Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Wednesday, 5th November 2008


Ferry capsizes in Philippines, killing 40
By Carlos H. Conde
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
MANILA: Forty people, 11 of them children, died after a ferry capsized in the central Philippines, the country's coast guard said Wednesday.
The Philippine Coast Guard said the interisland ferry, the Don Dexter Cathlyn, overturned on Tuesday after being buffeted by strong winds and waves en route to Sorsogon Province, south of Manila.
The Philippine Red Cross said that more than 100 passengers had been rescued by Wednesday but that at least a dozen more were missing. The ship's manifest listed only 119 passengers, although the coast guard said it was common for passengers to not be registered. Interisland ferries in the Philippines are often overloaded with passengers and cargo.
The Red Cross said two of the bodies had not been claimed by relatives. The survivors, most of whom suffered shock, sleeplessness and starvation, will undergo "stress debriefing," the relief agency said.
A coast guard official, Captain Efren Evangelista, told The Associated Press that charges could be brought against the owners of the ship because it had sailed without the required clearance and might have been overloaded.
"The coast guard should have inspected it and prevented it from leaving if it found violations," Evangelista said. "In this case, the operator of the ship did not inform us it was leaving port."
Such violations are common in this archipelago nation, where ferries are the primary mode of transportation between islands.
Several overloaded passenger ships have sunk here over the years, killing thousands of people, mainly because of lax safety regulations, said Harry Roque, a lawyer who represents several families of victims of some of these mishaps.
Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Red Cross, said the maritime industry in the Philippines was so primitive that sea disasters were inevitable. "We have the best sailors in the world, but our ships are really old," Gordon said during a recent interview. "We really have to modernize the industry."
Roque said that corruption at the ports was a problem that allowed ships to sail without the necessary clearance. He also said shipping companies had successfully evaded sanctions, even closure by the government, because they often settled cases with victims for paltry sums.
Despite the many accidents in the past several decades, government safety regulation has not improved, Roque said. Sulpicio Lines, the company that owns the Princess of the Stars ferry, which sank in June with the loss of most of its 800 passengers, remains in operation despite evidence that it had been negligent - it left port despite an oncoming typhoon - and despite a poor safety record, Roque said.
The company had insisted that bad weather caused the ship to sink in the central Philippines on June 23, at the height of a typhoon. Ships owned by Sulpicio Lines figured in several of the worst maritime disasters in the country.
Michelle Basco, a maritime lawyer whose family is also in the shipping business, said it was difficult for the government to strictly enforce maritime regulations because "shipping is very capital intensive and the government cannot really strictly implement standards because otherwise nobody will invest or operate these ferries."

At specialty garage, making hybrids even greener
By Felicity Barringer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO: The fig tree and the philodendron are the first things that meet the eye in the repair bay of Luscious Garage. Then the two Toyota Priuses come into focus — one with a slightly dented rear door, the other on a lift with two tires off and rusty brake rotors exposed. Then comes the eerie sense that something is missing: grime.
"You could eat off her floor," said Sara Bernard, the customer in need of brake repair.
The only hybrid specialty garage run by a woman has opened in the Bay Area, which has more Priuses — 70,000 as of 2006 — than most states. And while its owner, Carolyn Coquillette, has a preoccupation with cleanliness that may not be unique in a mechanic's shop, her ubiquitous recycling containers (for paper, plastic, rubber, metal and oil) and the solar panels on her roof set Luscious apart. So does its specialty: giving hybrid owners the option of going fully electric.
Here in the district south of Market Street, a kind of harmonic convergence of early 21st-century trends is achieved as the latest incarnation of the car culture meets the new green culture in a feminist and thoroughly wired setting.
Luscious is a secular temple built to serve hybrids, the cars powered by both an electric motor (most often engaged when starting or stopping, thus most efficient in city traffic) and a gasoline engine (most efficient on the open road). But its owner's forte is converting them to plug-in hybrids, which are functionally all-electric cars that can go 12 to 15 miles on one charge.
That's right. Fifteen miles, maximum. For a mere $6,000. (If you go farther, the gasoline motor kicks back in. )
"People do it because they are ideologically committed," said Coquillette, the co-founder and now sole owner of the garage, which employs two other mechanics, one male and one female.
She divides her conversion customers into three groups: "Some people are very tech-savvy, so they like it. Some people are extreme environmentalists, so they like it. Some just want to burn less gas."
Donald Chu, who is 65 and a physical therapist, falls into the third category. With a 10-mile one-way commute, he said: "I can go the whole week without using any gas. I can get to work and when I get to work I charge it up and then I go home."
He figures he spent $100 a month for gasoline before his Prius was converted. So it would take five to six years to recoup the cost. But, he said, "you can spend the extra money being green and more efficient, or you can spend the extra money on gasoline."
Chu was the 21st paying customer to opt for the all-electric conversion, in which an array of 20 batteries, each the size of a videocassette, are installed in a retractable tray in the trunk. Toyota, for its part, adopts a posture of studied neutrality. Its spokesman, John Hanson, said, "We don't encourage nor discourage these modifications."
They do not void the car's warranty, he added — unless company mechanics determine the conversion caused the problem.
Coquillette, 30, an Ohio native, hopes to become a prophet of the all-electric future that some Californians dream of. The alternative newspaper The San Francisco Bay Guardian named Luscious its "green small business of the year."
But being a prophet is different from making a profit. Coquillette said only that she had some money set aside to support Luscious for a while — she hopes it will last until she turns the financial corner.
If it all seems a bit self-conscious, well, it is. As Coquillette describes it, everything she has done since graduating from the University of Michigan about eight years ago with degrees in physics and English somehow led to Luscious. Her first postgraduate years were the time for career experimentation, philosophical reflection and — after she became irritated that she could not repair her own car — bonding with wrenches.
Now she owns one of perhaps three or four garages in the Bay Area that specialize in hybrids, said Dana Meyer, who runs Dana Meyer Auto Service across the San Francisco Bay in Albany. The newness of the hybrid drive train, Meyer said, causes some mechanics to shy away.
Not Coquillette. She also wants her garage, like the cars she works on, to do things differently. She recycles almost everything, picking up a used air filter, ripping out the latticework of filter paper from the plastic frame with a small knife, then separating the plastic housing from its rubber cover and putting each in its own bin.
She makes her own windshield-washing fluid from vinegar. In the waiting room, the works of Anne Sexton and Virginia Woolf sit near tomes on physics and car repair.
Coquillette tried teaching and working for a nonprofit before she decided she preferred a mechanic's overalls. Cars, unlike eighth graders, don't talk back. When she got her first job, in a garage run by her auto-repair teacher at a local community college, she found that "a car would come in broken and would leave fixed, as opposed to nonprofit work where the goals are so nebulous."
After working at garages in Ann Arbor after college, she decided to go to California and write a book about how the culture of driving has changed. It grew out of her belief that the check engine alert signifies that "we're at the whim of computers now."
The manuscript was not sold, but its spirit was channeled into Luscious. By trying to demystify engines and their foibles, through conversations and posts on her Web site,, Coquillette said she hopes to "serve as a liaison between you and your car."
She said she believed that the modern driver's "emotional relationship with the car, not just the physical one, is changing."
"This is inevitable."
In a high-tech automotive environment, she added, what is needed is a shop focused on the heavily computerized car and the driver who must adjust to it.
"Driving is a necessary evil, even in a Prius," she said. "So are garages."
She added, "We're trying to minimize the impact."
Gas furor tips Guinea further off balance
By Lydia Polgreen
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
DAKAR, Senegal: Frustrated youths took to the crumbling streets of Guinea's capital, Conakry, for the third day in a row on Tuesday, throwing stones and setting tires on fire in escalating protests over high gas prices.
The demonstrations, and the violent reaction they have provoked from the country's security forces, have heightened tensions in a country that has been teetering on the brink of mass unrest for two years.
Witnesses said that at least one person was killed Monday when government troops shot at demonstrators, according to Reuters. But movement has been severely restricted in Conakry, and human rights advocates and aid groups fear that the toll is considerably higher.
"What is clear is there is a tremendous amount of frustration and anger in Guinea," said Corinne Dufka, West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch. "People protest to express that anger, and security forces respond with excessive force."
On the surface the protests are about fuel prices, which have remained forbiddingly high despite slumping crude oil prices. The government announced on Saturday that it would reduce gas prices by 20 percent, to the equivalent of about $4.15 a gallon from more than $5, to quell simmering anger over the high cost of living, but Guineans had been expecting a deeper cut because crude oil prices had fallen more than 50 percent.
But Guinea's problems go much deeper than expensive gas. The country, a former French colony, is one of West Africa's longest festering sores, a holdover from a recent era when autocrats ruled the region and civil wars raged over the spoils of diamonds, gold and other riches. It is the world's top exporter of bauxite, the ore from which aluminum is made, but it is also one of the world's poorest nations.
Its president, Lansana Conté, has ruled Guinea since 1984. Now in his 70s, he is in poor health and has made frequent trips abroad in recent years for medical treatment. As his health has declined, so have his country's fortunes.
The government brutally suppressed a general strike early last year led by the country's trade unions. As many as 200 people were killed, and human rights groups documented dozens of cases of beatings, torture and unlawful imprisonment in the crackdown. Conté agreed to some changes, bringing in a reform-minded prime minister with wider powers.
But the reforms did not take. Little more than a year later, Conté fired the prime minister and appointed a close ally in his place.
In May, frustrated soldiers mutinied over back pay and miserable living conditions, taking the army's second in command as a hostage until their demands were met. Frustrated police officers later stopped working as well.
The unrest within the security apparatus, which Conté had controlled firmly, raised fears of a possible coup. Legislative elections that were supposed to open up the country's political system have repeatedly been postponed.
"The mutiny by soldiers, unrest within the national police and strike action by customs officials are symptoms of the disintegration of the state and its incapacity to provide security," said an analysis by the International Crisis Group published in June.
Hope washes across Africa after Obama triumph
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Daniel Wallis
Kenyans in Barack Obama's ancestral homeland danced with joy Wednesday as the election of America's first black president sparked hope that he would tackle poverty and disease in Africa.
As a pink dawn lit the sky, hundreds of people in a field at Obama's late father's village clapped and cheered when key states fell to east Africa's favourite adopted son.
"We are going to the White House! We are going to the White House!" relatives sang at the top of their voices, dancing around the family's modest homestead in Kogelo, pausing only to hug each other and hoist small children into the air.
In the tiny village in western Kenya where Obama's 87-year-old grandmother lives, family members prepared to roast a bull in celebration. Villagers swarmed the family home, banging drums, ululating and waving tree branches.
Born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a Kenyan father, Obama is idolised by many Africans the way the Irish saw U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s: as one of their own who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Many Africans fervently hope his victory will mean more U.S. support for local development and an improvement in living conditions for the world's poorest continent.
"We trust that you will also make it the mission of your presidency to combat the scourge of poverty and disease everywhere," former South African president Nelson Mandela said.
His fellow South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu likened Obama's victory to his own country's triumph over apartheid. Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua said the result had "finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history."
Analysts have cautioned, however, that Obama may have little scope to bring tangible benefits to Africa, and that he does not have a strong track record of interest in the continent.
"Whatever his personal preferences are, he is going to face much more immediate pressing concerns. And those are dealing with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia and the global financial crisis," said Mark Schroeder, director of risk analysis for sub-Saharan Africa at the political intelligence group Stratfor.
"There is not going to be a lot of political capital left over to devote to Africa."
During a visit to western Kenya in 2006, Obama reminded thousands of adoring fans that he was the senator for Illinois in the United States -- not Kogelo.
Africa's largest country, Sudan, was quick to dismiss any notion that a Democratic president with African roots would make much difference to its troubled relationship with Washington, particularly over the festering Darfur conflict.
"When it comes to foreign policy, there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig.
But in Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a national holiday in honour of Obama, who enjoys rock star status in the east African nation.
Babies have been named after him, drinkers knock back "Senator" beers in his honour, pop stars sing his praises and "Obama: The Musical" opened in the capital Nairobi Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Munir Weche in Nairobi, Paul Simao and Michael Georgy in Johannesburg, Felix Onuah in Abuja, Shapi Shacinda in Lusaka, Andrew Heavens in Khartoum and Joe Bavier in Kinshasa; Editing by David Clarke)
Hunger and fear stalk Congo refugee camps
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Hereward Holland
Clutching a small pack of high-energy biscuits, Clementine Riziki slowly chews her first meal in more than a week.
Nine days ago, she fled her village in Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu province when attacking Tutsi rebels burnt down her house and stole her belongings. To compound her worries, her family has since doubled in size.
Amid the chaos, debris and noise of a makeshift camp for tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the violence, Riziki gave birth this week to twins, just a few kilometres (miles) down the hill from the rebel front line.
Breastfeeding her tiny twins, Olive and Olivier, Riziki told Reuters: "I fled with nothing and had to walk for six hours to this camp in Kibati."
"This is the first time I've eaten in 9 days," she said.
Her twins, Olive and Olivier, were born amid a humanitarian emergency in a region which the U.N. children's agency UNICEF calls "the worst place in the world to be a child."
Around her, amid volcanic dust and rubble, thousands of families huddle under blankets and umbrellas.
Sleeping out in the open, some even wrap themselves in banana leaves at night to find some protection from the cold.
Riziki's plight is typical of that of an estimated 200,000 hungry, frightened civilians who are crammed into camps outside and around the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, after fleeing a Tutsi rebel offensive last week and militia and army killings.
