By Eric Schmitt
Monday, December 1, 2008
WASHINGTON: An independent commission has concluded that terrorists will most likely carry out an attack with biological, nuclear or other unconventional weapons somewhere in the world in the next five years unless the United States and its allies act urgently to prevent that.
In a report to be released this week, the congressionally mandated panel found that with countries like Iran and North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons programs, and with the risk of poorly secured biological pathogens growing, unconventional threats are fast outpacing the defenses arrayed to confront them.
"America's margin of safety is shrinking, not growing," the bipartisan panel concluded.
Prepared before the deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week - which U.S. officials say were most likely carried out by Pakistani militant groups based in Kashmir - the report also singled out Pakistan as a top security priority for the coming Obama administration.
"Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan," the report states, citing the country's terrorist haven along the border with Afghanistan and its tense relations with its nuclear rival, India.
"Pakistan is an ally, but there is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States - possibly with weapons of mass destruction," the report said.
The report is the result of a six-month study by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which Congress created last spring in keeping with one of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission.
The nine-member panel received classified briefings, conducted several site visits, including meetings in Russia, and interviewed more than 250 government and independent experts in several countries.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the report's 18-page executive summary. Details from draft chapters of the report on the threat of bioterrorism were published Sunday by The Washington Post.
The panel's 13 recommendations focus on fighting the threat of bioterrorism, including improved bioforensic capabilities, and strengthening international organizations, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, to address the nuclear threat. It also calls for a comprehensive approach for dealing with Pakistan.
Over all, the findings and recommendations seek to serve as a road map for the Obama administration.
"Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013," the report states in the opening sentence of the executive summary.
Commission officials said that date is a judgment based on scores of interviews and classified briefings conducted by members of the panel - led by former Senators Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, and Jim Talent, Republican of Missouri, but does not represent a new formal assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Several of the recommendations are not new and have been pursued with varying degrees of success by the Bush administration. On Pakistan, for example, the panel urges the Obama administration to work with Pakistan to eliminate that country's terrorist havens, secure its nuclear and biological materials, counter extremist ideologies and constrain a "nascent nuclear arms race in Asia."
But the panel is banking on the fact that some of its Democratic members - including Wendy Sherman, Graham Allison and Tim Roemer - have advised President-elect Barack Obama on national security issues and could serve in senior positions in his administration.
Sherman, for instance, is one of two former Clinton administration officials leading the transition team at the State Department for Obama.
In its wide-ranging findings, the panel faulted the Bush administration for failing to devote the same degree of high-level attention and resources to the threat of a bioterrorist attack as it has to prevent nuclear proliferation and a nuclear attack.
The report calls for conducting a major review of the program to secure dangerous pathogens and tighten oversight of high-containment laboratories.
The commission urges the Obama administration to work to halt the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, backing up any diplomatic initiatives with "the credible threat of direct action" - code for military action, a commission official said.
Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.
The commission also criticized the administration and Congress for not organizing themselves more effectively to combat the threat of unconventional weapons. The report recommended a single White House-level office or individual responsible for directing the nation's policy to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons and their possible use by terrorists.
Like the Sept. 11 Commission, this panel called for overhauling the jurisdiction of the congressional committee that reviews the proliferation of unconventional weapons. "Congressional oversight is dysfunctional," the report concluded.
Monday, December 1, 2008
WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush said the biggest regret of his presidency was flawed intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and told ABC "World News" in an interview airing on Monday that he was unprepared for war when he took office.
Bush leaves the White House on January 20 with public approval ratings near record lows partly due to the unpopular Iraq war that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. More than 4,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq.
"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein," Bush said.
But he declined to speculate on whether he would have gone to war if the intelligence had said Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.
"That's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do," Bush said, according to excerpts from the recent ABC interview at Camp David.
As he prepares to hand over wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to successor President-elect Barack Obama, Bush said the issue he was most unprepared for when he became president was war.
"I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack'," Bush said. "I didn't anticipate war."
Pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq before the appropriate time would have compromised his principles, he said.
"It was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq," he said.
There are 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 32,000 in Afghanistan.
In his final months at the White House, Bush said he was required to take bold action on the financial crisis to ward off another Great Depression.
He was asked whether it scared him that government actions to address the financial crisis amounted to about $7.5 trillion, equivalent to about half the U.S. economy.
"What scared me is not doing anything, which would have caused there to be a huge financial meltdown and the conceivable scenario that we'd have been in a depression greater than the Great Depression," Bush said.
He told ABC: "I will leave the presidency with my head held high."
(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
1st. December, 2008 and with just 31 days ahead of me to complete my one year only photo journal of life in the Auvergne, my camera has given up on me.
Or rather, the battery has, the charger for which I left behind in hospital last Tuesday. They rang me that day, to tell me this.
Could they post it? No. We would have to send a S.A.E, which we did, on Wednesday.
I carefully conserved my battery, but today, with no charger in sight, I took two photos and the camera shut down.
Not a good day yesterday.
Lightly falling snow, cold. I stayed in bed, the nurse came to change my dressings, the kine to work my knee. I have work to do but no desire.
This temporary handicap is affecting me more than I care to admit and I am not in the best of humour.
Monday, December 1, 2008
BEIJING: China lifted its controls on food prices Monday, the latest sign of how drastically priorities have shifted from earlier this year, when the country was focused on fighting inflation.
In mid-January, when prices seemed to be soaring out of control, the government stepped in to limit price increases on a wide range of food, including meat, grain, cooking oil and milk products. But food prices and broader inflation have slowed markedly in recent months as the economy has cooled, prompting the government to shift its policies to prop up growth.
Consumer inflation in October fell to 4 percent from a 12-year high of 8.7 percent in February. Food prices, which make up a third of the consumer price index, rose 8.5 percent in October, down from a 23.3 percent increase in February.
The end of food price controls came the same day that data showed that China's manufacturing industry had slumped in November as new orders, especially from abroad, tumbled. It followed a warning by President Hu Jintao that the global financial crisis was threatening to undermine the booming Chinese economy and that China could lose its competitive edge as trade growth slowed.
Indexes released Monday, based on two surveys of hundreds of business executives across China, plumbed record lows, showing how China, one of the world's largest economies, was being pulled deeper into the global maelstrom, even though it had a relatively insular banking system.
The official purchasing managers' index, or PMI, produced by the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, fell to 38.8 in November from 44.6 in October. Another PMI, produced for CLSA, an Asia-focused broker, fell to 40.9 from 45.2. The readings Monday were the weakest since the surveys began in 2004 and 2005. The weakness was broad-based, with production, new orders and employment all falling sharply.
The indexes are designed to give a timely snapshot of manufacturing. A figure above 50 shows that business is expanding; a result below 50 shows deterioration.
Hu's comments, which were made at a government meeting over the weekend and published in the Communist Party's newspaper, People's Daily, offered few details. But they were the latest indication that Beijing was growing increasingly concerned about the significant slowdown in the country's growth.
Already, stock and real estate prices have fallen sharply.
Construction has slowed drastically, damaging steel, cement and glass makers. Export growth has declined for several quarters.
"Another grim month for China manufacturing and the first in which the weakness in overseas demand overtook what, until now, has been mainly a domestic slowdown," said Eric Fishwick, head of economic research at CLSA.
Zhang Liqun, a government economist who comments on the survey for the logistics federation, said: "November's PMI shows that the Chinese economy is slowing down at an accelerating rate. The signs of economic contraction are more evident."
On food pricing, companies would now be free to decide that for themselves, the National Development and Reform Commission said. Under the controls, manufacturers had to apply for approval for any substantial price increases.
Beijing will still keep an eye on prices, however, and work to ensure that no one manipulates them, the statement said.
"We must work further on plans about how to ensure market supply of important products such as grain, pork and cooking oil and how to address abnormal price movement," the commission said.
By Henry Shukman
Monday, December 1, 2008
Thoreau observed that humans are happily designed in such a way that the distance they can cover in a day's walking means that were they to spend every day hiking in a different direction from their homestead, it would take a lifetime to get to know every corner of their surroundings. There's something analogous in the distance that meat and vegetables can cover in an ox cart in the old formula of market towns gathering and redistributing the produce of a region. It's like concocting a meal with what you have in the kitchen, settling a craving for good economy.
Any region can use a patron saint, and in England's West Country, that saint is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (aka Hugh Fearlessly Eats-It-All). One of Britain's top TV chefs, Fearnley-Whittingstall is on a near-holy mission to return to the land. He had his first success with a show called "A Cook on the Wild Side," in which he traveled around cooking up game and wild plants on his camping stove.
Then he settled in Dorset and moved into growing his own food - saddleback pigs, old breeds of chicken - and reviving many old techniques for curing and preserving the food. His larder is permanently hung with sausages, salamis, hams and varieties of smoked fish.
What he advocates goes far beyond organic. His philosophy is "plow to plate": ideally, the consumer is the grower, or failing that, the grower's neighbor. He calls it "food integrity."
At his new restaurant, the River Cottage Canteen, in the market town of Axminster, even the wine is as local as possible, all of it from England except for a few French organic and biodynamic labels. Almost nothing solid comes from farther afield than the West Country. There's no bottled water - an abomination of wastefulness.
A truly organic restaurant today needs a field of local suppliers. What good is an organic carrot or blueberry with a giant carbon footprint? Just as farmers' markets are spreading, so too is local-mindedness in restaurants. It's not just about carbon, but a deeper connectedness between people and land.
It's a connectedness I fantasized about as a child: When I was 10, my favorite book was "Survival for Young People." It told you about bivouac bags and collecting rainwater with a plastic sheet. But what electrified me were the pages on eating wild - the leaves and roots you could get by on, how to trap a rabbit, how you should always have a fishing line in your pack.
The kind of self-reliance a household would have known before the advent of processed and packaged foods, when good husbandry included knowledge of how to process food oneself, is precisely what Fearnley-Whittingstall is trying to revive.
The Canteen's décor reflects this. I find myself eating at a table of reclaimed wood in a wood-rich, loftlike space.
The first thing I try is crispy pig's head. The plate consists of a fried slice of something like a pâté - in fact a version of headcheese, or brawn - with applesauce and Le Puy lentils. Not only do the sweet apple and rich brawn go together well, but there's an automatic burst of self-congratulation in even daring to take a mouthful.
There's an austerity about the place, but the food is stunning: sea bass in a lemon and herb sauce, with braised fennel and sautéed Highland Burgundy potatoes, ruddy and smothered in oil; and two kinds of lamb on one plate, slices of dense, melting, pink roast tenderloin and dark glistening shreds of braised shoulder.
My friend Dave Swann and I end with rhubarb jelly - a wobbly mound of luminous red jelly, a dab of whipped cream on a shortbread biscuit, and a heap of cooked rhubarb. Another British standard, rhubarb is a favorite of public and backyard vegetable patches.
According to his publicists, Fearnley-Whittingstall doesn't exactly think of himself as a great chef. His mission is changing peoples' relationship to food production. Even a window box of herbs in central London is better than nothing, he contends: food-blindness is part of our post-industrial alienation; we're alienated from our very plates.
At the River Cottage HQ, a roughly 65-acre, or 26-hectare, farm on the border with Dorset where Fearnley-Whittingstall's TV shows are filmed, all the tools to teach people how to become more involved in supplying their own larders have been set up. There are grazing pigs and chickens; clay ovens in different stages of construction; smokers made of old barrels and gas canisters; and hams, salamis and sausages hanging from rafters.
The clay ovens bake bread in five minutes, cook scallops on the shell in seconds, pizza in a minute. And as the heat dissipates over 24 hours, you can slow-cook whole shoulders of lamb, ending up with meat so tender you spoon it off the bone.
In a converted 16th-century barn with a gleaming professional kitchen, participants in Fearnley-Whittingstall's workshops are given a local banquet at the end of their day's education. Green Champagne bottles hang from the rafters, converted into lamps. Sixty guests can be seated at two long baronial tables. There's a Saxon feel to the whole venture.
Almost nothing goes to waste.
Local food has become a focus throughout the rural West Country, with its many small farms. At the Masons Arms in the seaside village of Branscombe on the South Devon coast, the soft and tasty Branoc Ale is brewed at the nearby Branscombe Vale Brewery. The spit in the fireplace - gently turned by customers seated with pints at the open fire - was forged at the blacksmith's half a short distance the other way.
The stonewalled bar has been there since 1350, when masons from the local quarry would stop in to ease their dusty throats. The bar top still has a brass slot where thirsty horsemen would (allegedly) ride right up to the counter and drop in a penny to have a pint of cider pulled.
At a small pub table, a plain white bowl of pea and ham soup is a soft green, like the turf above the cliffs. Slender sweet juliennes of pepper are just right against the smooth texture of the soup. The fresh beer-battered haddock caught off the coast is succulent and chunky, and the leek, salmon, mussel and haddock stew, in its own pot with a lid of Cheddar-smothered mashed potatoes, is as heartwarming as seafood can be.
Upstairs, above the original horsehair ceilings, which sag like an old mattress between black, octagonal ships' beams, there are 21 bedrooms with deeply uneven floors, where you can sleep off your time at the bar.
The other end of the West Country, southwest Gloucestershire, has its local food movement, too. Stroud has a history of independent-mindedness, being one of the first English towns to set up its own currency. It was also one of the first to have an active farmers' market (the 2008 National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association's Market of the Year), which spills out from Cornhill Market, a stone-columned square in the middle of town.
Just down the hill, the Star Anise Art Café specializes in vegetarian food with a local emphasis. It's a good place to hang out, and like so many buildings in this corner of the West Country, it's built of the lovely Cotswold stone, a soft yellow that blends into the rolling hills.
In nearby Nailsworth, the chef at Wild Garlic, Matthew Beardshall, will pull his car over on the way to work, and stroll into the woods to pick the restaurant's eponymous herb. It grows in abundance in the Cotswold hills.
"It likes shade," he says. "The sun brings out the smell, so it's easy to find." He likes to stuff the long dark-green leaves under the skin of chicken.
He buys some of his meat from Prince Charles's nearby Duchy of Cornwall farms. "I'll buy a whole piece of meat, not cuts," Beardshall says. "Then I can render down the fat for roasting potatoes, and use the trimmings for sauce. Or the butcher goes out shooting, and comes back with pigeon and rabbit. We'll take what he bags. Unprepped pigeons don't look pretty, but they taste great."
In his restaurant, which has spare wood floors and stone walls, the local poet Jay Ramsay and I start with ramekins of chicken liver parfait covered with a lid of pure butter - a traditional English method of sealing. The livers are from local chickens, mixed with rendered pork fat. With a shot glass of fig and honey compote on the side, the smooth pâté is superb.
As are his thick pappardelle with tender slow-braised rabbit in sage, and chicken with bok choy, potatoes and wild garlic leaves. Between courses, Beardshall serves a little granita of caramelized apple and thyme.
Over all, an evening at Wild Garlic is a perfect marriage of the modern and the old. It's as if the industrial era has been neatly leapfrogged. And you can stay the night, too, in the spacious 16th-century rooms of the Heavens Above guesthouse upstairs.
By Ben Seidler
Monday, December 1, 2008
London: A design of lace painted in sugar on a Valrhona chocolate cream cake melts on the tongue. A fromage blanc and raspberry meringue reminiscent of an Alexander McQueen chiffon dress dances its way into one's mouth.
These are not a fashionista's fantasies. Pret-a-Portea at the Berkeley Hotel in the Knightsbridge section of London really does serve edible versions of designer collections, updated every six months for a fashionable high tea.
The hotel's pastry chefs visit fashion shows to be inspired by the colors and textures of the new collections and a team of fashion editors from various publications are consulted about the latest trends and most emblematic pieces of the season.
Tea is served in fine bone china designed by Paul Smith in collaboration with Thomas Goode of Mayfair. Plates, teapots, cups and saucers all feature Smith's rainbow stripes, with the plates acting as a kind of catwalk for the delicious confectionery.
Their version of the yellow Smythson "Maze Bag" is a banana sponge cake, iced with all the leather details and even a gold leaf clasp.
A chocolate biscuit version of a Valentino red coat is so exquisitely detailed with gold buttons that it will certainly make it onto every stylish gingerbread man's Christmas wish list.
