices. At the same time, rising energy demand could also lead to serious changes in the world's climate in coming decades if carbon emissions are not curbed.
"Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable - environmentally, economically, and socially," the agency said. "But that can - and must - be altered."
It added, "Preventing catastrophic and irreversible damage to the global climate ultimately requires a major decarburization of the world energy sources."
The assessment came in an executive summary of the World Energy Outlook, an annual survey of global energy issues, which was made public Thursday. The full report is to be released next week.
The agency's experts have become increasingly alarmed in recent years at the slow pace of development of oil resources, which they said might lead to a "supply crunch" in coming years as growth in energy demand outpaces supply.
Higher oil prices and lower economic growth have led the agency to revise its forecast for global oil demand. It now expects consumption to reach 106 million barrels a day in 2030 - 10 million barrels a day less than was forecast last year. Consumption now stands at 86 million barrels a day.
Still, the agency warned that the world would find it challenging to meet higher demand, which is coming mainly from developing nations.
The world is not running out of oil, the agency said, but after conducting an exhaustive analysis of the 800 biggest oil fields, it found that producers would face a steep path just to keep production from declining, let alone growing.
The effort needed is substantial: The world will need to increase its production by 64 million barrels a day, or nearly six times the production of Saudi Arabia, to meet the expected growth in demand and make up for the drop in production from mature fields.
But investment is also lagging. Oil and natural gas investment of $8.4 trillion will be required through 2030. The average yearly amount is "significantly" less than is being spent now, the agency said. As a result, oil prices, which have been falling lately, could rise again once the global economy picks up. The agency forecast that prices could rise above $100 a barrel by 2015, and may reach $200 a barrel by 2030.
Also, in a timely reminder of the challenges awaiting the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, the agency said carbon emissions were set to double by the end of the century, pushing global temperatures up as much as 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) or if nothing is done to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The agency said reductions in the carbon output of the United States and China, the world's top two emitters, would be critical to stabilizing global emissions.
"The future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us today: securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation to a low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply," the report said.
Nicholas D. Kristof: The Obama dividend
Thursday, November 6, 2008
America is more than a place. At its best, it also is an idea.
When my father was driven from his home in Eastern Europe in World War II, he initially settled in France. But France offered no opportunity to impoverished refugees, so my father sought better prospects for himself and his descendents by moving on to an Oregon logging camp to begin to learn English and start a new life. What lured him was not the real estate of America, but the idea of America.
We Americans have periodically betrayed that idea of equality and opportunity, but on Tuesday evening we powerfully revitalized it. I invited people to post their thoughts on Barack Obama's election on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and the result was an outpouring from every nook of the globe.
Jessica watched the results from a bar in Cape Town and wrote: "For the first time in recent memory, I can shout in the streets that I am American and be proud of the progress, hope and color that now define us."
In Switzerland, an American was bathed in compliments comparing the election to the fall of the Berlin Wall. An American in Kenya named Tom wore an Obama T-shirt and found that his walk to work took more than an hour because so many people stopped to congratulate him and celebrate with him.
An awed Tanzanian named Leonard wrote to say that this election has promoted democracy far more effectively than anything the United States could say or do. He ended: "Long live America."
And here in the United States, an 8-year-old boy announced on Wednesday morning his new career goal: He will be America's first Latino president.
The outpouring suggests that the United States will enjoy an Obama dividend of global good will in the coming months, a chance to hammer out progress on common threats. "Barack" means blessing in Swahili, and this election feels like America's great chance to rejoin the world after eight years of self-exile.
Obama's election may also be a political milestone, ending an era in which Republicans succeeded at winning votes from the working poor to cut taxes for billionaires. That was the Republican Party's great success over the last 40 years. Blue-collar Americans regularly voted like stockbrokers because they felt more at home with Republican traditional values.
Obama chipped away at this values divide, and that's why the United States will have its first Democratic president since John Kennedy who isn't from the South. Obama just may be able to stitch together a Democratic majority for years to come.
Still, Obama will soon have to prove himself. Remember that when Gordon Brown became the British prime minister last year, he was beloved for his reserve and cool competence - a demeanor a bit like Obama's, though without the eloquence. Within a few months, voters were calling for Brown's head.
One of Obama's challenges will be to harness the extraordinary idealism that he inspired in his campaign to a larger, national cause.
My 11-year-old daughter toiled with her friends this fall to sell lemonade and cookies to raise money for Obama's campaign, all on their own initiative. On Election Day, my daughter was still selling Obama buttons in the street, and on election night, she flagrantly defied her bedtime rules to celebrate as history unfolded. Now she's ready to drop out of school - who needs algebra? - and become a community organizer.
The obvious way to institutionalize that kind of excitement is a national service program, not only for young people but also for graying baby boomers considering "encore careers."
Whatever the next step, it's worth savoring this historic vista.
First, look backward at a long-forgotten horror. In 1958, a little white girl in North Carolina innocently kissed a 9-year-old black friend named Hanover on the cheek. The police arrested the boy, along with his 7-year-old companion, and a court sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment for attempted rape. (After publicity, the boy was eventually released.)
Considering that past, perhaps the most incisive comment on Obama's election actually came long ago. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the Hawaii Legislature in 1959, two years before Obama was born in Honolulu, and declared that the civil rights movement aimed not just to free blacks but "to free the soul of America."
King ended his Hawaii speech by quoting a prayer from a preacher who had once been a slave, and it's an apt description of the idea of America today: "Lord, we ain't what we want to be; we ain't what we ought to be; we ain't what we gonna be, but, thank God, we ain't what we was."
France jails 4 members of jihad network
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 6, 2008
PARIS: A French court on Thursday sentenced four men of North African origin to prison terms for taking part in a network that recruited Islamists in southern France to join the war in Iraq.
The court sentenced Hamid Bach, a 38-year-old Moroccan, to six years in jail for criminal conspiracy in relation with a terrorist enterprise. Police who arrested him in June 2005 found Islamist literature, chemical substances and lists of contacts at his home in the city of Montpellier.
Bach told investigators that he supported a jihad, or holy war, but he did not confirm allegations that he planned an attack on European soil.
Two other Moroccans and one Franco-Algerian also were convicted of the same charges. They were sentenced to between two and four years in jail.
The court heard that Bach traveled to Syria in June 2004 with another French resident said to have contacts in Fallujah, then a hot spot for the insurgency in Iraq. However, Bach decided at the last minute not to cross into Iraq, where his traveling companion is believed to have been killed.
Instead, Bach returned to France where he is alleged to have collected information and materials for fabricating a bomb with one of the other defendants, fellow Moroccan Youssef Bousag.
Bousag, 23, was sentenced to three years in prison, but will be released immediately because he already has served his time while waiting for trial.
Minibus bomb kills 8 in restive Russian region
By Michael Schwirtz
Friday, November 7, 2008
MOSCOW: A powerful explosion tore into a minibus in Russia's tumultuous Caucasus region on Thursday, killing at least eight people in what investigators said might have been an act of terrorism, possibly by a female suicide bomber.
Investigators and local officials said at least 30 people were wounded in the blast, which occurred close to the central market in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, a Russian region that borders South Ossetia, the separatist enclave where Russia and Georgia fought a short, bloody war in August.
The investigative committee of the Prosecutor's Office in Moscow said it had opened a criminal inquiry into whether the bombing was a terrorist attack, a statement on the committee's Web site said, though no information on possible suspects was released.
"One of the theories is that this could have been a female suicide bomber," said Larisa Khabitsova, the chairwoman of North Ossetia's Parliament.
While she cautioned that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions, she added, "It is absolutely clear that this was a terrorist attack."
A spokesman for the investigative committee said at a news conference in Moscow that investigators had found bomb fragments at the site of the blast.
Russian television showed the scorched minibus, its right-side sliding door blown off and windshield shattered, and pools of blood soaking the street.
"According to preliminary data, the explosion most likely occurred not inside the minibus, but at the bus stop," said Alla Akhpolova, a spokeswoman for the local police.
Several of the wounded are in serious condition, Akhpolova said.
North Ossetia, which also shares borders with Chechnya and Ingushetia, two violence-plagued Russian republics, has been the site of major attacks in the past. In 2004, a raid by Chechen rebel fighters on a school in Beslan, not far from Vladikavkaz, resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, many of them children.
Last month, the deputy mayor of Vladikavkaz was wounded when a bomb exploded in his car. "We resolutely condemn this brutal murder of innocent people and express our sincere condolences to the victims' families," said John Byerly, the United States ambassador to Russia, in comments reported by Interfax.
"Together with Russia, the U.S. will continue to make every effort to defeat any terrorist groups," he said.
Rumor mill sees groundwork for another Putin presidency
U.S. conservatives are left confused and divided
By Sam Tanenhaus
Thursday, November 6, 2008
One by one, prized Republican strongholds fell Tuesday night and Wednesday. Ohio and Indiana, Florida and Virginia, Colorado and Nevada - all succumbed to President-elect Barack Obama. And for conservatives it was as disorienting a day as any in the history of the movement that has been a dominant force in shaping modern American politics.
One thing was clear: The Republican Party was no longer the party of George W. Bush. But exactly whose party was it, and whose should it become? Senator John McCain never quite succeeded in presenting a coherent alternative version. Can someone else do better?
The answers that have emerged so far reflect the party's current confusion. A coalition once notable for its disciplined unity is now threatened by sectarian rifts that could widen significantly in the weeks ahead. Already, neoconservative defense hawks are pitted against isolationists, libertarian anti-tax brigades resist the values-driven politics of social conservatives, and the party's intellectuals operate at a growing remove from the base.
Consider the case of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. To some conservatives - including several scheduled to attend a brainstorming meeting in Virginia on Thursday - Palin represents the party's fresh-faced future. She personifies the values of small-town evangelicals, and her Western style lends piquancy to her populist mockery of Washington elites and what she has called "the permanent political establishment."
And yet that establishment includes Republicans like Colin Powell, Bush's former secretary of state, and Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's final White House chief of staff, both of whom voiced their dismay at Palin's presence on the ticket and declared their support for Obama shortly before Election Day.
Meanwhile, party operatives, crunching the unfriendly numbers, are rethinking the red state versus blue state election model mastered by tacticians like Karl Rove. Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, wants the party to redirect its energies toward voters in the populous states of the Northeast and the Great Lakes region. James Greer, the Republican chairman of Florida, believes the party must adjust to changing demographics. "The party needs to focus on Hispanic voters and African-American voters," Greer told The New York Times. "It is the future of the Republican Party."
But the hunt for votes is only part of the problem. There is, more fundamentally, the question of what the two parties have to say and how they say it. Longstanding ideological debates, in particular, seem increasingly irrelevant and out of date.
It may well be that some of Obama's positions are to the left of the nation's at large - as McCain and others asserted time and again.
But it may also be that most Americans do not much care. What seems to have impressed them is Obama's attunement to the problems afflicting the country and the hope he offered that they might be solved.
If so, then Republicans may have to jettison some of the most familiar items on their agenda. "The issues that have provided conservatives with victories in the past - particularly welfare and crime - have been rendered irrelevant by success," Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter turned columnist, wrote last week. "The issues of the moment - income stagnation, climate disruption, massive demographic shifts and health care access - seem strange, unexplored land for many in the movement."
The topics scheduled for the conservative conference on Thursday, according to one participant, include a discussion of how to rebuild a "national grass-roots political and policy coalition" modeled on the one conservatives put together in the 1970s, when in the waning days of liberal hegemony, Washington organizations like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation extruded position papers, and publications like The Public Interest and Commentary became citadels of conservative ideology. Movements are conditioned to absorb setbacks and losses. The election Tuesday is the latest, and probably not the last. It has given the Republican Party a fresh challenge - one it has not shied from in the past.
McCain campaign divided over Palin
By Elisabeth Bumiller
Thursday, November 6, 2008
PHOENIX, Arizona: As a top adviser in Senator John McCain's now-imploded campaign tells the story, it was bad enough that Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska unwittingly scheduled, and then took, a prank telephone call from a Canadian comedian posing as the president of France. Far worse, the adviser said, she failed to inform her ticketmate about her rogue diplomacy.
As a senior adviser in the Palin campaign tells the story, the charge is absurd. The call had been on Palin's schedule for three days and she should not have been faulted if the McCain campaign was too clueless to notice.
Whatever the truth, one thing is certain. Palin was the catalyst for the conflict between her campaign and McCain's that raged from mid-September up until moments before McCain's concession speech Tuesday night. By then, Palin was in only infrequent contact with McCain, top advisers said.
"I think it was a difficult relationship," said one top McCain campaign official, who, like almost all others interviewed, asked to remain anonymous. "McCain talked to her occasionally."
The tensions and their increasingly public airing provide a revealing coda to the ill-fated McCain-Palin ticket, hinting at the mounting turmoil of a campaign that was described even by many Republicans as incoherent, negative and badly run.
For her part, Palin said in Arizona on Wednesday morning that "there is absolutely no diva in me."