They may be the lucky ones. Tens of thousands more are feared to be roaming North Kivu's bush-covered hills, desperately seeking safe shelter, food and water.
The United Nations and foreign aid groups are scrambling to cope with an emergency described as "catastrophic" by relief workers in a country where more than 5 million people have died in a decade from conflict, hunger and disease.
Like others displaced by the fighting, Riziki faced a difficult choice: to wait in Kibati for the aid agencies to deliver long-overdue food, or risk crossing the front line in the hope of salvaging something from the remains of her home.
Two weeks ago, Riziki was selling salt and vegetables in the local market of her home village.
Now she roams the Kibati camp all day, chasing rumours of food distributions which so far have been limited to emergency rations for children.
After last week's heavy fighting, which forced many aid workers briefly to evacuate Goma, U.N. relief agencies and humanitarian NGOs are rushing to distribute supplies and provide medical care for the displaced.
But fresh fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday, which the U.N. said involved Tutsi rebels and pro-government Mai-Mai militia, disrupted aid operations around Rutshuru, north of Goma.
Another resident of the Kibati camp, Sebeya Hakizimana, said many were still going hungry there despite the aid efforts.
"Every day, people are dying here, mostly the old and the very young," he said, hefting a bundle of firewood.
"We live a difficult life here, there is no food, there is no water, there is famine," he added.
North Kivu's long-suffering civilians have been clamouring for more protection, not just from the Tutsi rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda, but also from marauding army soldiers and Mai-Mai militia who have killed, looted and raped.
Hakizimana said he would welcome more foreign troops, perhaps from Europe, to protect civilians and reinforce the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force already in Congo.
"Even if we could return home there is nothing there, everything is burnt," he said.
"It will be difficult to start again."
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Tim Pearce)

Bringing Champagne down to earth
By Eric Asimov
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
NEW YORK: With rough, work-thickened hands, unruly hair and a steady gaze, Anselme Selosse looks the image of the French vigneron, a man more comfortable tending vines and working in his cellar than he is in a New York restaurant talking to sommeliers and wine writers.
But there he was last week, at Eleven Madison Park, leading a tasting of his wines, speaking smoothly in French, gesturing with long arms that seemed as if they would be a lot more comfortable sprung from the confines of his rumpled blazer.
Selosse, 54, is not the usual emissary from Champagne, a smooth guy in a suit, talking about product positioning, luxury brands and lifestyles. To hear them tell it, Champagne pops into this world like a genie from a lamp, ready to make magic.
But to Selosse, the magic occurs long before there is a wine. It takes place deep underneath Champagne's chalky soil, where the roots of the vines take hold of what Selosse calls the essence of the earth.
Suffice it to say that most of us probably can't afford Selosse Champagne and may never drink it. Well, then, why should anybody care about it, especially now when $20 for a bottle of wine seems like a lot of money, much less the $250 you might pay for Selosse's top-of-the-line Substance cuvée?
Because, as superb, striking and idiosyncratic as the Selosse Champagnes can be, what Selosse represents is equally important, if not more so. Yes, he and his wife, Corinne, had taken this rare trip to New York to reintroduce their Champagnes to the wine trade, but what he had to say about Champagne was possibly more meaningful than the wines themselves.
The key word is wines. In almost every possible way, the corporate line from Champagne is the antithesis of what consumers are taught about every other important wine region in the world. Great wines, almost everyone can agree, are distinctive. They ideally reflect their terroirs and the conditions of their vintages. In short, as the rest of the wine world preaches with varying degrees of honesty, great wines are made in the vineyard.
But the dominant Champagne houses have divorced what's in the bottle from what comes from the earth. Their story of Champagne, told through decades of marketing, associates bubbles with elegance, luxury and festivity, achieved through master blenders in the cellar. Champagne does not celebrate the land and the vigneron, but the house and the event. Too often, Champagne is a commodity, not a wine.
Selosse, by his example and his Champagnes, is intent on restoring the ideas of vineyard, terroir and wine to the perception of Champagne. He is not alone by any means. He is one of a growing number of Champagne vignerons - grape growers who also make the wine and bottle it - who are intent on changing the nature of Champagne. Some of the big houses make great Champagne, and not all of the small growers are successful. But their influence has increased, and the big houses are paying attention.
Grower-producers like Larmandier-Bernier, Egly-Ouriet, Pierre Gimonnet, Pierre Moncuit and Pierre Peters are making Champagnes that are distinctive if not profound, reflecting the terroir in which the grapes are born, and forcing people to rethink their ideas about Champagne. In this company, no Champagne producer has been more influential or more original than Selosse.
He was trained in Burgundy, and has likened himself to the Cistercian monks who planted many of Burgundy's great vineyards in an effort to make the most of their terroir. "They were motivated by religion," Selosse told me once. "My religion is the vineyard."
Selosse is determined to emphasize what is singular in his wines, rather than the Champagne norm of seeking house consistency year after year. Yet he is not so Burgundian that he believes only in vintage wines. Of the eight cuvées he poured at the New York tasting and at a dinner later that evening, only one was a vintage wine, a 1999 blanc de blancs extra brut. The others are all made from multiple vintages.
Perhaps the most unusual of his Champagnes is Substance, made from a single chardonnay vineyard in Avize. It uses a solera system, similar to what is used to make sherry, in which successive vintages, back to 1987, are blended. The result is an almost ethereal Champagne, with aromas of flowers and seashells.
Rather than obscuring the terroir, Selosse asserts, the blending of his solera Champagne emphasizes the qualities of the vineyard by eliminating variables like weather.
"It takes all the different years - the good, the bad, the wet, the dry, the sunny - and neutralizes the elements to bring out the terroir," he said.
I asked him whether he would ever suggest this method to his friends in Burgundy, where it would be looked on as heretical.
"No," he said. "In Burgundy they already understand the terroir - it rises above the vintage." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe in Bordeaux."

Obama moves America beyond racial politics
By Rachel L. Swarns
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
WASHINGTON: Even during the darkest hours of his presidential campaign, Barack Obama held on to his improbable, unshakable conviction that America was ready to step across the color line.
On Tuesday, America leaped.
Millions of voters - white and black, Hispanic and Asian, biracial and multiracial - put their faith and the future of their country into the hands of a 47-year-old son of a black father and a white mother, a man who made history both because of his race and in spite of it.
African-Americans wept and danced in the streets, declaring that a once-reluctant nation had finally lived up to its democratic promise. White voters marveled at what they had wrought in turning a page on the country's bitter racial history. Strangers of all colors exulted in small towns and big cities.
"It brought tears to my eyes to see the lines," said Bob Haskins, a black maintenance worker at an Atlanta church where scores of college students voted. "For these young folks, this is a calling. Everything that Martin Luther King talked about is coming true today."
Tobey Benas, a retired teacher who voted for Obama in Chicago, also savored the moment: "I can't believe how far we've come," said Benas, who is white. "This goes very deep for me."
In a country long divided, Obama had a singular appeal: he is biracial and a graduate of top universities; a stirring speaker who plays basketball and quotes the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr; a politician who grooves to the rapper Jay-Z and loves the lyricism of the cellist Yo Yo Ma; a man of remarkable control and startling boldness.
He was also something completely new: an African-American presidential aspirant without a race-based agenda. His message of unity and his promise of a new way of thinking seemed to inspire - or least offer some reassurance - to a country staggered by two wars, a convulsing economy and sometimes bewildering global change.
Americans, of course, have not suddenly become colorblind or forgotten old wounds. But millions of white citizens clearly decided Obama was preferable to the alternative, even if some might have had to swallow hard when they walked into the voting booth.
"In difficult economic times, people find the price of prejudice is just a little bit too high," said Governor Michael Easley of North Carolina, a white Democrat. "They're saying, 'We don't care what your race is. If you can make things better, we're for you."'
Easley said he knew big changes were coming when he passed a pickup on the road a few weeks ago. The white driver, who looked as though he had been hunting, was wearing camouflage apparel and had a gun rack in his truck. Easley said he was sure he was looking at a McCain supporter - until he saw the Obama stickers plastered on the door.
"I thought to myself, 'We might be winning now,"' Easley said. "We could cross that chasm, we could cross the Rubicon this time."
Confident in the country's ability to move beyond racial politics, Obama had his finger on the pulse of a nation in transition.
Day by day, year by year, racial tensions have eased as black and white classmates giggle over scribbled notes, co-workers gossip over cups of coffee, predominantly white audiences bond with the talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and people have grown accustomed to black executives on Wall Street, black movie stars in Hollywood and black members of the presidential cabinet.
Still, the fact that Americans would be willing, at last, to elect a nonwhite president stunned many scholars, politicians and advocates for civil rights. They remain keenly aware of the nation's record of denying black aspirations - from the time African slaves were forced to America's shores nearly 400 years ago, to the broken promises of Reconstruction after the Civil War, to the bloody resistance to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to the last lynching of a black man in 1981.
"The history of the country is such that you wonder when, if ever, certain things will ever happen," said Representative James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who is 68. "You sit down and you say: 'How did the Lord allow me to be a part of all this? Why not my mother and father or their parents? Why me?"'
Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar of African-American history, said the election rivaled the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the day 101 years later when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Then Gates declared, "There's never been a moment like this in our lifetime, ever."
For older blacks, Obama's victory was particularly momentous. They marveled as they compared the scenes of white police officers beating black marchers in the 1960s to those from this year's campaign rallies, where thousands of white people waved American flags and chanted, "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!"
Richard Hatcher, who became one of the nation's first black mayors when he was elected in Gary, Indiana, in 1967, said he believed Obama's election would reshape the perceptions that blacks and whites have of each other.
"That's the great hope," Hatcher said. "We do not have to be absolutely obsessed with the issue of race anymore. There's no reason why the vision of America cannot be real."
A century ago, such optimism was unthinkable. Before the Civil War, only two black people - a justice of the peace and a township clerk - had been elected to public office in the entire country.
The prospects for black politicians were so dim that Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist, when asked what he might do as president, dismissed the question as absurd, saying, "No such contingency has even one chance in 60 million to be realized."
After black men won the right to vote in 1870, during Reconstruction, 23 blacks went to Congress over the next three decades. But by 1901, when the last black lawmaker of that era left Capitol Hill, Southern whites had disenfranchised blacks, using, among other devices, the poll tax, intimidation and violence.
By the time Obama announced his White House bid last year, though, white voters had helped elect black members of Congress, state legislators, mayors, even governors. This year, 70 percent of white adults surveyed in a New York Times/CBS News Poll said the United States was ready to elect a black president.
Still, most of the political establishment - black and white - thought that Obama had no chance. Previous black presidential candidates had never drawn significant numbers of white votes. And Obama, only the third black lawmaker ever elected to the Senate, had an unusual biography - a white mother from Kansas, black father from Kenya, a childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia - and a relatively thin résumé.
But once the primary season started, it became clear that Obama had a persona and a message that resonated deeply with voters. Variously a soaring orator, a sober policy wonk, an urgent promoter of change and a steady leader, he displayed a gift for finding consensus that let him draw support from people who might disagree with each other.
African-Americans, wary at first of a candidate who had not emerged from the civil rights movement or the black church, soon embraced him. And though he struggled to win over working-class white voters, many whites were attracted to a candidate who rarely talked about race and focused on their concerns about the war in Iraq, health care and the economy.
His biracial background may have reassured voters who might otherwise have felt uneasy, said Governor James Doyle of Wisconsin, a white Democrat. "He has understood that occasionally white people say things that can be hurtful and can still be wonderful, loving people," Doyle said.
Yet Obama also expressed pride in his African-American identity. Gates, the Harvard professor, called Obama "the postmodern race man."
"He can wear it, he can take it off, he can put it back on; it's just an aspect of his identity," Gates said. "People don't see him primarily as black. I think people see him primarily as an agent of change."
Obama is a student of history, and he turned to it in delivering the speech in March that many believed saved a candidacy threatened by his ties to his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr., whose 2003 "God damn America" sermon became notorious.
Obama spoke of the legacy of slavery, of black grievance and white resentment, and of the possibility of redemption.
"I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own," he said then. "But what we know - what we have seen - is that America can change."
"The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress has been made."
Civil rights leaders cautioned that much work remained to be done. But Lattrell Foster of Chicago, 32, who voted for the first time on Tuesday, was still close to tears as he considered the enormousness of the nation's progress and vowed to tell his children about it. "Just like my grandparents told me what it was like during the civil rights movement," he said. "I feel like this night is a culmination of that history."
Mark Leibovich contributed reporting.
A cathartic vote, a new direction
By Adam Nagourney
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
NEW YORK: Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.
The election of Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Obama's call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country. But it was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation's fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago.
Obama, 47, a first-term senator from Illinois, defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona, 72, a former prisoner of war who was making his second bid for the presidency. To the very end, McCain's campaign was eclipsed by an opponent who was nothing short of a phenomenon, drawing huge crowds epitomized by the tens of thousands of people who turned out Tuesday night to hear Obama's victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago.
McCain also fought the headwinds of a relentlessly hostile political environment, weighted down with the baggage left to him by President George W. Bush and an economic collapse that took place in the middle of the general election campaign.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," said Obama, standing in front of a wood lectern, casting his eyes against a crowd that stretched far into the night.
"It's been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, change has come to America."
McCain delivered his concession speech under clear skies on the lush lawn of the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa, in Phoenix, where he and his wife held their wedding reception. The crowd reacted with scattered boos as he offered his congratulations to Obama and saluted the historical significance of the moment.