The tailor-made tea is served so that, whenever a guest takes a cake or savoury nibble, it is quickly replaced on the cake stand. Over and over, one can relive the excitement of a Louis Vuitton dress selling out and being re-issued, simply by stuffing one's face. (The display refills within fashion friendly limits, though, this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet).
Conceived as a perfect foil to a frenzied afternoon of shopping in Knightsbridge, where non-edible versions of the latest fashions can be purchased at Harrods or Harvey Nichols, high tea at the Berkeley has developed into an area institution. It can even be delivered locally on a pistachio and baby pink Vespa to customers who feel this luxury is so necessary, they need it at home.
Dior's John Galliano, Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow have all sipped tea for at least two hours (the recommended time) in the velvety darkness of the hotel's plush Caramel room, and one should book a month in advance to do the same. Tea begins at £35, or $53.80, per person and is served from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. (Reservations, 44-(0)20-7201-1619)
Heading east (but not too far east) to the Burlington Gardens entrance of the Royal Academy, one discovers another fashion-frenzied dining hall, housed in a contemporary art gallery of the venerable art school and museum, a stiletto's stride away from Piccadilly Circus in elegant, if conservative, Mayfair.
This colorful room is Flash, a pop-up restaurant devised by Pablo Flack and David Waddington of Bistrotheque, an eatery in deepest darkest Bethnal Green.
For years Bistrotheque has been legendary for its flamboyant cabarets and stark décor. East London's lower rents and more multicultural environment has made the area the location of choice for London's new creative minds, and so it follows suit that their social hot spots should be located in the same place.
Sitting beneath the watchful eye of an octopus painted on the wall behind him, Flack described the reason behind the restaurant travelling to central London for a short time, "Bistrotheque is fundamentally a really great local restaurant that's driven by a local art scene. A lot of people that have heard about Bistrotheque but can't be bothered to go all the way to Bethnal Green will think, 'We'll go to Flash,' and will experience Flash as a way of experiencing Bistrotheque because it's easy."
Flash may be easier to access but the atmosphere is no less exhilarating thanks to the fact that, by eating in a gallery, the meal - and the diner - becomes the art.
The architect David Kohn has created a room-within-a-room, using art storage boxes that are painted over and decorated by different artists and designers.
Flack and Waddington acted as art directors, with an overall vision inspired by Chatsworth. Flack said he "looked at the proportions of formal rooms and the proportions of the wooden boxes are reminiscent of a panelled room, as are the 5 meter high walls. The view upon entrance with the chandeliers and the windows is taken from a Chatsworth dining room."
Flash actually is part of the academy's GSK Contemporary series of exhibitions. And the kitchen, under the direction of Bistrotheque's executive chef, Tom Collins, creates lunch and dinner menus inspired by French and Californian cuisine and using fresh ingredients.
The fare is based around good meat and fish, with classic-with-a-twist side dishes, like a pan-fried pollock with chilli, roast pepper and almond and caper quinoa.
Like the most highly coveted limited-edition fashions, a meal at Flash is available for a limited period, until Jan. 19, and almost all the reservations have been claimed, although some tables are held for walk-ins.
Meals are served on china designed by Will Broome, Marc Jacobs's illustrator, in association with Wedgwood - a partnership that also reflects the mix of rough-and-ready East London's art and fashion scene and Mayfair's old-school chic. The result is pristine white dinnerware doodled on with Broome's cutesy graffiti-style pandas-and-hearts designs.
"All the people we worked with are part of our social scene in a way," explains Flack, adding, "they have to be talented but we also have to have a social connection. We are socially connected to Will Broome, we liked his illustrations and we brought him to Wedgwood, telling them to work with him and driving that collaboration."
Rory Crichton, an artist and textile designer for Prada, Missoni, Gucci and Vuitton, designed graphics placed onto the art-storage boxes. Critchon's vegetables and sea creatures swim across the panels, giving the space a vivid, if psychedelic, landscape over which paintings and fashion accessories are hung, notably a Pac-man hat from Giles Deacon's Spring/Summer 2009 collection, made for him by the milliner Stephen Jones, and canvases by cool East London artists like Alexis Teplin.
After the restaurant closes, the paintings will be sold through the academy to benefit its art school.
Creating another twist on a grand English country house scene, Flack and Waddington got London fashion's favorite designer, Giles Deacon, to design a spiky black chandelier bleeding with Swarovski crystals. The fixture looms over the dining space like an enormous death star, sinister but captivating.
"I was thrilled to design the Swarovski chandelier; metal studs and spikes contrast with clustered pastel crystals, to create something brutal yet beautiful," Deacon said in an e-mail interview. "Flash is a great melting point of fashion and art, traditional and the modern."
Besides the chandelier, the lighting is low, like candle light. And Flack gestures extravagantly toward the roomful of creative and business types when he notes, "Everyone looks fabulous in a soft lighting."
"The décor, the food, the whole thing is thought of as one period of time, a snapshot," explains Flack, who used to be half of the design team behind the small but significant London clothing label House of Jazz.
"It's a bit like doing a collection;" he adds, "you think about every element and how it works together, the food and the décor are part of that."
Four days after its designer-heavy opening in the beginning of November, Flash hosted a lunch for the hedge-funders, gallerinas, tailors and locals of Mayfair, thereby establishing itself as an important intervention in the history of the area - when, even if for only an instance, the East End came to Mayfair.
Book review: 'Everything but the Squeal'
Published: December 1, 2008
Everything but the Squeal
Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain
In the last couple of years the pile of books about pork - let's call the genre Pig Lit - has grown tall enough that it's threatening to topple over and hurt someone.
In his memoir "Heat," Bill Buford sampled a slice of Mario Batali's precious lardo (pig fat) and quit his day job at The New Yorker to eat more things like it. The British chef Fergus Henderson, in his cookbooks, teaches home cooks to use Bic razors to depilate pigs' tails and ears before serving these toothsome bits to their friends. And in "Pig Perfect," Peter Kaminsky - he calls himself a (groan) "hamthropologist" - goes searching for "the lost taste of pork."
Pork is, definitively, no longer the other white meat. In the hands of today's chefs and committed eaters, it's dark, glistening, salty, fatty, soulful and sinful - closer to Howlin' Wolf's music than Pat Boone's. A little of it will make anything taste better. Try smearing some drippings on the cover of an old Harold Robbins paperback.
The volume on our plate this morning, John Barlow's "Everything but the Squeal," is a modest but enthusiastic addition to the Pig Lit canon. Barlow, a 39-year-old Cambridge-educated novelist, decides to spend a year in Galicia, in the rainy northwest corner of Spain, where he lives with his wife and young son, trying to eat every possible part of the pig.
This is decent work if you can get it. Galicia is a pork-obsessed culture, and Barlow suspects his quest won't be difficult. But there are obstacles. His wife, Susana, is essentially a vegetarian. Will he have to eat genitals? And then there's the moment when he's confronted with a dish he describes as "the insides of a pig's bone-stuffed bowels."
Barlow is a hard writer to get a handle on. He's not as crunchy and ecophilosophical as Michael Pollan. He's not dry and wily, like Calvin Trillin. He doesn't come on like a non-rehabbed member of the Psychedelic Furs, as does Anthony Bourdain. And he's not nostril-flaringly intense, like Buford.
Seventy-five pages into "Everything but the Squeal," it dawned on me whose prose Barlow's resembles: Bill Bryson's, in another genial quest book, "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail" (1998).
Like Bryson, Barlow has canny comic timing. And like Bryson, Barlow is not into this whole completion thing. Bryson never did walk the entire Appalachian Trail. And it's not giving too much away to say that there are a few bits of the pig that Barlow simply cannot bring himself to ingest.
What both writers get by on is cerebral charm that can verge on slapstick. Defending the habits of pigs against their detractors, Barlow observes: "When they're starving, pigs will occasionally eat each other, but so do we when our airplanes crash in inhospitable places."
It's not much fun, over the course of a few hundred pages, to listen to a writer (unless that writer is A.J. Liebling) rhapsodize about what he is putting into his mouth. This is why the photographs and recipes in food magazines are, 9 times out of 10, more welcome than the feature articles.
Barlow does not manage to solve this problem. When he's writing about stuffing his face, he can sound like a hack in need of floss, wet naps and a very cross editor. Here's the best he can say about a plate of calf's cheek: "It blasts you away with taste." About a chorizo dish: "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven." At other times, he lapses into the kind of travel brochurese that reeks of cheap aftershave. ("Santiago is the home of one of Europe's great universities.")
You are willing to forgive him quite a lot, however, because of his great good humor - he's pleasant to be around. He is attending to reality when he writes, about being a novelist: "No one knows what to say when you tell them you're a writer. It's like shaking someone's hand and" passing gas "at the same time."
Describing one local specialty, he notes: "A plateful of chicharrones looks as if someone has run over a hedgehog, then tried his best to reassemble it." (The same dish can resemble an "unkempt toupee.")
Along the way in "Everything but the Squeal," you learn plenty of pig lore, and there is that requisite moment - no serious meat book is complete these days without it - when Barlow travels to watch animals be slaughtered.
There have been plenty of macho, red-blooded books written about pork and barbecue, and Barlow's squeamishness about being near the killing ground is refreshingly honest in its way. But it also threatens to warp the meaning of his book's title.
O.K., we get it - he can eat almost everything but the squeal. But if Barlow can barely cope with the final, primal squeals themselves, it's possible he should have written about herring or polenta instead.
By Andrew Martin
Monday, December 1, 2008
After years of being criticized for its response to food-sickness outbreaks and contaminated imports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is stepping up efforts to convince the public and skeptical lawmakers that it is making progress in overhauling the nation's food defenses.
The agency will release a report Monday that summarizes what officials call a "hugely ambitious" campaign to reshape its food inspection arm to root out safety hazards through things like sophisticated software and certifiers from the private sector.
"The goal is to radically redesign the process," said Dr. David Acheson, the agency's associate commissioner for foods. For imported food, for instance, that means trying to detect tainted products during the production process rather than waiting until they enter the country.
"We cannot simply rely on picking the ball up at the point of entry," Dr. Acheson said.
The changes were first outlined in the agency's Food Protection Plan, which was released in November 2007. In June, the agency was criticized by the Government Accountability Office for failing to provide details on the costs or specific strategies for carrying out the plan. Some lawmakers have repeatedly called the agency's food protection efforts inadequate.
But in the agency's report, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, and in an interview with Dr. Acheson, the FDA maintains that its overhaul is well under way.
For instance, the agency is hiring at least 130 employees to conduct inspections and collect samples. It has approved the use of irradiation for iceberg lettuce and spinach to reduce the risk from pathogens like E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella, and it is opening offices in other countries to improve the monitoring of food exported to the United States.
The first office opened in Beijing in mid-November, and more are planned in Europe, India, Latin America and the Middle East.
Dr. Acheson acknowledged that the agency did not have enough money to put in place all its plans. Some critics have expressed skepticism about the agency's commitment to an overhaul and are calling for more drastic changes when the Obama administration takes over in January.
"I've tried to be open about when they come in and say they are doing this and doing that," said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut. "But at every step, they fail on just such a large scale."
DeLauro said the agency's recent reaction to the discovery of the toxic chemical melamine in infant formula was evidence of its continued dysfunction. This fall, the agency said that any amount of melamine in infant formula might be harmful. But the agency then said that trace amounts of melamine were acceptable after they were found in formula made in the United States.
"It's got to be so totally redone," DeLauro said of the agency. "It needs resources; it needs better management; it needs less influence from the industry and more influence on the science."
In addition to regulating drugs and medical devices, the agency oversees about 80 percent of the nation's food supply, which includes keeping tabs on tens of thousands of manufacturers in the United States and abroad.
Given the cost and logistics of inspecting each company, the agency is shifting toward a more risk-based approach that would use vast quantities of data to pinpoint areas of risk and deploy resources accordingly. The offices overseas will try to build relationships with foreign regulators and develop information on foreign manufacturers.
For instance, the agency hopes that companies will hire reliable third-party auditors to inspect facilities because it does not have the personnel to do so. In exchange, companies would be cleared to import their products to the United States with less chance of inspection or bureaucratic roadblocks.
In addition, the agency is hoping to deploy a sophisticated screening program, used successfully on seafood, to better identify high-risk foods at the border.
The Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008
VENICE, Italy: Venice could use a bailout. The city built on water has too much of it.
Residents and tourists waded through knee-deep water Monday as they navigated the city's narrow streets and alleys, and its historic St. Mark's Square was inundated. Boxes of tourist merchandise floated inside the flooded shops around the square and even the city's famed pigeons sought refuge on rooftops and windowsills.
One of the highest tides in its history brought Venice to a virtual halt, rekindling a debate over a plan to build moveable flood barriers in an effort to save the lagoon city from high tides.
City officials said the tide peaked at 61 inches (156 centimeters), well past the 40-inch (110-centimeter) flood mark, as strong winds pushed the sea into the city.
Alarms went off at 6:37 a.m. to alert citizens, but many residents were taken by surprise because authorities had initially not forecast such a high water level.
In St. Mark's Square, one of the city's lowest points, tourists tried to stay dry by hopping on cafe tables and chairs sticking out of the water. The water was so high that someone rowed a small speedboat across the wide square.
"It was quite an extraordinary experience," said Michel Gorski, visiting from Brussels with his wife. "We got stuck in the hotel for half a day but we didn't suffer. We were sorry for the restaurants and stores around, but there was no panic and everyone worked really hard to clean up quickly."
Workers were unable to install the traditional raised wooden walkways used during flooding because the water rose so high the platforms would have floated away too.
"There are very few streets that are water-free," admitted city spokesman Enzo Bon.
In an ironic twist, the flooding also idled the city's water buses because their boarding platforms were underwater.
Bon had no reports of damage to the city's architectural jewels, and the Culture Ministry was monitoring the situation.
It was the fourth highest tide since 1872, when the city started keeping records. The last time Venice saw such high waters was in 1986, while the all-time record was 76 inches (194 centimeters) in 1966.
That flood forced 3,000 people to evacuate and damaged many historic buildings, but largely spared the city's art — which had long ago been removed to upper floors because of frequent flooding by tides.
"In Venice, we know how to live with high water," said Bon. "Of course there are some problems, because today's was an exceptional event."
Giancarlo Galan, the conservative governor of the surrounding Veneto region, criticized Venice's center-left administration for failing to prepare for the flood and for allegedly stonewalling a long-planned system of barriers that would rise from the seabed to ease the effect of high tides.
The $5.5 billion project, called "Moses" after the Biblical figure who parted the Red Sea, has been under construction for years and is expected to be completed by 2011. The company building the barriers said, had the system been in place, the city would not have been flooded Monday.
Venice Mayor Massimo Cacciari insisted the city's experts had done a good job and had revised their forecasts well before the water came in. Cacciari, who has criticized the barriers, said the government-backed project would be completed.
With low tide setting in and waters receding Monday afternoon, some tourists were charmed by the water wonderland.
"The hotel had to turn off the gas and the electricity, but they made us a nice candlelit cold lunch," said Yacob Laurent, a visitor from Paris. "They gave us boots and my wife and I went for a walk. It was a lot of fun."
The Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008
POZNAN, Poland: The global financial crisis will pass, but global warming will be permanent unless nations can unite to contain emissions of greenhouse gases, political leaders and top scientists warned Monday at a United Nations climate conference.
Speaking to 10,000 delegates and environmental advocates, the UN climate chief said time was running out to meet the deadline on a new climate treaty.
"The clock is ticking. Work needs to shift into a higher gear," said Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate change secretariat.
Delegates from about 190 countries opened a two-week conference aimed at nailing down the details of a climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 countries to slash carbon emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel of UN climate scientists, reminded the conference of the consequences of failure. That included the possible extinction of nearly one-third of the earth's species, a threatened meltdown of the Greenland or western Antarctic ice sheets that could raise sea levels by several meters and a growing lack of water for millions of people within a few decades.
To avert those disasters, he said, emissions of greenhouse gases must level off by 2015 and then drop sharply.
Developed and Western countries have been haggling for the last year on new carbon emissions limits for industrial countries, on channeling financial and technical aid to poorer countries and on setting up the rules and institutions to govern a new international climate regime.
The credit crisis that struck financial markets full force this year has further complicated the process. As investment cash dries up and oil prices drop, fewer funds are available for green energy projects.
"All of us are today concerned with the financial crisis," Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland said. "But we must understand that financial crises happened in the past and will happen in the future, but our work for the environment should be timeless."