Later in the day, she refused to address the strife within the campaign. "I have absolutely no intention of engaging in any of the negativity because this has been all positive for me," she said, adding that it was time to savor President-elect Barack Obama's victory and "not let the pettiness or maybe internal workings of a campaign erode any of the recognition of this historic moment."
As the running mate with a potentially brighter political future, Palin has more at stake going forward than McCain, whose aides now have an interest in blaming outside factors for their loss, making Palin a tempting target. And even as the votes from Tuesday's election were still being counted, there were new recriminations, with McCain's aides suggesting that a Palin aide had been leaking damaging information about them to reporters.
The tensions were described in interviews with top aides to the two campaigns who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be seen as disloyal to McCain's effort at a difficult time.
Finger-pointing at the end of a losing campaign is traditional and to a large degree predictable, as McCain himself acknowledged in a prescient interview in July.
"Every book I've read about a campaign is that the one that won, it was a perfect and beautifully run campaign with geniuses running it and incredible messaging, et cetera," McCain said then. "And always the one that lost, 'Oh, completely screwed up, too much infighting, bad people, et cetera.' So if I win, I believe that historians will say, 'Way to go, he fine-tuned that campaign, and he got the right people in the right place and as the campaign grew, he gave them more responsibility.' If I lose," people will say, "'That campaign, always in disarray."'
The disputes within the campaign centered in large part on the Republican National Committee's $150,000 wardrobe for Palin and her family, but also on what McCain advisers considered Palin's lack of preparation for her disastrous interview with Katie Couric of CBS News and her refusal to take advice from McCain's campaign.
But behind those episodes may be a greater subtext: anger within the McCain camp that Palin harbored political ambitions beyond 2008.
As late as Tuesday night, a McCain adviser said, Palin was pushing to deliver her own speech just before McCain's concession speech, even though vice presidential nominees do not traditionally speak on election night. But Palin met with McCain with text in hand. She was told no by Mark Salter, one of McCain's closest advisers, and Steve Schmidt, McCain's top strategist.
On Wednesday, two top McCain campaign advisers said that the clothing purchases for Palin and her family were a particular source of outrage for them. As they portrayed it, Palin had been advised by Nicolle Wallace, a senior McCain aide, that she should buy three new suits for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, in September and three additional suits for the fall campaign. The budget for the clothes was anticipated to be $20,000 to $25,000, the officials said.
Instead, in a public relations debacle undermining Palin's image as an everywoman "hockey mom," bills came in to the Republican National Committee for about $150,000, including charges of $75,062 at Neiman Marcus and $49,425 at Saks Fifth Avenue. The bills included clothing for Palin's family as well as purchases of shoes, luggage and jewelry, the advisers said.
The advisers described the McCain campaign as incredulous about the shopping spree and said that Republican National Committee lawyers would probably go to Alaska to conduct an inventory and try to account for all that was spent.
Palin has defended her wardrobe as the idea of the Republican National Committee and said that she would give it back.
"Those clothes, they are not my property," she said. "Just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased."
Advisers in the McCain campaign, in suggesting that Palin advisers had been leaking damaging information about the McCain campaign to the media, said they were particularly suspicious of Randy Scheunemann, McCain's top foreign policy aide, who had a central role in preparing Palin for the vice-presidential debate.
The McCain camp was further upset about Palin's interview with Couric, which aired at a time when Palin was meeting with foreign leaders at the United Nations and trying to establish some foreign policy credentials. Palin's wobbly and tongue-tied performance was mocked in an iconic impersonation by Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live."
Palin, who had prepared for and survived an initial interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, did not have the time or focus to prepare for the Couric interview, the McCain advisers said. "She did not say, 'I will not prepare,"' a McCain adviser said. "She just didn't have a bandwidth to do a mock interview session the way we had prepared before. She was just overloaded."
One of the last straws for the McCain advisers came just days before the election, when news broke that Palin had taken a call made by Marc-Antoine Audette. Audette and his fellow comedian, Sébastien Trudel, are notorious for prank calls to celebrities and heads of state.
Palin appeared to believe that she was talking to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, even though the prankster had a flamboyant French accent and spoke to her in a more personal way than would be protocol in such a call. At one point, he told Palin that she would make a good president someday.
"Maybe in eight years," she replied.
Julie Bosman and Michael Cooper contributed reporting.
Palin returns to Alaska
By William Yardley
Thursday, November 6, 2008
ANCHORAGE: Her last ride on the McCain-Palin campaign plane ended here, back home in the cold and the snow and the familiar.
"We are Alaskans!" Governor Sarah Palin, standing with her husband Todd, told scores of cheering supporters who showed up to greet her upon her return to Alaska late Wednesday.
Standing on the icy tarmac on a subfreezing night, Palin said she had learned much about America in her time on the campaign trail with Senator John McCain. She also said she looked forward to getting back to her day job. She promised to work to expand development of Alaska's oil and gas resources and also to be a voice for families, like her own, that have children with special needs. She said she would "reach out" to Senator Barack Obama, the president-elect, on these issues and more.
"I just thank God for this opportunity that I have to be your governor," Palin said.
"You did so great out there," one woman in the crowd said. "We are so proud of you," read one sign. A chant gained volume, encouraging Palin to return to the national stage: "Two thousand twelve!"
Then Palin turned to speak to reporters. Once again, she asserted that the rumors of tension between her and McCain were not true. In fact, she said, they spoke by phone today during her layover in Seattle.
"We had a great relationship," she said, adding, "I love him."
One tough lesson she said she learned Outside, as Alaskans often call the rest of the country: the media is not always fair. She mocked the notion that she had, as some have claimed, "gone rogue" while running for vice president.
Palin faces some complicated political dynamics now that she has returned. Some state Democrats, often her allies in the past, have been angered by her aggressive partisanship on the campaign trail. Then again, Palin has criticized some important local Republicans, too.
Last week, after Senator Ted Stevens was convicted on federal charges that he failed to disclose gifts and free home renovations he received, Palin joined McCain and other top Republicans in calling for him to resign. Yet while Palin lost her bid for the vice presidency, Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, holds a narrow lead in his bid for a seventh full term.
Asked Wednesday whether she still believed that Stevens should resign, Palin was circumspect, saying only that the people of Alaska "just spoke" on the issue at the ballot box and that "they want him as their senator." She said Stevens should decide "what happens next." ( Stevens could still be forced to step down, and Palin is widely viewed as a potential candidate for his seat if he does.)
The governor took a few more questions, then turned back to the crowd of supporters and worked her last rope line under the supervision of media advisers to the McCain-Palin campaign and the Secret Service.
"This is the last time they'll be doing this for her," said Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the campaign, gesturing toward the wall of agents at Palin's back. "But for right now, she's still under protection."
By The New York Times
Thursday, November 6, 2008
New York: The dismal state of the American economy helped decide the U.S. presidential election Tuesday. And it almost certainly will dominate the early days of the administration of Barack Obama.
Few presidents have entered office with an economy in such turmoil. Reflecting worries that the worst may not be over, the U.S. stock market continues to languish, with a 5 percent decline Wednesday, leaving it 35 percent below its peak last fall.
The reasons are myriad: the financial system, though back from the brink, remains deeply troubled. Housing may no longer be in free fall, but plummeting values and rising defaults have impoverished many homeowners and burdened states with widening budget deficits. The once-mighty American auto industry is on the verge of implosion.
Consumers who piled up credit card debt are pulling back, a major concern because their spending helped power economic growth in recent years. And with U.S. unemployment widely expected to increase to 8 percent or higher, from 6.1 percent, consumers are likely to tighten their belts even more.
Moreover, with upward of $1 trillion already pledged by the U.S. government to bail out the banking and housing industries, financing a growing deficit to address the problems could be difficult and saddle the Treasury Department with high levels of debt for years to come.
But even before President-elect Obama takes the oath of office, Democrats are likely to push his agenda with urgency, because the economy otherwise could worsen quickly complicating the task ahead. "The cost of allowing an economy to flounder is very high in lost output and rising unemployment," said James Glassman, chief domestic economist at JPMorgan Chase & Company.
Here are some of the crucial issues that economists say will test the new administration, and how it might address them.
ECONOMIC STIMULUS: Obama is likely to act quickly
Quick passage of an economic stimulus package is high on Obama's agenda, even more pressing for the moment than the tax package that he promoted repeatedly during his campaign.
Congress could act on the stimulus this month but only if the president-elect signals that he favors a preinauguration special session, congressional Democrats said. Legislators would more than likely adopt some relatively inexpensive measures rather than try to pass a much larger outlay that the Bush administration might oppose. After he takes office, Obama is likely to ask Congress for an additional economic lift, those in his camp say.
Before the election, the party leadership in Congress discussed a lame-duck session to take up a bill that would pump $150 billion to $200 billion into the economy. That would follow the $168 billion stimulus, most of it in rebate checks mailed to tens of millions of Americans earlier this year.
Those checks lifted spending a bit. But they came before the credit crisis struck in force in early September.
"We need a package that matches the problem as it exists today, and in my view that means at least $200 billion a year for a couple of years," said a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee staff.
As private sector spending dries up, the case builds among Republicans as well as Democrats for the government to jump-start the economy.
"Right now, the economy is in a really deep recession," said Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior economic adviser to John McCain.
Like many Republicans, he wants the stimulus whatever its size to be a cut in tax rates, not an increase in public spending. The Obama camp also supports a tax cut, possibly front-loaded so that refund checks would go out before tax returns are filed in April. But that would be enacted after the inauguration.
As for immediate relief, Obama aides say, a lame-duck session of Congress could pass a $60 billion package of additional outlays for food stamps, extended unemployment benefits and subsidies to the states to minimize their spending cuts.
The big question is "should the Democrats risk a Bush veto in a lame-duck session," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an Obama adviser, "or should they wait for Obama to take office in January to get a more effective recovery package."
As a candidate, Obama said he would extend the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 for families whose income is under $250,000 a year. He pledged to add new tax breaks for homeowners who did not itemize deductions and more breaks for savings accounts, college costs and farming. He said he would change the alternative minimum tax so it did not affect the middle class.
To raise revenue, Obama said he would repeal the Bush tax cuts for people in the top two marginal tax brackets before their scheduled expiration at the end of 2010, and raise taxes on capital gains and dividends.
His tax plans are reminiscent of Clinton administration policies that increased taxes on the affluent but gave targeted breaks to others. He would also repeal corporate loopholes and retain an estate tax.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the Obama plans would reduce revenues by as much as $2.9 trillion over a decade. The center said Obama's incentives could strengthen the labor market, while giving further breaks to "an already favored group seniors."
- Louis Uchitelle and Jackie Calmes
TRADE: Cooperation fades, protectionism rises
What consensus there was on international trade seemed to evaporate with the failure of world trade talks this summer. Indeed, with the world on the brink of a global recession, led by the United States and Europe, the fear of a rise in protectionism grows.
The first test of sustaining international cooperation will come on Nov. 14 and 15, long before Obama takes office. Leaders from 20 major countries will gather in Washington with President George W. Bush to embark on an effort to rewrite international financial regulations an undertaking some liken to a latter-day Bretton Woods conference.
Whether or not he attends, Obama will cast a long shadow.
In short order, the recession and a likely spike in unemployment are sure to put him under pressure from union supporters, as well as congressional Democrats, to take a tougher line on trade.
"China is the issue that should be part of Obama's trade policy right away," said Thea Lee, the chief economist of the AFL-CIO labor group. "Part of it is sending a strong message to the Chinese government that the U.S. is not willing to tolerate currency manipulation and violation of workers' rights."
But the Chinese economy is slowing, making its leaders even less receptive to demands to allow their currency to rise. The United States will also need the Chinese to buy a good chunk of the debt being run up by the bailout of banks and housing.
It is also unclear whether Obama will pursue a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he discussed in the hard-fought primaries.
"He parsed his answers in a way that suggests he understands the importance of global trade," said Hank Cox, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers.
- Mark Landler
AUTO INDUSTRY: In Detroit, no cash, no credit, no time
General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler are rapidly running out of cash in the worst sales market for new vehicles in 15 years. Both GM and Ford are expected to announce billions of dollars more in losses for the third quarter on Friday, and the threat of bankruptcy will grow without some form of U.S. government assistance.
The Bush administration has so far denied GM, Ford and Chrysler any aid from the $700 billion financial rescue fund or any other new source of assistance. It will, however, pay out the $25 billion in low-interest loans for cleaner cars sooner than had been promised.
The pleas for help from the Big Three are growing louder. "This is really a severe, severe recession for the U.S. auto industry and something we cannot sustain," said Michael DiGiovanni, GM's chief market analyst.
Obama has promised to meet soon with the chief executives of the Big Three to discuss adding another $25 billion in aid to the loan program for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Democratic leaders in Congress are also considering ways to inject new cash into Detroit as quickly as possible. Michigan's ranking Democrats, Senators Carl Levin and Representative John Dingell, will be instrumental in crafting any proposed legislation.
The aid could come in the form of government-backed, low-interest loans, similar to the bailout package for Chrysler in 1979. In addition, the Congress and Obama could tap the $700 billion financial assistance fund to buy up bad car loans and help automotive lenders get credit flowing to consumers again.