"This is a historic election, and I recognize the significance it has for African-Americans and the special significance it has for them," McCain said, adding: "We both realize that we have come a long way from the injustices that once stained our nation's reputations."
President George W. Bush, for his part, called Obama's win "an impressive victory" on Wednesday, and promised "complete cooperation" for transition, The Associated Press reported from Washington.
Not only did Obama capture the presidency, but he also led his party to gains in Congress. This puts Democrats in control of the House, the Senate and the White House for the first time since 1995, when Bill Clinton was in office.
The day shimmered with history as voters began lining up before dark, hours before polls opened, to take part in the culmination of a campaign that over the course of two years commanded an extraordinary amount of attention from the American public.
As the returns became known, and Obama passed milestone after milestone — winning Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico — many Americans rolled into the streets of New York, Washington, Chicago and elsewhere to celebrate what many described, with perhaps overstated if understandable exhilaration, a new era in a country where just 143 years ago, Obama, as a black man, could have been owned as a slave.
For Republicans, especially the conservatives who have dominated the party for nearly three decades, the night represented a bitter setback and left them contemplating where they now stand in American politics.
The president-elect and his expanded Democratic majority now faces the task of governing the country through an achingly difficult period: the likelihood of a deep and prolonged recession, and two wars.
The roster of defeated Republicans included some notable party moderates, including Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire and Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, signaled that the Republican conference convening early next year in Washington will be not only smaller but more conservative.
Obama will come into office after an election in which he laid out a number of clear promises: to cut taxes for most Americans, to get the United States out of Iraq in a fast and orderly fashion, and to expand health care. In a recognition of the difficult transition he faces, given the economic crisis, Obama is expected to begin filling White House jobs as early as this week.
Obama defeated McCain in Ohio, a central battleground in American politics, despite a huge effort that brought McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, back there repeatedly. Obama had lost the state decisively to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in the Democratic primary.
McCain failed to take from Obama the two Democratic states that were at the top of his target list: New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Obama also held on to Minnesota, the state that played host to the convention that nominated McCain; Wisconsin; and Michigan, a state McCain once had in his sights.
The apparent breadth of Obama's sweep left Republicans sobered, and his showing in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania stood out because officials in both parties had said that his struggles there in the primary campaign reflected the resistance of blue-collar voters to supporting a black candidate.
"I always thought there was a potential prejudice factor in the state," Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, an early supporter of Obama, told reporters in Chicago. "I hope this means we washed that away."
McCain called Obama at 10 p.m., Central time, to offer his congratulations. In the call, Obama said he was eager to sit down and talk; in his concession speech, McCain said he was ready to help Obama work through difficult times.
"I need your help," Obama told his rival, according to an Obama adviser, Robert Gibbs. "You're a leader on so many important issues."
Bush called Obama shortly after 10 p.m. to congratulate him on his victory. "I promise to make this a smooth transition," the president said to Obama, according to a transcript provided by the White House ."You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations, and go enjoy yourself."
For most Americans, the news of Obama's election came at 11 p.m., Eastern time, when the networks — waiting for the close of polls in California — declared him the victor. . A roar sounded from the 125,000 people gathered in Hutchison Field in Grant Park at the moment that supporters learned by way of a giant television screen that Obama had been projected the winner.
The scene in Phoenix was decidedly more sour. At several points, McCain, unsmiling, had to motion his crowd to quiet down — he held out both hands, palms down — when they responded to McCain's words of tribute to Obama with boos.
McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, demurred when asked whether he was happy with Palin's performance as McCain's running mate. ""I'm not going to go there," Schmidt said. "There'll be time for the post-mortems in the race."
Initial signs were that Obama benefited from a huge turnout of voters, but particularly among blacks. That group of voters made up 13 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, according to surveys of people leaving the polls, compared with 11 percent in 2006. In North Carolina, Republicans said that the huge surge of African-Americans was one of the big factors that lead to Senator Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, losing her re-election bid in North Carolina.
Obama also did strikingly well among Hispanic voters, beating McCain did far less better among those voters than Bush did in 2004, suggesting the damage the Republican Party has suffered among those voters over four years in which Republicans have been at the forefront on the effort to crack down on illegal immigrants
The election ended what by any definition was one of the most remarkable contests in American political history, drawing what was by every appearance unparalleled public interest. Throughout the day, people lined up at the polls for hours — some showing up before dawn — to cast their votes. Aides to both campaigns said that anecdotal evidence suggested record-high voter turnout.
Reflecting the intensity of the two candidates, McCain and Obama took a page from what Bush did in 2004 and continued to campaign after the polls opened.
McCain left his home in Arizona after voting early Tuesday to fly to Colorado and New Mexico, two states where Bush won four years ago but where Obama waged a spirited battle. These were symbolically appropriate final campaign stops for McCain, reflecting the imperative he felt of trying to defend Republican states against a challenge from Obama.
"Get out there and vote," McCain said in Grand Junction, Colorado "I need your help. Volunteer, knock on doors, get your neighbors to the polls, drag them there if you need to."
By contrast, Obama flew from his home in Chicago to Indiana, a state that in many ways came to epitomize the audacity of his effort this year. Indiana has not voted for a Democrat since President Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory in 1964, and Obama made an intense bid for support there. He later returned home to Chicago play basketball, his election-day ritual.
The nation's faltering economy seemed to weigh in voters' minds: A survey of voters leaving polling places found that 6 in 10 said this was their dominant concern, a reflection of the economic collapse that provided the backdrop for the general election contest.
In a sign of how much the terrain of this election changed since Obama and McCain started campaigning in their party caucuses and primaries more than a year ago, only 1 in 10 cited the war in Iraq.
Across the country — in Florida, Georgia, New York and North Carolina, to name a few places — polling stations reported overflow crowds, with long waits and packed parking lots. McCain's advisers had predicted that 130 million people would vote, compared with 123.5 million who cast ballots four years ago, reflecting the intense interest in the race.
Racial divide festers even as Obama rises
By Richard Bernstein
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
NEW YORK: The flier, just a few typed lines, was taped to a lamppost on the normally untroubled street where I live in Brooklyn, and it announced bad news.
The writer, who did not give his or her name, was letting everybody know that the previous night he was followed home by two men, and he made a point of describing them as black and in their 20s. When he opened the outer door to his house, the men pushed him into the vestibule, held a gun on him, and robbed him.
No murder took place, and no physical injury was reported. It wasn't very serious as crime goes by the standards of Baghdad today, or even New York of the bad old days, when street crime was everybody's fear and social disorder was at the top of the political agenda.
Still, we've gotten used to feeling pretty safe in the gentrified districts of Brooklyn, where brownstone homes on tree-lined streets go for $2 million to $3 million and more. (Twenty years ago, when there was a lot more crime, the prices were one-10th of what they are now.) And now a well-publicized mugging on a presumably safe street led to a lot of worried discussion.
People were asking, was this just a one-time incident, an exceptional event, not likely to happen again, certainly not on the same block? Or has the economic crisis, the rise in unemployment, and all those foreclosures we read about in the papers, made people desperate, so that we can expect more theft in the future?
The answer to the first question is unknowable, but not to the second. It seems awfully early for the economic crisis to have produced an increase in crime. And yet, talking to people on my street and in other nearby neighborhoods of Brooklyn, I did find a certain edginess in the air, stories about people who were not only robbed, but beaten as well and taken to the hospital for treatment of their injuries; husbands and wives were wondering if they should add metal grates to their glass-paneled front doors, and what routes to take home at night to avoid those dark, lonely stretches where bad things are more likely to happen.
Part of the anxiety, the part that good, liberal-minded New Yorkers are often embarrassed to acknowledge, had to do with the racial identification on that notice on my street. We don't like to say it, but a very special New York fear, the fear of young black men, seemed to be coming back like a return of the repressed, after being largely in abeyance for a few years.
There is an obvious paradox, given the amazing phenomenon of Barack Obama, the most uplifting instance in American history of a collective move away from the racial attitudes of the past. We're afraid of the black man on the street, even as we in Brooklyn, black, white, and Hispanic voted in droves for the first black president.
Needless to say, while race was a big factor in the Obama campaign, crime was not, at least not explicitly, and neither was the close relationship that exists in most peoples' minds in America between crime and race, a relation inextricably tied to the historic disadvantage of black people.
There are several reasons for this, among them that Obama understood from the get-go that there was no advantage to him in pounding old themes of race and social instability. Instead, in the one major statement he made on race, his speech in Philadelphia in March when his relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, had put his campaign in serious jeopardy, his plea was for the country to move past "the racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years."
But of course the other reason why crime and insecurity were not on the campaign agenda is that the situation has improved tremendously over the past couple of decades.
In the Brooklyn police precinct where I live, for example, murders have declined 80 percent since 2000, robbery 84 percent, and felonious assault 66.5 percent, according to the police department statistics.
This doesn't mean that people have stopped being wary when they walked the streets. Obama himself, in that speech in Philadelphia, spoke of the fear his white grandmother had when she saw black men nearby.
And, despite the absence of the race-crime nexus during the campaign, the statistics on this matter still show a grim picture: 2.3 million people, a huge disproportion of them young, male, and black, are behind bars, which is perhaps the sign of a safer society but not a socially healthy one. One in nine black men between the ages of 20 to 34 is now locked up.
"African-Americans live with the worst of both worlds," William Stuntz of the Harvard Law School wrote in a recent article, referring to both phenomenally high rates of incarceration and high levels of crime in black neighborhoods.
And, as the reaction on my block to that poster indicated, a single crime on a street can revive a terrible anxiety that is racial at its root. It takes away the sense of ease one ought to have in one's own neighborhood, the ability to take a carefree stroll home after dinner out, to come home from the opera at midnight without fearing for your safety.
"There is a fear of black people like the alleged muggers on your street because they are believed to inflict violence that has a certain vengeance in it that white-perpetrated crime doesn't have," said Andrew Hacker, a professor of political science at Queens College and author of the influential 1992 book "Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal."
I asked Hacker if, despite all the narrowing of the difference over the years, we were still two nations. "Oh yes," he replied, "people who are born black have much less in terms of prospects in their lives, even today."
To a great extent the fact that racial inequality and urban crime were not questions for the candidates shows how far we've advanced in a relatively short time. But as we learned on my block in Brooklyn last week, just being able to vote for a black candidate didn't solve all our problems.
Tomorrow: Anand Giridharadas on the paradox of Mumbai.
News Analysis: Now, hopes to be met and divides to be bridged
By Patrick Healy
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Even as the Democrats won control of the U.S. Congress in 2006, Karl Rove kept faith with his cause, insisting that a permanent Republican governing majority was still viable. If President-elect Barack Obama has shredded that idea, he also must grapple with whether his ambition to redraw the political map leads to a fleeting or fundamental realignment.
The last two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, claimed that they had reshaped electoral politics by recapturing battlegrounds like Georgia, Missouri and Ohio with promises of governing from the center. Both came up short rather quickly: Carter's declaration of a post-Watergate realignment ended with one term and the loss of the Senate in 1980, while Clinton's party lost Congress after two years and watched Republicans reclaim the White House in 2000.
Obama will soon face an American people seeking to have hopes met and change confirmed as he addresses an array of problems no incoming president has faced since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. And Democrats will expect, in short order, a plan for withdrawing one to two brigades a month from Iraq, a major economic stimulus package, and a repeal of President George W. Bush's tax cuts.
If Clinton failed swiftly to shift the leftward tilt in his party, and Bush rarely delivered on his early pledge to be a "uniter," Obama must prove that his charismatic and historic candidacy is not his high point. He must show he can deliver on promises of bipartisan change in spite of his inexperience with building coalitions.
"If Obama governs to the center, it will be the dawn of a Democrat majority," said Kieran Mahoney, a Republican consultant whose firm includes Steve Schmidt, John McCain's senior adviser. "If he follows the Bush 'base' strategy, it will be a similarly short-lived ascendancy."
Advisers to Obama cautioned that, in spite of broad Democratic successes, including in Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia and Florida, they were not consumed with notions of permanent majorities, per se.
"I think it's too soon to talk about realignment, though what this election definitely says is that Democrats set out to compete in places where Republicans said it was impossible, and we won and redrew the map," said Joel Benenson, Obama's pollster.
If that sounds like political realignment, Benenson suggested why the Obama camp might not be aspiring to Olympian heights of Rovian rhetoric.
"First, Barack Obama has been talking about getting past the old divides like 'permanent majorities,' and it's a message that resonated," he said. "Also, we face big challenges. On Wednesday, I think you'll see Republicans and Democrats talking about bringing the country together, working together, and that our politics needs to be bigger, not smaller, to solve these problems."
Indeed, the surveys of voters leaving polling sites in the 2006 midterm elections foretold this election to some degree: Control of both the House and Senate flipped to Democrats because of widespread voter anger at Bush, anger that only intensified over the last two years, and from which McCain was never able to distance himself.
While 8 in 10 voters who backed Bush in 2004 voted for McCain in this election, Obama drew 90 percent of voters who supported John Kerry in 2004 - as well as three-quarters of those who did not vote in 2004 and 70 percent of those who backed another candidate.
Obama's debts to voters of all stripes were reflected in his crucial victory in Ohio. According to exit polls, Obama won white voters who earn less than $50,000 a year by 52 percent to 46 percent, and female voters by a margin of about 10 percentage points. Six in 10 voters in Ohio called the economy the most important issue, and a majority of them supported Obama.
"He won the poor as Democrats have, but more of the wealthy than in past years, and he won the young, but more active seniors than in the past," said Mark Penn, who served as pollster and chief strategist for much of Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. "Obama will have put together the moderates and liberals in a renewed governing coalition for dynamic change."