Poland, which is taking over chairmanship of the climate negotiations for the next year, was also trying to safeguard its coal-dependent economy as the European Union decides how it will meet its goal of cutting emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020.
The EU was holding a critical meeting next week to discuss what obligations each of its 27 members will face.
"We want to protect each weak country," Tusk said later. "But we are willing to create and adapt the package, not to reject it." He told the conference that Poland, which relies on coal for 93 percent of its power generation, is doing all it can to rein in its carbon emissions but cannot switch to other energy sources quickly.
"All of us must show understanding to each other, we must be patient with each other," Tusk said.
The history of climate talks has been burdened by a conflict pitting the United States, which denounced the Kyoto pact as imbalanced and harmful to its economy, against rapidly developing countries like China, India and Brazil, which objected to measures that could limit development and their ability to ease poverty for millions of their citizens.
The negotiations achieved a breakthrough last year when the developing countries agreed to help lower global emissions as long as they received the technology and finances to move toward lower carbon economies.
The Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008
BEIJING: Beijing said Monday that it had already reached its target number of 256 "blue-sky days" this year with the help of ambitious environmental measures the city imposed to cut emissions for the Olympic Games.
The notoriously polluted city of 17 million reached the clean-air day target on Sunday, 31 days ahead of schedule, Beijing's Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said.
"Our quality of our city's air has shown constant improvement over the last 10 years," Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the bureau, said in a statement.
Beijing had only 100 blue-sky days in 1998, when it introduced a clean-air campaign and began investing more than $15 billion to improve air quality, according to Xinhua, the official news agency.
The long-term measures as well as more drastic efforts taken ahead of the Olympic Games in August helped the city reach the goal, the bureau said.
Beijing pulled half of the city's 3.3 million vehicles off the roads, halted most construction and closed some factories in the capital and surrounding provinces during the Games.
The Olympics proved that controlling emissions was the main way to reduce pollution, the bureau said. Car emissions, Beijing's main source of pollution, were reduced 60 percent from a year earlier because of the measures, it said.
So far this year levels of inhalable particulate matter - tiny dust particles that are among the worst pollutants - were reduced 16 percent from a year earlier, and other pollutants like carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide showed reductions of more than 20 percent, the bureau said.
China's air pollution index, which ranges from 1 to 500, uses a standard calculation derived from levels of major pollutants. A reading below 50 is considered good, and 51 to 100 is moderate. Below 100 is considered a blue-sky day.
Only 56 days have measured "good" so far this year, the bureau said. But environmentalists say a blue-sky day is still more polluted than what is considered healthy by the World Health Organization.
Steven Andrews, an independent environmental consultant based in Washington, said Beijing's assertions of improved air quality were not reliable because the city had moved monitoring stations to less-polluted areas and had varied the way it measured pollutants since 1998.
"They've measured different things during that time period, and it has a huge impact on the number of days that meet the national standard," Andrews said in an interview by telephone.
Such inconsistencies mean that the increase in the number of blue-sky days may be due to the change of monitoring locations, rather than a reduction in overall pollution levels, he said.
By Katrin Bennhold
Monday, December 1, 2008
PARIS: The police treatment of a journalist accused of libel, who was dragged from his home in front of his young sons, has raised questions about freedom of speech in France and the tactics employed by the police and the judicial system here.
At 6:40 a.m. last Friday, Vittorio de Filippis, a writer and former publisher of the left-leaning newspaper Libération, opened the door to three armed police officers as his 14-year-old son watched and another son, aged 10, listened through the bedroom door.
In an interview Monday, Filippis said he was refused a telephone call to his lawyer, handcuffed on his way to the tribunal and strip-searched twice before being taken to see a judge and formally charged with libel against the founder of the French Internet provider Free, Xavier Niel.
By Monday, the affair had grown into a polarizing national debate. Opposition politicians and rights groups warned of an ever more repressive climate for journalists, while two ministers in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government defended the police and the judge who ordered the detention of Filippis.
Later in the day, however, Sarkozy's office issued a statement indicating that he wanted to downgrade libel from a criminal offense to a civil offense. A draft bill decriminalizing libel would be discussed in Parliament at the start of 2009, the statement said.
According to Justice Minister Rachida Dati, Filippis had ignored repeated court summonses before Justice Muriel Josié signed the warrant to bring him in by force. When someone "does not comply with summons, we send him a warrant to bring him in," Dati told lawmakers in the Senate, France's upper house of Parliament, on Monday, calling the action taken in the case of Filippis "completely normal."
There was some confusion as to whether Filippis ever received a summons. Officials in the prosecutor's office said three summonses had been sent, in June, July and August this year. Filippis said that he never received one, though he was careful not to entirely exclude the possibility of having missed "a letter or two" in the correspondence involving the Niel case.
But beyond the squabbles over legal procedure, the case has highlighted the larger question of how much freedom of speech exists here. France ranks 35th in press freedom in a list of countries established by Reporters Without Borders - just below Mali - and Sarkozy himself has not shied from suing a journalist perceived to be hostile.
One issue raised publicly by Filippis's lawyer and privately by judicial and police officials, was whether a forced summons and temporary detention was warranted in a libel case.
"This sort of treatment just does not exist in libel cases normally because they are not punishable by even one day in prison," said Libération's lawyer, Jean-Paul Lévy, adding that in 33 years of defending the newspaper in libel cases, he had never seen such violence.
"We have no memories of this type of method ever being used for a publisher," said an official in the prosecutor's office, where an administrative inquiry has been started to investigate whether the judge's warrant was inappropriate. A senior police official concurred: "It is bizarre that this warrant was ever signed in this case. It seems totally disproportionate."
The case dates to the evening of Oct. 27, 2006, when Libération ran an article about a two-year suspended prison sentence that had just been handed to Niel in an investigation linked to prostitution. One reader comment posted under the article on the newspaper's Web site under the pseudonym of Yves regretted that the sentence was not harsher, prompting Niel to sue Filippis, who was then publisher and under French law responsible for the content of the newspaper.
It wasn't Niel's first libel case against Libération: The newspaper has won four others Niel brought against it that are now under appeal, Lévy said.
Describing the events last Friday, Filippis asked, "Was it excess zeal of one judge, or is this a sign that life is going to become even tougher for journalists in France?"
By Simon Romero
Monday, December 1, 2008
CAMP SZUTS, French Guiana: There was no other way to put it: Stiven Baird, an American in the French Foreign Legion, looked terrible.
A week into the legion's jungle warfare course here in the equatorial rain forest, he was famished after eating nothing for three days but some agouti, a rodent that resembles a large, tailless rat.
An obstacle course with Tarzanesque leaps from ropes depleted his stamina. A predawn swim in caiman-inhabited waters tested his nerves. Drinking dirty river water disgusted him.
"I am just exhausted," the gaunt Baird, 30, said, before faintly uttering in French, "Fatigué, fatigué." But when asked why he joined the legion a year ago, his eyes lighted up a bit as he described an apparently dreary past life as a truck driver in Virginia.
"I wanted to see the world and learn some French," he said, as the Russian overseer of the course, Sergeant Sergei Provpolski, barked at him to join other legionnaires on a trot through the jungle.
"There are easier ways to learn French," said Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Kopecky, an officer in the French Army who was observing Baird's predicament.
Yet that evening, Kopecky and other officers raised glasses of Esprit de Corps, a red Côtes de Provence vintage made from the legion's own vineyards near Marseille. At a dining hall overlooking the Approuague River, they boasted of taking recruits from 140 countries and turning them into mercenaries in the service of France.
"We don't accept the hardened criminals anymore, the murderers or rapists, so this makes our job easier," said Captain Samir Benykrelef, the commander of Camp Szuts.
Formed in the 19th century as a way for France to enforce its colonial empire with foreign adventurers, the legion has survived countless challenges, including the French loss of the legion's North African birthplace, Algeria.
But in this sparsely populated overseas French department, a former penal colony wedged between Suriname and Brazil, it has acquired a postcolonial mission protecting the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, some 110 miles to the northwest, which each year launches into orbit about half of the world's commercial satellite payloads.
As temperatures soar to 90 degrees in the shade of transplanted baobab trees, legionnaires patrol Kourou, a quiet town of 20,000, their shaved heads shielded from the sun under white pillbox-style hats known as képis blancs.
They guard the four-decade-old space complex from terrorists who could emerge from the surrounding jungle. (There is always a first time.)
On launch days, legionnaires swap their képis for green berets and man artillery stations on roads down which rolls the odd Peugeot or Renault.
One of the most action-packed scenes in Kourou can be glimpsed nightly at the Bar des Sports on the Avenue des Frères Kennedy. Legionnaires with aiguillettes, or braids, dangling from their starched uniforms pack bar stools next to scantily clad women from Brazilian cities like Macapá and Belém.
At this locale on a recent Friday evening, the legion seemed to have kept its rough edges. Instead of the wine preferred by their officers, legionnaires downed whiskey mixed with an energy drink called Long Horn. A band belted out forró, music from northeastern Brazil. Couples swarmed the dance floor.
"This is where we come to forget why we're stationed here," said Andrey Korivitsky, 28, a legionnaire from Belarus who resembles Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
The boredom legionnaires complain about in Kourou contrasts with the scene back at Camp Szuts, where the barracks are named for distant battles of decades past, like Vauxaillon and Stuttgart.
Instructors at the camp operate one of the most grueling courses in jungle warfare and survival, opening it to Special Forces from around the world, like the Navy Seals. But its main purpose is preparing legionnaires for hardships in places where France still uses them for military intervention, like Chad, Djibouti or Ivory Coast.
"We are the grunts who are supposed to suffer, like your marines, at the hands of sadists," said Sergeant Ivan Grezdo, 33, a Slovakian forced to exit the course after cracking two ribs.
The course offers a window into the culture of the legion, long dominated by Germans who flooded its ranks after World War II. Now, enlistees from former Soviet bloc countries constitute most of the legion's 7,700 men (no women can join), with the number of Latin Americans, particularly Colombians and Brazilians, rising fast. Officers say Interpol background checks weed out most undesirables. Americans account for only about 1 percent of legionnaires.
"Americans in the legion tend to be the Beau Geste types, the idealists, making them easy pickings for the bullies and malcontents," said Jaime Salazar, 34, a man from Indiana who joined the legion, deserted, then recounted it all in a book, "Legion of the Lost."
Indeed, the Americans in the legion seem a bit less hard-boiled than other enlistees. "Pick an area on the map where there's been a recent crisis, and that area will be a good source of legionnaires," said Corporal Buys Francois, 43, a South African who joined 11 years ago.
At 11:45 a.m. on a recent Monday, Francois and a handful of other grisly legion elders from Hungary, Poland and China could be found on break at the camp's dimly lighted canteen, sipping Kronenbourg beers. Most agreed it was worth sticking it out for 15 years, when they are eligible for French pensions.
"We call the new entrants Generation PlayStation because they're so soft," said Francois, who claimed he joined the legion after seeing action in South Africa's army.
"Now we're taking the ex-husbands running from alimony," he chaffed, "and all these guys with university degrees."
Turning men on the lam, and some learned ones, into legionnaires has never been easy. When the legion's Third Infantry Regiment relocated here from Madagascar in the 1970s, officers ordered it to build an asphalt road by hacking its way through the jungle.
At a small zoo at Camp Szuts, new arrivals must get acquainted with a few captured animals, including an ocelot, a tarantula, a red caiman, an anaconda and a jaguar named Fred.
"Most of these beasts are no friend of humans, but I would especially not want to cross the fer-de-lance or a pack of peccaries," said Benykrelef, 33, the commander, as he petted an iguana. "At least the peccary is good to eat."
What makes someone want to kill a wild boar with his own hands, or suffer degradation from Slavic drillmasters, or risk fracturing his rib cage on a leap down a rain forest gorge?
"The money," said a Brazilian legionnaire who gave his full name as Roberto Luís.
As a fireman back in Recife in northeastern Brazil, Luís, 29, said he made the equivalent of 300 euros a month, about $384.
"Now I earn four times that amount and have the opportunity to become a French citizen," he said.
Of course, everyone entering the legion must hew to some unusual rules, like marching at 88 steps a minute, slower than the 120 steps a minute of other French military units.
And new legionnaires like Baird of Virginia must adopt pseudonyms, which often evoke their national origins, a tradition that seems to let them break free of the past, murky as it can be.
"I guess the spelling of Stiven is French," said Baird, mumbling, almost incoherently, that he had once studied engineering at Old Dominion University under the name Kevin Barnet.
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Pierre Savary
French human rights activists stopped feeding migrants on Monday in Calais, where hundreds are camped in the hope of illegally crossing into Britain, to force French authorities to take over.
About 200 migrants gathered at Calais port in northern France for the daily distribution of hot lunches provided by volunteers but instead were given only tea and bananas.
"The situation is becoming impossible. There are more and more migrants, we can't cope. The number of migrants goes up but not the number of volunteers," said Monique Delannoy, head of La Belle Etoile (Under the Stars), one of the groups involved.
Non-governmental groups have taken on the task of caring for migrants camping in and around Calais since a large Red Cross centre at nearby Sangatte was shut down in 2002.
Sangatte was opened in 1999 to cater for thousands of people who flocked to the area in the hope of hiding on ferries to Britain or in trucks crossing the Channel Tunnel.
Sangatte was closed in 2002 by then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, now France's president, under pressure from Britain which argued Sangatte was a magnet for illegal migrants.
Many of the migrants are trying to reach friends and families already in Britain while others believe they have a better chance of finding work there.
"We have been dealing with this problem for six years, since Sangatte was closed, but the French state and local authorities should be the ones taking charge of this humanitarian work," said Jean-Pierre Boutoille, a spokesman for the aid workers.
Calais city hall said it was searching for an alternative solution to the charity meals, but gave no details.
Volunteers said there had been a surge in migrants in recent months, particularly from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan.
"Lots of Afghans have arrived recently, including some very young ones. There are more than 500 migrants in Calais," said Sylvie Copyans, a member of the Salam volunteer group.
Salam planned to continue evening food distribution, even though it might be hard to manage now the lunches were scrapped.
"We're likely to see more people in the evening, but we'll continue. Someone has to do something for these people, we have no choice," said Copyans.
In the town of Steenvorde, some 70 km (44 miles) inland from Calais, volunteers have pitched tents to host migrants who spend their time by the motorway, waiting for a chance to hide in a truck during a fuel or meal stop.
The volunteers said Eritreans had slept in the tents at the weekend, the first migrants to make use of the makeshift camp.
(Writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Michael Roddy)
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Simon Evans
Seven-times winner Lance Armstrong will make a Tour de France comeback next year, his spokesman told Reuters on Monday.
The 37-year-old rider announced in September he was coming out of retirement for the 2009 season.
A cancer survivor, Armstrong won the Tour for a record seven consecutive years from 1999-2005.
The American retired following his 2005 victory and has since devoted himself to the fight against cancer - raising funds and awareness through his foundation.
Armstrong, who will race for Astana, had already confirmed that he would race the Giro d'Italia, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour of California and several of the one-day classic races.
The Texas-born former road race world champion and bronze medallist from the Sydney Olympics in 2000, had said he would make his first race back in the Tour Down Under around Adelaide, Australia in January.
Armstrong has had a strained relationship with the Tour de France organisers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), who said in October that his return would be "embarrassing."
The French daily newspaper L'Equipe, owned by ASO's parent company EPA (Editions Philippe Amaury), claimed three years ago that samples of Armstrong's urine from 1999 showed traces of the banned blood-boosting substance erythropoietin.
Armstrong, however, never tested positive and was cleared by a Dutch investigator appointed by the International Cycling Union.
The American has also questioned how safe he would be in France, expressing concerns about being targeted by fans.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez and Padraic Halpin)
The Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008
PARIS: France's glamorous first lady threw her considerable star power behind the global fight against AIDS on Monday, as the world tallied the victims of the HIV virus that infects a new person every 15 seconds.
As ceremonies marked World AIDS Day, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy signed on to become a goodwill ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which said it has provided lifesaving treatment to two million people living with HIV worldwide.
"I think the world has become used to AIDS," the model-turned-singer told a news conference in Paris. "We no longer see it as a scandal or an emergency."