One potential hurdle for aid, however, is the proposed merger of GM and Chrysler, which is majority-owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The deal, if completed, would cost thousands of jobs and has so far found little support in Washington.
- Bill Vlasic
ENERGY: An agenda faces possible delays
An Obama presidency could mean a sharp shift in U.S. energy policies, with particular emphasis on conservation and renewable power. But some of the candidate's bolder proposals, like a global warming bill, may have to wait for the economy to recover, according to analysts and energy experts.
High energy costs and concerns about global warming have heightened the sense of urgency for a broad policy that tackles both the nation's oil use and its energy-related carbon emissions. As a candidate, Obama shifted from his initial opposition to expanding offshore drilling, but his core message remained that the United States should reduce its oil consumption, encourage energy conservation and efficiency, and develop low-carbon forms of energy.
"There is an opportunity to address energy needs in a way that hasn't been possible for decades," said Daniel Yergin, the chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "It almost feels like we're picking up from where we were in the 1970s."
But, he added, "resources are going to be constrained, and spending on energy will have to compete for dollars with spending on the financial crisis and two wars."
The Obama energy plan called for investing $150 billion in clean energy technologies over the next 10 years, creating green jobs and ensuring that a growing share of U.S. electricity came from renewable sources. He also proposed an aggressive mandate over the next four decades to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.
Given the size of the Democratic majority, an Obama administration is also likely to impose stricter environmental regulations and place higher taxes on oil companies than the Bush administration did.
- Jad Mouawad
FEDERAL REGULATION: Tighter reins on Wall Street
Obama called for reorganizing the financial regulatory system months before the housing and credit crises spiraled into a debacle. He outlined six principles, but offered few details.
He said one major priority would be to consolidate the financial regulatory system. He promised to streamline the alphabet soup of agencies, from the Federal Reserve to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that have enforcement powers.
But he has not said which agencies he would eliminate or merge.
Obama has also pledged to impose stronger liquidity, capital and disclosure requirements on financial institutions, and to subject unregulated financial businesses like hedge funds, mortgage brokers, derivatives traders and credit-rating agencies to U.S. government oversight.
Obama promised he would increase penalties for market manipulation and predatory lending, and create a new financial-market oversight commission to review conditions regularly and advise the president and Congress about potential risks.
In one of his campaign-ending speeches on Monday, Obama said, "The last thing we can afford is four more years where no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street because politicians and lobbyists killed common-sense regulations."
He returned to that theme on Tuesday night after he clinched the election, signaling that the financial industry should brace itself for a regulatory crackdown. Some Democratic lawmakers already have held hearings on what a new financial regulatory landscape would look like.
- Jackie Calmes
MORTGAGES: A pledge to aid homeowners
Obama has pledged to help hard-pressed homeowners, but he will have to move quickly to forestall a new wave of foreclosures.
Some in Congress favor direct mortgage relief, but others worry that the cost on top of the bank bailout will be too expensive.
Judging by positions laid out in his campaign, Obama might seek to change personal bankruptcy laws to help people avoid losing their homes, a step that the Bush administration and the mortgage industry have resisted.
Like other Democrats, Obama wants to empower bankruptcy judges to ease the terms of home loans on primary residences. Under current laws, judges are prohibited from reducing the balance on those mortgages but can change loans backed by commercial property or second homes.
The shift, proponents say, would help keep millions of people in their homes and ease the broader housing crisis. Many mortgage companies and Wall Street investors, however, might suffer greater losses on the loans and securities backed by them.
The Bush administration and many lenders have argued that changing the bankruptcy law would ultimately drive up mortgage rates, worsening the downturn in the housing market. They also argue that it would violate the sanctity of contracts and drive investors away from the mortgage market.
But with more comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats could move quickly. Republicans in the Senate could try to block a change through a filibuster.
Obama has generally supported the $700 billion financial rescue package that Congress and the Bush administration negotiated and approved last month. He also endorsed the move by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., to redirect $250 billion of that money to recapitalizing the nation's banks.
But Obama has not specifically said how he would spend the remainder of the money or whether his administration would acquire loans or securities as Congress initially intended. (The Treasury has made no acquisitions yet and it is unclear if it will do so before the Bush administration leaves office in January.) Obama has said that the government should help homeowners refinance troubled loans that can be saved.
- Vikas Bajaj
HEALTH CARE: An overhaul will have to wait
Democrats' campaign rhetoric aside, few health care analysts expect the new president and Congress to undertake a sweeping overhaul of the health care industry any time soon.
The more pressing needs of a faltering economy make it unlikely that big changes in health care can quickly make their way to the top of the new agenda. But analysts say the newly empowered Democrats are likely to abandon some of the health care positions staked out by the Bush administration, particularly when it comes to Medicare, the U.S. government health insurance plan for people over 65.
Private insurers' role in Medicare "is target No. 1 for Democrats," said Robert Laszewski, the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia.
Under the privatization approach of the Bush White House, commercial insurers now provide coverage to about a quarter of the nation's 44 million Medicare enrollees at a cost to the Medicare program of about 15 percent more than when the government provides the benefits directly. With the threat of a Bush veto removed, Congress will now be looking to shrink or end those industry subsidies to save Medicare money, Laszewski said.
The president-elect and the Democratic Congress also are likely to give Medicare the power to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies a change that the Bush administration has resisted though the effect on prices would depend on the authority Congress grants.
Analysts also expect the Democrats to seek closer scrutiny of the drug industry through the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that has been stretched thin in recent years.
And many analysts expect Congress to take some steps to address the increasing cost of medical care. High on the list might be covering more children under the federally subsidized State Children's Health Insurance Program. Congress might also try some relatively inexpensive other changes, like pushing harder for the adoption of electronic health records or requiring hospitals and doctors to report publicly both the cost and the outcomes of their care, to enable patients to comparison-shop.
- Reed Abelson
TECHNOLOGY: To shape policy, a cabinet voice
Technology companies have long argued that they need the best and brightest engineers if they are going to compete in the global economy. Obama has endorsed the industry's call for raising the number of H-1B temporary work visas, which are available now to only 65,000 skilled foreign engineers each year. (The visas are all claimed within minutes.)
But even with a sympathetic ear in the White House, getting Congress to agree to more visas could present a major challenge given the probability that, in a recession, public sentiment will be heightened that foreigners are taking Americans' jobs.
In the meantime, the tech industry which has grown much more politically active in recent years will greet the new president with a list of other wishes. One is that he push policies to spread high-speed Internet access, which provides a conduit for e-commerce, online advertising and other Web-centric business models. The industry argues that the United States has fallen to 16th in the world in terms of broadband penetration, frustrating consumers with a lack of services like the high-speed downloading of movies and the still-choppy performance of their Internet connections.
The industry also hopes Obama will stand behind his stated support of "net neutrality," which is a government requirement that telecommunications companies provide Internet content providers equal access to delivery lines.
Such tech policy could fall to a chief technology officer, a cabinet position the president-elect has pledged to create.
- Matt Richtel
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Thanks to the financial crisis, the economic model driven by financial market liberalization is apparently being replaced by a system in which the state is involved as a significant shareholder in major banking firms, and where more extensive regulation is likely to ensue. In a bid to address both the credit crisis and the economic downturn, governments also appear willing to engage in borrowing and spending on a major scale.
These developments raise the question of the extent to which these changes mark a real change in the balance between state and market in Europe. Three aspects of the economic system -- ownership, regulation and fiscal policy -- stand out as indicators of the changes under way.
Ownership. The role of the state as a major shareholder is still being worked out. Earlier this week the UK government announced the establishment of a holding company, which would manage the state's assets in the various banks it has recapitalized or taken over. The government made it clear that the new entity would be tasked with ensuring that the banks pursued value with the aim of generating a healthy return for taxpayers and ultimately selling the shares at a premium. Yet in other statements, ministers have indicated that they want the banks to maintain levels of lending to households and business as well as to curb the 'bonus culture' in the sector, which are signs of a more activist shareholder position. The vehicles for the state's new investments in other countries -- for example, in France -- may also be expected to play a more active role in steering the sector.
Regulation. For financial services at least, the era of light touch regulation is at an end. However, the combined impact of the financial crisis and economic downturn on the direction of regulation is still unclear. Wider difficulties may be invoked to put on hold cost-increasing regulations in areas such as social policy and environmental protection. Yet some groups (businesses as well as unions) may use the crises to scale back liberalization and state aid control.
Public borrowing and spending. Another indicator of a sea change in economic policy has been the willingness of governments to 'borrow and spend' to address both the financial and economic problems. This return to Keynesian policy has been largely presented as a relatively modest and short-term expediency. Moreover, beyond the immediate crisis, it is likely that a more rigorous fiscal policy will be applied that may entail quite painful cuts to public spending. At the moment, these changes do not imply a major reorientation of the way in which European economies will be governed. Changes in the regulatory framework for the financial sector will have a wider impact, but a major rethinking of the direction and priorities of other elements of economic policy is not apparent.
EU response. In this context, the EU -- and particularly the European Commission -- is likely to maintain its overall policy approach. There may be some relaxation of state aid and fiscal rules to give national governments more room for maneuver in bailing out and borrowing. There might also be attempts to use the limited budgetary resources of the EU to stimulate demand and cushion the pain of adjustment (such as the mooted extension of the EU 'Globalization Fund'). However, the Commission is unlikely to reverse its current priorities in areas such as competition and the single market. Indeed, a number Commissioners have restated their commitment to liberalization as essential to overcoming the recession.
By Mark Landler
Thursday, November 6, 2008
WASHINGTON: About a week before the leaders of 20 countries assemble here for an emergency summit meeting on the financial crisis, the administration of George W. Bush has discouraged suggestions that the gathering would create a new international market regulator with cross-border authority.
"This meeting is not about discarding market principles or about moving to a single global market regulator," a senior administration official said Wednesday. "There is very little support for that."
He and other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agenda for the meeting was diplomatically fraught.
The administration also said it did not expect regulation of hedge funds to be high on the agenda, even though France and other European countries were eager to renew their push for tighter control of those funds.
The reduced expectations may disappoint some Europeans, who hope to use this meeting to start what they view as a long overdue campaign to curb the excesses of the financial system. France in particular favors much closer international coordination of regulatory agencies, which some critics say could evolve into supranational authorities.
For all the talk of a latter-day Bretton Woods Conference - the 1944 meeting in New Hampshire that created many postwar financial institutions - the administration suggested that this meeting would reinforce existing authorities rather than create new ones.
The White House, officials said, does not support proposals for a giant increase in financing for the International Monetary Fund, which is lending money to Iceland, Hungary and Ukraine and recently set up a credit line for countries with liquidity shortages.
Noting that the IMF had $200 billion on hand to lend, another official said, "The IMF seems quite well-funded."
The summit meeting, scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15, comes during an impending transfer of power in Washington that has put the White House and President-elect Barack Obama in awkward spots. Administration officials declined to say whether Bush had invited Obama or any of his economic advisers. But they said they welcomed input from members of Obama's staff.
Last month, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said the administration did not want to "box in" the incoming president - a concern that officials reiterated Wednesday.
The Obama campaign did not respond to e-mail inquiries about whether it had been issued an invitation. Obama welcomed the summit meeting last month, but some experts said they expected him to keep his distance to avoid being pinned down by commitments made by his predecessor.
Despite its lame-duck status, the Bush administration said it still had hopes that the meeting would be a substantive exercise producing agreements on the causes of the financial crisis, a set of common principles to avoid future upheavals and possibly a handful of concrete measures.
"My impression is that there is much greater common ground than might appear at first blush," an official said.
American and European officials both stress the need for more transparency and robust regulation in financial markets. But in interviews, French officials said they wanted to focus on specific types of securities like credit default swaps, a gigantic market that is unregulated and played a role in the upheaval after the failure of Lehman Brothers.
The French said they would push for more scrutiny of hedge funds, noting that the failure of a large fund could pose a systemic risk to the financial system, much like the collapse of a major bank. The administration, however, said that hedge funds had played a relatively small role in this crisis and should not be a big focus.
"It would be odd if hedge funds were at the top of the agenda," an official said.
Bush vetoed a suggestion by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, that the meeting be held in New York, which would have underscored the role of Wall Street as the wellspring of the crisis.
Administration officials noted that Bush had pressed to expand the list of those attending beyond the Group of 8 leading industrialized countries. Among the other countries whose representatives are invited are Argentina, which has recently fallen into financial crisis; China; Turkey; and Saudi Arabia.
To some extent, the Bush administration will have little influence over the outcome of the process. The meeting is planned as the first of several, and it is unlikely that the second will occur before Bush leaves office.
Given the timing, some experts argue that the leaders should focus on issues that are more likely to win the backing of an Obama administration, like coordinating economic stimulus programs in the United States and Europe to cushion the blow of the recession.