Obama's capacity to keep his edge through 2012 could have historic implications: The last time that voters re-elected three consecutive presidents was when Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe each served two terms from 1801 to 1825. Given that Clinton and Bush were both re-elected, Obama will have to prove himself as a party builder over the next four years while also delivering on his promises to govern with a unifying agenda.
"Obama won mainly because he convinced voters he was a centrist, schooled and accomplished in the politics of moderation," said Kevin Madden, who was Mitt Romney's spokesman during the Republican presidential primaries. "That's quite an accomplishment when you take into consideration the facts about his record, which is archetypical of a liberal politician and product of the Chicago political machine."
As a member of the U.S. Senate, Obama indeed compiled the voting record of a liberal, but as a presidential candidate, he has taken stands across the political spectrum, supporting abortion rights, gun rights, unlimited campaign fund-raising and a government health insurance plan, while offering tough words for Pakistan and staunch support for Israel.
On Tuesday night, at least, Democratic leaders in Congress seemed to try to keep pressure off Obama and help him stay closer to the political center than pull him to the left. The election of several new moderate Democrats to the House and Senate, from battlegrounds like Florida and New Hampshire, could reinforce centrist tendencies.
"I can't wait to work with President-elect Obama, alongside Democrats and Republicans in Congress, to deliver the change our country needs," Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said through a spokesman. "With the many challenges we face, that work must begin immediately."
John Weaver, a Republican consultant who advised McCain's campaign until last year, said the first signs of Obama's ability to cement this political alignment would become clear in the transition period over the next two months.
"Will he quickly reach out to Republicans?" Weaver asked. "Will he consolidate his strength among Democrats and resist the demands of liberals to overreach in the early days of his administration?"
"But make no mistake, the political winds are clearly at his back," he added, "and thus Republicans also need to reach out to him."
Marjorie Connelly contributed reporting.
Roger Cohen: Perfecting the union
By Roger Cohen
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
NEW YORK: Beyond Iraq, beyond the economy, beyond health care, there was something even more fundamental at stake in this U.S. election won by Barack Obama: the self-respect of the American people.
For almost eight years, Americans have seen words stripped of meaning, lives sacrificed to confront nonexistent Iraqi weapons, and other existences ravaged by serial incompetence on an epic scale.
Against all this, Obama made a simple bet and stuck to it. If you trusted in the fundamental decency, civility and good sense of the American people, even at the end of a season of fear and loss, you could forge a new politics and win the day.
Four years ago, at the Democratic convention, in the speech that lifted him from obscurity, Obama said: "For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected as one people."
He never wavered from that theme. "In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people," he declared in his victory speech to a joyous crowd in Chicago.
In that four-year span, Obama never got angry. Without breaking a sweat, he took down two of the most ruthless political machines on the planet: first the Clintons and then the Republican Party.
An idea has power. John McCain had many things in this campaign, but an idea was not one of them. At a time of economic crisis, he could not order his thoughts about it. Hard-hit Ohio drew its decisive conclusions. It was not alone.
McCain flailed, opting on a whim for a sidekick, Sarah Palin, who personified the very "country-first" intolerance and Bush-like small-mindedness of which many Americans had grown as weary as the world has.
Gracious in defeat, McCain seemed almost relieved, free to return to himself and escape the rabid fringes of Republicanism.
Obama's idea, put simply, was that America can be better than it has been. It can reach beyond post-9/11 anger and fear to embody once more what the world still craves from the American idea: hope.
America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street.
I know, these are mere words, they will not right the deficit or disarm an enemy. But words count. That has been a lesson of the Bush years.
You can't proclaim freedom as you torture. You can't promote democracy as you disappear people. You can't stand for the rule of law and strip prisoners of basic rights. You can't dispense with the transparency and regulation essential to modern capital markets and hope still to be the beacon of free enterprise.
Or rather, you can do all these things but then you find yourself alone.
Obama will reinvest words with meaning. That is the basis of everything. And an American leader able to improvise a grammatical, even a moving, English sentence is no bad thing. Americans, in the inevitable recession ahead, will have a leader who can summon their better natures rather than speak, as Bush has, to their spite.
I voted in Brooklyn. There was a two-hour line. I got talking to the woman behind me. I told her that as a naturalized American I was voting for the first time. When I emerged from the voting booth the woman said: "Congratulations."
That single word said a lot about citizenship as an idea and a responsibility, rather than a thing of blood or ethnicity or race.
And it occurred to me that Obama's core conviction about the "American saga" - his belief in the connectedness of all Americans - stemmed from his own unlikely experience of American transformation.
A Kenyan father passing briefly through these shores; a chance encounter with a young Kansan woman; a biracial boy handed off here and there but fortunate at least in the accident of Hawaiian birth.
Obama has spoken without cease about his conviction of American possibility born from this experience. He intuited that, after years of the debasement of so many core American ideas, a case for what the preamble to the U.S. Constitution calls "a more perfect union" would resonate.
He was rarely explicit about race, although he spoke of slavery as America's "original sin." He did not need to be. At a time of national soul-searching, what could better symbolize a "more perfect union" and the overcoming of the wounds of that original sin than the election to the White House of an African-American?
And what stronger emblem could be offered to the world of an American renewal startling enough to challenge the assumptions of every state on earth?
The other day I got an email saying simply this: Rosa Parks sat in 1955. Martin Luther King walked in 1963. Barack Obama ran in 2008. That our children might fly.
Tough days lie ahead. But it's a moment to dream. Americans have earned that right, along with the renewed respect of the world.
Thomas L. Friedman: Finishing America's work
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 10 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man - Barack Hussein Obama - won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States.
A Civil War that in many ways was decided by the battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863 concluded 145 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For once Barack Obama carried the critical electoral battleground of Pennsylvania, his victory as the 44th president of the U.S. was all but assured.
In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln urged every American to take on "the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced." That work remained unfinished, though, for a century and a half. For despite decades of civil rights legislation, judicial interventions and social activism - despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King's I-have-a-dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act - the Civil War could never truly be said to be over until America's white majority actually elected an African-American as president.
That is what happened Tuesday night, and that is why we wake up to a different America. Yes, the struggle for equality is never done. But we Americans can start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward: Everything really is possible in America.
How did Obama pull it off? To be sure, it probably took a once-in-a-century economic crisis to get enough white people to vote for a black man. And to be sure, Obama's better organization, calm manner, mellifluous speaking style and unthreatening message of "change" all served him well.
But there was also the "Buffett effect," which actually trounced the supposed "Bradley effect" - white voters telling pollsters they'd vote for Obama but then voting for the white guy. The Buffett effect was just the opposite. It was white Republicans telling the guys in the men's grill at the country club that they were voting for John McCain, but then quietly going into the booth and voting for Obama, even though they knew it would mean higher taxes.
Why? Some did it because they sensed how inspired and hopeful their kids were about an Obama presidency, and they not only didn't want to dash those hopes, they secretly wanted to share them. Others intuitively embraced Warren Buffett's view that if you are rich and successful today, it is first and foremost because you were lucky enough to be born in America at this time - and never forget that. So, we need to get back to fixing our country - we need a president who can unify us for nation-building at home.
And somewhere they also knew that after the abysmal performance of the Bush team, there had to be consequences for the Republican Party. Electing McCain now would have, in some way, meant rewarding incompetence. It would have made a mockery of accountability in government and unleashed a wave of cynicism in America that would have been deeply corrosive.
Obama will always be America's first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.
"Taking office at a time of crisis doesn't guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it," argued the Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. "That was certainly the case with Lincoln, FDR and Truman." Part of FDR's greatness, though, "was that he gradually wove a new governing political philosophy - the New Deal - out of the rubble and political disarray of the economic depression he inherited." Obama will need to do the same, but these things take time.
"FDR did not run on the New Deal in 1932," said Sandel. "He ran on balancing the budget. Like Obama, he did not take office with a clearly articulated governing philosophy. He arrived with a confident, activist spirit and experimented. Not until 1936 did we have a presidential campaign about the New Deal. What Obama's equivalent will be, even he doesn't know. It will emerge as he grapples with the economy, energy and America's role in the world. These challenges are so great that he will only succeed if he is able to articulate a new politics of the common good."
Bush & Co. did not believe that government could be an instrument of the common good. They neutered their Cabinet secretaries and appointed hacks to big jobs. For them, pursuit of the common good was all about pursuit of individual self-interest. Voters rebelled against that. But there was also a rebellion against a traditional Democratic version of the common good - that it is simply the sum of all interest groups clamoring for their share.
"In this election, the American public rejected these narrow notions of the common good," argued Sandel. "Most people now accept that unfettered markets don't serve the public good. Markets generate abundance, but they can also breed excessive insecurity and risk. Even before the financial meltdown, we've seen a massive shift of risk from corporations to the individual. Obama will have to reinvent government as an instrument of the common good - to regulate markets, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to invest in energy independence."
But a new politics of the common good can't be only about government and markets. "It must also be about a new patriotism - about what it means to be a citizen," said Sandel. "This is the deepest chord Obama's campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service - in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama's campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again."
None of this will be easy. But my gut tells me that of all the changes that will be ushered in by an Obama presidency, breaking with our racial past may turn out to be the least of them. There is just so much work to be done. The Civil War is over. Let reconstruction begin.
America's next president: Barack Obama
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts:
An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.
Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Obama swept away one political presumption after another to defeat first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.
His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with the country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.
Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans' civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.
With a message of hope and competence, he drew in legions of voters who had been disengaged and voiceless. The scenes Tuesday night of young men and women, black and white, weeping and cheering in Chicago and New York and in Atlanta's storied Ebenezer Baptist Church were powerful and deeply moving.
Obama inherits a terrible legacy. The nation is embroiled in two wars - one of necessity in Afghanistan and one of folly in Iraq. Obama's challenge will be to manage an orderly withdrawal from Iraq without igniting new conflicts so the Pentagon can focus its resources on the real front in the war on terror, Afghanistan.
The campaign began with the war as its central focus. By Election Day, Americans were deeply anguished about their futures and the government's failure to prevent an economic collapse fed by greed and an orgy of deregulation. Obama will have to move quickly to impose control, coherence, transparency and fairness on the Bush administration's jumbled bailout plan.
His administration will also have to identify all of the ways that Americans' basic rights and fundamental values have been violated and rein that dark work back in. Climate change is a global threat, and after years of denial and inaction, the country must take the lead on addressing it. The nation must develop new, cleaner energy technologies, to reduce greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil.
Obama also will have to rally sensible people to come up with immigration reform consistent with the values of a nation built by immigrants and refugees.
There are many other urgent problems that must be addressed. Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, including some of the country's most vulnerable citizens - children of the working poor. Other Americans can barely pay for their insurance or are in danger of losing it along with their jobs. They must be protected.
Obama will now need the support of all Americans. McCain made an elegant concession speech Tuesday night in which he called on his followers not just to honor the vote, but to stand behind Obama. After a nasty, dispiriting campaign, he seemed on that stage to be the senator we long respected for his service to the country and his willingness to compromise.
That is a start. The nation's many challenges are beyond the reach of any one man, or any one political party.
Activists say Obama win does not end U.S. racism
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Matthew Bigg
The election of Barack Obama as the first black U.S. president should help revive America's image abroad as a land of opportunity for all.
But some analysts fear Obama's win could actually undermine efforts to tackle inequality between blacks and whites in a country where racial segregation in the south prevented blacks from voting as recently as the 1960s.
More than 55 million people voted for Obama, a U.S. senator whose father was Kenyan and whose white mother was from Kansas, and he won a majority in a slew of groups and demographic categories to deal a big defeat to Republican John McCain.
Obama's strength among young voters of all races in a country in which the proportion of young and nonwhite voters is increasing appeared to suggest that race as a factor in U.S. politics could gradually evaporate.
"His (Obama's) election demonstrates America's extraordinary capacity to renew itself and adapt to a changing world," said former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
But several commentators said the election result will do nothing to challenge racial inequity.
"There is an acceptance among wide segments of the population that a qualified African American (Obama) can be accepted in the highest office," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of a recent book on race and presidential politics.
"But that does not magically make the problems go away for the average person of colour. Nothing has changed and for many the negative stereotypes are still very much there," Hutchinson said.
Chuck D, regarded by many as the godfather of politically-conscious rap music, said Obama's election could radically change the debate about race in the United States but in some ways could be unhealthy.
"People will say: 'You guys have got a black president so it's cool. It's straight.' But it does not erase the discussion (about race) that you need to have," said Chuck D, the main force behind the rap group Public Enemy.
In an interview, he warned against the election of Obama being "a weapon of mass distraction" from an attempt to tackle problems facing African Americans.
Experts differ over the cause of disparities between the majority whites and black Americans, who represent around 13 percent of the country's population of 300 million.
On average African Americans earn less, are more likely to be unemployed and have higher rates of infant mortality and a lower life expectancy. They are more likely to be arrested and jailed and serve longer sentences than other racial groups.
A black middle class has flourished in the United States since the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s ended a brutal system of racial segregation in the south and led to the passage of laws that enabled all African Americans to vote.
But many middle class blacks say that, despite professional and financial success, race remains a significant fact of life, still woven into social and professional interactions.
The election itself does not eliminate those disparities but it would alter how they are viewed and that could make a difference, said Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker.
"An Obama presidency does not herald the end of racism in America. Obama isn't 'post-racial.' He isn't the messiah whose coming ends bigotry and inequality for all time," said Tucker, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.