Bruni-Sarkozy, who lost her brother Virginio to AIDS two years ago, said her work will focus on helping women and children infected with HIV, the virus that causes the disease. She pledged to fight the stigma that is still attached to AIDS in many countries.
"There is no greater cruelty than to be excluded from your own family and your own community because you are infected with a deadly disease," she said.
Some 500,000 children are born each year infected with HIV and 290,000 of them died in 2007 as a result, the Global Fund said. With access to antiretroviral drugs, the risk of virus transmission from an HIV-positive mother to her baby can be slashed to less than five percent, it added.
Bruni-Sarkozy said she would divert the constant media attention she has attracted since her whirlwind wedding to President Nicolas Sarkozy this year toward the battle against AIDS. She also planned to tap her extensive contacts in the music and fashion industries for fundraising.
Irish singer and activist Bono called her appointment "a great coup" for the Global Fund.
An estimated 33 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus, the vast majority of them in Africa, but no country is spared.
In a rare government disclosure, Iran said Monday it has registered more than 18,000 HIV-positive citizens and estimated the true number of infected to be as high as 100,000.
China — which for years also covered up the disease — vowed to do more to tackle the stigma. The government promised to strengthen education about AIDS prevention, increase condom distribution and do more to reach high-risk groups. An estimated 700,000 Chinese have the virus.
The rate of HIV infection in Europe almost doubled between 2000 and 2007, reaching the highest level ever recorded in the region, the health agencies of the U.N. and European Union said in a report.
South Africa has an estimated 5.5 million people living with the HIV virus — the highest total of any country. About 1,000 South Africans die each day of the disease and complications like tuberculosis. Even more become infected because prevention messages have not worked.
Yet for years, the South African government of former President Thabo Mbeki played down the extent of the crisis. Mbeki himself doubted the link between HIV and AIDS. His health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, openly mistrusted conventional AIDS drugs and instead promoted the value of lemons, garlic, beetroot and the African potato.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health last month calculated that government delays in introducing AIDS drugs between 2000 and 2005 cost more than 330,000 lives in South Africa.
"We have to mourn the lives of those we have not saved," said Barbara Hogan, the health minister who replaced Tshabalala-Msimang after Mbeki was ousted in October.
She promised to improve HIV treatment and prevention programs, and to increase the supply of drugs to HIV positive women to stop them from passing the virus on to their unborn children.
The top U.N. official dealing with the disease, Peter Piot, joined South African political leaders and hundreds of activists to show his support for the new administration. Church bells tolled and workers put down their tools as South Africa observed a minute of silence for AIDS victims.
The South African government wants to halve new infections by 2011 and ensure that 80 percent of those with the disease get treatment and care.
But it faces a mammoth task. The Global Fund has rejected a South African request for nearly $92 million over the next two years for AIDS projects and $68 million for TB prevention and treatment.
AIDS advocates accused the country's former health minister of failing to respect the fund's strict operating rules.
Associated Press correspondents Ali Akbar Dareini in Iran, Gillian Wong in China and Claire Nullis in South Africa contributed to this report.
By Somini Sengupta and Robert F. Worth
Monday, December 1, 2008
MUMBAI: In a new sign of rising tensions between two nuclear-armed neighbors, Indian Foreign Ministry officials summoned Pakistan's ambassador on Monday evening and told him Pakistanis were responsible and must be punished for last week's terrorist attacks here, in which 188 people were killed over three days in the heart of India's commercial capital.
The Indian officials told the Pakistani ambassador, Shahid Malik, that they expected that "strong action would be taken" against those responsible for the attack, according to a statement released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
The statement added that Pakistan's actions "needed to match the sentiments expressed by its leadership that it wishes to have a qualitatively new relationship with India."
Pakistani officials say that they have not found links between the attackers and militant groups based in Pakistan, but that they would act swiftly if such links were found. The attacks have raised tensions between the two countries to a level not seen since 2001, when an attack on the Indian Parliament pushed them to the brink of war.
The United States sought Monday to calm hostilities between India and Pakistan, who have three wars behind them. As questions remained about whether more than 10 gunmen were involved in the conspiracy, the United States sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India.
Speaking in London on her way there, Rice called on Pakistan in blunt terms "to follow the evidence wherever it leads."
"I don't want to jump to any conclusions myself on this, but I do think that this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation," Rice said, referring to Pakistan's help in the investigations.
Indian forces killed nine of the attackers and captured one gunman, but it is unclear if other attackers remain at large and whether the terrorists received assistance from accomplices positioned on the ground before the assaults began.
The lone captured gunman, who is said to have identified himself as Ajmal Amir Qasab and as a Pakistani citizen, told police officials that more than 10 people may have been involved in the attacks, though his testimony has been inconsistent.
Investigators with the Indian Antiterror Squad said they believed that accomplices may have left weapons at the hotels for the gunmen and that names and telephone numbers of five residents of Mumbai were found in the cellphones and wallets of the attackers.
Reuters and other news agencies reported Monday that Qasab had also said that he belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organization based in Pakistan that is blamed for attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere. Qasab was also reported to have said that he was trained at a camp in Pakistan by a former Pakistani military official.
Indian officials have confirmed that a satellite phone belonging to one of the attackers was used to call a phone number in the Pakistani city of Karachi during the assault.
Despite allegations that groups based in Pakistan had some involvement in the attacks, Indian officials have not explicitly accused the Pakistani government of responsibility or wrongdoing. Responses that are under consideration, officials and political analysts said, range from the suspension of diplomatic relations to the most extreme and least likely, a cross-border raid into Pakistan against suspected training camps for militants.
Pakistan has denied any role in the attacks, calling them a "barbaric act of terrorism." On Monday, the Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said on television that the terrorists had no links to any government, and were "nonstate actors," The Associated Press reported.
Most of the killings took place in two luxury Mumbai hotels, the Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi. At least 28 of those killed were foreigners, including 6 Americans and 8 Israelis.
As the last bodies were finally pulled from the Taj Mahal hotel on Monday, the Indian public, angry and anguished over the bloody attack on their country's most glamorous and cosmopolitan city, pressed government officials to explain how a small band of terrorists could have unleashed such large-scale violence.
The questioning became pointed enough that Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister of Maharashtra State and a member of the governing Congress Party, offered Monday to resign.
"I accept moral responsibility for the terror attacks," Deshmukh said at a news conference.
Party leaders were considering the resignation offer Monday night.
Earlier in the day, Deshmukh's deputy, R.R. Patil, officially stepped down. Patil's departure, and Deshmukh's offer to leave, came a day after Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned over the failure of his ministry to thwart or quickly contain the horrific attacks.
On Monday, Paliniappan Chidambaram, the finance minister who was appointed to succeed Patil as home minister, briefly addressed reporters, saying that India would "respond with determination" to the attacks.
"I want to assure the people of India, on behalf of the government, that we will respond with determination and resolve to the grave threat posed to the Indian nation," Patil said.
"This is the threat to the very idea of India, the very soul of India, the India that we know, the India that we love - namely a secular, plural, tolerant and open society. I have no doubt in my mind that ultimately the idea of India will triumph."
The chief of police in Maharashtra state, A.N. Roy, said Monday on the Indian television station NDTV that an investigative team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had begun working in Mumbai.
The Indian government also announced several measures to bolster antiterrorism efforts while struggling to calibrate a response to what it viewed as complicity by Pakistan.
While there was no immediate suggestion of Pakistani-Indian hostilities, it is clear that India must carefully consider how to deal with its concerns about Pakistan.
On the one hand, public pressure compels the Singh administration to take a tough stance, at least publicly. On the other hand, his government may not want to squander a chance at negotiating peace with Pakistan's elected civilian government.
In any event, the mere idea of Indian-Pakistani hostilities cannot bring much comfort to Washington, which needs Pakistan to focus its attention on curbing radical groups on the Afghan border.
At the same time, particularly with Indian elections less than six months away, officials are keenly aware of the need to shore up confidence in the nation's security apparatus.
Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Jeremy Kahn and Ruth Fremson in Mumbai; Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar in New Delhi; Isabel Kershner in Jerusalem; Mark McDonald in Hong Kong; and Graham Bowley in New York.
Monday, December 1, 2008
We share the horror, the pain and the disbelief that Indians are feeling as they absorb the appalling details of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai that left nearly 200 dead. We also recognize and understand the questions Indians are asking themselves, and the anger they are feeling, about what some are calling their own 9/11.
How can their government have ignored the warning signs? A 2007 report to Parliament warned that the country's shores were poorly protected - and some or all of the attackers arrived by boat. Why weren't the police and the army better prepared to respond? Sharpshooters outside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel did not have telescopic sights, so they could not get off a shot for fear of killing hostages rather than the terrorists.
Most of all, who is to blame for such cruelty?
Deccan Mujahedeen, the group that claimed responsibility is unknown. But Indian and U.S. intelligence officials saw signs pointing to Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist group from the disputed region of Kashmir that is increasingly collaborating with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. What makes that especially frightening is that the group received training and support from Pakistan's intelligence services, before it was officially banned in 2002.
We fear that whoever was behind it, the carnage will unleash dangerous new furies between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. And we fear it will divert even more of Pakistan's attention and troops away from fighting extremists on its western border with Afghanistan.
India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has shown extraordinary forbearance. But there are already strong calls for him to retaliate - with or without proof of who was behind the attack. We urge him to consider the consequences.
India's leaders must be very careful not to ignite a religious war inside their own borders. Any military confrontation with Pakistan would be hugely costly in human life. The Bush administration must assure the Indians that it will bring all of the pressure it can on Pakistan to cooperate fully with the investigation.
We were heartened when Pakistan's civilian government immediately agreed to send the new chief of the country's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, to India. We hoped that meant the government was confident that the ISI played no role in the attack. Or that it was finally prepared to purge its ranks of all those who have aided and abetted extremists.
Unfortunately, the offer was quickly withdrawn after the Pakistani army and opposition parties objected. The government then announced that a lower-level intelligence official would go at some point. By Saturday, Pakistani officials were blustering as if they were the victims. Despite all of the recent horrors Pakistan has suffered, its military and intelligence services still do not understand that the terrorists pose a mortal threat to their own country.
Washington's most important role will be to urge the Indians and Pakistanis to step back from the brink. The next administration will then have to move quickly to encourage serious negotiations over the future of Kashmir and genuine cooperation to defeat extremists.
Monday, December 1, 2008
NEW DELHI: An FBI team visited a restaurant and luxury hotel in Mumbai on Monday where Islamist militants struck last week in an attack that killed 188 people, including six Americans.
"They are here to help with the investigation," a U.S. embassy spokesman in New Delhi said.
There is growing fury at intelligence lapses that many Indians believe let 10 Islamist gunmen attack Mumbai's two best-known luxury hotels and other landmarks in the city of 18 million.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to arrive in India on Wednesday in an effort to lower tensions with Pakistan.
She has urged India's nuclear-armed rival to give "absolute, total"' cooperation in finding those responsible for the attacks last week.
Indian officials have said the gunmen were from an anti-India group based in Pakistan.
"Our security people will cooperate in any way they can, including coming to India to offer assistance," David Mulford, the U.S. ambassador to New Delhi, said Saturday.
The FBI team was briefly detained at the city's airport Sunday due to an official "miscommunication," Indian newspapers reported.
They were held back because they did not have permission for the special forensic equipment they had brought, the Economic Times said, citing airport authorities.
"They had arrived by a commercial flight. We let them go in the evening after questioning them," a customs official told the Mumbai Mirror.
The U.S. embassy declined to comment on the incident.
By Keith Bradsher
Monday, December 1, 2008
MUMBAI, India: For decades, luxury hotels have been oases for travelers in developing countries, places to mingle with the local elite, enjoy a lavish meal or a dip in the pool and sleep in a clean, safe room.
But last week's lethal attacks on two of India's most famous hotels — coming just two months after a huge truck bomb devastated the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan — have underlined the extent to which these hotels are becoming magnets for terrorists. Worse, hotel executives and security experts say that little can be done to stop extensively trained gunmen with military assault rifles and grenades who start attacks like the ones that left this city's Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace & Tower strewn with bodies.
P.R.S. Oberoi, the chairman of the Oberoi Group, said at a news conference over the weekend that he had directed his company's hotels to step up security after the Islamabad bombing. The Oberoi banned anyone from parking in front of its hotel here for fear that a car bomb could destroy the glass wall at the front of the lobby, a risk at many hotels.
But those protections did not deter the attackers, who entered the Oberoi on foot.
Oberoi questioned whether any hotel could defend against such an assault.
"The authorities have to help us," he said, by preventing attacks from occurring at all.
The Taj, it turns out, had warning, according to both an Indian government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and Ratan Tata, the chairman of the company that owns the hotel. In an interview on CNN, Tata said the hotel had temporarily increased security after being warned of a possible terrorist attack. But he said those measures were eased shortly before last week's attacks and could not have prevented gunmen from entering the hotel.
American hotel chains have policies against discussing security precautions, but watched the Mumbai hotel sieges closely.
"We never talk about security measures in our hotels because to talk about what we do would compromise them, but I think it's fair to say what happened in Mumbai is going to re-energize them," said Vivian Deuschl, the spokeswoman for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, a Marriott subsidiary.
Some hotels in Asia already take elaborate precautions, particularly in countries with histories of attacks on Western luxury hotels.
At the Grand Hyatt in Jakarta, Indonesia, for example, guards check the trunks of all vehicles and even use mirrors to check cars' underbodies for explosives before letting them drive to the entrance. Guests' baggage is opened and checked by hand for suspicious objects, and everyone must go through a metal detector before entering the building.
In Pakistan's major cities, where hotels have been targets before, already-tight security at some hotels has become even more intrusive since the Marriott bombing. Guests have to pass through at least one, and often, several security checkpoints on their way into the hotels; some are staffed by paramilitaries. At the luxury Serena Hotel in Islamabad, those who wish to enter are grilled about where they are going and whom they are meeting.
But security experts say such measures — and even some lesser ones — will be difficult to implement outside of war zones or countries where hotels have already been made targets, even after the attacks in Mumbai.
"It is incredibly difficult to have a quick-fix solution to what we saw," said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert with the Swedish National Defense College. "You are stuck with the dilemma of having a complete lockdown. Tourists don't want that. They want to participate in the culture, they want to experience it."
Hotels have some built-in design problems for those seeking to protect them from terrorists. Long hallways can turn into dangerous mazes during the type of attacks that occurred in Mumbai. And the Oberoi and the old wing of the Taj hotel, where most of the fighting took place, both have high, central atriums, as many hotels do. This proved to be a vulnerability.
After throwing grenades and directing automatic weapons fire at staff and diners in ground-floor lobbies and restaurants, the attackers at each hotel ascended the atriums. This allowed them to hunt down guests while dropping grenades and shooting at commandos below.
The Oberoi Group employs many plainclothes security officers in its hotels, but they are unarmed, Oberoi said.
J. K. Dutt, the director general of India's National Security Guards, the commando force that took the lead in the fighting, said Sunday in a televised news conference that the most difficult gunman to attack in the Taj hotel was one who ascended a spiral staircase and took up a position behind an extremely thick pillar that was part of the 105-year-old building's original structure.
Particularly at the Taj, the attackers seemed to have detailed knowledge of the building's layout, Dutt said. They kept moving among large halls with multiple entrances, not allowing themselves to be cornered in small rooms without other exits. By contrast, the commandos and the police had old blueprints of the massive, labyrinthine hotel that did not clearly show which passageways were connected and which were blocked by walls, and did not show recent construction, Dutt said.
The police and first-response agencies should be working with the hotel industry to devise crisis action plans that would include computer programs detailing all internal and external aspects of hotel building structure, said Michael Coldrick, a London-based security professional and a former explosives specialist with Scotland Yard. For example, a prerecorded DVD walk-through of a hotel could be used to brief special forces assault teams to make sure that they know what to expect.
Hotels may also ask staff to keep a closer eye on customers. At some point, Coldrick said, "We might see cleaning ladies with explosives detectors."
In the end, several security experts say, no system is foolproof.
The Marriott in Islamabad, which had been struck in the past, had layers of security in place on the night the truck bomber approached. The truck was stopped by security guards who check vehicles before allowing them through a hydraulic barrier.
Those precautions are credited with saving lives; the truck never made it past the barrier and closer to the hotel, where the blast would have been more devastating. Still, more than 50 people died and more than 250 were wounded.
The Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Militants destroyed trucks ferrying Humvees to Western forces in Afghanistan on Monday in an attack that killed two people and underscored the vulnerability of the crucial supply line.
The raid on a terminal in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar came as the country faces rising tensions with its eastern neighbor India in the wake of the terror attacks in Mumbai.
New Delhi has said the attack was carried out by Pakistani gunmen. Islamabad has said the militants had no link to the government and has promised to cooperate with the inquiry, but the accusations have triggered fears of a flare-up between the nuclear-armed rivals that could severely affect the U.S.-led antiterror campaign in the region.
Peshawar, which sits along the supply route from Pakistan to Afghanistan, has seen a surge in violence in recent weeks, including the slaying of an American working on a U.S.-funded aid project.
The city lies close to the lawless, tribal regions along the Afghan border, where Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding.
Several gunmen fired rockets and automatic weapons at the Faisal terminal, a depot on the edge of the city for trucks that carry vehicles and other supplies. A driver and a clerk died in the attack, which also destroyed 12 trucks, said police officer Ahsanullah Khan, giving no more details.
An AP Television News reporter saw two Humvee military vehicles on board the trucks that were gutted by flames in the attack.
Up to 75 percent of the supplies for Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan pass through Pakistan after being unloaded from ships at the Arabian sea port of Karachi.
NATO says it is investigating alternative supply routes through Central Asian nations to reach its forces, which are fighting a resurgent Taliban seven years after the fall of the Taliban.
The alliance and U.S. officials say losses along the supply route are not affecting their operations in the country in any way, however.
In early November, suspected Taliban militants hijacked several trucks carrying Humvees near the Khyber Pass and paraded them for TV cameras, in what was seen as major propaganda boost for the insurgents.
Pakistan halted traffic along the road for several days while it arranged for armed troops to guard the slow-moving convoys.
Al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the northwestern border region are blamed for rising attacks in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan.
Pakistani troops are battling the insurgents in at least two regions, including the Swat Valley, the scene of a suicide attack Monday on a security checkpoint that killed 8 people and wounded 40, authorities said.
The bomber detonated his car while queuing up at the checkpoint, an officer at the Swat media center said on customary condition of anonymity. The identities of the dead were not known.
Meanwhile, fighting between rival political and ethnic gangs continued in parts of Karachi, raising the death toll to 32 in three days of violence, said city police chief Waseem Ahmed.
Gang fighting is common in Karachi, the largest city and commercial hub of Pakistan.
Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.
Monday, December 1, 2008
KABUL: Two U.S. soldiers based in Afghanistan are being investigated for alleged abuse of Afghan detainees, the U.S. military said on Monday.
Captain Roger T. Hill and 1st Sergeant Tommy L. Scott, both of the 1st battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army will be investigated under Article 32, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury hearing.
In 2005, two U.S. soldiers were charged with abusing Afghan detainees at a base in the Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan and media have alleged abuse of prisoners at Bagram, the U.S. army's main base in Afghanistan.
The investigation will take place at U.S. base Khost province, southeastern Afghanistan, a statement from the U.S. military said.
There are approximately 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, either under NATO command or in a separate U.S.-led coalition force.
(Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Charles Dick)
Monday, December 1, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: A suicide bomber killed eight civilians and two policemen in a crowded bazaar in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand on Monday, the provincial police chief said.
The attack in Musa Qala town was aimed at a police convoy, Assadullah told Reuters by phone. A spokeswoman for the British force which has troops in the area said there were no casualties among its soldiers.
(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin, Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Laura MacInnis
The U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday condemned abuses against civilians in Congo, especially sexual attacks, and called on government and rebel forces to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need.
At an emergency session, the Council also backed a stronger mandate for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo "to increase its ability to address the dire security and humanitarian situation in the region."
The resolution, introduced by Egypt on behalf of African states, was adopted by consensus.
France, which on behalf of the European Union had requested the special session, withdrew its earlier text so the 47-nation body could speak in one voice on atrocities in the eastern province of North Kivu.
More than 250,000 people have been driven from their homes since fighting erupted between Congolese forces and Tutsi rebel General Laurent Nkunda in August and an unknown number have died in widespread violence and looting.
The Human Rights Council resolution "condemns the acts of violence, human rights violations, and abuses committed in Kivu, in particular sexual violence and the recruitment by the militia of child soldiers, and stresses the importance of bringing all perpetrators to justice."
It said that MONUC -- the U.N. peacekeeping force with 17,000 troops in eastern Congo -- needed more support to better protect bystanders to the conflict and restore stability.
The resolution "calls upon all states to immediately provide assistance to MONUC, to increase its ability to address the dire security and humanitarian situation in the region."
The Council also expressed "serious concern" about the conditions in which uprooted people are living in the midst of the conflict, and said warring parties needed to allow the safe passage of aid workers and supplies.
It called on all sides of the conflict "to allow access and free movement of people and goods as well as to enable humanitarian agencies to provide badly needed food, water, medication and shelter."
The Geneva-based Council was created in 2006 to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission. It has previously held special sessions on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, on Myanmar, on Sudan's Darfur region, and on the global food crisis.
Its resolutions do not include legal or other sanctions, but are seen to carry diplomatic weight.
Not everyone was satisfied with the Council's Congo text. The Geneva-based UN Watch group said it was hoping to see a U.N. rights expert assigned to the region, and said abuses "making eastern Congo a living hell" needed to be properly investigated.
"Today's resolution is a major disappointment," it said.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Fredrik Dahl
Iran has designed a radar-evading aircraft, the head of its air force said on Monday, the Islamic Republic's latest announcement of progress on military hardware amid persistent tension with the West over its nuclear plans.
Brigadier General Hassan Shahsafi was also quoted as saying the air force had test-fired a new, Iranian-made air-to-air heat-seeking missile with a range of 40 km (25 miles), saying there were plans to extend it to 100 km.
Iran often says it has made advances in its arms but Western analysts say it is tough to assess the claims as few details are usually released. One analyst said the country's technology was still no match for U.S., European, Russian or Chinese designs.
Shahsafi told state radio that Iranian aerospace experts had designed the aircraft and military researchers were now seeking to make a small prototype.
"I think we will finish its research part by the end of the year and then we will get on with the production phase," he said, referring to the Iranian year that ends in March.
On Monday's missile test, he said it pursued and took out a dummy target released from a second fighter jet, Iran's English-language Press TV said on its web site.
Iran often stages war games or tests weapons to show its determination to counter any attack by the United States or Israel against sites they believe are to make nuclear arms.
Iran, the world's fourth-largest crude oil producer, says its uranium enrichment activities are aimed at making fuel for a network of planned electricity-generating nuclear power plants.
The United States says it wants diplomacy to end the nuclear row, but neither Washington or Israel have ruled out military action if that fails. Iran has vowed to retaliate if pushed.
Military analysts say Iran's real ability to respond could be with more unconventional tactics, such as deploying small hit-and-run craft to attack oil tankers, or using allies in the Middle East to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.
Pieter Wezeman, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said he did not believe Iran had the technology to design a modern fighter plane.
"The Iranian military industry is significant in size but it has never been able to design or produce any modern weapon which is comparable to anything that is produced in western Europe, the United States, Russia or China," Wezeman said by telephone.
"They would be able to defend themselves with more guerrilla-style methods," he said.
Iran is estimated to have 280 combat aircraft, including Russian-made MiG 29 aircraft and old U.S.-built F-4 Phantoms, but serviceability may be 80 percent or lower, analysts say.
The United States, which has not had ties with Tehran since 1980, has imposed sanctions on Iran that make it difficult for Tehran to buy spare parts for military and civilian aircraft.
(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Dominic Evans)
2 attacks kill at least 30 Iraqis
By Dan Barry
Monday, December 1, 2008
KALAUPAPA, Hawaii: The peace of morning comes to the small village of famous isolation called Kalaupapa. Breezes rustle the berry bushes.
Myna birds call from treetops to wild pigs below. Life stirs on this spit of land between the soaring Molokai cliffs and the stretching Pacific abyss.
The residents who call themselves patients move about in the hours before the day's few tourists arrive. Here is Danny, who first came here in 1942, lingering a moment in the peekaboo sun; Ivy, who arrived in 1956, standing outside the gas station she runs; Boogie, here since 1959, driving a clattering old van.
Boogie, whose given name is Clarence Kahilihiwa, gently explains why he considers himself a patient, not a resident. Some people, the state health employees and National Park Service workers, live here as part of their jobs. Others live here because this is where they were sent, against their will, long ago.
You see, he says, "We are - and you are not."
Those who are have Hansen's disease, also known as leprosy. Those who are represent the last few of 8,000 people who, over a century's span, were banished to Kalaupapa because of an illness once called the "separating sickness." Many never again felt the embrace of loved ones living somewhere beyond the volcanic formations that rise like stone sentries just offshore.
Hawaii effectively liberated Kalaupapa by abolishing its isolation laws in 1969 - more than 20 years after the development of medicine to control and cure the disease. Earlier this year, the state's Legislature formally apologized to the patients and their families for "any restrictions that caused them undue pain as the result of government policies surrounding leprosy."
Today, just 24 patients are left: 24 people who experienced the counterintuitive twinning of loneliness and community, of all that dying and all that living. Here, you may have grieved over the forced surrender of your newborn; you may also have rejoiced in finding a life partner who understood.
Ten live off island, including eight in a hospital in Honolulu, 53 miles, or 85 kilometers, away. The rest live in Kalaupapa, now a national historical park with restrictions befitting its almost sacred nature. When asked why he stays, Boogie provides an answer so easy it's complicated: "This is my home."
At 67, he is among the youngest patients, silver-haired and weather-beaten, quick to shake hands. When he was a young boy, a rosy spot appeared on his cheek, and his parents had no choice but to take him to a special hospital outside Honolulu. "When my parents left me," he says, "that is when I crossed the line."
Boogie moved nearly 50 years ago to Kalaupapa, where three siblings are now buried, including a sister who died at the age of 12. Although he has been off-island many times, visiting the mainland, shopping in Honolulu, his identity is here, where he has married twice and done everything from operate the theater's projector to preside over the Lion's Club.
He is also on the board of Ka'Ohana O Kalaupapa, an organization that advocates for patients and the preservation of the settlement, which was established in 1866 amid growing panic about leprosy's spread. We must remember the story of this place, he says, a story that began with the sorrowful arrival of nine men and three women.
His dust-covered van pulls up to the gas station, where his wife, Ivy, 72, aims a hose's lazy spray on the windshield. As a Kalaupapa patient, she has known both liberation's joy, with trips to the mainland and Europe, and confinement's anguish: Her two children from a previous marriage were taken away immediately after birth because that was the law.
Husband and wife of more than 30 years gaze at each other through the distortion of running water on glass. Then he continues on, past the post office, past the wharf where, once every summer, a barge pulls up with building supplies, furniture and the occasional new car.
"Christmas in July," they call it.
He turns onto a gravel stretch called Damien Road, past the overgrown spot where the famous patient Olivia Breitha - "Even if my skin is insensitive," she once wrote, "my heart and soul are not" - ran a chicken farm with her husband, John; past a tree-shrouded cemetery, where the rub of time has made tombstone almost indistinguishable from rock.
Farther on, Boogie points into a blur of dense green. "The picture of Damien, where he was kneeling down," he says, recalling a famous image. "It was here."
He reveres Father Damien, the strapping, strong-minded Roman Catholic missionary who came in 1873 to give hope and dignity to a place often called a "living tomb." With the help of patients, the priest improved St. Philomena Church, built houses, planted trees, created a water system, established a choir, nursed the living and gave proper burial to the dead.
After he contracted leprosy, Father Damien wrote that he was now "the happiest missionary in the world." He died in 1889 at the age of 49, and was buried a few yards from an open field that is believed to contain as many as 2,000 unmarked graves.
Father Damien's canonization is expected to take place late next year, and Boogie and Ivy plan to be there in Rome. For now, Boogie honors the man often called, simply, Damien, by pausing awhile at the priest's grave, hands clasped, head bowed.
The noon sun rises above Kalaupapa's lush solitude. Tourists, maybe two dozen in all, have traveled by mule down the cliff from "topside" Molokai, and are now lunching quietly in a grassy field.
Boogie remembers the Boy Scout camp that was near here; gone now. He greets a couple of the tourists and moves on.
Toward the end of the day, a stop is made at the care facility where there reside some patients who remember when visitors were required to don gowns and have police escorts. When patients lived in a swirl of don't touch this, don't go there. When there were dances, and musical shows, and lei-making contests, and extremely competitive softball games with bats especially adapted for hands that could no longer grip.
In one room, Makia Malo, a gifted storyteller of 74, sits in a wheelchair, sunglasses covering his compromised eyes. He so vividly recalls the morning he was sent as a boy to Kalaupapa that you share the child's excitement about boarding an airplane for the first time, even though you know the dreaded reason for the trip. In another room, Henry Nalaielua, 84, who wrote a memoir of his rich life in Kalaupapa, talks about the black-and-white photograph in his book, of a boy of 10, posed with hands across his chest to help document the state of his just-diagnosed disease. The boy glowers back at you from the harrowing past.
"I was scared and defiant," that boy as man says. "Or maybe I just didn't care to smile."
Who will tell the story of Kalaupapa after Henry has gone, and Makia and Ivy and Danny and Boogie? Boogie says he thinks about this all the time: "Every time one person dies, we get less and less."
Still, he believes he has had a good life, with a loving wife and a remote paradise to call home. He prays daily to Father Damien. And when sea breezes stir the whispers in the trees, he listens.
By W. Scott Thompson
Monday, December 1, 2008
Thailand is facing its third and greatest crisis since World War II and by far the greatest test of its monarch's power. It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend how so revered but distant a leader can wield such extraordinary powers, despite his merely "constitutional" role and numerous other constraints on his action.
The secret is not in the innate role of the throne, but in the style of this particular king. Twice before, in 1974 and 1992, when mobs threatened state order in their demands for a more democratic polity, Rama IX, or Bhumibol Adulyadej, waited day upon day to test the resilience of those he sought to favor, and to see if those he opposed could be forced to fade.
In 1974, students demanded an end to a particularly third-rate triumvirate, who had nonetheless empowered enormous economic growth. After bloodshed reached an intolerable level, by Thai standards, the king sent all three packing - to Boston and Taipei. He'd known them well and worked through them but realized their time had passed. And the king's power grew immeasurably in that decisive move.
Similarly in 1992, students seized the high ground against a coup-installed military regime, and again only after several hundred deaths did the king summon the two contenders to the palace - and cause them literally to crawl on the carpet to the elevated place of the monarch, all but foretelling their agreement to his dispensation.
He waits anew. This time he has a bigger task: the damage to the economy and political system by two years of demonstrations is far greater, and his own goal is much bigger. He wishes to bury forever the prospects of the only political leader in his 50-year reign to stand up to him and attempt to supplant him - Thaksin Shinawatra, a self-made billionaire and former police general who developed a huge base in the Thai countryside through demagogic policies and increasingly strident opposition to the "forces of the status quo" - a direct jab at the throne itself.
In fact the current crisis is a bit more complicated, for there are three players, each a descendant of forces set in motion when the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932.
First, the monarchy. From 1932 until about 1963, 17 years after the present king's accession, the throne was a faint glimmer of past glory. A junta that had seized power in 1957 began to use Bhumibol, but he proved cannier in using them, and that has been the pattern. He is now old and frail but intends to stick around until he's won this final round.
Secondly, the direct descendant of a group of Mussolini-like semi-fascists who staged a coup in 1932 is not the army, but Thaksin himself.
From 1948 a third group of Thais emerged around a progressive promoter, Pridi Panomyong, who founded a great university and inspired young democrats, but who wasn't able to maintain power against the better-armed rightist group who restored themselves to power. Students abroad encouraged democratic roots in the kingdom, demanding reforms and elections in country-wide demonstrations late in 1973, forcing the king's hand to prevent chaos. They have matured - if we call it that - into the People's Alliance for Democracy, the PAD, which now occupies airports, government buildings and has brought business virtually to a standstill.
There was always, though, a permanent government of foreign-educated princes who, even today, keep a tight hold on power.
Thaksin overwhelmingly won the elections he contested. Why then are the "democrats" in such opposition to him? It would be tempting to say, with Lenin, that he is the "principal enemy." They suspect that if left to his own devices he would rule eternally. Tolerance has never been Thaksin's virtue.