By Abdul Waheed Wafa and Sangar Rahimi
Thursday, November 6, 2008
KABUL: As Afghan officials reported more civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes on Thursday, United States forces offered their first account of an incident this week in which a missile fired from an American aircraft reportedly killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 at a wedding party.
The American account said "insurgents" prevented civilians from fleeing an area caught in a firefight Monday between coalition and Afghan Army forces and militants who ambushed them in the southern province of Kandahar.
It was the first time the United States had sought to explain and acknowledge civilian fatalities in the Shah Wali Kott district of Kandahar Province on Monday.
Referring to fatalities in both that incident and the reported attack on Thursday, Colonel Greg Julian, a spokesman for United States forces, said, "We hope that it's not from our fire, but we suspect it may well have been."
In a telephone interview, Julian accused Taliban forces of "immersing themselves" among civilians to deter American forces from using airstrikes.
"Our close air support has been so devastating with the Taliban that they are trying to stop us using it" by provoking situations in which civilians are caught up in fighting and killed, he said.
Afghan distress over reports of civilian casualties has reached such a point that President Hamid Karzai greeted the election of Barack Obama to the American presidency with a call on Wednesday for an end to the killing of noncombatants.
"The fight against terrorism cannot be won by bombardment of our villages," Karzai said. "My first demand from the U.S. president, when he takes office, would be to end civilian casualties in Afghanistan and take the war to places where there are terrorist nests and training centers."
Despite that appeal, Afghan officials reported seven more civilian deaths in the incident Thursday in northwestern Afghanistan, and witnesses of the attack Monday in Kandahar said the death toll was much higher than the official figure of 40 and may have been as high as 90.
"I counted 90 dead bodies," Abdul Rahim, 26, who described himself as a survivor of the family holding the wedding party Monday, said by telephone. "I saw them with my own eyes. I discovered them under the debris."
He said he lost 15 members of his own family, including two brothers aged 8 and 10, and several women and children.
Rahim said he was in a neighboring village collecting more food for the wedding party when the airstrike happened. Taliban insurgents, he said, had fired some shots from the top of a hill toward a convoy of American vehicles and the Americans returned fire, calling in an airstrike about one hour later.
Four houses, including the house where the wedding party was under way, were destroyed, Rahim said.
A tribal elder of Shah Wali Kott, who spoke in return for anonymity because he feared for his safety if identified by name, said he could not confirm the exact death toll but insisted the casualties were higher than the government's estimate of 40.
The United States military said Thursday that it would conduct a joint investigation with the Afghan authorities into the incident in Shah Wali Kott.
In a statement, which made no reference to airstrikes, the military said militants "ambushed a coalition security patrol using rifles, machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars" and Afghan and coalition forces "responded with a variety of weapons fire."
"Civilians reportedly attempted to leave the area, but the insurgents forced them to remain as they continued to fire" on Afghan and coalition forces, the statement continued.
It quoted a local police commander as saying there had been reports of several civilians being injured while attempting to leave the area.
The United States statement said nine insurgents were killed, but did not refer to civilian casualties. But in an earlier statement the United States command did seem to leave open the possibility of civilian deaths.
"Though facts are unclear at this point, we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan and to avoid circumstances where noncombatant civilians are placed at risk," the command said. "If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and people of Afghanistan."
The U.S. military used almost identical language in a statement Thursday about the latest reported attack on three villages in northwestern Afghanistan.
In that incident, Abdullah Waqif, the district governor of the Ghormach area of Badghis Province, said that a firefight with coalition and Afghan Army forces had provoked coalition airstrikes and taht 7 civilians and 15 Taliban fighters were killed.
Qari Dawlat Khan, the provincial council leader in the area, said up to 20 civilians may have been killed as they slept in their homes in three villages. One provincial council member, Tawakal Khan, said he lost two sons, aged 35 and 12, and a grandson, 7, in the attacks.
A statement from the United States military in Afghanistan said the U.S. military command was aware of possible civilian casualties after an insurgent ambush in the area.
"If we find innocent people were killed in this incident, we apologize and express our sincere condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan," the statement said.
Julian, the military spokesman, said the incident Thursday happened after a Taliban ambush when two quick reaction units came to the assistance of the force under attack and called in airstrikes.
Abdul Waheed Wafa and Sangar Rahimi reported from Kabul. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
WASHINGTON: I walked over to the White House Tuesday night and leaned against the fence. How can such a lovely house make so many of its inhabitants nuts?
There was no U-Haul in the driveway. I don't know if W. was inside talking to the portraits on the wall. Or if the portraits can vanish from their frames, as at Hogwarts Academy, to escape if W. is pestering them about his legacy.
The Obama girls, with their oodles of charm, will soon be moving in with their goldendoodle or some other fetching puppy, and they seem like the kind of kids who could have fun there, prowling around with their history-loving father.
I had been amazed during the campaign - not by the covert racism about Barack Obama and not by Hillary Clinton's subtext when she insisted to superdelegates: "He can't win."
But I had been astonished by the overt willingness of some people who didn't mind being quoted by name in The New York Times saying vile stuff, that a President Obama would turn the Rose Garden into a watermelon patch, that he'd have barbecues on the front lawn, that he'd make the White House the Black House.
Actually, the elegant and disciplined Obama, who is not descended from the central African-American experience but who has nonetheless embraced it and been embraced by it, has the chance to make the White House pristine again.
I grew up here, and I love all the monuments filled with the capital's ghosts. I hate the thought that terrorists might target them again.
But the monuments have lost their luminescence in recent years.
How could the White House be classy when the Clintons were turning it into Motel 1600 for fund-raising, when Bill Clinton was using it for trysts with an intern and when he plunked a seven-seat hot tub with two Moto-Massager jets on the lawn?
How could the White House be inspiring when W. and Cheney were inside making torture and domestic spying legal, fooling Americans by cooking up warped evidence for war and scheming how to further enrich their buddies in the oil and gas industry?
How could the Lincoln Memorial - "With malice toward none; with charity for all" - be as moving if the black neighborhoods of a charming American city were left to drown while the president mountain-biked?
How can the National Archives, home of the Constitution, be as momentous if the president and vice president spend their days redacting the Constitution?
How can the black marble V of the Vietnam Memorial have power when those in power repeat the mistake of Vietnam?
How can the Capitol, where my dad proudly worked for so many years, hold its allure when the occupants have spent their days - and years - bickering and scoring petty political points instead of stopping White House chicanery and taking on risky big issues?
How can the FDR Memorial along the Tidal Basin be an uplifting trip to the past when the bronze statue of five stooped men in a bread line and the words of FDR's second inaugural - "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished" - evokes the depressing present?
Obama may be in over his head. Or he may be heading for his own monument one day.
His somber speech in the dark Chicago night was stark and simple and showed that he sees what he's up against. There was a heaviness in his demeanor, as if he already had taken on the isolation and "splendid misery," as Jefferson called it, of the office he'd won only moments before. Americans all over the place were jumping for joy, including the block I had been on in front of the White House, where they were singing: "Na, na, na, na. Hey, hey. Goodbye."
In the midst of such a phenomenal, fizzy victory overcoming so many doubts and crazy attacks and even his own middle name, Obama stood alone.
He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and "resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long."
He professed "humility," but we'd heard that before from W., and look what happened there.
Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: "We are not enemies, but friends - though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."
There have been many awful mistakes made in this country. But now we have another chance.
As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might be getting its gleam back.
I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe's lap.
It's a $50 fine. But it'd be worth it.
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 6, 2008
VATICAN CITY: Christians and Muslims must overcome their misunderstandings, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim clergy and scholars Thursday as he pressed for greater freedom of worship for non-Muslims in the Islamic world.
His meeting in the Apostolic Palace with a delegation of scholars and other Muslim representatives capped a three-day conference in Rome involving Roman Catholic clergy and professors and Islamic experts. Benedict told participants that he had followed the "progress" of the talks closely.
The pope's baptism of an Egyptian-born Muslim last Easter in St. Peter's Basilica upset some in the Muslim world.
Benedict also angered Muslims with comments linking Islam to violence in a speech in 2006.
"Dear friends, let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements," the pope said. "Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other, which even today can create difficulties in our relations."
Benedict has expressed regret for any offense caused by his 2006 remarks.
Beyond repairing strained relations, the Vatican views the talks between both sides as an opportunity to push for better treatment of Christians in parts of the Muslim world.
In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims cannot worship in public, Christian symbols like crosses cannot be openly displayed and Muslims who convert face death. The Vatican has also spoken out about the plight of Christians in Iraq, where churches have been attacked, clergy members kidnapped and many faithful forced to flee the country.
Benedict expressed the hope that fundamental rights would be "protected for all people everywhere."
"The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often-violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts," the pope continued.
The call for tolerance also applies to countries that are essentially "failed states" for their Muslim citizens, too, said Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a U.S.-based scholar among the Muslim participants.
"Muslims are suffering under the yoke of tyrannies where rights which should be afforded to anyone" are denied, Hanson said.
The discussions at the Vatican made important strides, said Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, an Islamic studies lecturer at the Divinity School at Cambridge University in England.
"Both sides agreed to respect the sanctity" of each other's beliefs and to "not tolerate any mockery," Winter said.
Mufti Mustafa Ceric of Bosnia predicted that Barack Obama's election and family background would foster better Muslim-Christian understanding.
Obama is a Christian. Yet the U.S. president-elect's grandfather in Kenya converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism, according to the grandfather's second wife, and Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation.
Catholic delegates to the conference included Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican's council on interreligious dialogue, retired Washington, D.C. archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 6, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan: Two suicide bombers attacked pro-government tribesmen and security forces Thursday in Pakistan's volatile northwest, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens, officials said.
The separate attacks came in a region where the Pakistani military has clashed for months with Islamic insurgents allied with Taliban and al-Qaida militants who are involved in attacks on American and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have praised Pakistan for getting tougher on militants, but the offensives have escalated extremist bloodshed in the Muslim nation where anti-American sentiment runs deep.
The first suicide attacker killed 17 people and wounded 40 at a gathering of tribesmen in a militia formed to combat insurgents, government and hospital officials said. A purported spokesman for a Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Late Thursday, another suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint manned by security forces near a police compound in the Swat Valley, killing at least two paramilitary troopers and wounding at least 20 other people, officials said.
Pakistan launched an offensive in Bajur three months ago to dismantle what it said was a virtual Taliban mini-state from where militants were flowing into Afghanistan.
Salarzai tribesmen were preparing to stage an assault on local militant hide-outs when the suicide bomber struck, said Iqbal Khattak, a government official. Malik Rahimullah, a tribal elder, said the bomb exploded as soon as the armed tribesmen began to move.
Witnesses said they saw a young man rush into the crowd before the explosion.
Amir Khan, a tribesman, said that the scene was littered with severed limbs and that several tribal elders who were instrumental in starting the militia were among the dead.
Khattak said 11 bodies were taken to the main hospital in Khar, the area's main city. Mohammad Kareem, a hospital official, said later that at least six of some 45 wounded people had died and that more than a dozen of the remaining injured were in serious condition.
Later, a man who said he was a spokesman for a Taliban-linked group, Caravan-e-Naimatullah, claimed it was behind the bombing. Little is known about the group, but earlier this year it briefly took over a handful of schools in the region.
The man, who identified himself as Abdul Rehman, called an Associated Press reporter and other local journalists with the claim. The main Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Maulvi Umar, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The army claims to have killed some 1,500 insurgents in the Bajur offensive. At least 73 soldiers and 95 civilians have also died, it says. Lack of security and government restrictions mean accounts of the fighting cannot be verified.
Government troops also have carried out operations in the Swat Valley, a former tourist area now wracked by violence where the suicide bomber blasted the road checkpoint Thursday night.
Officials in the Mingora area reported a huge explosion and said there was extensive damage followed by a firefight that made it difficult for authorities to search the area for casualties.
Senior police official Dilawar Bangash said two paramilitary officers were killed, and Abdullah Khan, an official at a nearby hospital, said at least 20 wounded had been brought in.
Militants have responded to the military offensives as well as stepped-up U.S. missile strikes in parts of Pakistan's border zone with a wave of suicide attacks that are adding to concern about the U.S.-allied country's stability.
The militants also have gone after the tribal militias, including beheading some of the elders involved. A suicide attack in October in the nearby Orakzai tribal region against another such militia killed dozens.
Also Thursday, airstrikes on militant hide-outs elsewhere in Bajur killed 19 suspected insurgents, the military said.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
MINGORA, Pakistan: A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car near the police headquarters in Pakistan's Swat Valley on Thursday causing some casualties, police said.
"It's a suicide attack. There are few casualties but we don't have details right now," Swat police chief Dilawar Bangash told Reuters.
Earlier in the day, at least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded in a suicide attack at a meeting of ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders in the nearby Bajaur tribal region.
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 6, 2008
BAGHDAD: A series of bomb blasts across Baghdad killed six people and wounded more than 20 Thursday, the police said, in the fourth consecutive day of heightened violence in the Iraqi capital.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said the United States had officially responded to Iraqi proposals for changes in a draft security pact that would keep U.S. troops in the country three more years but did not say what was in the response.