"He'll just be the president," she said.
At the same time, Obama's election could alter the way African Americans view themselves.
"I don't know that this election changes any (social problems) right away," said Wendell Roberts, an attorney based in Virginia.
"But one thing it does change is a state of mind .... African Americans have been citizens for ... (generations ) but there is a real sense now that all things are possible," said Roberts.
(Editing by Jim Loney and David Storey)
Black Americans celebrate Obama's victory
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Matthew Bigg
In churches and bars, on the street and in private homes, African Americans celebrated the historic victory of Democrat Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential race with cheers and tears Tuesday.
"This is definitely history in the making," said elementary school teacher Sheneka Mayes, 32, in Atlanta. "This night will be burnt into my memory and into the memory of my children."
In Chicago's Grant Park, tens of thousands of Obama supporters erupted into cheers at the victory while they waited for him to appear. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader who had twice sought the Democratic nomination, stood in the throng, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Thousands watched a giant screen in New York's Times Square. Thousands more watched a big screen set up on 125th street in Harlem, New York, dubbed the unofficial capital of black America.
In Atlanta, a crowd held a candlelight vigil at the tomb of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, setting the election firmly in the context of the movement in the 1950s and 1960s to end racial segregation and win the right to vote for black Americans in the South.
At King's old church, Ebenezer Baptist, deafening cheers greeted the announcement of Obama's victory. Thousands had awaited the results listening to thumping gospel music from a choir dressed in black and watching two giant TV screens scrolling results on CNN.
After several minutes of celebration, Pastor Raphael Warnock quieted the crowd and prayed:
"On the night before King was assassinated, he said: 'I have been to the mountain top, I have looked over and I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you,'" said Warnock in a quote from one of King's most famous speeches.
"Tonight we have seized the promise of America," Warnock said.
The result was all the sweeter because it answered fears that weeks of opinion polls giving Obama a lead against Republican John McCain might have overestimated his support among the country's white majority.
"This is a great night. This is an unbelievable night," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, during a voting rights march in 1968.
"Tonight we can celebrate and thank God almighty. Martin Luther King must be looking down from the heavens and saying 'hallelujah,'" Lewis said.
But the celebrations were not entirely religious in nature.
In San Francisco, Nic Horton sprang ran out of a bar with a cell phone glued to his ear moments after networks called Obama the winner.
"Who's your president now, Mom?" He shouted jubilantly into the phone.
(Additional reporting by Angela Moore and Chris Michaud in New York and Gabriel Madway and Peter Henderson in San Francisco , Editing by Jackie Frank)

Election unleashes a flood of hope worldwide
By Alan Cowell
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
PARIS: From the front lines of Iraq to more genteel spots like Harry's Bar in Paris, the election of Barack Obama opened a floodgate for the world's hope that a new U.S. leader would redeem promises of change, rewrite the political script and provide a kind of leadership that would erase the bitterness of the Bush years.
Whether it was because of Obama's youth, race, message or manner, some European leaders abandoned diplomatic niceties to compete for extravagance in their praise, while others outside the United States - fascinated by an election that had been scrutinized around the globe - reached for their most telling comparisons.
"There is the feeling that for the first time since Kennedy, America has a different kind of leader," said Alejandro Saks, an Argentine script writer in Buenos Aires. Or, as Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of political science in Istanbul, put it, "The U.S. needs a facelift and he's the one who can give it."
There were some glaring departures from the feel-good mood. One in particular illustrated the challenges that will test the president-elect: President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia chose the day to lambast the United States and threaten new missile deployments.
The final moments of the election were covered in obsessive detail far from the United States. In Australia, radio stations interrupted their shows to broadcast the Obama acceptance speech. In Berlin, newspapers printed special editions.
Perhaps one of the most poignant accolades came from Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, who said in a letter to Obama: "Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place."
Significantly, though, among U.S. troops in Iraq, the hope seemed tinged with skepticism that change in the White House would not automatically mean change in American doctrines that have meant deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's not like even if Obama is elected we'll up and leave," said Specialist James Real, 31, of Butte, Montana, as soldiers watched the returns on television at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Iraq.
Indeed, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq itself did not "expect that much change in the American policies toward Iraq. Any changes won't be made in one night."
In Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are also deployed in an increasingly bitter war, the election brought a rebuke .
"Our demand is to have no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The fight against terrorism cannot be won by the bombardment of our villages," said President Hamid Karzai, referring to a string of coalition airstrikes that have caused civilian casualties.
For many outsiders, Obama's victory raised expectations that a new administration would seek new relationships across the globe.
"I think he can restore the image of America around the world, especially after Bush got us into two wars," said David Charlot, 28, a lawyer with French and American citizenship who was among a throng of expatriate revelers outside Harry's Bar in Paris.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said something along similar lines. "Your election raises in France, in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, an immense hope," he said in a message that called Obama's victory "brilliant" and his campaign "exceptional." Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called his victory "historic" and invited Obama to return to Berlin, where he addressed a huge rally during his campaign.
Even in lands whose leaders are no friends of Washington, the election outcome cut through official propaganda to touch some people.
"It's kind of nice to feel good about the United States again," said Armando Díaz, 24, a bookkeeper in Caracas, Venezuela, where Enrique Cisneros, a storekeeper summed it up like this: "A few hours ago, the world felt like a different place."
Indeed, for many who had watched this campaign from afar, there was a sense that the election was not just an American affair but something that touched people around the world, whatever their origin. "I want Obama to win with 99 percent, like Saddam Hussein," said Hanin Abu Ayash, who works at a television station in Dubai and monitored early returns on his computer. "I swear if he doesn't win, I'm going to take it personally."
There was little doubt that for some, Obama's skin color made his victory all the more exhilarating.
"The United States is choosing a black man as its president. Maybe we can share a bit in this happiness," Cisneros said in Caracas.
The Afghan president, Karzai, said the election had shown the U.S. people overcoming distinctions "of race and color while electing their president" and thereby helping to bring "the same values to the rest of the world sooner or later."
For many in Africa - and in Kenya especially - his election evoked a deepening of pride. As President Mwai Kibaki said in a message to Obama, "your victory is not only an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but it has special resonance with us here in Kenya" - the birthplace of Obama's father and paternal grandparents.
That sense of association may also encourage some to believe that Obama will give Africa special attention. "We express the hope that poverty and underdevelopment in Africa, which remains a challenge for humanity, will indeed continue to receive a greater attention of the focus of the new administration," said Kgalema Motlanthe, the South African president.
Many outside Africa competed for his attention, too.
In a statement, the 27-nation European Union said it saw "the promise of a reinforced trans-Atlantic relationship" in Obama's election. Even big business joined in.
"From a business perspective, I'm very happy that the economic issue was at the top of the agenda in the campaign," said Lakshmi Mittal, the head of the world's biggest steel-maker, "and we're very positive that we'll see more measures to address the economic crisis with his election."
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said that "American democracy has just lived through a marvelous moment, one of those major turning points that periodically demonstrates its vitality, its belief in the future and its trust in the values on which it was founded over two centuries."
Members of the three major British political parties lavished praise on Obama. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that Obama had run "an inspirational campaign, energizing politics with progressive values and his vision for the future."
He mentioned several times that he planned to work closely with the new administration, said he had spoken to Obama "on many occasions," called him a "true friend of Britain" and said: "I know Barack Obama and we share many values."
But politicians also peer through the prism of self-interest.
In South Korea, some pondered the destiny of a free-trade agreement negotiated by the Bush administration and criticized by Obama. Lee Hae-min, South Korea's top trade negotiator, warned that any change in the deal could undermine South Korea's support for the deal and "open a Pandora's box".
In the Middle East, the focus of much tension that has drawn in successive American administrations, Saeb Erakat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urged Obama to transform the proposal for a two-state solution in the Palestine-Israel conflict "to a realistic track immediately."
At the Vatican, a statement urged Obama to show "respect of human life" and expressed the hope that "God should illuminate the way" for him in his "great responsibility."
Some saw a chance to patch up old feuds.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who displeased Washington when he withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq in 2004, said Obama's victory "demonstrated the vitality of this great country, and of democracy and the unstoppable force of the ballot to bring about change." "I am confident this opens a horizon of promise for relations between the United States and Spain," he said in Madrid.
But even in the moment of triumph, some in Europe questioned whether Obama would really make a break with his predecessor, President George W. Bush, the least popular U.S. leader among Europeans in recent history.
"When Obama takes office on January 20," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said in an editorial, "we will see whether the Europeans - and especially the Germans - really just had a problem with Bush's presidency or with America itself."
Others were less cynical. "The margin of victory was emphatic and, whatever else follows, today the world changed," said an editorial in The Times of London, and The Guardian newspaper proclaimed: "They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in they eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world."
That was not a universal view in Moscow where one analyst, Mikhail Delyagin, compared Obama to Mikhail Gorbachev, who is often blamed in Russia for destroying the Soviet Union.
"Not having large-scale management experience, he has greater chances to disorganize America, to destabilize America, out of the very best intentions, as Gorbachev once did."
But the supporters generally outnumbered the skeptics.. "We were all hoping that he would win," said Carla Saggioro, a retired architect in Rome. "And the fact that he did with such a large margin is a sign of real change - at least let's hope so."
The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, called Obama's election a "historic opportunity" for a stronger working relationship with the United States.
"He values highly the resolution of all the conflict issues through dialogue," Ban said. "He has expressed publicly that he is willing to meet anybody, any country, so that will provide good opportunity not only for the United States, but also the United Nations as a whole to resolve all issues through dialogue."
Ban said he had met MObama by chance last year on a plane flight. "He was very engaging and he knew a lot about the United Nations," Ban said, "and I was very much encouraged.
Russia may deploy missiles to Baltic, Medvedev says
By Ellen Barry and Sonia Kishkovsky
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
MOSCOW: In a wide-ranging attack on the United States, President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia warned Wednesday that Moscow might deploy short-range missiles in the Baltic region to counter a perceived threat from a proposed U.S. missile defense shield in eastern Europe.
Medvedev also proposed to extend the constitutional term of the presidency from four years to six - a move that could enable future Russian presidents to serve 12 years over two consecutive terms. His remarks, in his first state of the nation address since assuming the presidency in May, was delivered within hours of the election of Barack Obama in the United States and offered a chill glimpse into the potential issues and tensions confronting the new U.S. leader when he takes office in January. His comments also seemed at odds with the broader groundswell of support for the U.S. president-elect from many governments across the globe.
Medvedev did not specifically congratulate Obama on his victory, saying only that he hoped that "our partners - the new U.S. administration - will make a choice in favor of full-fledged relationship with Russia."
But he sent a telegram later saying that "Russian-American relations have historically been an important factor for stability in the world and have great importance and sometimes key significance for resolving many of today's international and regional problems."
"I hope for a constructive dialogue with you based on trust and consideration of each other's interests," Medvedev's telegram said, according to the Kremlin Web site.
In his speech, however, Medvedev spoke of a "new configuration for the military forces of our country" that would include abandoning plans to dismantle some missile regiments, while stationing of missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.
"We earlier planned to take three missile regiments within the missile division stationed in Kozelsk off combat duty and discontinue the division itself by 2010. I have decided to refrain from these plans," Medvedev said.
"The Iskander missile system will be deployed in Kaliningrad region to neutralize, when necessary, the missile shield," Medvedev said.
"Radioelectronic equipment located in the western region" of Russia in the Kaliningrad region "will jam objects of the U.S. missile defense system," Medvedev said.
"These are forced measures," Medvedev said. "We have told our partners more than once that we want positive cooperation, we want to act together to combat common threats, that we want to act together. But they, unfortunately, don't want to listen to us."
He was apparently referring to discussions on the proposed missile shield with the United States.
Kaliningrad lies between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea, a wedge between countries firmly aligned with the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lithuania and Poland are members of the EU and the U.S.-led NATO alliance.
Iskander missiles have a range of about 250 miles and use conventional warheads, according to news reports. The United States said the missile shield was needed to intercept missiles from states including Iran, and did not threaten Russia. But Russia says it regards the system as a threat and has warned that it would target such installations in lands that belonged to the Warsaw Pact.
In the 90-minute speech, Medvedev rounded on the United States, saying the global financial crisis had begun as a "local extraordinary event" in U.S. markets and blaming the August war in Georgia on "the U.S. administration's policy which is selfish, cannot stand criticism and prefers unilateral decisions," Reuters reported.
He said Washington's belief in "its own opinion as the only right and indisputable one" had "in the final account led the United States to economic blunders."
Referring to the fighting in Georgia, he said: "The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for sending NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the forceful foisting on Europe of America's anti-missile system, which in its turn will entail retaliatory measures by Russia."
The fighting in Georgia was "among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the U.S. administration which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions," Medvedev said.
His speech was broadcast live on television and radio.
Speaking about Russian constitutional arrangements, Medvedev said he had proposed increasing term limits for presidents from four to six years and for lawmakers from four to five years. He did not say when the changes would come into effect.
The issue of term limits surfaced during the eight-year rule of Medvedev's successor, Vladimir Putin, when there was speculation that Putin might seek to remain in office by changing the constitution to secure a third term. Instead, Medvedev appointed his predecessor prime minister.
Medvedev said that the proposed extension was necessary to confront challenges. He said the authorities should have "enough time to implement what they announced and show the results of their work to the people."
And, he said, he wanted to enhance the powers of Parliament. "I am convinced that our movement toward freedom and democracy will be successful and steadfast only if the authority of the president and the State Duma will be high," Medvedev said, according to Reuters.