His ability to elicit the animosity of the throne came naturally, given the enormous electoral mandate he acquired in the countryside. In a variety of ways he made known that the national adoration of the king was old-fashioned.
Bhumibol is a gentle man but he has never countenanced opposition gently. It was he who signaled the army to move in September 2006 to depose Thaksin. But the government all but placed in power by him failed to move in the way he desired.
Secondly, the "democrats" were never quite so pure. Of course there is a spectrum of views in the PAD, including some very virtuous professed democrats. But there are also unscrupulous party hacks that make the organization work. And most of the professedly "democratic" opposition haven't flinched at such trivial details as military coups, martial law, and whatever else needed to rid the country of Thaksin or his allies forever. Thaksin was seen as an illegitimate upstart.
Why and how have they been able to show such determination? It's simple. The army is taking its cue from the palace, not from the government that rules in Thaksin's name. So it all but openly permits the chaos that has for the present ruined the travel industry and slowed down the economy.
And the demonstrators know that the king is plainly on their side. This time, more than 1974 and 1992, it would be trivial to say that democracy is what is at issue. It's whether or not those others, "unworthy to bear the dust under his shoes," as the royal inflection goes, can finally be worn out. Just wait - the king will wave his magic wand and the crisis will be over. The army - or some other appropriate delegate - will take power, and the country will find the patience to wear out the endurance of an expiring Thaksin, who in exile loses wealth and legitimacy by the day.
Thailand is paying an enormous price for this crisis, but in the end the king's determination to ensure a legacy where his type of people will rule, and Thailand will return to rapid economic growth and the iconic smiles by which it is known - with a bit of democracy thrown in. The king's move in the next few days will be worth watching.
W. Scott Thompson is a national security expert who served four U.S. presidents and is a professor emeritus at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is the author or editor of 13 books on world political issues and resides in Washington, Bali and Manila.
By Sharon Waxman
Monday, December 1, 2008
The imminent arrival of Thomas Campbell as the director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art is much more than a simple changing of the guard after the long tenure of his predecessor, Philippe de Montebello. Campbell, who will take over in January, is a 46-year-old curator from the Met's department of European sculpture and decorative arts, and he has a unique opportunity to shift the tone of an increasingly hostile debate in the world of art and museums: Who should own the treasures of antiquity?
Up to now, the parties on either side of this dispute have stood in opposing corners with their fingers in their ears. The governments of Italy and Turkey have filed lawsuits to force the return of looted artworks. Egypt has threatened to suspend excavation permits if iconic artifacts are not repatriated. Greece has built a new museum in Athens in large part to justify its renewed demands for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain.
For the most part, the world's great museums, like the Metropolitan, have responded only when under direct threat and, even then, they do not acknowledge wrongdoing.
Their willful silence has fostered a culture of distrust that has made the task of reconciliation and cultural exchange more difficult, as the public is treated to spectacles like the fight over the Euphronios krater. A stunningly beautiful vase by one of the greatest artists of ancient Greece, it came to the Met under dubious circumstances in 1972 - court records say it had been excavated by a gang of tomb robbers in Italy. After a long, embarrassing fight, the museum sent the krater back to Italy last January, which then displayed it as part of an exhibition called "Nostoi," a nod to the ancient Greek epic about the heroes' return from the Trojan War.
Campbell is young, British and unconnected to the traumas of past restitution battles. He may be able to move the museum world forward without also emptying the Met's halls of Greek amphorae, Egyptian sarcophagi or Etruscan chariots.
The Association of Art Museum Directors has already readied a path for Campbell. This past summer, the association finally issued new guidelines, which recognize that buying unprovenanced antiquities encourages their illicit trade and recommend that its members purchase only antiquities that can be proven to have been legally exported after 1970, or else removed from their country of origin before that date. (It was in 1970 that Unesco adopted an international convention barring the illegal export and transfer of cultural property.)
The British Museum has adopted this cutoff date, as has the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The Met quietly followed suit, but has barely made that fact known.
By publicly embracing the 1970 protocol, Campbell would be breaking with the policies of his predecessor, de Montebello, who believes that orphaned antiquities should be rescued by museums, not ignored by them.
Campbell could also undertake a project more fundamental, and more profound. The Metropolitan needs to come clean about its past of appropriation of ancient art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it needs to tell a much fuller story about its more recent role in purchasing looted antiquities.
Most visitors have no idea how the treasures on display in the Greek and Roman rooms, the Egyptian antiquities department, or the Byzantine, African, Asian and Oceanic collections came to be housed in the museum.
Who among them knows that Louis Palma di Cesnola, the Italian-born collector and Civil War veteran who was the first director of the museum, appropriated a huge number of antiquities for more than a decade? As the American consul in Cyprus in the 1860s, Cesnola kept 100 diggers busy in Larnaca; his house became a kind of museum.
Cesnola smuggled out no fewer than 35,573 artifacts - passing them off as the property of the Russian consul - for which the Met paid $60,000.
The Met doesn't tell this story. Even many people who work at the Met don't seem to know it. Plunder is also the provenance of one of the museum's most imposing artifacts in the Greek and Roman collection - an Ionic capital from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis. Massive and graceful, it sits prominently in a gallery on the first floor of the Met.
How did it get here? In 1922, as the Greeks and Turks warred over the port of Izmir, the column was spirited away by American archaeologists along with hundreds of other pieces. When the hostilities ended, the Turks protested, and the theft (or rescue, depending on one's perspective) became an international incident, recorded in State Department archives. After much negotiation, the Turks ceded ownership of the column in exchange for the return of 53 cases of antiquities, also stolen from Sardis.
Today the label that hangs near the pillar blithely notes its acquisition by the "American Society for the Excavation of Sardis," as if a group of amateur aficionados simply got together and bought it.
For years, the Met also kept secret its purchase of the Lydian Hoard, a spectacular group of 363 gold and silver treasures from the time of King Croesus, bought from smugglers in 1966, 1967 and 1968. It was not until the Turkish government sued the museum and seemed likely to win in court that the Met gave in and returned the pieces, in 1993.
Such omissions are shameful for an institution dedicated to preserving history. But it is not unique to the Met. Most of the world's great museums, including the British Museum and the Louvre, tell lies of omission about the objects they display within their walls, too.
This state of affairs must not continue. Campbell can inaugurate a new era of transparency for all museums and recalibrate the Met's relations with countries that feel aggrieved.
By publicly acknowledging the controversial or otherwise dubious histories of some artifacts and by making the recent past as much a part of the artifacts' stories as the ancient past, Campbell can set an example for all museums and build new bridges of respect and cooperation.
Transparency may not end every demand for repatriation. But it will disarm those critics in source countries who know - but rarely acknowledge - that regardless of past transgressions, their treasures may be safer, better preserved and more widely adored in the world's great museums like the Met.
Sharon Waxman, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of "Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World."
By Tim Arango
Monday, December 1, 2008
Shortly after the attacks on 9/11, a delegation of high-level media executives, including the heads of every major studio, met several times with White House officials, including at least once with President George W. Bush's former top strategist, Karl Rove, to discuss ways that the entertainment industry could play a part in improving the image of the United States overseas.
One of the central ideas was using "soft power" by spreading American television and movies to foreign audiences, especially in the Muslim world, to help sway public opinion.
There were few tangible results from the meetings — lesser ways of supporting the war on terrorism like public service announcements and packages of free DVDs sent to American soldiers.
But since then, the media companies have gotten what they wanted, even if the White House has not. In the last eight years, American pop culture, already popular, has boomed around the globe while opinions of America itself have soured.
The television program "CSI" is now more popular in France than in the United States. Hollywood movies routinely sell far more tickets overseas than at home. A Russian remake of the TV show "Married With Children" has been so popular that Sony, the producer of the show, has hired back the original writers to produce new scripts for Russia. Even in the Muslim world, American pop culture has spread.
But so far, cultural popularity has not translated into new friends. The latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released in June, shows that the image of the United States remained negative in the 24 countries in which Pew conducted surveys (although in 10 of those the favorability rating of the United States edged up slightly).
Joseph Nye Jr., the Harvard professor who coined the phrase "soft power" in 1989 to refer to the ways beyond military muscle that America influences the world, said that "what's interesting about the last eight years is that polls show a decline in American attractiveness."
He added: "But then you ask the follow-up questions and you see that American culture remains attractive, that American values remain attractive. Which is the opposite of what the president has said — that they hate us for who we are and what we believe in."
Jeffrey Schlesinger, the head of international television at Warner Brothers, had a simpler explanation for the popularity of American entertainment.
"Batman is Batman, regardless of if Bush is in the White House or not," he said.
And Batman will still be Batman with Barack Obama in the White House. The issue of America's image abroad was a campaign platform for the president-elect, who said in a foreign policy speech in April, "We all know that these are not the best of times for America's reputation in the world."
With the curtain closing on the Bush presidency, pollsters are left to wonder about the long-term effects on America's standing. Steven Kull, the director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, said that before the election, his data suggested a slight improvement in America's image abroad after a long decline. "It's turned a corner, but it's not anywhere near positive territory," he said.
Kull says he was surprised to find that in pre-election polling, less than half of those polled in 22 foreign countries — 46 percent — said relations between the United States and the world would improve under a President Obama.
"It's not just about not being Bush, and that there will be a clean slate," Kull said. "There were all these underlying issues that were amplified during the Bush era, and they are not simply going to go back in the trunk."
Bryce Zabel, a television producer who was chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences at the time and a participant in the 2001 meetings with the White House, argued then that the United States needed to regard itself like a consumer brand.
"Products like Coca-Cola are far more effectively branded around the globe than the United States itself," he wrote in a memo that was circulated around Hollywood. "The American entertainment and communications industry has the technological and creative expertise to improve relations between our country and the rest of the world."
Hilary Rosen, the former chairwoman of the Recording Industry Association of America, who was also present at the post-9/11 meetings, said that Rove and other White House officials were looking for the kind of support Hollywood gave the United States during World War II.
"They wanted the music industry, the movie industry, the TV industry to produce propaganda," she said. "Rove was putting a lot of pressure on us."
For Hollywood, a much more important development was happening globally, as rising standards of living around the world resulted in more money spent on entertainment. Big, comfortable multiplexes being erected in countries like Russia and Mexico were helping draw moviegoers.
In 2003, the domestic box office brought in $9.2 billion for American studios, and foreign countries generated $10.9 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In 2007, domestic was $9.6 billion, while international rose to more than $17 billion.
The growth overseas has surprised even some American media executives. "It was something that, two or three years ago, was thought to have gone into a slower growth position," Jeffrey Bewkes, Time Warner's chief executive, said to a gathering of investors in June about the international appeal of American television. "And then it came roaring back over the last couple of years."
The foreign interest in American entertainment has been particularly pronounced in television. In many countries, particularly in Europe, American television shows, once relegated to late night, are being shown in prime time.
"Let's say, at the beginning of the decade, more or less all over Europe you saw on the big channels almost no U.S. series on prime time," says Gerhard Zeiler, the chief executive of the RTL Group, Europe's largest television broadcaster. "Now, all over Europe you have a lot of American series in prime time."
According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the executive branch of the European Union, the number of hours of American programming on major European networks in 2000 was about 214,000. In 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, that figure grew by nearly 50,000 hours, to more than 266,000 hours.
"Increasingly a lot of that money is coming from television," said Barry Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Brothers. "The demand for American-produced television shows is stronger than it has ever been."
American culture is blossoming even in the Middle East, where polls consistently show starkly negative views of the United States. Viacom started MTV Arabia last fall and introduced Nickelodeon Arabia in July on satellite services — endeavors that entail lessons in cultural sensitivity.
Much of America's programming is beamed to Middle Eastern audiences from two satellite channels, MBC2 and MBC4, owned by the Saudi-financed Middle East Broadcasting Center. In prime time recently on MBC4 was "8 Simple Rules," the ABC sitcom that starred the late John Ritter, and the gossip shows "The Insider" and "Inside Edition." Oprah Winfrey's show is also popular.
Amahl Bishara, an assistant professor of anthropology at Tufts University who recently spent two years in the West Bank studying the media there, said she noticed that MBC2, which carries American movies, was particularly popular.
"There's an acute understanding of the difference between the U.S. government and the American people," she said. "And they look at U.S. entertainment as just that, entertainment."
By John Vinocur
Monday, December 1, 2008
BERLIN: Way down at the bottom of the left-hand column on Page 32, the boldface type says: "Europe: Losing Clout in 2025."
The message is clear, and so is Europe's possible position not fully in the front row of the world arena projected by the U.S. National Intelligence Council in its report, Global Trends 2025.
When it appeared two weeks ago, the document was largely read for its notion of a United States that, while still militarily pre-eminent, would have diminished power and prerogatives in a changed world of multiple poles of influence. Now, the NIC report has a second resonance.
It follows a fortnight in which the European Union flailed and basically settled for to-each-his-own solutions in dealing with the crisis in the real global economy.
(And it comes after some European leaders sensed they could no longer hide from a deep recession by saying America's financial meltdowns represented creative destruction for the rest of the world - the dollar's demotion, and the end of New York as the world's financial center.)
Although its judgment is wadded by a cushion of conditional phrasing, the NIC points to a Europe that doesn't necessarily become one of the new poles of global power.
The report talks of an EU with citizens skeptical of deeper integration, distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas and possibly, over the next two decades, "less able to translate its economic clout into global influence."
Sound familiar? It's in the moan of Europe's pre-winter winds. It's in the howl of a European paradox that wants more of a say as a global decider just when its own view of European cohesiveness is less convinced.
Examples: In France last week, Le Monde produced a banner headline that said: "Stimulus packages: American willfulness, European hesitations." At the same time, Germany's biggest financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, offered a Page 1 commentary comparing "Americans who are able to rise as a single man" in times of crisis to an EU "where everyone's own concerns are his priority."
The NIC piles it on: Shrinking populations will mean slower employment growth, taking 1 percent off Europe's gross domestic product. By 2025, non-European minorities could reach 15 percent or more in all Western Europe countries and "likely heighten tensions." If Europe fails to diversify its energy supply, its dependence on Russia will result in "constant attentiveness to Moscow's interests by key countries, including Germany and Italy."
At that point, you could easily say, this vision comes from folks who missed seeing (ahead of time, anyway) the fall of the Soviet Union or Indian nuclear tests.
But there's an unusual moment of frankness among Europeans about Europe's future these days. It's attached to the sense of crisis and drift here, and connects with Barack Obama's coming to power in America. The contrast with new optimism on the other side of the Atlantic is strong.
Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, has written, "At the end of this global crisis, Europe will simply have become less important."
This is because he believes, for its own reasons of power and economics, America will diminish its Atlantic orientation in favor of the Pacific while "Europeans, doing nothing, watch their own downfall in power politics." The United States, Fischer thinks, is renewing itself through Obama at the same time that Europe, rather than seeking greater unity, "is re-nationalizing during this crisis and turning itself back to the past."
"Where are the strong leaders in Europe who will move in the direction of unification?" Fischer asked in a conversation here. There was no reply.
In France, there's something of the same tone.
Hubert Védrine, who served as foreign minister under Jacques Chirac, has argued that Obama will continue to take American leadership in the world as a given.
"Today," he told a French reporter, "for the United States, Europe represents neither a problem, nor a threat, nor an answer to its problems."
So what does Europe do to set out a credible claim for a co-equal's role in a multipolar word? Védrine's answer: create a realistic foreign policy, which presupposes the EU members agree on "what's necessary to do on Russia and China."
You may titter here. Europe's assertion of "no business as usual with Russia," while resuming strategic partnership talks with a Moscow regime whose troops remain in Georgia, looks like very much business indeed.
At the same time, in what has the appearance of a targeted affront to both the EU, and the current EU president, Nicolas Sarkozy, China has called off their summit meeting - a rising great power dressing down a more marginal player - because of Sarkozy's plan to talk soon with the Dalai Lama.
Add this: If it comes to EU foreign policy unity on a really tough initiative like new sanctions involving oil against Iran, a European official now estimates 8 to 10 members would reject them.
It's not the shining hour of a new international big-leaguer.
A stopgap answer on how to make Europe look more of a piece lies in private conversations under way to set up a kind of European presidium, involving Germany, France and Britain, and meant to give the EU the allure of sure-handed direction.