U.S. officials say attacks in Baghdad are averaging about four a day - a decline of nearly 90 percent from levels in late 2006, when Shiite-Sunni fighting was at its highest point and just before the U.S. troop surge that helped bring down violence in the capital.
But there has been a marked increase this week, with daily bombings in the capital that have killed more than 30 people and wounded around 80 since Monday.
The deadliest attack Thursday came near a checkpoint in central Baghdad when two bombs exploded during the morning rush hour, the police said. Four people were killed and seven were wounded in the blasts.
Another bomb targeting a government convoy wounded six people, the police and hospital officials said. The police said the convoy was carrying city workers. The police officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.
The two blasts in the capital's Sunni enclave of Sheik Omar occurred at a checkpoint manned by members of an Awakening Council, the mostly Sunni groups that have joined forces with Americans against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Another two Awakening Council members were killed in a bombing just before noon in southeastern Baghdad. The councils come under frequent attacks by insurgents because they have sided with U.S. forces.
The Iraqi cabinet asked on Oct. 21 for changes to the draft security pact being negotiated with Washington, including a demand for expanded Iraqi legal authority over U.S. soldiers, which the United States has described as a "red line."
Other changes would rule out the use of Iraqi territory to launch attacks against neighboring countries, effectively rule out any extension of the U.S. military presence beyond the end of 2011, and allow Iraqis to inspect American military shipments in and out of Iraq.
Iraqi lawmakers have said the changes are essential if Parliament is to approve the agreement by a deadline set for the end of this year.
Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said Thursday that the United States had responded to the proposed changes.
He gave no further details. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, Susan Ziadeh, confirmed the report but did not give details.
But another top Iraqi official said the United States had accepted some proposals and rejected others. The official would not elaborate.
Without an agreement or a new mandate from the United Nations, the United States would have to suspend all military operations in Iraq.
Also on Thursday, Romania announced plans to withdraw its 500 peacekeeping troops from Iraq by the end of the year. Some Romanian military personnel will remain to work as advisers.
Rice tamps down Mideast hopes pending Israeli vote
U.S. slaps new financial sanctions on Iran
Ahmadinejad offers congratulations to Obama
Syria says Fatah al-Islam group behind bombing
U.S. Treasury tightens banking sanctions on Iran
South Africa gets tough over Zimbabwe delay
White House says Israeli-Palestinian deal unlikely
Iraq says more talks needed on U.S.troops pact
Bakassi militia retracts report hostage killed
Palestinians boycott "useless" Jerusalem mayoral vote
Israel cautions against dialogue with Iran
By Anand Giridharadas
Thursday, November 6, 2008
MUMBAI: This city, before it was a city, was a scattered seven islands in the choppy waters off the Indian mainland. Over the years, it was reclaimed from the sea, the seven masses joining, and claimed by the teeming country at its back. Dangling off the coast, it became India's stock-trading and film-making capital and served as its window to the world.
But if the reclaiming was complete, the claiming never was. The city was tethered to the subcontinent by a land bridge in the northern suburbs, 32 kilometers, or 20 miles, from the upper-crust stronghold of South Mumbai, where mainland India felt remote. The rich were in India but not of it. News arrived of distant floods and famines, malfeasance and malnutrition, and they told themselves that theirs was a world apart.
Escapism was constant. In the 1960s, young elites observed the Western music hour on All India Radio like a religion. In the 1980s, wealthy women flew to London to avoid the steamy bazaars. Recent years have brought escapes like gelato, sushi, fashion shows with Russian models, velvet-rope nightclubs, eateries cooking the ever less sacred cow to a medium-rare.
Here, the highest social boast is that you "just got back" from abroad; the loftiest praise for a restaurant is, "It's like you're not in India." Mumbai's globalized class hungers for it to be a world city. Its leaders pledge to make it like Shanghai by 2020 - a plan that is, to put it gently, behind schedule. The rich blush when Madonna dines at Salt Water Grill and Angelina Jolie drinks at Indigo: portents, they say, that Mumbai will join New York, London, Paris in that coterie of names emblazoned on the fronts of boutiques everywhere.
Arriving from overseas, one encounters first this extroverted city. But in the layers below, a strange truth is buried. If the elite live in virtual exile, seeing Mumbai as a port of departure, the city teems with millions of migrants who see it in exactly the opposite way: as a mesmeric port of arrival, offering what is missing on the mainland, a chance to invent oneself, to break with one's supposed fate.
The lens of Dickens or Horatio Alger offers an easy picture of Mumbai: wealthy and poor, apartment-dwelling and slum-dwelling, bulbous and malnourished. In office elevators, the bankers and lawyers are a foot taller, on average, than the less-fed delivery men.
Brilliant skyscrapers sprout beside mosquito-infested shantytowns. This is at once a city of paradise and of hell.
But Mumbai's paradox is that it is often the dwellers of paradise who feel themselves in hell and the dwellers of hell who feel themselves in paradise.
What you see in Mumbai depends on what else you have seen.
For those who grew up in Westernized homes, the standard is New York.
That comparison is hard on Mumbai.
To be sure, in this correspondent's five years here, the city has inched toward global status. A mall for luxury watches was built. Restaurants began to serve miso-encrusted sea bass. Indian-Western fashion boutiques started to attract global jet-setters. People began to spout words like "couture" and "Davos" as if they were everyday topics. The air kiss became as Indian as not kissing once was.
But it takes a muscular suspension of disbelief to pretend that Mumbai is what its elite wishes it were. Residents will tell you that Mumbai is "just like New York," before beginning a tirade about why it is not: nowhere nice to eat, same constrained social scene, no offbeat films, no privacy. There is a sense in this crowd of a city forever striving to be what it isn't.
But, minute after minute, migrants pour in with starkly different pasts and starkly different ideas of Mumbai.
They arrive from the 660,000 villages of India. Perhaps the monsoon failed and crops perished. Perhaps their mother is ill and needs money for surgery. Perhaps they took a loan whose mushrooming interest even cow-milking and wheat-sheafing cannot repay. Perhaps they are tired of waiting for the future to come to them.
They arrive by train and locate relatives or friends to help get them on their feet. Seeking work, they walk the streets asking building security guards if the tenants inside need a servant. They live in cramped rooms or in hutments in a slum-city like Dharavi, where one million people pack 2.5 square kilometers, or one square mile.
In these labyrinthine hives, spaces and lives are shared, card games last all night and rivers of sludge flow down the gullies.
The slums metastasize: Survey Mumbai by helicopter, and the city looks as if it is blooming or being spilled.
These dueling claims on Mumbai explain its mongrel look: like a duty-free mall in parts, in parts like a refugee camp. The wealthy complain that the surge in migration has strained public services, choked roads, turned 15-minute drives into 2-hour odysseys, rendered real estate into slum estates. They say migrants spit, steal electricity, commit crime, harass women and live off the public dole.
Perhaps this is why the affluent dream of New York.
But the migrants relish Mumbai, for they know other places.
Places where tradition says to die where you were born and live as your parents lived. Places where a son of the leather-working caste with a scientific mind must let it atrophy. Places where unapproved love can end in a murder. Places where the cycle of poverty, hunger, illness, debt, poverty spins so fast as to drain hope away.
And in these squalid acres they savor what the wealthy take for granted: the ability to get a job without "knowing somebody," the lightness of being without roots, the possibility of reinvention, the dignity of anonymity.
Yet it is a strange, absentee dignity. For they suffer the indignities of sleeping in shanties, on sidewalks, on the hoods of their own taxis in order to earn respect in villages they may never revisit.
Walking amid the polychromatic chaos of Mumbai's roads, among the glamorous and the grasping, one might ask: What other city so distills the human predicament, in the fullness of its tragedy, its comedy, its absurdity and its promise?
Mumbaikars, as they are known, cannot resist one another, cannot resist Mumbai. Those who crave departure could depart if they wanted. They are still here for reasons they themselves may not comprehend.
The newly arrived could have stayed in the villages, as 700 million villagers have, basking in their certainties. They, too, choose to invest themselves here.
Neither investment is total, unreserved. But Mumbai works on the accumulation of these hopes: Because so many cast their lots here, it becomes a place worth casting lots. The longer you remain, the less you notice what Mumbai looks, smells, sounds like. You think instead of what it could be. You become addicted to the companionship of 19 million other beings. Surrounded by hells, you glimpse paradise.
By Andrew FarrellForbes.com
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Warren Buffet bought his Omaha, Nebraska, home in 1958 for $31,500. Today, Buffett is about $50 billion richer, but he still lives in the same place.
The penny-pinching nature of the second-wealthiest American is legendary. He drives a Cadillac. He prefers burgers and Cherry Cokes to a pricey steak. When a waiter once tried to pour him some rare vintage wine, Buffett covered his glass and said "No thanks, I'll take the cash."
He isn't the only frugal billionaire. While big spenders like Larry Ellison of Oracle grab headlines for antics like buying the longest yacht in world, the thrifty rich lie low - and spend little in comparison. Expect converts: A recent survey of 439 high-net-worth families by wealth-research firm Prince & Associates found 59 percent are cutting back their spending.
Yet such reductions might actually be hard for John Caudwell, whom Forbes valued at $2.3 billion this March. He cuts his own hair and buys his clothes off the rack.
"I don't need Saville Row suits," the British billionaire told a Forbes reporter last year. "I don't need to spend money to bolster my own esteem."
Same goes for Azim Premji, who turned his dad's cooking-oil business into technology giant Wipro of India. Worth some $12.7 billion, he still drove a Ford Escort for eight years before trading it in for a new Toyota Corolla. He usually walks to work from his nearby home. Premji often stays at budget hotels when traveling in India and reportedly wears non-branded suits and flies economy. Paper plates were used at a luncheon in honor of his son Rishad's wedding a few years ago.
Ingvar Kamprad is the seventh-wealthiest man in the world, but you wouldn't know it if you met him. The Ikea founder, worth an estimated $31 billion, usually wears denim shirts and decorates his home with his company's low-cost furnishings. He drives a 1993 Volvo.
"How the hell can I ask people who work for me to travel cheaply if I am traveling in luxury?" says Kamprad. "Best to stay in touch with the real world."
This kind of toned-down spending may grow more pronounced among many of the world's billionaires. While they have plenty of money on paper, their net worth is often tied up in investments. To make even bigger bets, they might leverage their assets. During times of market turmoil like these, their liquidity can dry up very quickly.
Aubrey McClendon was forced to sell a gigantic stake in his company Chesapeake Energy because of margin calls. A fellow American billionaire, Sumner Redstone, recently sold $400 million in Viacom and CBS shares to keep his creditors at bay.
Russian billionaires, who gained a reputation for unbridled extravagance in recent years, have been even harder hit. Oleg Deripaska, Alisher Usmanov and Suleiman Kerimov all recently faced margin calls - and sharp hits to their wealth.
While these billionaires scramble to raise cash, Buffett is sitting on a pile of it. In the past couple months, his Berkshire Hathaway put $3 billion into General Electric and $5 billion into Goldman Sachs. Buffett received sweetheart terms in both deals because he's one of the few people with billions to invest in this tough market. Good advice for anyone, billionaire or not: Count your pennies and buy on sale.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
By Joseph A. Giannone
Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers executives that survived the collapses of their firms and found new jobs should get bigger bonuses than their peers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc , a compensation consultant said on Thursday.
It is no surprise by now that the global credit crisis, together with regulatory pressure and consolidation among the biggest U.S. banks, will lead to smaller 2008 bonuses for Wall Street bankers, traders and money managers.
Compensation and executive recruiting firm Options Group estimates the average bonus worldwide will fall by almost half this year, a period when tens of thousands of employees have been fired. Options Group estimated 50,000 to 60,000 more jobs will be cut over the course of the bear market, according to a report to be published next week.
Individual payouts will vary widely, depending on location, business line and firm. Suddenly Bear and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc executives who were recruited by other firms may enjoy an advantage over their counterparts at firms that survived the credit crunch.
"The fact is that retained professionals received guarantees from JPMorgan Chase, Nomura (Holdings Inc)
and Barclays to stick around through the end of 2008," Options Group wrote. "In the case of Lehman Europe and Asia, Nomura attempted to convince these professional to stay through 2009 as well with additional cash guarantees."
Similarly, brokers at Merrill Lynch & Co Inc will fare better than their firm, which fled into the arms of Bank of America Corp . Merrill brokers have been offered up to 100 percent of their annual commissions from last year as retention bonuses.
Of course the collapse of Bear, which was forced into a fire sale with JPMorgan Chase & Co and Lehman, where a bulk of the business was acquired by Barclays out of bankruptcy, has also been painful. More than 40 percent of these firms' employees lost jobs and have not reemerged at other banks.
Industrywide, payouts will fall for the second straight year after soaring for four years. The deepest cuts will hurt employees in the hardest hit businesses, such as structured finance and mortgage-backed securities.
Other businesses will see relatively strong payouts. Commodities sales and trading bonuses will fall 25 percent to 30 percent, while foreign exchange traders may slip 15 percent.