Iran warns U.S. against violating airspace
By Nazila Fathi
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
TEHRAN: The Iranian military said Wednesday that U.S. helicopters were spotted near its border with Iraq and warned that Iran would respond to any violation of its airspace, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
The warning came after Americans elected the new president, Barack Obama, who has said he would hold direct talks with Iran. It followed a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. forces last month on a Syrian village bordering Iraq. Damascus said eight civilians were killed in the incident.
"Recently U.S. army helicopters have been spotted flying near the borders of Iraq with the Islamic Republic," a statement from issued by the armed forces headquarters said, according to the news agency.
"Given the curves at the border, the helicopters could invade Iran's airspace. Iran's army would respond to any invasion of its airspace," the military said.
It added that U.S. helicopters should fly in a safe distance from the border so that they would not mistakenly violate Iranian airspace.
Iran arrested 15 British sailors in 2007, accusing them of crossing illegally into Iranian waters. They were later released.
Deadly U.S. airstrike said to hit Afghan wedding party
By Abdul Waheed Wafa and Mark McDonald
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
KABUL: An airstrike by U.S.-led forces caused a large number of civilian casualties after it hit a wedding party in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Wednesday. The casualties included many women and children, the officials said.
The U.S. military and the Afghan authorities were investigating the reports about the attack, the U.S. military said, but there was no confirmation of the strikes or any death toll.
"The coalition and Afghan authorities are investigating reports of noncombatant casualties in the village of Wech Baghtu," said Commander Jeff Bender, deputy public affairs officer of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan," he said, adding that the facts were "unclear at this point."
Zalmay Ayoby, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said the incident took place Monday afternoon, when Taliban and coalition forces engaged in a firefight near Wech Baghtu in Sha Wali Kot district. An airstrike later hit a compound where a wedding party was being held, he said.
"Unfortunately we should say that an airstrike on a wedding party had killed and injured a huge number of people in Sha Wali Kot," he said.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, a brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and leader of the provincial council in Kandahar, said there had been civilian casualties, but he said it was unclear how many people had died.
Dr. Qudratullah Hakimi, a doctor at the Merwais Hospital in Kandahar, who was reached by telephone, said the hospital had admitted 22 women and 6 children after the attack. The children were aged between 1 and 11, he said.
"Five out of 28 are in serious conditions, and the others are stable," he said. His patients reported that up to 90 people had been killed or wounded in the attack and that some were buried under the rubble, although this could not be confirmed.
Afghan anger over airstrikes and civilian casualties has been rising at a time of increasing tension with the United States.
In one of the most controversial recent cases, an U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected Taliban compound on Aug. 22, prompting assertions by villagers that more than 90 civilians had been killed, a majority of them women and children.
In that attack, the U.S. military initially said five to seven civilians had been killed, but a subsequent report by a military investigator put the civilian death toll at more than 30.
In a news conference Wednesday, Karzai referred to civilian casualties in the alleged attack on Sha Wali Kot and said an end to casualties in Afghanistan was a "first demand" on the new U.S. president-elect, Barack Obama.
"The fight against terrorism cannot be won by bombardment of our villages," Karzai said. "My first demand from the new president of the United States when he takes his office will be to end the civilian casualties and take the fight to where the nests and sanctuaries are."
Mark McDonald reported from New York. Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York.
A fight for life on front lines in Afghanistan
By C.J. Chivers
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan: Jamaludin, an aging Afghan cook, twisted and writhed on the green stretcher. Blood ran from his mouth and nose. Medics had cut away his clothes, revealing puncture holes where shrapnel from a Taliban mortar round had struck him minutes before.
Captain Norberto Rodriguez, a U.S. Army doctor, listened through a stethoscope as two army medics and a navy corpsman inventoried Jamaludin's wounds. There were holes on his back, neck, buttocks and left leg and beside his right eye.
Jamaludin, who like many Afghans has only one name, had been made wild by fear and pain. But for some reason he could not speak. He shook his head, sputtered and vomited blood. "Oh no, no, no," Rodriguez said, and quickly rolled him to his side.
The patient had heavy internal bleeding and was choking on his own seepage. Rodriguez needed information. Was it shrapnel, a shock wave or both that had ruptured him inside? Jamaludin was near death. They were racing against time.
Combat Outpost Lowell is a company-size U.S. and Afghan position in Nuristan Province, near the border with Pakistan. Far from view and named for Jacob Lowell, an army specialist killed in the province in 2007, it is meant to play a remote role in the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, disrupting the Taliban and foreign fighters on a route to Pakistani tribal areas, and tying up Taliban forces far from more populated areas.
Isolated, ringed by forested ridges and under such regular fire that helicopter pilots prefer to avoid flying here, especially by day, the outpost imposed an unforgiving condition: anyone injured would have to wait for an evacuation. It was up to Rodriguez and a team of trauma medics to keep Jamaludin alive.
On this day, the Taliban began firing mortars about 10:30 a.m. A U.S. Army sergeant's voice had crackled over a loudspeaker.
"Incoming! Incoming!" it said.
Somewhere high overhead, an explosive 82 mm mortar round was in a free fall. The soldiers of Apache Troop, the cavalry unit in the 1st Infantry Division that is assigned here, had scrambled to slip into flak jackets and helmets and waited for it to come down. It exploded near an ammunition bunker with an earthshaking roar.
Marine Captain Markus Trouerbach, 40, the officer assigned to train the post's Afghan soldiers, uttered an unprintable word. "That one was real close," he added.
In the mountains ringing the outpost, he knew, the Taliban mortar crew had found the range.
The loudspeaker repeated the warning call. Another round was inbound. It detonated beside a bunker used by the post's local guards, blasting shrapnel deep into two Afghan men.
The guards' second in command, Nezamudin, was killed outright, smacked by shrapnel in the neck and face. Jamaludin, the cook, fell to the ground. Blood rushed from his wounds.
As soon as the word came over the two-way radio that the Afghans had been hit, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ramon Gavan, 23, Trouerbach and Gunnery Sergeant Daniel McKernan, 36, grabbed their weapons.
Within seconds, they were sprinting in the open across the outpost, to where a group of Afghans had slid the broken men onto litters and began to make their way to the doctor in an aid station.
It would be more than an hour before a helicopter could get here, if it could run the gantlet of fire. Could the trauma team keep the grievously wounded Afghan alive?
As Rodriguez assessed him, Sergeant Zackary Filip called for help.
"They need to call a medevac," he said. "They need to call it now. Urgent."
Filip's hands were covered in blood. He said he had always worn rubber gloves; on this day, there had been no time. He had been applying pressure to Jamaludin's wounds and bandaging him. Now he began taking his pulse.
Gavan inserted an intravenous line in each of Jamaludin's arms and cleaned the blood on his face and beard, and leaned in to examine his ruined right eye. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry."
He prepared an oxygen line, and turned to an Afghan interpreter.
"Tell him this will help with his breathing," he said.
Jamaludin started to fight, tearing at his intravenous lines and oxygen mask. The captain and the corpsman tried to pry his hands free.
They handed a syringe to a reporter, and asked him to inject its contents into an intravenous bag; it contained morphine. Then they injected Jamaludin with ketamine and versed, two sedatives, to calm him down.
When he stopped swinging his arms, they inserted a breathing tube, and soon were helping him breathe again with the oxygen mask.
A change came over Jamaludin swiftly. Bleeding from the eye, nose and mouth, naked and sprawled across the messy litter, he was relaxing. He began to look restful. His oxygen level climbed to 94 from 80. One hundred is the maximum score. Rodriguez, 32, started to seem confident. A few minutes before, Jamaludin was near death. Maybe he might make it.
First Sergeant Douglas Terrell, 36, the senior enlisted man in Apache Troop, stepped into the room. He looked at Jamaludin. He was curled in a pool of blood. But he was stable.
"Can we get an ETA on the bird?" the first sergeant asked into his radio, trying to determine when the helicopter could arrive. The answer came back: 45 minutes.
Rodriguez looked up. "How many?" he asked. "Four-five?"
The first sergeant did not want to leave the helicopter exposed on the landing zone. He wanted everyone ready to rush the patient outside early.
"Go with about 40," the first sergeant said. "At max."
"He's going to roll in here," he said. "But I would tell you all right now," he nodded, "be prepared." The implication was clear: When the helicopter arrived, the Taliban would be firing.
He turned to the Afghan interpreter, Rahatullah. First things first. He wanted Jamaludin to hear encouragement in Pashto, his native language. "Tell him we've got him," he said. "We've got him."
Gavan, his face glistening with sweat, was on his knees, trying to reach the injured man in other ways. He clutched Jamaludin's left hand with both bloody gloves, kneading his fingers, coaxing him to fight.
Filip had a moment free, and he scrubbed Jamaludin's blood from his fingers. "I hope he doesn't have anything," he said.
Forty-five minutes passed. No helicopter. Jamaludin was kept alive by another medic, Specialist Jeremy Wright, 20, who kept him breathing by pumping an oxygen bag. Jamaludin's stomach rose and fell.
At about minute 65, the rotors could be heard in the valley. By then the medics and Rodriguez were running with Jamaludin, now bandaged and strapped onto a litter, back across open ground.
The first sergeant had been right. The Taliban were waiting. As the medics loaded Jamaludin onto the helicopter, the mortars started again. The first round landed wide.
The loudspeaker was barely audible over the roar of the Blackhawk's rotors. "Incoming! Incoming!" it said.
As Rodriguez and the medics ran clear of the rotor blades, the helicopter shuddered, rose and lurched forward to gather speed for the run past the hills.
"Get down!" Trouerbach shouted. "Get down!"
Everyone bounded from bunker to bunker back to the aid station, where for a few minutes the medical team, now with nothing to do, circled and paced. Jamaludin's clothes and bandages were knotted into clumps on the soiled floor.
Filip stepped behind a screen and prayed.
The silence had come suddenly. The helicopter was gone. The mortars had stopped again. Rodriguez leaned onto his desk. There have been dozens of mortar attacks here since Apache Troop arrived four months ago.
"I don't know what to think," he said. "I'm happy to wake up every morning."
An hour or so later the call came in. The helicopter had reached the next base. Jamaludin was in surgery. He was alive.
Pakistan police say children kidnapped by militants
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Junaid Khan
Pakistani police were trying Wednesday to negotiate the release of about a dozen children they said were kidnapped by Islamist militants on suspicion of spying for security forces.
Militant violence has intensified in northwestern Pakistan this year with a series of suicide attacks on the police, military and political leaders in which hundreds of people have been killed.
The militants have also kidnapped people and executed suspected spies. They have also occasionally tried to recruit schoolchildren.
The children, aged 8 to 11, were abducted from a government school in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad, Tuesday, police said.
"We got information about the kidnapping and we checked with the militants through our own sources and it was confirmed that the children are with the militants," Swat police chief Dilawar Bangash told Reuters.
"The militants believe that the children were spying for the security forces."
Authorities were negotiating with the militants to secure the safe release of the children, he said.
"We told them that these children are innocent and have nothing to do with violence. We hope the children will be released soon," Bangash said.
A militant spokesman denied holding the children.
"It's propaganda against us," Muslim Khan, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman in Swat, said Tuesday.
"What would we get by kidnapping children?" Khan said by telephone. He was not available for further comment on Wednesday.
Swat was one of Pakistan's main tourist destinations until early last year, when militants crossed from sanctuaries on the Afghan border to support a radical cleric in the area.
Intermittent fighting in the valley increased again in August. The military has also been fighting insurgents in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border west of Swat since August.
Last year, a clash broke out between police and militants in the northwestern town of Tank after the militants tried to recruit schoolboys for their insurgency.
Militants abducted two Chinese telecommunications engineers in Dir, also west of Swat, in late August to press the government to stop military operations.
One of the engineers was recovered last month but the other is still being held.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider)
(Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait)
Pakistanis hope U.S. under Obama will be less bossy
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Barack Obama's victory fostered hopes in Pakistan that the United States would become less overbearing towards its ally in the war on terrorism, and nurture the country's recent return to civilian-led democracy.
"I think he will understand that the use of brute force alone creates more enemies and widens the zone of conflict," Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general turned analyst, said.
"I think he will put greater emphasis on developing civilian capacities," he added, pointing to a bill proposed by Obama's Vice President-elect Joe Biden to provide Pakistan with a multi-billion dollar "democracy dividend" package.
Under Pakistan's previous leader, former army chief Pervez Musharraf, most U.S. aid went to Pakistan's military. Musharraf quit in August, and his successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, has inherited an economy in danger of meltdown.
Relations between the United States and nuclear-armed Pakistan have been strained by a series of cross-border U.S. strikes, most by missile-firing pilotless drone aircraft, on militant targets in Pakistan.
The strikes have hardened anti-American sentiment in Pakistan at a time when the coalition government is trying to build popular support for its own campaign against Islamist militancy.
Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for International Crisis Group, believed Obama's victory would lead to a make-over for the United State's image.
"Obama's victory will restore not just the faith of Americans in their democracy, but the world's faith in American democracy," she said.
"Obama and his party will employ a policy of international engagement that is based on consultation and not intimidation."
Widely regarded as the hiding place for Osama bin Laden, Pakistan is seen as vital to bringing stability to neighboring Afghanistan and defeating al Qaeda.
Former Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan said Pakistan would remain in the "eye of the storm, but he expected a more nuanced U.S. approach to its ally: "Democrats have always behaved with restraint and engagement."