In the process, it would also brutally split the EU between big and little guys because the directorate's immediate purpose would be to remove effective control from the Czechs and the Swedes, who follow one another into the EU's rotating presidency in 2009.
All this lends some credibility to the National Intelligence Council's uncertain claim to wisdom on Europe in 2025 - only "slow progress" toward becoming the global actor it envisions; and real issues, involving the choice of painful reforms, that could leave it "a hobbled giant."
By Adam Begley
Monday, December 1, 2008
HERE'S what you do first in Florence: Complain about the tourists. It's a time-honored tradition and there's no avoiding it — or them, as they squeeze down the narrow streets. They choke the majestic Piazza Signoria; they overwhelm the Uffizi Gallery — so go ahead and get the grumbling over with. Hordes of them! A year-round blight! Why can't they just stay home! Or, if you're like E. M. Forster's "clever" lady novelist in "A Room With a View," the one who exclaims in dismay over the bovine "Britisher abroad," admit that you'd like to administer an exam "and turn back every tourist who couldn't pass it."
Snobbery is part of the sophisticated traveler's baggage — that hasn't changed at all in the 100 years since Forster, in his charming novel, skewered the supercilious "good taste" of those who look down on the "ill-bred people whom one does meet abroad." Nowadays, when everyone in the ill-bred crowd is snapping photos of the Duomo with a cellphone, or swarming the Ponte Vecchio, plastic water bottle in hand, the urge to override touristic self-loathing by claiming for oneself a spurious superiority is pretty much irresistible; Forster, were he still around, would poke fun at that snobbish impulse with puckish glee. (But don't let that stop you from grousing about the sheer number of bodies blocking the view of the Arno.)
The next thing to do in Florence, according to Forster, is throw away your guidebook. Chapter II of "A Room With a View" is called "In Santa Croce With No Baedeker," and it's a gently comic interlude every honest visitor to that great Franciscan basilica will recognize as a mocking portrait of himself. Or herself, in the case of our young heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, who winds up alone in the vast interior of Santa Croce without her "Handbook to Northern Italy."
On the way in she noted "the black-and-white facade of surpassing ugliness" (the marble was added in the 19th century — paid for by an Englishman, by the way); now she's rattling around in the vast nave, wondering which of all the tombs was "the one that was really beautiful," the one most praised by Ruskin. With no cultural authority to tell her what to think, she thinks for herself: "Of course it must be a wonderful building. But how like a barn! And how very cold!" And then, just like that, her mood changes: "the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy." We all want to be happy tourists, so here's the question: Is Forster's early 20th-century advice — toss the guidebook aside and let the pernicious Florentine charm seduce you — still viable early in the 21st?
ENJOYING "A Room With a View" is easy. A love story that begins and ends in Florence, with complications in England sandwiched in between, it's short, cheerful and delightfully sly. Besides, there are two excellent and generally faithful film adaptations, the classic 1986 Merchant-Ivory production starring Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis and a PBS version released just this year with enticing shots of Florence and a weird, unwarranted twist at the end. Once Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson have kissed in a field of violets in the hills above the city (near Fiesole, about which more later), you know (spoiler alert) you're going to hear wedding bells at the end, no matter how many plot twists the crafty author engineers.
Enjoying Florence — a hard, forbidding city ("a city of endurance," Mary McCarthy called it, "a city of stone"), handsome but not pretty, a challenge even if you could siphon off the tourists and replace them with picturesque Italians energetically engaged in producing local color — enjoying Florence takes more time and more effort. But if you have with you your copy of "A Room With a View," you'll find it easier to get along. Forster's supple, forgiving irony, his ability to satirize lovingly, combined with his firm but regretful insistence on not confusing art and life, is exactly what you need if you plan to share this intensely urban town with tens of thousands of sightseers for the five or six days it will take you to do just like them and see the sights.
Forster reminds us that though Florence is a capital of art (is it ever!), it's not just an overcrowded museum. When Lucy leans out of her window in the Pensione Bertolini and gazes out across the Arno at the marble churches on the hill opposite, and watches with dreamy curiosity as the world trips by, the author notes approvingly, with his usual mild irony, "Over such trivialities as these many a valuable hour may slip away, and the traveler who has gone to Italy to study the tactile values of Giotto, or the corruption of the Papacy, may return remembering nothing but the blue sky and the men and women who live under it." He's not suggesting that you ignore Giotto or the magnificence of the city's turbulent history, but that the hours spent soaking up the dazzling Florentine sunshine with no cultural agenda may be valuable after all.
When Forster himself first came to Florence in October of 1901, he stayed as Lucy did in a pensione on the Lungarno delle Grazie, with a view over the Arno to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte and the dark hills beyond. He was on a grand tour, traveling with his mother, and was a dutiful sightseer. He wrote to a friend back home, "the orthodox Baedeker-bestarred Italy — which is all I have yet seen — delights me so much that I can well afford to leave Italian Italy for another time." He was back the following year, at the same pensione, and by the time he'd finished "A Room With a View," he'd struck a happy balance.
In and around the Basilica di Santa Croce is everything that's delightful and appalling about Florence today. The neo-Gothic facade is still ugly, the long square in front of it dusty, bland, pigeon-infested and lousy with tourists. The interior is still cavernous, austere and chilly, impressive but somehow dispiriting. Even if you've ditched your guidebook, you're reminded at every step of the city's vast cultural riches: here are the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo and Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose bronze baptistery doors opposite the Duomo were so perfect, according to Michelangelo, they could have been the gates of paradise; here are the memorials to Dante and Machiavelli. Crowds are waiting to get into the small, high-ceilinged chapels to the right of the high altar — that's where you can admire the tactile values of Giotto, whose early 14th-century frescoes grace the walls. Just outside the basilica in the main cloister is the Pazzi Chapel, a perfectly proportioned Renaissance gem designed by the great Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi (who gave the Duomo its dome). The chapel, its white walls decorated with glazed terra-cotta medallions by Luca della Robbia (one of young Lucy's favorite artists), looks best when it's empty, filled to its noble height with nothing but chalky light from the lantern and the oculi in the dome. In other words, if a tour guide and his flock are in there, wait till they've gone.
The nature of those tours has changed dramatically since Forster's day. In 1901 — and until very recently, in fact — the tour guide pronounced on art and architecture in a booming or piercing voice, mostly in English but possibly also in German or French, while his flock huddled close to catch the echoing words of wisdom. In "A Room With a View," Forster had fun with the solemn pronouncements of the Rev. Cuthbert Eager, who steered an "earnest congregation" around Santa Croce, lecturing all the while on the fervor of medievalism ("Observe how Giotto is ... untroubled by the snares of anatomy and perspective"). Today, technology has shushed the tour guide: he or she whispers into a microphone, which broadcasts the lecture soundlessly, piping the flow of factoids into the earphones of the audience, who can now stray a little (and there are more languages represented: Spanish, Greek, Polish, Russian). Some familiar props remain — the retractable antenna with a ribbon tied at the tip, a rallying sign for the group as it migrates from one artistic treasure to the next — but the new quiet is disconcerting, as though these clumps of tourists with headphones and wireless receivers hung around their necks were part of some sinister silent conspiracy.
IF you stroll a few dozen yards past the Pazzi Chapel, you'll find yourself in a second cloister, also designed by Brunelleschi, in 1446, the last year of his life. It's a place of great beauty and calm, usually deserted, and you don't need to know a thing about it to fall in love. The simple, elegant two-story cloister with its slender columns shelters you from the rigors and confusions of Florence and gives you instead the tranquil harmony of the Renaissance without pomp or grandeur, washed by bright Tuscan sun. I like to imagine, though Forster doesn't suggest it, that Lucy loitered here without her Baedeker, and that's why she began to be happy. At the very least, a quiet moment in the cloisters will give you strength to confront the multitudes and the immortal works of art remaining on your list.
And so will loitering over lunch. And dinner. One eats very well in Florence, and in general the simpler the restaurant, the better the food. If you can visit one church and one museum before lunch and one more church or another museum after lunch (whatever you do, don't miss the wealth of paintings piled higgledy-piggledy in the Palatine Gallery of the Palazzo Pitti), and then take a nap (Tuscan wine is cheap and abundant), and then stroll to dinner, perhaps along the Via de' Tornabuoni, under the looming, illuminated facades of great, stern palazzos, and stroll some more after dinner when the crowds have thinned and Florence seems gentler and the multicolor Duomo seems less garish but just as huge and astonishing — you'll find that after a few days of this routine, all your complaints will be forgotten, replaced with amazement and gratitude.
Unless of course you stray into the Piazza Signoria, where the replica of Michelangelo's giant David attracts a sizable contingent of art lovers with camera phones night and day. This is where Lucy wanders one evening, unaccompanied:
" 'Nothing ever happens to me,' she reflected, as she entered the Piazza Signoria and looked nonchalantly at its marvels, now fairly familiar to her. The great square was in shadow; the sunshine had come too late to strike it. Neptune was already unsubstantial in the twilight, half god, half ghost, and his fountain plashed dreamily to the men and satyrs who idled together on its marge. The Loggia showed as the triple entrance of a cave, wherein dwelt many a deity, shadowy but immortal, looking forth upon the arrivals and departures of mankind. It was the hour of unreality — the hour, that is, when unfamiliar things are real. An older person at such an hour and in such a place might think that sufficient was happening to him, and rest content. Lucy desired more."
And then something does happen to her: two Italians quarrel, one stabs the other in the chest, and Lucy, who sees the blood come trickling out of the fatally wounded man's mouth, swoons — into the arms of George Emerson, as luck would have it.
Nothing so dramatic is likely to occur to the 21st-century visitor. But if it does, head for Fiesole, the little hill town no more than a few miles from the Piazza Signoria. Along with the far reaches of the Boboli Gardens, this is the city's escape hatch, a chance to breathe deeply and see some greenery, plant life being notably absent from the historic center. Forster sends his contingent to Fiesole by horse and carriage (it's nearby that Lucy and George first kiss); now it's a 15-minute ride on a boxy orange municipal bus. But once you've arrived you realize that the chief virtue of this modest town, aside from the fresh air, is the panoramic view of the Arno Valley and the extraordinary, maddening city you've just left, its Duomo vast and proud even at this distance. And the wisdom of the structure of "A Room With a View" is suddenly as clear as the bright Tuscan sky: you will return to Florence, and next time it will be a honeymoon.
BEAUTY, STONES AND HANGING HAMS
There are no nonstop flights from New York to Florence. A number of airlines offer daily flights with connections through various European capitals; of those, the easiest is Alitalia, which offers several daily flights via Rome for about $650. The small Florence airport is only a few miles from the city; a bus service runs to the train station in the center of town and there are taxis, too. Once you have reached Florence, everything is within easy walking distance except Fiesole, which can be reached by taxi or bus.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are staying in the center of Florence, what you want is an oasis, and despite the tacky name, Hotel Monna Lisa (Borgo Pinti, 27; 39-055-2479751; www.hotelmonnalisaflorence.com) provides exactly that. A converted 14th-century palazzo five minutes by foot from the Duomo, it's handsomely decorated and blessedly calm. A double room will currently cost you 125 euros ($160 at $1.28 to the euro).
If you must have a room with a view, go to Fiesole. Pensione Bencistà (Via Benedetto da Maiano, 4; 39-055-59163; www.bencista.com) is shambolic and charming — and affordable, at about 185 euros for a double room with breakfast and dinner included.
Also in Fiesole is the Villa San Michele (Via Doccia, 4, Fiesole; 39-055-59451; www.villasanmichele.com), which will bankrupt you — it's around 850 euros for a double room, but you will be coddled and cosseted in a gorgeous setting.
WHERE TO EAT
Meals are important in Florence, not just because the food is so good, but also because the rest of the time you're on your feet. Lunch for two, with wine of course, should cost you about 60 euros; dinner, with more wine, about 100 euros.
For lunch, especially Sunday lunch, Il Latini (Via de Palchetti, 6/r; 39-055-210916; www.illatini.com) is a must. Don't bother with a menu (the waiters don't like to give them out, and anyway they know better than you what's good). Help yourself to the big bottle of red wine you'll find at your table. Admire the hundreds of hams hanging overhead. Eat!
Quiet, relatively tourist-free, pleasantly traditional and equally delicious is Del Fagioli (Corso Tintori, 47/r; 39-055-244285), just a few blocks from Santa Croce.
If you want a little atmosphere at night and you're willing to pay a premium for the buzz and the funky décor, try Trattoria Garga (Via del Moro, 48/r; 39-055-2398898; www.garga.it).
And if you're in Fiesole at night and don't want to engage in the enforced sociability of the pensione, Trattoria i' Polpa (Piazza Mino, 21/22; 39-055-59485) is cozy and friendly and inexpensive.
WHAT TO READ
Fifty years after the publication of "A Room With a View," E. M. Forster wrote a short essay in The New York Times Book Review called "A View Without a Room," in which he speculated on the fate of the characters in his novel — not quite dessert, more like a tasty petit four. It has been printed as an afterward in the Penguin Modern Classics edition of "A Room With a View."
P. N. Furbank's massive two-volume biography of Forster was first published three decades ago; now available in a one-volume Faber paperback, it's still the best account of a long, remarkable life.
If you want a critic's perspective on "A Room With a View," see the chapter on it in Lionel Trilling's excellent "E. M. Forster: A Study," first published in 1943 but available in paperback from New Directions.
By Michael J. de la Merced
Monday, December 1, 2008
A prominent bankruptcy lawyer is returning to his roots.
The lawyer, James H. M. Sprayregen, who spent the last three years at Goldman Sachs, will return Dec. 12 to Kirkland & Ellis, the law firm where he spent 16 years advising companies on restructuring and bankruptcy matters. At Goldman Sachs, Sprayregen was co-chief of the Americas restructuring group.
"I missed the practice of law," Sprayregen, 48, said. "What I've learned from Goldman, the financial expertise I've gained, will hold me in good stead and will be extremely helpful on the lawyer side of restructuring."
At Kirkland & Ellis, Sprayregen will again partner with Richard Cieri to lead the firm's restructuring practice, which includes 41 partners.
Restructuring specialists are seeing an increase in business as the economy sours and the credit markets remain frozen.
Retailers like Linens 'n Things and Circuit City and restaurants like Bennigan's have already filed bankruptcy actions this year, and the Chapter 11 filing of the securities firm Lehman Brothers is the largest in corporate history.
Sprayregen made waves when he jumped to Goldman in 2006. He had worked on some of the most notable bankruptcy cases to date, including United Airlines, NRG Energy and TWA.
Sprayregen said his time at Goldman had taught him more about the financial side of bankruptcy, including a company's operations and balance sheets. "I was touching a different part of the elephant, dealing with lot of the different issues that lawyers don't necessarily have a lot of experience in," he said.
But he said he began to miss the practice of law, and a little more than a week ago reached out to Kirkland. The departure from Goldman was amicable, he said.
"We wish Jamie the best in his return to Kirkland & Ellis," a Goldman spokeswoman said in a statement.
With the tight credit markets making bankruptcy refinancing or loans expensive — if available at all — Sprayregen predicted that more ailing companies would need to seek legal solutions to their troubles. That may include negotiating with creditors to extend their debt or to swap that debt for a stake in the company.
Like many in the field, Sprayregen and Cieri say that their jobs will become busier as more companies are forced to grapple with the slowdown in consumer spending and the inability to find cheap financing. Sprayregen said the pain that began with home builders, retailers, restaurants and financial companies will probably spread to industries with even indirect exposure to consumer markets, like roofing and timber companies.
Kirkland has already handled 10 major bankruptcy filings in 2008, including Tropicana Entertainment, the casino operator; Tousa Inc., the Florida home builder; and Wellman, a plastics maker.
By David Carr
Monday, December 1, 2008
This weekend, news reports were full of finger-wagging over the death by trampling of a temporary worker, Jdimypai Damour, at a Wal-Mart store in Long Island, New York, on Friday. His death, the coverage suggested, was a symbol of a broken culture of consumerism in which people would do anything for a bargain.
The willingness of people to walk over another human being to get at the right price tag raises the question of how they got that way in the first place. But in the search for the usual suspects and parceling of blame, the U.S. news media should include themselves.