Options Group based its projections on surveys of Wall Street employees and from company results.
In a separate report, compensation consultant Johnson Associates projected that bonuses for Wall Street's chief executives and top executives -- whose compensation must be disclosed to shareholders -- will tumble 60 percent to 70 percent.
But Johnson sees the average bonus falling by just 20 percent.
While payouts are coming down, Congress and state officials such as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may find they still look pretty healthy.
Executives in the businesses that created collateralized debt obligations, which generated so much of the $500 billion (320 billion pounds) in global bank writedowns this year and contributed to the market's meltdown, would see their bonus fall by 50 percent to 60 percent -- to $750,000.
Senior investment bankers who were not engaged in trading would see their bonus fall as much as 50 percent to about $1 million.
The most successful money makers are still expected to bring home the bacon. The Wall Street Journal earlier on Thursday reported the head of Phibro commodities trading, a unit of Citigroup Inc , is set to receive a $125 million bonus.
(Editing by Andre Grenon).
By Edward Rothstein
Thursday, November 6, 2008
It would be nice to think that if George Bailey had been around in September, the U.S. government could have saved itself $700 billion, Iceland could have averted near bankruptcy, and the rest of the world could have avoided another trillion dollars in bailouts and the prospect of a deep and long recession.
You recall George: In the person of James Stewart, he stopped a run on the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan Association that would have destroyed it in the film "It's a Wonderful Life." His predicament, with its eerie prefigurement of the present, provokes a closer look at the crossroads in which culture and finance intersect.
In the film, the Building & Loan faces what is now called a "liquidity crisis" - the association could not possibly cover its obligations with available cash, let alone guarantee any loans. The townspeople rush in demanding their life savings. "You're thinking of this place all wrong," George tells the crowd. "As if I had the money back in a safe. The money's not here."
That much was obvious. But George goes on, pointing to individuals. "Your money's in Joe's house," he says to one man. "Right next to yours," he says to another. "And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Backlin's house, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and then, they're going to pay it back to you as best they can."
"We've got to stick together," George adds, or the truly evil banker Henry Potter will gain control of everything. "We've got to have faith in each other." And, for a while, the pitch works. George's view of the savings and loan as a form of social welfare institution was learned at the feet of his father, who built that savings and loan, telling him, "It's deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace. And we're helping him get those things."
The Baileys could almost be early incarnations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - government-created companies established to help make that same dream possible among U.S. citizens. Beginning in the mid-1990s they were steadily pressured by politicians and the public to guarantee loans to ever more risky borrowers in the name of this very ideal.
What really helped that project along, though, was the discovery on Wall Street that such risky loans could be bundled with others and resold as highly rated securities. It is as if George had found a way to go into business with Potter, answering his challenge "Are you running a business or a charity ward?" with "Both!"
Of course, both George's charitable dream in which banks would cuddle with their communities and avoid foreclosures and Potter's dream of profit-taking maneuverings unhampered by other considerations collapsed under the unrealistic weight of their fantasies a few weeks ago. But in the midst of this crisis something else has been revealed that we ordinarily associate more with cultural life than with financial enterprise.
In the wake of foreclosures and bank failures, all circulation, trade, interaction had nearly ground to a halt, reflecting a collapse not just of business activity but also of trust. It might seem strange to think of these enormous disruptions as reflections of something so elemental: trillions of dollars are now being expended to re-establish trust? But we can see how this issue came up in earlier periods of cultural transition.
Consider Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." Written at a time when Elizabethan England was being transformed by European trade and its own growing international ambitions, the play can even seem to be about how to create trust in a tumultuous marketplace.
The play lampoons cultural differences in cosmopolitan Venice. But how are such varied figures to interact in "the trade and profit of the city"? Only through the presence of a strong central law that would guarantee trust in the midst of distrust.
Shakespeare, though, does not minimize the difficulties in creating consistent methods for judging. Are the goods what they seem? Are people? Portia's suitors are forced to choose a gold, silver or lead casket - uncertain about which will disclose the true image of their beloved. In the midst of all this it is amazing that any kind of social and economic interchange is possible. Shakespeare seems to be asserting it is, but with modern eyes wary of his treatment of Shylock, we wonder.
On the brink of the modern economic world the issues become even more fraught. Anthony Trollope said that his 1875 novel, "The Way We Live Now," was "instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the age." But that profligacy was also a reflection of a social transformation: the traditional social order could no longer be counted on.
The hierarchy of English society ceased to be a hierarchy of worth, financial or otherwise. The central figure, an arriviste financier, creates a pyramid scheme in which railroads of the New World figure prominently. Trollope sees a world of social dissolution matching the financial dissolution. By the novel's end, Trollope suggests the only hope for a restoration of trust is a retreat from the new commercial age.
And now, of course, the issue of trust is elevated to an unprecedented scale. In 2007, the investment analyst James Grant predicted that the habits of the preceding years would lead to an imminent collapse of credit "over which posterity will shake its head, muttering, 'What were they thinking?"'
What is strange is that we now depend on the state to re-establish trust by rescuing and even nationalizing financial institutions, relying on the same authority that gives paper money its value. But after the events of the last century, can anyone fully believe that the state should be the ultimate standard for trust and fiscal faith? And would even a real-life George Bailey be able to coax us into confidence, let alone belief that good intentions have power over principles of finance? We are in for perilous times.
Germans revive a legendary pirate
By Nicholas Kulish
Thursday, November 6, 2008
STRALSUND, Germany: Filthy, bearded actors with broadswords and cellphones milled outside the 14th-century brick Gothic gabled house at dusk here last week, smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee from plastic cups to stay warm as the sun set. Inside the historic landmark, a film crew was preparing to start rolling again on "13 Paces Without a Head," the story of a peculiarly German hero, the egalitarian pirate Klaus Störtebeker.
The feature-film production is just the latest sign of a Störtebeker renaissance, coming on the heels of a documentary about the pirate that aired on German television last Christmas and a two-part television miniseries the year before. At the national celebration in honor of the German reunification holiday, which rotates between cities and took place in Hamburg this September, representatives from Wismar, Schwerin, Hamburg and elsewhere worked together to stage a theatrical production called "Störtebeker, a North German Pirate."
Pirates of the Baltic may sound like a frigid satire of their warmer Caribbean cousins (and to which some of the recent success can no doubt be attributed), but the legend has been rejuvenated in part as a response to the growing sense of economic injustice.
"I think that he has become so popular again today because of the Robin Hood urge in all of us," said Geerd Dahms, a historian and publisher of Dahms Audio Books, one of the organizers of the holiday event. "With the current economic crisis, with the widening gap between rich and poor, many find themselves wishing they had a Störtebeker on their side."
Störtebeker was legendary for prodigious drinking - the name means roughly "downing the mug" - and high crimes on the high seas, but is perhaps best known for miraculously walking past his condemned shipmates after the Hamburg authorities had beheaded him in 1401. The executioners were supposed to free his men if he could accomplish this impossible feat, but reneged.
His revival marks an unusual honor for a figure who would be considered a criminal if plying his trade off the coast of Somalia today. But Störtebeker was also famous for dividing the plunder equally among his mates and, in some versions of the myth, even sharing it with the poor.
It is in large part thanks to these fair-deal impulses that Klaus Störtebeker is enjoying a revival in Germany's socially conscious culture, especially here in northern coastal towns where he is believed to have dropped anchor. Ronald Zehrfeld, the actor playing Störtebeker in the film, called the role "a childhood dream." His character, he said, "butchers people" but has a "very big heart."
The pirate's status has waxed and waned since the Romantic period, enjoying particularly good runs during the Nazi era and in socialist East Germany. He has been the subject of rock songs, adventure novels and even a baroque opera. The slogan of Störtebeker beer, brewed in Stralsund, is "the beer of the righteous."
"This strikes a nerve of social justice at the moment," said Philip Kalisch, one of the movie pirates outside the Gothic house here, made picture-perfect medieval grimy, right down to the black cuticles, by the makeup team.
Kalisch, 29, responded to an open call for actors and received time off from his job in Hamburg working for a Social Democratic legislator to appear in the production. "People really want to see the fat pepper sacks relieved of a bit of their riches," he said, using a seasoned old German term for the wealthy.
Much has been made of the fact that the once-shameless capitalists responsible for the current global financial crisis, are - in many cases - being propped up with multibillion-dollar state bailouts. In the name of stability, no one is in a hurry to see the bankers or, more to the point, their banks fail.
It is completely appropriate to applaud today as the early capitalists of the Hanseatic League, the organization of German merchant towns whose ships Störtebeker reputedly preyed upon, are run through, keelhauled and made to walk the plank; maybe, in these difficult times, even a little therapeutic.
"He's like Che Guevara, a freedom fighter, but also like Robin Hood, because he fights the rich in the name of the poor," said Philipp Benz, 18, from Stralsund. "We need someone like him these days, with all the terrible things happening to workers."
A report last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, showing rising income inequality in Germany, provoked a significant outcry here. Even greater outrage greeted a study in September in which Germany was the only European country surveyed where real wages fell between 2000 and 2008, dropping 0.8 percent even as they rose by over a quarter in Britain, Ireland and Greece.
"The worse it goes for the Germans economically, the more they seek refuge in myths," said Arne Lorenz, producer of the Störtebeker documentary that first aired on German television in December. She said it was clear that Störtebeker was "once again getting more popular, which is definitely due to the economic situation."
In Communist East Germany, outdoor theater productions were intermittently staged on the island of Rügen, north of Stralsund, starting in 1959. "The GDR, as a newborn country, had to search for heroes who could, if you will, act as forerunners in the development of the country," said Peter Hick, who was raised in East Germany and revived and expanded the idea after reunification.
His productions, known as the Störtebeker Festspiele, drew 378,000 people last year to watch an extravaganza including the staging of ship battles, sword fights on horseback and fireworks. As of mid-October, Hick said 50,000 tickets had been sold for the 2009 season, compared with just 40,000 at the same point the year before.
Klaus Störtebeker is intriguing as a German hero in part because the country has so few of them. Since World War II, Germans "quite correctly approach everything heroic with a significant degree of mistrust," said Stefan Schubert, one of the film's producers. A big-budget film about the World War I flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, starring the heartthrob Matthias Schweighöfer - who plays fellow pirate Gödeke Michels in the Störtebeker film - was a flop earlier this year.
The producers said "13 Paces" would be a buddy film, about Michels and Störtebeker in crisis, trying to decide if they should continue to be pirates. "Most of what is known is pure legend, which gave us the chance to work quite freely with the material," Schubert said.
Gregor Rohmann, a historian at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, said that the story of his execution in Hamburg was most likely a myth. He cited archival evidence that Störtebeker was still alive and paying customs duties in 1413, though his first name was Johannes instead of Klaus.
More damaging to the myth might be the fact that, according to Rohmann's research, he was a businessman as well as a pirate, and given his cutthroat style, probably not a very nice one.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
By Isabel Reynolds
More than 70 Japanese air force officers have written essays arguing Japan should not have apologised for its actions in World War Two, it emerged on Thursday in the latest row over the country's militarist past.
The air force's top general was sacked last week after he submitted an essay in a writing contest saying Japan was not an aggressor in the war, sparking anger in China and South Korea, where many suffered under Japan's invasion and occupation.
The views of air force chief of staff Toshio Tamogami are shared by some Japanese right-wing historians and politicians, but they contradict a government apology for wartime actions issued in 1995 under then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
Tamogami's essay won a prize and was published on a website as part of a competition organised by a real estate company. On Thursday, the Defence Ministry said 78 members of the air force, including 74 officers, had submitted essays in the competition.
Their views were all similar to those expressed by Tamogami, Toshio Motoya, chief executive officer of Apa Group, which ran the competition, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"The government's opinion, the Murayama statement, is wrong and that is being distorted by the media," Motoya said. "All 230 competition entrants said that what is being taught and broadcast by the media is wrong. There were no essays expressing the opposite view. They were all close to Mr Tamogami."
Motoya said he was head of a friendship group associated with an air force base, but that he had not promoted the essay competition among the armed forces and had been surprised to come across Tamogami's name.
"We wondered if it was all right to publish it. So we contacted him and he said it was his firmly held opinion and bravely said we could release his name and title," Motoya added.
Japan's defence minister said Thursday he hoped Tamogami, who was fired from his post but allowed to retire from the armed forces, would return his retirement allowance.
Tamogami said he had no intention of returning the lump sum, because that would imply he had disavowed the views expressed in his essay, broadcaster NHK said.
The essay criticised the tight restrictions placed on Japan's military by the U.S.-drafted postwar pacifist constitution and urges readers to "take back the glorious history of Japan."
"The Japanese media are saying all sorts of terrible things, but I think he is a samurai with sound views," Motoya said.
Prime Minister Taro Aso will be anxious to smooth the issue over, weeks before a trilateral summit with China and South Korea he plans to host in southern Japan.