While campaigning Obama said he would authorise strikes against militant targets in Pakistan, if the Pakistani government failed or was unable to act itself.
His rival, John McCain, didn't rule that out but said a U.S. leader should not say things out loud.
Mahmood Shah, a former security chief in Pakistan's violence-plagued tribal lands on the Afghan border, foresaw Obama showing "more moderation" once he was in office.
But ordinary Pakistanis were sceptical.
"It doesn't make any difference if Obama or anybody else has won because they have same anti-Muslim, anti-Islam policies. We shouldn't be happy just because there's a change of face," said Hafiz Mohammad Ashraf, 26, an electrician in the city of Multan.
"I'll be happy if he ends Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and stops killing Muslims."
(Reporting by Pakistan bureaux; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
Hunger and fear stalk Congo refugee camps
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Hereward Holland
Clutching a small pack of high-energy biscuits, Clementine Riziki slowly chews her first meal in more than a week.
Nine days ago, she fled her village in Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu province when attacking Tutsi rebels burnt down her house and stole her belongings. To compound her worries, her family has since doubled in size.
Amid the chaos, debris and noise of a makeshift camp for tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the violence, Riziki gave birth this week to twins, just a few kilometres (miles) down the hill from the rebel front line.
Breastfeeding her tiny twins, Olive and Olivier, Riziki told Reuters: "I fled with nothing and had to walk for six hours to this camp in Kibati."
"This is the first time I've eaten in 9 days," she said.
Her twins, Olive and Olivier, were born amid a humanitarian emergency in a region which the U.N. children's agency UNICEF calls "the worst place in the world to be a child."
Around her, amid volcanic dust and rubble, thousands of families huddle under blankets and umbrellas.
Sleeping out in the open, some even wrap themselves in banana leaves at night to find some protection from the cold.
Riziki's plight is typical of that of an estimated 200,000 hungry, frightened civilians who are crammed into camps outside and around the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, after fleeing a Tutsi rebel offensive last week and militia and army killings.
They may be the lucky ones. Tens of thousands more are feared to be roaming North Kivu's bush-covered hills, desperately seeking safe shelter, food and water.
The United Nations and foreign aid groups are scrambling to cope with an emergency described as "catastrophic" by relief workers in a country where more than 5 million people have died in a decade from conflict, hunger and disease.
Like others displaced by the fighting, Riziki faced a difficult choice: to wait in Kibati for the aid agencies to deliver long-overdue food, or risk crossing the front line in the hope of salvaging something from the remains of her home.
Two weeks ago, Riziki was selling salt and vegetables in the local market of her home village.
Now she roams the Kibati camp all day, chasing rumours of food distributions which so far have been limited to emergency rations for children.
After last week's heavy fighting, which forced many aid workers briefly to evacuate Goma, U.N. relief agencies and humanitarian NGOs are rushing to distribute supplies and provide medical care for the displaced.
But fresh fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday, which the U.N. said involved Tutsi rebels and pro-government Mai-Mai militia, disrupted aid operations around Rutshuru, north of Goma.
Another resident of the Kibati camp, Sebeya Hakizimana, said many were still going hungry there despite the aid efforts.
"Every day, people are dying here, mostly the old and the very young," he said, hefting a bundle of firewood.
"We live a difficult life here, there is no food, there is no water, there is famine," he added.
North Kivu's long-suffering civilians have been clamouring for more protection, not just from the Tutsi rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda, but also from marauding army soldiers and Mai-Mai militia who have killed, looted and raped.
Hakizimana said he would welcome more foreign troops, perhaps from Europe, to protect civilians and reinforce the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force already in Congo.
"Even if we could return home there is nothing there, everything is burnt," he said.
"It will be difficult to start again."
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Tim Pearce)
Iraq confident Obama won't withdraw troops too quickly
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Missy Ryan
The Iraqi government is confident that president-elect Barack Obama will not jeopardise Iraq's improving security by hastily withdrawing U.S. troops, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Wednesday.
Obama has "reassured us that he would not take any drastic or dramatic decisions," Zebari told BBC television.
"He will consult with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military in the field, but believes strongly that a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq will put more responsibility on the shoulders of the Iraqi government."
Obama opposed the U.S. war in Iraq from the beginning, and his promise to pull combat troops out of the country by mid-2010 was a cornerstone of his campaign.
The administration of President George W. Bush had long resisted deadlines for withdrawal, but is now working on a security pact that would set 2011 as an end date for the U.S. troop presence, a concession that moved U.S. policy closer to Obama's proposals.
"We are negotiating right now with the U.S. for a timeline of 2011 for U.S. forces to withdraw from the country ... Our position has become much closer to what Senator Obama during his election campaign called for," Zebari said.
Washington and Baghdad are still negotiating how firm the deadline will be. The plan also envisions halting U.S. patrols of Iraqi streets by mid-2009.
Violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq, but U.S. generals and Iraqi leaders say Iraqi forces are not yet ready to assume full control and a hasty pullout could jeopardise gains.
In another interview Zebari said he believed Obama would take conditions on the ground into account before any withdrawal.
"When there is a reality check, I think any U.S. president has to look very hard at the facts on the ground," he told Al-Jazeera television. "The gains that we have attained and won with hard struggle and a great deal of sacrifice need to be sustained."
Four killed in Baghdad airport road blast
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
BAGHDAD: A car bomb near a checkpoint on the road to Baghdad's airport killed four people and wounded nine on Wednesday, police said.
Two policemen were among the dead and three policemen were among the wounded in the blast, which took place by a statue near a major checkpoint outside the heavily guarded airport, police said.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq over the past year. Last month saw the lowest number of violent deaths among U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians since the war began in 2003.
But militants still launch daily bomb attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces and other targets.
(Editing by Charles Dick)
Troops hope Obama brings them home responsibly
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Tim Cocks
Watching election results that showed Barack Obama would be their new commander-in-chief, U.S. soldiers in Iraq said they hoped he would fulfil his promise to bring them home quickly and responsibly.
Breakfast was already being served in Baghdad on Wednesday morning when Tuesday's polls closed back home, and at Forward Operating Base Prosperity all eyes in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne were on the dining hall's giant TVs.
Someone whooped when NBC called the election, but mostly the troops sat in rapt silence, eyeing their new president while eating their eggs.
"What soldier's going to say they don't want to go home? I have a wife and four kids. I want to go home. But one thing we all want is to make sure the friends we lost over here weren't for nothing," said Captain Ryan Morrison, from Colorado Springs.
"We have to pull out responsibly. I have the feeling he wants to do it responsibly," he said.
Obama has pledged to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office, a promise that seemed bold when he first made it last year but now coincides roughly with the timetable favoured by Iraq's government.
"I'm excited. He's going to be president and he's going to pull us from over here," said Sergeant First Class Norman Brown.
"If McCain had won we'd be over here for years, and I mean years and years. I reckon even people here don't want us here."
With levels of violence falling -- last month saw the fewest violent deaths among both Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops since the war began -- Iraqis increasingly express their hope that the force of more than 150,000 U.S. troops can leave soon.
"I as an Iraqi am asking Obama to keep his promises about the withdrawal of the U.S. security forces from our land," said Baqi Naqid, a Baghdad journalist. "We don't need an occupation."
The Iraqi government is negotiating a security pact with the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush that would require U.S. troops to exit by the end of 2011. But some Iraqis still fear violence may return if U.S. troops leave too rapidly.
"They came on a mission. They should complete it. There should be 100 percent security before they leave," said Baghdad housewife Um Saba, 58. She said she preferred the Republicans for supporting an increase of troops last year that she credited with helping to curb violence.
Among U.S. troops, political loyalties were divided and debate spirited during the long campaign. African American soldiers described Obama's victory as inspirational.
"It gives me hope that anybody can accomplish anything no matter what your race, colour or creed," said Los Angeles native Staff Sergeant Andre Frazier, adding he hoped it would improve the U.S. image abroad.
"We're going to get back to where we were as a nation before the turmoil kicked in, in terms of other nations not seeing us as we are," he said.
There was also a great deal of support for Obama's defeated rival John McCain, whose own war record makes him popular in a military that socially tilts towards the right.
"I supported McCain because he's closer to the constitutional values I believe in and because he clearly supports the military," said another soldier from Colorado who asked not to be named when giving his political preference in uniform. "But in the end it doesn't matter. We'll serve whoever is the commander in chief."
(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)
Gaza truce in jeopardy after Hamas-Israeli clashes
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
GAZA: Hamas militants pounded southern Israel with a barrage of rockets Wednesday, hours after Israeli soldiers killed six gunmen in new violence that threatened a five-month-old truce that has brought relief to both Gaza and southern Israel.
The clashes began late Tuesday after Israeli forces burst into Gaza to destroy what the army said was a tunnel being dug near the border to kidnap Israeli troops.
Despite the outbreak of violence, both the Israeli authorities and officials with Gaza's Hamas government said they wanted to restore the calm that has largely prevailed for five months.
After the Israeli incursion, Hamas gunmen battled Israeli forces and Gaza residents reported hearing explosions, gunshots and helicopter fire. One Hamas fighter was killed, prompting a wave of mortar fire at nearby Israeli targets.
An Israeli airstrike then killed five Hamas militants who the army said were preparing to fire mortar shells. Hamas responded with the rockets.
A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, said the rockets were in "response to Israel's massive breach of the truce."
"The Israelis began this tension, and they must pay an expensive price," Barhoum said. "They cannot leave us drowning in blood while they sleep soundly in their beds."
The Israeli military said 35 rockets were fired, including one that reached the coastal city of Ashkelon, about 15 kilometers, or 10 miles, north of Gaza - underscoring the militants' growing ability to strike deeper into Israel.
The police said the rocket landed in an empty area and there were no reports of injuries or property damage. But the army said four soldiers were wounded, two moderately, in the border fighting.
The violence was the worst since Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egyptian-mediated truce in June.
In scenes not seen for months, Gaza residents crowded into hospitals, as ambulances delivered the dead and wounded. Grieving militants in military fatigues fired rounds of automatic weapons into the air to commemorate their fallen comrades. Over Gaza City, the thudding sound of rockets being fired into Israel was audible. Unmanned Israeli aircraft, often used to target militants, buzzed overhead.
While Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the violence, neither would say the truce was over.
"We want to see the quiet in the south continued," said Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman. "This operation was in response to a Hamas intrusion of the quiet and we hope we won't see an escalation here."
Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman, said the militant group was in touch with Egypt to try to restore calm.
Israel has little appetite for a return to the rocket barrages that have made life in southern border towns unbearable in recent years, while Hamas is interested in strengthening its hold on power in Gaza. Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in June 2007.
Israeli defense officials said they had discovered a 300-meter, or a 1,000-foot, tunnel days ago and concluded that the passage was to be used for a kidnapping. Hamas is still holding an Israeli soldier whom militants captured in a cross-border raid more than two years ago.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was classified, said Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the operation Tuesday. Defense officials said they knew the raid could jeopardize the cease-fire, but concluded that Gaza's Hamas rulers would have an interest in restoring the calm.
The Israeli Army said a special unit moved about 300 meters into Gaza late Tuesday and destroyed the tunnel.
Also Wednesday, an Israeli work crew knocked down a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem, shortly after the police subdued a crowd of stone-throwing protesters trying to prevent the demolition.
Israel said that the structure did not have proper building permits. Critics say that the permits are virtually impossible to obtain and that the demolitions are part of an Israeli policy to limit Palestinian population growth in the disputed city.

John McCain's concession speech
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Following are excerpts from John McCain's concession speech in Phoenix, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions and transmitted by The Associated Press:
Thank you. Thank you, my friends. Thank you for coming here on this beautiful Arizona evening.
My friends, we have - we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.
A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.
In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.
This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.
I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too.
But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.
America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.
Let there be no reason now - let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.
Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer him my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day. Though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her Creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.
Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain.
These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.
I urge all Americans - I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.
Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.
It is natural. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.
We fought - we fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.
I am so deeply grateful to all of you for the great honor of your support and for all you have done for me. I wish the outcome had been different, my friends.
The road was a difficult one from the outset, but your support and friendship never wavered. I cannot adequately express how deeply indebted I am to you.
I'm especially grateful to my wife, Cindy, my children, my dear mother - my dear mother and all my family, and to the many old and dear friends who have stood by my side through the many ups and downs of this long campaign.
I am also, of course, very thankful to Governor Sarah Palin, one of the best campaigners I've ever seen and an impressive new voice in our party for reform and the principles that have always been our greatest strength.
This campaign was and will remain the great honor of my life, and my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude for the experience and to the American people for giving me a fair hearing before deciding that Senator Obama and my old friend Senator Joe Biden should have the honor of leading us for the next four years.

Carolyn Chute: A backwoods writer at home with 'militias' and words
By Charles McGrath
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
PARSONSFIELD, Maine: The novelist Carolyn Chute doesn't have a working phone, a fax or a computer. She writes on a washtub-size electric typewriter that was probably state of the art in the '70s. Chute and her husband, Michael, live in a small compound at the end of an unpaved road in this rural Maine village near the New Hampshire border. There are stacks of old tires in the yard, a rusted bedstead, a pen full of Scottish terriers and an assortment of well-used vehicles. A bumper sticker on Chute's pickup reads, "School Takes 13 Years Because That's How Long It Takes to Break a Child's Spirit."
Michael Chute, who looks like a 19th-century hunting guide, spends most of his time drawing and making sculptures in an unfinished building he calls the security office.
Carolyn Chute, 61, a wry, direct and earthy woman, works in their home, which is guarded by a sign that reads: "Woa. Visitors Turn Back." Neither building is heated, except by wood stove, or has hot water. The compound's sole toilet is a tin-roofed outhouse.