Aso has come under fire in the past for comments apparently praising Japan's 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula, but has more recently said he stands by the Murayama apology.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; editing by Sophie Hardach)
By Robert Kagan
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Warlord A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945
Winston Churchill's life spanned the last decades of the British Empire, and to read Carlo D'Este's enjoyable new biography is to recall the sequence of disasters that befell Britain between the final days of the Victorian era and its brush with extinction in World War II.
American pundits these days speculate rather glibly about national decline and imagine that, if it comes, it is something that can be safely and intelligently managed. But genuine geopolitical decline is a serious and often deadly business. Churchill spent the better part of his life fending off increasingly dire threats to Britain's place in the world, and then to its very existence as an independent nation. A biography of Churchill is in some ways a biography of the British people, with all their remarkable successes, devastating failures, occasional silliness, arrogance and insouciance, and finally their incredible bravery.
Bravery was a constant throughout Churchill's long, eventful life. D'Este notes that "long before he became a statesman," he "was first a soldier." The young Churchill, with his miserable childhood and miserable personality, chose military service as a way to make his name and prove himself worthy - especially to his cold and distant father. As a young man, he fought in India and was almost killed. In 1898 he fought under Kitchener at Omdurman and barely escaped death again. Then he fought in the Boer War, where he was captured and escaped. In World War I he served as first lord of the Admiralty, but after the failure of his plan to force open the Dardanelles, which led to the death of thousands of British and Allied soldiers at Gallipoli, he had himself assigned to fight alongside such men in the bloody trenches of Flanders.
All of this was decades before he became prime minister and saved Britain, and perhaps the world, from the rule of Hitler and the Nazis. In that role, D'Este argues, Churchill was not merely a politician conducting a war in the manner of Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George or Franklin Roosevelt. He was a soldier, a "warlord," a warrior-statesman in the mold of Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell or his great ancestor the Duke of Marlborough.
This is the main theme of "Warlord," and it is perhaps a bit overstated. D'Este is a military historian so it is not surprising that he sees Churchill as soldier first and political leader second. But Churchill's greatness as a national leader was as a politician and statesman, which was what he always aspired to be.
He loved danger, and he was daring sometimes to the point of absurdity. But whenever the young Churchill threw himself into peril he calculated, even as the bullets flew and the swords cut the air, how the latest bit of derring-do would bring his name to attention back in England. And indeed, by 1900 his fame as a soldier, along with his best-selling books, catapulted him into Parliament. That year Mark Twain introduced him in New York as the "hero of five wars, author of six books and future prime minister of England." Churchill was 26.
At that time, Churchill did not even believe a great military career was possible any longer.
Like many of his contemporaries at the turn of the century, he thought large-scale war between great powers was obsolete. As D'Este describes his thinking, "surely civilization had progressed beyond that point in a new century, when nations were more and more dependent upon one another for commerce and common sense had made such nightmares ludicrous." Optimism vanished as Churchill watched Germany's naval buildup and Kaiser Wilhelm II's determination to make Germany a great world power. Churchill later wrote: "I thought of the peril of Britain, peace-loving, unthinking, little prepared, of her power and virtue, and of her mission of good sense and fair play. I thought of mighty Germany towering up in the splendor of her Imperial State and delving down in her profound, cold, patient, ruthless calculations."
It was not as a soldier or a warlord that he watched threats emerge, but as a democratic leader passionately devoted to Britain and to its principles and liberal traditions. In political exile following World War I, he warned of the rise of dictatorships in Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the Soviet Union, so much so that his critics, who did not want to think anymore about great confrontations, called him a warmonger.
When he denounced the agreement reached at Munich in 1938, he warned that there could "never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power." Despite his military experiences, Churchill's greatness lay not in his military skills or acumen. He was the author of several botched military operations, from Gallipoli in World War I to the failed pre-emptive invasion of Norway in World War II.
Rather it was Churchill's ability to see clearly and unblinkingly what most others, including most military men of his time, could not or did not want to see. He understood, for instance, that there could be no secure peace with Hitler after the invasion of Poland, even as many around him hoped Britain could yet stay out of a Continental war. After the fall of France, "realists" like Lord Halifax urged a peace deal on the grounds that Britain could never succeed alone and that there was "nothing particularly heroic in going down fighting if it could somehow be avoided." But Churchill understood that Hitler could never permit an independent Britain, which would always threaten Germany's control of the Continent, and would use peace only to gather strength for a final assault.
Churchill also understood, better than his own generals and admirals, the vital importance of taking the offensive. As he told his generals in 1940, "the completely defensive habit of mind, which has ruined the French, must not be allowed to ruin all our initiative." This aggressive approach produced the failures of Gallipoli and Norway, but Churchill believed it was better to try and to fail than not to try at all. Like Lincoln, he saw the importance of bolstering public morale, and he understood how deadly it was to talk of peace deals when the nation was losing. "We shall go on and we shall fight it out," he declared. "And if at last the long story is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender, but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground." No one doubted him when he promised to die with pistol in hand fighting the Nazis in the streets of London.
These were the qualities that made Britons choose him over other men, and to follow him in a desperate struggle against the greatest odds.
Margot Asquith, describing why people looked to him for leadership, observed that it was not his mind or judgment they respected. "It is, of course, his courage and color - his amazing mixture of industry and enterprise. ... He never shirks, hedges or protects himself. ... He takes huge risks. He is at his very best just now; when others are shriveled with grief - apprehensive. ... and self-conscious morally, Winston is intrepid, valorous, passionately keen and sympathetic." He may have longed "to be in the trenches" and was "a born soldier," but it was not as a soldier that the world needed him.
Robert Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of "The Return of History and the End of Dreams."
Book review: '2666'
Reviewed by Jonathan Lethem
Published: November 6, 2008
In Philip K. Dick's 1953 short story "The Preserving Machine," an impassioned inventor creates a device for "preserving" the canon of classical music - the sacred and, he fears, impermanent beauties of Schubert, Chopin, Beethoven and so forth - by feeding it into a device that transforms the compositions into living creatures: birds, beetles and animals resembling armadillos and porcupines. Outfitting the classic pieces in this manner, then setting them free, the inventor means to guarantee their persistence beyond the frailties of human commemoration, to give them a set of defenses adequate to their value. Alas, the musical-animals become disagreeable and violent, turn on one another and, when the inventor attempts to reverse-engineer his creations, reveal themselves as a barely recognizable cacophony, nothing like the originals. Or has the preserving machine revealed true essences - irregularities, ferocities - disguised within the classical pieces to begin with?
Dick's parable evokes the absurd yearning embedded in our reverence toward art, and the tragicomic paradoxes "masterpieces" embody in the human realm that brings them forth and gives them their only value. If we fear ourselves unworthy of the sublimities glimpsed at the summit of art, what relevance does such exalted stuff have to our grubby lives? Conversely, if on investigation such works, and their makers, are revealed as ordinary, subject to the same provisions and defects as the rest of what we've plopped onto the planet - all these cities, nations, languages, histories - then why get worked up in the first place? Perfect or, more likely, imperfect, we may suspect art of being useless in either case.
Literature is more susceptible to these doubts than music or the visual arts, which can at least play at abstract beauty. Novels and stories, even poems, are helplessly built from the imperfect stuff: language, history, squalid human incident and dream.
The Chilean exile poet Roberto Bolaño, born in 1953, lived in Mexico, France and Spain before his death in 2003, at 50, from liver disease traceable to heroin use years before. In a burst of invention now legendary in contemporary Spanish-language literature, Bolaño in the last decade of his life, writing with the urgency of poverty and his failing health, constructed a remarkable body of stories and novels out of precisely such doubts: that literature could meaningfully articulate the low truths he knew as rebel, exile, addict; that life, in all its gruesome splendor, could ever locate the literature it so desperately craves in order to feel itself known. Again and again writers are omnipresent in Bolaño's world, striding the stage as romantic heroes and feared as imperious villains, even aesthetic assassins - yet they're also persistently marginal, slipping between the cracks of time and geography, forever reclusive, vanished, erased. Bolaño's urgency infuses literature with life's whole freight: the ache of a writing-workshop aspirant may embody sexual longing, or dreams of political freedom from oppression, even the utopian fantasy of the eradication of violence, while a master-novelist's doubts in his works' chances in the game of posterity can stand for all human remorse at the burdens of personal life, or at knowledge of the burdens of history.
In "The Savage Detectives" Bolaño delivered a genuine epic inoculated against grandiosity by humane irony, vernacular wit and a hint of punk-rock self-effacement. Any suspicion that literary culture had rushed to sentimentalize a figure of quasi martyrdom was overwhelmed by the intimacy and humor of a voice that earned its breadth line by line, defying traditional fictional form with a torrential insouciance.
Well, hold on to your hats.
"2666" is the permanently mysterious title of a Bolaño manuscript rescued from his desk after his passing, the primary effort of the last five years of his life. The book was published in Spanish in 2004 to tremendous acclaim, after what appears to have been a bit of dithering over Bolaño's final intentions - a small result of which is that its English translation has been bracketed by two faintly defensive statements justifying the book's present form. They needn't have bothered. "2666" is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. "The Savage Detectives" looks positively hermetic beside it.
As in Arcimboldo's paintings, the individual elements of "2666" are easily catalogued, while the composite result, though unmistakable, remains ominously implicit, conveying a power unattainable by more direct strategies. Parts 1 and 5, the bookends - "The Part About the Critics" and "The Part About Archimboldi" - will be the most familiar to readers of Bolaño's other work. The "critics" are a group of four European academics, pedantically rapturous on the topic of their favorite writer, the mysterious German novelist Benno von Archimboldi. The four are glimpsed at a series of continental German literature conferences; Bolaño never tires of noting how a passion for literature walks a razor's edge between catastrophic irrelevance and sublime calling.
Following dubious clues, three of the four chase a rumor of Archimboldi's present whereabouts to Mexico, to Santa Teresa, a squalid and sprawling border city, globalization's no man's land, in the Sonoran Desert. The section's disconcertingly abrupt ending will also be familiar to readers of the novellas: the academics never locate the German novelist and, failing even to understand why the great German would exile himself to such a despondent place, find themselves standing at the edge of a metaphysical abyss. What lies below? Other voices will be needed to carry us forward. We meet, in Part 2, Amalfitano, another trans-Atlantic academic wrecked on the shoals of the Mexican border city, an emigrant college professor raising a beautiful daughter whose mother has abandoned them. He is beginning, seemingly, to lose his mind.
By the end of Amalfitano's section a reader remains, like the critics in the earlier section, in possession of a paucity of real clues as to this novel's underlying "story," but suffused with dreadful implication. Amalfitano's daughter seems to be drifting into danger, and if we've been paying attention we'll have become concerned about intimations of a series of rape-murders in the Santa Teresa slums and foothills.
The third section - "The Part About Fate" - is a marvelously spare and pensive portrait of a black North American journalist, diverted to Santa Teresa to cover what turns out to be a pathetically lopsided boxing match between a black American boxer and a Mexican opponent. Before arriving in Mexico, though, the journalist visits Detroit to interview an ex-Black Panther turned motivational speaker named Barry Seaman, who delivers, for 10 pages, the greatest ranting monologue this side of Don DeLillo's Lenny Bruce routines in "Underworld." At last comes Part 4, "The Part About the Crimes." Bolaño's massive structure may now be understood as a form of mercy: "2666" has been conceived as a resounding chamber, a receptacle adequate to the gravity of the human grief it will attempt to commemorate. (Perhaps 2666 is the year human memory will need to attain in order to bear the knowledge in "2666.") If the word "unflinching" didn't exist I'd invent it to describe these nearly 300 pages, yet Bolaño never completely abandons those reserves of lyricism and irony that make the sequence as transporting as it is grueling. The nearest comparison may be to Haruki Murakami's shattering fugue on Japanese military atrocities in Mongolia, "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." Bolaño's method, like Murakami's, encapsulates and disgorges dream and fantasy, at no cost to the penetration of his realism.
By the time we return to matters of literature, and meet Archimboldi, a German World War II veteran and a characteristically culpable 20th-century witness whose ambivalent watchfulness shades the Sonoran crimes, we've been shifted into a world so far beyond the imagining of the first section's "critics" that we're unsure whether to pity or envy them.
A novel like "2666" is its own preserving machine, delivering itself into our hearts, sentence by questing, unassuming sentence; it also becomes a preserving machine for the lives its words fall upon like a forgiving rain, fictional characters and the secret selves hidden behind and enshrined within them: hapless academic critics and a hapless Mexican boxer, the unavenged bodies deposited in shallow graves. By writing across the grain of his doubts about what literature can do, how much it can discover or dare pronounce the names of our world's disasters, Bolaño has proven it can do anything, and for an instant, at least, given a name to the unnamable.
Jonathan Lethem is the author of "The Fortress of Solitude." His new novel will be published in 2009.
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 6, 2008
MOSCOW: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy described President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday as "young, handsome and even tanned."
Berlusconi appeared to be joking about America's first black president at a news conference following talks with the Russian president.
The Italian leader, who has a history of controversial remarks, was asked by a reporter about the prospect for U.S.-Russian relations, which have plummeted in recent months.
Berlusconi responded by saying that the relative youth of the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, 43, and Obama, 47, should make it easier for Moscow and Washington to work together.
Then he said, smiling, that he had told Medvedev that Obama "has everything needed in order to reach deals with him: he's young, handsome and even tanned."
News agencies said Berlusconi later defended the remark, calling the statement "a great compliment."
"Why are they taking it as something negative?" the ANSA news agency quoted him as saying in Moscow. "If they have the vice of not having a sense of humor, worse for them."
Later, Berlusconi told Sky TV-24 Ore that the remark was meant to be "cute," and he lashed out at those who don't see it as such, calling them "imbeciles, of which there are too many."
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Amid the soaring oratory about the presidential election, it was Barack Obama who put it best late Tuesday night. "That's the genius of America, that America can change," he said. "Our union can be perfected."
But as Obama's victory showed, the path to change is arduous. Even as the nation shattered one barrier of intolerance, we were disappointed that voters in four states chose to reinforce another. Ballot measures were approved in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida and California that discriminate against couples of the same sex.
We do not view these results as reason for despair. Struggles over civil rights never follow a straight trajectory, and the outcome of these ballot fights should not obscure the building momentum for full equality for gay people, including acceptance of marriage between gay men and women. But the votes remind us of how much remains to be done.
In Arkansas, voters approved a backward measure destined to hurt children by barring unmarried couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents. In Arizona, voters approved a state constitutional amendment to forbid same-sex couples from marrying. Florida voters approved a more sweeping amendment intended to bar marriage, civil unions and other family protections.
The most notable defeat for fairness was in California, where right-wing forces led by the Mormon Church poured tens of millions of dollars into the campaign for Proposition 8 - a measure to enshrine bigotry in the state's constitution by preventing people of the same sex from marrying.
The measure was designed to overturn May's State Supreme Court decision, which made California the second state to end that exclusion of same-sex couples. Massachusetts did so in 2004. The ruling said that everyone has a basic right "to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice." .
Not all the results for same-sex marriage were negative. In Connecticut, voters rejected a proposed constitutional convention through which opponents of same-sex marriage wanted to overturn a recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, on sound equal protection grounds, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Far from showing that California's Supreme Court was wrong to extend the right of marriage to gay people, the passage of Proposition 8 is a reminder of the crucial role that the courts play in protecting vulnerable groups from unfair treatment.
Apart from creating legal uncertainty about the thousands of same-sex marriages that have been performed in California and giving rise to lawsuits challenging whether the rules governing ballot measures were properly followed, the immediate impact of Tuesday's rights-shredding exercise is to underscore the danger of allowing the ballot box to be used to take away people's fundamental rights.
By Kate Zernike and Dalia Sussman
Thursday, November 6, 2008
All the ominous predictions, all the fretting about hidden votes and closeted racists frustrating a victory for the nation's first African-American president came down to this: the so-called Bradley effect did not exist.
People did not lie to pollsters or to themselves about whether they would vote for a black man. The polls, national and statewide, generally predicted the results with accuracy.
"The unambiguous answer is that there was no Bradley effect," said Mark Blumenthal, the editor and publisher of Pollster.com, a Web site that publishes and analyzes poll results.
A different question, of course, is whether race was a factor in how people voted, and for a small group of voters 19 percent it was, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls. But race turned out to be less of an issue than predicted even three months ago, when twice that percentage in a CNN poll said it would be at least a small factor in their vote.
Senator John McCain won the 17 percent of white voters who said race had affected their vote, according to the exit polls. But, helped by black voters, Senator Barack Obama's margin of victory was about the same among voters who said race had been a factor as it was among those who said it had not been at all.
"There's no point in continuing that discussion anymore," said Jon Krosnick, a professor of psychology and political science at Stanford. "If there had been a discrepancy, there's every reason to believe it could have been explained by many other aspects of methodology.
"But people's imagination would have been drawn to the Bradley effect, or the reverse Bradley effect. Americans would start to wonder whether polling is a reliable science or whether you can trust the government's count of the vote. It's such a relief that none of that questioning has to happen now."
It remains to be seen whether attitudes on race have changed for the long term. Concerns about the economy may have simply prompted people to set aside racist attitudes. Or Obama's growing lead in many pre-election polls may have caused people to rethink opinions about whether a black man could lead the country.
But if election polling showed anything about attitudes on race, it may have been about Americans' quickness to ascribe racial motives; to some extent, they blame racism more than they actually act on it or at least, vote on it. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in late October, Obama supporters were more likely than McCain voters to say they knew someone who was not supporting Obama because he is black. McCain backers were more likely than Obama supporters to say they knew someone who was supporting him because he is black.
"It says something about race and our culture that we were more likely to attribute racial motivation to people who disagree with us than to people who agree with us," said Kathy Frankovic, the director of surveys at CBS News.
Frankovic said, "Despite all the claims that Americans have moved beyond race, we still want to talk about race."
Many authorities on polling have long questioned whether the Bradley effect ever existed at all. It was named for Tom Bradley, the black candidate who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite polls predicting he would win. The presumption was that people misled pollsters about how willing they were to vote for a black candidate, but scholars and pollsters have pointed out that polls failed to account for absentee ballots, which swung the election to the white Republican.
A more recent study at Harvard found that a "Wilder effect" named for L. Douglas Wilder, the former governor of Virginia did exist throughout the mid-1990s, but has disappeared as race-freighted issues like crime and welfare have faded.
This year, polls predicted accurately voter attitudes on race and other issues.
Most national polls taken in the final days of the campaign showed Obama leading by seven to nine percentage points; with returns still being counted, he is winning the popular vote by six points.
In battleground states, said Blumenthal of Pollster.com, the difference between most polls and the actual outcome was well within the margin of error. The exceptions, he said, were where there were relatively few polls taken, making the predictions unreliable. But there was not the kind of pattern that would suggest a Bradley effect.
In Pennsylvania, Blumenthal said, the final trend estimate was a seven percentage point margin; Obama won by 10. In Ohio, the final margin was three points; he won by four, and in Florida, the margin pre-election was 1.7 percentage points, and Obama won by 2.5.
Pre-election polling may have been more accurate this year because it was more intense. Gallup, for instance, did daily tracking polls of 1,000 voters beginning Jan. 2. By comparison, in 2000, the organization polled 400 people a day starting Labor Day, to produce a rolling average over three days. In 2004, it polled for a few days at selected points, rather than night by night.
Frank Newport, the editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said any polls where Obama underperformed or overperformed slightly had been affected by randomness, rather than bad polling or hidden racism. "Scientifically, it's hard to disentangle race in this election, just as it is hard to tease out how McCain's age was a factor," Newport said.
Obama lost white voters by 12 points, but that is the same margin Al Gore lost them by in 2000 and better than the 17-point margin John Kerry lost them by in 2004. He also lost among white men by a 16-point margin, 57 percent to 41 percent. But again, that is a better result for the Democrat among this group compared with 2004 (when Kerry lost white men by 25 points) and 2000 (when Gore lost white men by 24 points.)
That trend carried through in some key states. While Obama did not carry white voters in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Virginia, for example, he lost them by smaller margins than Kerry did in 2004. More Articles in US » A version of this article appeared in print on November 6, 2008, on page P8 of the New York edition.
By Elisabeth Malkin and Antonio Betancourt
Thursday, November 6, 2008
MEXICO CITY: Mexican officials tried to rein in speculation that swirled Wednesday over the cause of a plane crash on Tuesday evening that killed the interior minister and a former prosecutor who once led the fight against the country's violent drug cartels.
The authorities said the crash appeared to have been an accident and they promised a thorough investigation. Officials took unusual actions to head off speculation that the plane had been sabotaged, including releasing radar images of the small jet's final moments and recordings of the pilot's last communications with air traffic controllers.
The interior minister, Juan Camilo Mouriño, was among nine people aboard the Lear jet when it suddenly spun out of control and slammed into evening rush-hour traffic in an upscale business district here. Everyone on the government plane and at least five people on the ground were killed. About 40 people were injured and 16 remained in hospitals on Wednesday.
Mouriño, 37, was Mexico's top security official. His death comes as the government is waging a war on drug trafficking that has provoked a bloody response from the cartels. Gunmen have assassinated police chiefs, mayors and soldiers.
Another passenger on the airplane was José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who had long been involved in fighting the drug cartels. As the director of the organized crime unit in the attorney general's office earlier this decade, he oversaw the extradition of drug lords to the United States. The authorities said that there was no sign that the crash had been caused by foul play.
"Up to now, no indications have been detected that would allow us to form any hypothesis different from those of an accident, but the investigation will continue until all possibilities are exhausted," Luis Téllez, the communications and transportation minister, said at a news conference.
But as rumors surfaced on media Web sites throughout the day, officials tried to head them off. The radar images and recordings released by aviation officials indicated what appeared to be a routine landing approach. To the sound of the exchange between controller and pilot, the dots on the radar showed the jet and other planes preparing for their approach to Mexico City's airport, moving on their planned course. Then suddenly, with no warning from the pilot, the jet disappeared from the radar. The controller asked for a response from the plane and heard nothing.
Téllez said that President Felipe Calderón had ordered the extraordinary release of the radar images and the recordings. In a country where a long history of government secrecy has allowed conspiracy theories to quickly become conventional wisdom, Calderón's administration wanted to offer assurance that the investigation would be transparent.
In response to questions, Téllez dismissed speculation that the plane was too old to fly, that it was too close to a commercial jet that was in front of it and that the pilot had veered off course and made an emergency call. Téllez called for patience, recalling that it took a month and a half to investigate a Spanair crash at the Madrid airport in August.
But few Mexicans seemed confident that the government would tell the truth about the cause of the crash. "Look, in the past the government has covered up things this big, and I don't doubt that they will this time," said Rocío Flores, 33, a student. "If the narcos killed Mouriño and the other guy, the truth is, who knows if the people will find out."
United States investigators have been called in to help. Two investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration who were already in Mexico on other business began working at the crash site on Tuesday night. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a three-person team, and analysts from a specialized evidence team will also help, the United States Embassy said.
Britain sent three investigators, and Learjet sent its own team.
The government was clearly worried about how the speculation would affect Mexico's financial markets, already weakened by the global financial crisis. Finance Minister Agustín Carstens made the rounds of morning radio shows to argue that Mouriño's death should not have any effect on the markets.
Mouriño was one of Calderón's closest friends and political collaborators. He ran Calderón's 2006 presidential campaign, became chief of staff and took over the Interior Ministry in January. As minister, he was Mexico's top security official.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
By Mica Rosenberg
Two in-flight recorders rescued from the burnt wreckage of a small jet that crashed and killed Mexico's interior minister were being examined on Thursday by U.S. experts in a Washington lab, Mexican officials said.
The "black boxes" have voice recordings and data from the final minutes before the jet, also carrying President Felipe Calderon's top drug war adviser, disappeared from radar screens and crashed in a busy Mexico City district on Tuesday.
The crash killed all nine people on board -- including Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, the No. 2 figure in Calderon's government as it wages a war on drug cartels -- and five more on the ground.
The government has gone to unusual lengths to open up its investigation to the media, playing back audio and radar images from the plane's descent towards the international airport, as it tries to play down speculation of sabotage.
Mexico has a dark history of political assassinations and drug gang threats, but Transport and Communications Minister Luis Tellez said investigators have found no evidence of foul play.
"In about a week we should have clear and precise information about what is on those recordings," Tellez told a news conference, as Mexican investigators scoured the wreckage for clues.
The government Learjet crashed into evening rush-hour traffic on Tuesday, setting cars ablaze and shooting flames into the sky. A dozen people were being treated for burns.
U.S. and British experts were in Mexico helping analyse the Learjet's maintenance records, review communication transcripts with air traffic controllers and examine forensic evidence, weather conditions and the flight crew's background.
INVESTIGATING ALL ANGLES
Representatives from Learjet, which are made by Bombardier Inc, and from Honeywell International Inc, which manufactures the jets' engines, were also in Mexico helping with the investigation, Tellez said.
One hypothesis put forward by Mexican media is that turbulence from a larger plane could have knocked the Learjet off course as it lined up to land at Mexico City airport.
A person claiming to be a pilot wrote on the comments section of a Mexican news blog that the same government Learjet had followed too closely behind his plane in the past.
"I am a captain of a Boeing 767 and a few months ago, during the descent into Mexico, this pilot came too close to us," said the blogger called Ramon Ortega. He said he had cautioned the pilot about keeping a safe distance.
Calderon told a teary-eyed cabinet after the crash that he was sure it was an accident, El Universal daily reported.
Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who was also killed, was a ex-deputy attorney general with years of drug war experience.
Calderon's drug war has led to a swathe of arrests but a jump in violence has killed more than 4,000 people this year.
The president, a close friend of Mourino, attended a sombre memorial service for the crash victims, hugging relatives as a military band played for the coffins draped in Mexican flags.
"I am the first person interested in finding the truth and discovering what happened," Calderon said.
(Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera, editing by Philip Barbara)