The Chute home does have an industrial-size copying machine, however, and nearby she keeps her AK-47 rifle, which she likes because it has a gas piston that dampens recoil. "It's very gentle, very soft," she said. Chute, whose fourth novel, "The School on Heart's Content Road," comes out in the United States and Britain on Friday, had a surprise hit in the mid-'80s with her first book, "The Beans of Egypt, Maine," about a hard-luck, occasionally incestuous clan that some critics compared to Faulkner's Snopeses.
"If it runs, a Bean will shoot it," she wrote. "If it falls, a Bean will eat it." The book's empathy and precise observation derived, it turned out, from personal experience. Chute, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, dropped out of school at 16 and supported herself and a young daughter by working as a charwoman, driving a school bus and plucking chickens.
Michael Chute, her second husband, is illiterate and used to work as a woodcutter and gravedigger. They married in 1978 and later lost a child at birth because, she says, they were too poor to afford adequate medical and prenatal care.
Chute has been working on "The School on Heart's Content Road" since the early '90s. It's part of what she calls a "5-o-gy," a projected series of five interlocked novels about a communal Maine settlement led by a polygamous visionary named Gordon St. Onge, sometimes known as the Prophet. The story is told from multiple points of view, each introduced with a little pictorial icon, that include those of God, Mammon, the CIA and television, which periodically babbles advice like: "These flavorful burgers, these potato-flavored salt strips, these fizzy syrupy brown-flavored drinks in tall cups are waiting just for YOU. Go to it! NOW!"
There are so many characters that there is a little guide at the end, with biographies - like the ones that Sinclair Lewis used to write for his characters - so complete that they sometimes go into more detail than the book itself.
The series comprises hunters, snowmobilers, bikers, loggers, militia men, journalists, secret agents, wives, girlfriends and, in the case of "The School on Heart's Content Road," two deserted children who find a home for themselves in St. Onge's settlement. There is even a thinking dog - a Scottish terrier, naturally. Chute says she got the thinking dog idea from Tolstoy.
The original manuscript was some 2,600 pages long - "with a lot of white space," Chute said recently - and so capacious was her vision for the project that she was initially resistant to condensing it. The manuscript sat for a while in the office of Cork Smith, a venerable editor who had been Chute's discoverer and champion.
"I knew it was too long and rangy," Chute said. "But Cork was right - I had to work through it in my head." Smith died in 2004, and with the encouragement of her agent, Jane Gelfman, and her new editor, Elizabeth Schmitz of Grove/Atlantic, Chute began to restructure her mega-novel into self-contained, book-size chunks.
For most of the time that she has been working on the book, Chute has also been greatly occupied with an organization called the 2nd Maine Militia, of which she is the founder and, as she says, "secretary of offense, or offensiveness."
The copier in her living room is used to churn out tracts and fables, mostly written by Chute and illustrated by her husband, that set out the group's political philosophy, which is essentially one of cheerful, nonpartisan economic populism.
The 2nd Maine Militia, or Your Wicked Good Militia, as it's sometimes known, is progun, against corporate lobbying and campaign contributions, and opposed to tax subsidies for big business. The group has been known to meet in a hired hall, but more often it assembles in the woods behind the Chutes' home, where the members shoot at cans and other targets, talk about what's wrong with the world and dine together.
In 1996, in an incident recreated in "The School on Heart's Content Road," the militia invaded the state Capitol in Augusta, carrying placards that read, "Smash Corporate Tyranny." Many of the militia children were in costume, and Michael Chute wore a Revolutionary War uniform. There were some kazoo-playing and a little shouting, and someone duct-taped a piece of cardboard over a portrait of Joshua Chamberlain, the Maine governor and Civil War hero.
The 2nd Maine Militia is a no-wing organization, Carolyn Chute likes to say, with a membership that is "very right, very left and very shy." At the first meeting, in the mid-'90s, she explained: "We had libertarians, greens, guys in camo, white supremacists, hippies off the land, anarchists, people from Communist organizations. All these people were people that someone had tried to take something away from. They all knew something was wrong."
"The 2nd Maine Militia has been a real learning experience for me," Chute said. "Sort of like a living novel. I do feel like I'm on Pluto sometimes, just watching how people treat each other. And when I write, I just let my characters go, the way I let life go."

Mexico interior minister killed in plane crash
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Mica Rosenberg
Investigators probing a plane crash that killed Mexico's interior minister have found no indication that it was caused by sabotage or foul play, the government said on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, President Felipe Calderon's right-hand man and the No. 2 figure in his government, died on Tuesday night when a small government plane crashed in Mexico City, killing all eight aboard and narrowly missing high-rise office buildings full of workers.
Five people on the ground were also killed.
As investigators combed the charred crash site, officials played back radar images of the plane's trajectory at a news conference and said they had not found signs of a mid-air explosion or that the pilot made emergency calls.
"Can you hear me?" an air traffic controller asked the pilot as the plane went off the radar.
Luis Tellez, the transport and communications minister, said investigators found the black box flight recorder but it could be weeks before the cause of the crash would be known.
"So far, we have not detected any indications that suggest a hypothesis other than that it was an accident," he said, adding that the plane was under armed guard before it took off from central Mexico.
Mourino, a U.S.-trained economist and a skilled former lawmaker, was named interior minister in January, taking charge of internal security a year into Calderon's bloody, army-led battle against powerful drug cartels.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Mourino "a valiant leader" in the joint war on drug crime.
Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, a key Calderon adviser in the drugs war and former deputy attorney general, also died in the crash.
Mexico has been tense since drug gangs appeared to take their feud with the government to a new level in September when a grenade was lobbed into a crowd celebrating a national holiday in Calderon's home city, killing eight people.
More than 4,000 people have been killed this year, mainly traffickers in turf wars but also police and soldiers.
The Learjet smashed into evening rush-hour traffic between office buildings in an upscale business district, setting a row of cars ablaze. Emergency teams at the scene said gas tanks used for cooking at nearby taco stands exploded after the crash.
Tellez said Mexican investigators, along with experts from Britain and the United States, would carry out a "meticulous and detailed" probe into the crash, which left at least 13 other people injured, some with serious burns.
He denied reports in Mexican media that the Learjet had been flying too close to a bigger plane.
U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said two U.S. investigators had arrived to help. "This is a tragic loss for Mexico," he said.
Mexico's peso weakened sharply in Asia on news of the crash but it then pared losses and stabilized at around 12.65 per dollar, 0.86 percent weaker on the day.
(Writing by Catherine Bremer and Robin Emmott; additional reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz in Mexico City and Susan Cornwell in Washington)

Karadzic dodges Hague questions on ethnic cleansing
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Aaron Grey-Block
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic dodged prosecution questions at the Yugoslavia tribunal Wednesday on whether the Bosnian Serb republic took part in ethnic cleansing to break from the rest of Bosnia.
Called to appear as a defence witness in the appeals hearing of former ally Momcilo Krajisnik, Karadzic was asked whether the roundup of Bosnian Muslim people and the creation of war commissions and crisis staffs was part of a political strategy.
Karadzic was exempted from answering when his defence accused the prosecutor of making a "transparent attempt" to use Karadzic's answers against him at his own war crimes trial.
In court documents Karadzic had said "Krajisnik was not obsessed by ethnic separation with the Muslims, nor was that the policy of the Serb leadership."
The appearance of Karadzic, who has also been indicted on war crimes and genocide charges over the 1992-95 Bosnian war, was thought to provide a glimpse into how he would conduct his own defence. Karadzic's trial is expected to start next year.
Karadzic denied Wednesday the Bosnian Serb republic intended to use armed force to define borders in former Yugoslavia, stressing that the republic's goals were a political platform for negotiations with the European community.
Krajisnik, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison in September 2006 for a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims and Croats, was able to call Karadzic as a witness after his arrest in July after 11 years on the run. Krajisnik has appealed his conviction.
Karadzic denied Krajisnik, who headed the parliament of the self-styled Bosnian Serb republic during the war, was involved in the decision making of the Bosnian Serb republic.
He also denied Krajisnik was a member of an expanded Bosnian Serb presidency, stressing that the expanded presidency, or war presidency, was never established because the Bosnian Serb republic did not declare a state of war despite hostilities.
Georgia relied on cluster bombs during war
By Michael Schwirtz
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
MOSCOW: Georgian military forces fired more cluster munitions during the August war with Russia than originally thought, and some of these weapons may have malfunctioned, causing civilian casualties when they fell short of targets and hit Georgian villages, according to new research by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights group.
Georgia has denied the findings, which Human Rights Watch presented at the Convention on Conventional Weapons held in Geneva on Tuesday.
The group found that both Georgia and Russia extensively used cluster munitions during the war. After Georgia launched a massive artillery bombardment against South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian enclave, Russian invaded large swaths of Georgian territory.
Though Russia endured the brunt of international outrage for its conduct during and after the war, Georgia's actions in the conflict have come under increasing scrutiny, and the new report adds to a growing body of evidence of Georgian atrocities during the fighting.
Cluster bombs, typically anti-personnel weapons which eject dozens of explosive submunitions when detonated, killed as many as 17 civilians during the brief, but bloody, war and injured dozens more, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, many of the weapons on both sides failed, the statement said, scattering unexploded ordinance that has already caused casualties and continues to pose a danger to civilians.
In several Georgian villages researchers from Human Rights Watch said they found wreckage from Israeli-supplied Mk-4 GRAD LAR-160 ground rockets with M85 submunitions used by Georgia, suggesting a "massive technical failure," the report said. The munitions killed at least one civilian and injured two in the Georgian towns of Tirdznisi and Shindisi.
"What was suprising is that the large number of the duds we've found were unexploded," said Giorgi Gogia, a Georgia-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, who worked on the report. "There were so many duds in these fields that it looked like a catastrophic failure or malfunction," he said.
Georgia has admitted to purchasing cluster munitions from Israel and using them during the conflict, though officials insist the weapons were used only against Russian military targets and not in civilian areas. Georgian officials criticized the Human Rights Watch report, saying the government has no information that missiles fired by Georgian forces had somehow hit Georgian villages.
"What we believe was completely misunderstood in the publication was that our cluster ammunition could have harmed the civilian population under Georgian control, which cannot be true," said Kakha Lomaya, the head of Georgia's State Security Council.
Moreover, Lomaya said, Georgian cluster munitions were equipped with a self-destruct mechanism that would disarm any duds, rendering them harmless.
Human Rights Watch disputed the claim.
"We have found dozens and dozens of duds, and none of them had a self-destruct mechanism," Gogia said.
Though researchers found evidence of Russian and Georgian cluster munitions in over a dozen towns and villages in the conflict zone, Human Rights Watch said that Russian weapons caused most of the civilian casualties.
Unlike Georgia, Russia has vehemently denied using cluster munitions during the war, despite strong evidence to the contrary. Human Rights Watch investigators found Russian AO-2.5 RTM submunitions from RBK air-dropped cluster bombs in Georgian villages, according to the report.
And the Dutch Foreign Ministry insists that a Russian cluster bomb killed the Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans and four other people in an attack on the central square in Gori on August 12. In a report released last month, the ministry said that an examination of forensic evidence, video and photographs indicated that a Russia SS-26 rocket loaded with cluster munitions caused the deaths.
The use of cluster munitions has been widely condemned worldwide because of the devastating effects these weapons can have on civilian populations. Unexploded submunitions scattered over broad areas can kill and maim people for years.
Over 100 countries signed a Convention on Cluster Munitions in May this year, vowing to refrain from using, storing and selling cluster munitions. Georgia and Russia have not, and neither have many of the world's heaviest users of cluster bombs - including the United States and Israel.
So far, according to Human Rights Watch, two people have been reported killed and three wounded by Georgian duds since the war ended.

Former analyst convicted of insider trading is missing, U.S. agency says
By Michael J. de la Merced
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
NEW YORK: A former analyst at Goldman Sachs who was convicted of operating a $6.7 million insider-trading ring is missing and may have fled the United States, a lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission said.
The analyst, David Pajcin, who cooperated with the government in the criminal prosecution of the ring, has violated his parole, the lawyer, Scott Black, wrote in a letter to a federal judge in Manhattan on Monday. The U.S. attorney's office and Pajcin's criminal lawyer believe that he fled the country, Black wrote.
It is the latest twist in one of the strangest white-collar crimes of the past few years. Pajcin and a former Goldman colleague, Eugene Plotkin, were convicted of operating an insider-trading ring that spanned an ocean and sought to trade on information obtained illegally from three sources, including a Merrill Lynch research analyst and a postal worker serving on a grand jury.
In his letter, Black said that Paul Lieber, Pajcin's civil lawyer, had been unable to reach his client. Lieber said in an interview that he had not seen or spoken to Pajcin in three years.
Jesse Siegel, Pajcin's former criminal defense lawyer, confirmed that he himself had spoken with the SEC but said that he had not been in contact with his former client since January. He said he was unaware of Pajcin's whereabouts.
Pajcin has relatives in Croatia, including Sonja Anticevic, who is named as a defendant in the Securities and Exchange Commission's case.
Black declined to comment.
Pajcin traded in several accounts, including those of his girlfriend and Anticevic, his aunt. He and Plotkin were also accused of passing information to others, including Plotkin's father.
Plotkin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.
Pajcin pleaded guilty to insider trading and conspiracy in a criminal case. The commission is pursuing a judgment against him, Black wrote in the letter.

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