Just a few days ago, the same newspaper writers and television anchors who are now wearily shaking their heads at the collective bankruptcy of our mass consumer culture were cheering all of it on.
In a day-before story, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution advised readers to leave the children at home, at least the ones not big enough to carry the loot, because they will just slow you down: "Strollers and crowds just don't mix, though we know a few shoppers willing to use four wheels and a child as a weapon. Younger children may also be seduced by the shopping mania and pitch a tantrum that slows your progress. That said, teens and young adults can be an asset to a divide-and-conquer shopping strategy. And you'll have someone to help carry the bags."
An article distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News sounded as if the writers were composing a sonnet for fishing or camping until they got to the punch line: "Nothing rivals the thrill of waking up before the sun, or that sprint through the store for the perfect present."
Another article distributed by the news service said that "some hard core shoppers will be up before the sun, banging on store windows as the official start of the holiday shopping season begins. Weak economy, pshaw! There are sales out there."
In the wake of death by shopper, Newsday, the daily paper on Long Island, wrung its hands in the opinion page blog: "Was this deadly rush to lower prices an illustration of the current economic malaise (people mobbing Wal-Mart because they fear they can't afford higher prices elsewhere) or just proof that even a recession can't suppress stuff-lust?" Then it added, rather unfortunately, "This awful death is another Joey Buttafuoco-like stain on the too-often sordid image of our island."
But on the run-up, Newsday offered a "Black Friday blueprint," with store openings listed so shoppers could plot strategy, including noting that at 5 a.m., the Green Acres Wal-Mart would open and customers could expect to buy a 42-inch LCD television for $598. Many continued to pursue that particular bargain even as Damour lay dying.
The New York Times had a "Black Friday Shopping Survival Guide" on its Gadgetwise blog, but the overall coverage was far from frantic, reflecting grim economic and retail circumstances.
It's convenient to point a crooked finger in the wake of the tragedy at some light coverage of some harmless family fun. Except the coverage is not so much trite as deeply cynical, an attempt to indoctrinate consumers into believing that they are what they buy and that they should be serious enough about it to leave the family at home.
Media and retail outfits are economic peas in a pod. Part of the reason that the Thanksgiving newspaper and local morning television show are stuffed with soft features about shopping frenzies is that they are stuffed in return with ads from retailers. Yes, Black Friday is a big day for retailers — stores did as much as 13 percent of their holiday business this last weekend — but it is also a huge day for newspapers and television.
In partnership with retail advertising clients, the news media have worked steadily and systematically to turn Black Friday into a broad cultural event. A decade ago, it was barely in the top 10 shopping days of the year. But once retailers hit on the formula of offering one or two very-low-priced items as loss leaders, media groups began to cover the post-Thanksgiving outing as a kind of consumer sporting event.
"Media outlets have been stride for stride with the retailers," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the NPD Group, a market research firm. Speaking on the phone on Friday evening after nearly 24 hours of working the malls, he suggested, "Something like this was bound to happen at some point. The man who died at Wal-Mart was, from what I understand, a temporary employee and had no idea what he was dealing with."
Given that early shoppers stomped him to death and later arrivals streamed past him as he was being treated, he could not be blamed for failing to understand the ungovernable mix of greed and thriftiness that was under way. Black Friday blows a whistle many of us cannot hear — I would rather spend some quality time with my dentist than stand in the dark chill waiting for a store to open.
Some people think of Black Friday as an abundance of holiday generosity, but in a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs, 81 percent of the respondents said that they planned to shop for themselves, an army of self-seeking Santas.
News outlets that advised consumers to sharpen their elbows for the big day were selling something that has, in an online world, lost most of its value. If you want to define your self-worth as buying a $300 laptop, you can use the Web and a down cycle in the gadgets business to come out a winner. (Black Friday is now followed by Cyber Monday, another cynical construct that suggests that you can beat the system by buying things on the right day.)
"This is a tired American ritual that has had its day even before this happened," said Kalle Lasn, editor of AdBusters, a magazine and Web site that promotes the day after Thanksgiving as "Buy Nothing Day." "It accrues to the benefit of the media to somehow promote all of this craziness. There is something very sick about it."
Buying stuff in the teeth of recession represents a vulgar but far too common impulse. Consumption is a core American value, so much so that President George W. Bush suggested people head to the mall after the attacks of Sept. 11 as an expression of solidarity.
The message is persistent. After the current housing collapse turned a lot of the financial system to red mist, we're told we have a crisis of consumer confidence and need to stimulate spending. Again, there's something sensible, even vaguely patriotic, about buying stuff, even after people used cheap credit to spend themselves into a ditch.
Even consumption may have limits. Cohen said that in his 32 years interviewing consumers in malls during the holiday season, he had never heard what he did this year. "People really have no idea what they want," he said.
By Joshua ZumbrunForbes.com
Monday, December 1, 2008
Dwelling too much on the doldrums violates the holiday spirit. Yes, the economy is in bad shape, very likely entering or already in a painful recession. But it's not all bad. No, really.In Pictures: Ten reasons for some economic optimism
At the pump, oil price deflation is also known as cheaper gas. For those who have been priced out of the housing market for a decade, the imploding market offers hope they'll someday be able to buy.
Still, after decades of a debt-fueled binge, the American consumer is fearful and grumpy. The Conference Board estimates that the average household is going to spend about 10 percent less for Christmas gifts this year, down to $418 from $471 in 2007. That means consumption, the biggest part of the country's gross domestic product, is likely to fall precipitously in the fourth quarter. But then what?
"You have to ask the question: How long will this total lack of confidence last?" says Joel Naroff, the chief economist for TD Bank. "Can consumers remain irrationally despondent for an extended period of time?"
Naroff, picked in October by Bloomberg News as the year's top economic forecaster, has been looking at consumer confidence since it started to slip in the summer, and he thinks it's too pessimistic and will snap back. It's the same intuition that had Naroff worried about how badly misaligned the housing markets were when he called the downturn before many others.
History suggests Americans just don't stay depressed for long, he says. Even with economists talking of unemployment rising to 8 percent or 9 percent from the current level of 6.5 percent, most people and businesses will muddle through.
"You go out eight months from now. You're in May, June, July. People discover they still have their jobs. Businesses have realized that while conditions aren't great, they're not going to fold," says Naroff, "They ask, 'Why am I behaving as if everything is going to collapse tomorrow?' And they come to the conclusion it's not, and that's when they start spending."
Note that Naroff talked to Forbes.com before his intuition proved correct. On Tuesday, the Conference Board's closely watched consumer confidence index surprised most economists by jumping up to 44.9 from its all-time low of 38.8 in October.
The economy's not out of the woods yet, by any stretch. Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center says, "Consumers remain extremely pessimistic, and the possibility that economic growth will improve in the first half of 2009 remains highly unlikely."
But there are other reasons to believe all is not lost. The National Association of Realtors is optimistic that many prudent buyers are waiting out a bad housing market. But the buyers are there. The NAR has been overly optimistic before, but home sales are so low that if those buyers did come back en masse, they could buy up the stock of excess housing faster than many anticipate.
Falling home prices are sapping home owners of the wealth effect they once felt they had in their homes. But they're also bringing prices back into alignment with people's wages.
Take the city of Phoenix. According to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index released on Tuesday, it's the city where home prices are falling fastest. The 2006 median income is around $47,000. The National Association of Realtors said that in the third quarter, the median home in the region sold for $185,000. In 2006, that median price was $270,000. Assume that family is still earning $47,000 today, the median house now costs four times their income from two years ago (when it cost nearly six times as much). Before long, it gets awfully tempting to stop renting.In Pictures: Ten reasons for some economic optimism
In September, Phoenix saw its unemployment rise to 5.4 percent from 3.3 percent a year ago. That number will continue to rise. But most people will stay in their jobs; in the spring, some of them will start buying homes. By the summer, if the financial crisis has quieted down, will there be any reason not to start buying furniture? By next Christmas, will there be any reason not to bring back the ribbons, tags, packages, boxes and bags? Naroff's optimistic.
"If you don't get into a deep recession where coming out of it almost seems impossible, you get into a more normal, maybe extended cycle on households. Get cautious, get worried, get depressed and then," he says with a pause, "they live through it."
By Paul Krugman
Monday, December 1, 2008
Right now there's intense debate about how aggressive the U.S. government should be in its attempts to turn the economy around. Many economists, myself included, are calling for a very large fiscal expansion to keep the economy from going into free fall. Others, however, worry about the burden that large budget deficits will place on future generations.
But the deficit worriers have it all wrong. Under current conditions, there's no trade-off between what's good in the short run and what's good for the long run; strong fiscal expansion would actually enhance the economy's long-run prospects.
The claim that budget deficits make the economy poorer in the long run is based on the belief that government borrowing "crowds out" private investment - that the government, by issuing lots of debt, drives up interest rates, which makes businesses unwilling to spend on new plant and equipment, and that this in turn reduces the economy's long-run rate of growth. Under normal circumstances there's a lot to this argument.
But circumstances right now are anything but normal. Consider what would happen next year if the Obama administration gave in to the deficit hawks and scaled back its fiscal plans.
Would this lead to lower interest rates? It certainly wouldn't lead to a reduction in short-term interest rates, which are more or less controlled by the Federal Reserve. The Fed is already keeping those rates as low as it can - virtually at zero - and won't change that policy unless it sees signs that the economy is threatening to overheat. And that doesn't seem like a realistic prospect any time soon.
What about longer-term rates? These rates, which are already at a half-century low, mainly reflect expected future short-term rates.
Fiscal austerity could push them even lower - but only by creating expectations that the economy would remain deeply depressed for a long time, which would reduce, not increase, private investment.
The idea that tight fiscal policy when the economy is depressed actually reduces private investment isn't just a hypothetical argument: It's exactly what happened in two important episodes in history.
The first took place in 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt mistakenly heeded the advice of his own era's deficit worriers. He sharply reduced government spending, among other things cutting the Works Progress Administration in half, and also raised taxes. The result was a severe recession, and a steep fall in private investment.
The second episode took place 60 years later, in Japan. In 1996-97, the Japanese government tried to balance its budget, cutting spending and raising taxes. And again the recession that followed led to a steep fall in private investment.
Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that trying to reduce the budget deficit is always bad for private investment. You can make a reasonable case that Bill Clinton's fiscal restraint in the 1990s helped fuel the great U.S. investment boom of that decade, which in turn helped cause a resurgence in productivity growth.
What made fiscal austerity such a bad idea both in Roosevelt's America and in 1990s Japan were special circumstances: In both cases, the government pulled back in the face of a liquidity trap, a situation in which the monetary authority had cut interest rates as far as it could, yet the economy was still operating far below capacity.
And we're in the same kind of trap today - which is why deficit worries are misplaced.
One more thing: Fiscal expansion will be even better for America's future if a large part of the expansion takes the form of public investment - of building roads, repairing bridges and developing new technologies, all of which make the nation richer in the long run.
Should the government have a permanent policy of running large budget deficits? Of course not. Although public debt isn't as bad a thing as many people believe - it's basically money we owe to ourselves - in the long run the government, like private individuals, has to match its spending to its income.
But right now we have a fundamental shortfall in private spending: Consumers are rediscovering the virtues of saving at the same moment that businesses, burned by past excesses and hamstrung by the troubles of the financial system, are cutting back on investment. That gap will eventually close, but until it does, government spending must take up the slack. Otherwise, private investment, and the economy as a whole, will plunge even more.
The bottom line, then, is that people who think that fiscal expansion today is bad for future generations have got it exactly wrong. The best course of action, both for today's workers and for their children, is to do whatever it takes to get this economy on the road to recovery.
By Eric Burroughs
Monday, December 1, 2008
NEW YORK: As the United States and other major countries prepare to combat the threat of deflation and recession with interest rates fast approaching zero, a five-year policy experiment in Japan shows how important it is to act quickly and boldly.
Japan fought its way out of deflation after a property and stock bubble burst in the 1990s with quantitative easing, a policy measure that involved flooding banks with far more cash than was needed to keep short-term rates at zero.
It was a groundbreaking experiment and took a long time to work because the Bank of Japan was slow to employ the entire gamut of policy options and spell out its goals in credible fashion.
These lessons are now acquiring a special relevance to the U.S. Federal Reserve, facing the risk of a Japan-style deflationary spiral after a mortgage market meltdown that battered the banking system and resulted in the worst bear market for stocks since the Great Depression.
What the Fed needs to do most of all is give investors a clear picture of what it is trying to accomplish with its version of quantitative easing and under what conditions it will declare victory, analysts said.
That kind of clear explanation has so far been missing during the Fed's seat-of-the-pants efforts to keep financial markets from breaking down.
Alan Ruskin, chief international strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland, said quantitative easing was unlikely to be adopted in a more measured fashion.
"It inevitably involves a heightened degree of desperation," he said, "which suggests that like most decisions of real gravity we have seen in recent weeks, this one will not be made without staring over the abyss to witness financial hell's fury."
Ruskin calls U.S. efforts to stabilize the financial system and revive bank lending "quant-lite" because they bear only some resemblance to the Bank of Japan's emergency policy moves during the decade of deflation.
Deflation gives households and companies the incentive to delay purchases in anticipation that prices will fall, hobbling economic growth, while making it more expensive for debtors to pay off their loans.
The Fed's $800 billion plan to buy mortgage- and consumer-related debt is one of the unconventional policy tools it is using to revive bank lending after the collapse of Wall Street banks paralyzed credit markets, which have largely shrugged off interest rate cuts.
The Fed has slashed its benchmark rate to 1 percent and analysts polled by Reuters expect it to fall to just 0.5 percent - the lowest since the 1950s.
"They are doing quantitative easing de facto at the moment," said Glenn Maguire, chief Asia economist at Société Générale in Hong Kong.
Quantitative easing alone may not be enough to extricate the United States from a vicious deflationary circle in which falling asset prices hurt banks and households, leading to tighter borrowing and spending.
If Japan's experience is any guide, the central bank needs to communicate its objective clearly and establish the credibility needed to win over banks and investors scarred by huge losses and defaults.
The Bank of Japan went beyond zero rates to quantitative easing in March 2001, just seven months after it raised rates.
By that time deflation had already established its grip on an economy battered by the property market crash that began in the mid-1990s.
Maguire said it was only when the central bank laid out its commitment of defeating deflation credibly that the quantitative easing policy become effective and brought down long-term interest rates.
When it became clear to investors and banks that the Bank of Japan would keep the policy in place until deflation was eradicated, they knew the spigots of cash would be open for a while.
Thus assured, long-term interest rates dropped sharply. Ten-year government bond yields fell as low as 0.43 percent.
Slowly, bank lending began to grow again and prices stopped falling, allowing the Bank of Japan to end quantitative easing in March 2006.
But with U.S. consumer price inflation falling at the fastest pace on record, the country may be headed for deflation and full-blown quantitative easing. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has dropped to a 50-year low.
By Kumiko Makihara
Monday, December 1, 2008
I witnessed a bizarre scene at my son's primary school earlier this year. A dozen or so school mothers had encircled a teacher and were bowing deeply. They were apologizing after being scolded for chatting too noisily at a field day performance.
What impressed me even more than the unison bowing was how similar the women appeared: Backs ram-rod straight and waists bent at a 90 degree angle; foundation-polished faces and dark hair; semi-expensive, tasteful if bland outfits. The women looked like identical spokes in a wheel.
The school's professed goal is "to raise distinctive children," but the mothers pursue sameness with military precision. They dress in similar conservative styles and carry designer handbags.
They want to be included in all the coffees and play dates. They sign their children up for the same camps. Conformism assures parents that they won't stand out and risk offending someone in a society that values modesty. And banding together keeps them in the loop of goings-on at school.
Such valued particulars range from what might be on the next science test to where to get school supplies.
A few hours after the school distributed a packing list for a retreat last summer, I went to a department store to buy a fish net. Too late. There'd already been a run on nets by mothers who had decided that was the place to go for them.
The day after the art teacher asked the children to bring in paint sets, I ran into a group of mothers at a stationery store. "My daughter won't be happy unless she has the same one as everyone else," said one, squatting by a stack of them. Even though I already had some brushes and paints at home, I grabbed the same set everyone was buying.
To guide parents in the dark, Katayama Elementary School in Osaka distributes an instruction booklet every year for new students called "Katayama Navi" (short for navigation). "We didn't have enough personnel to field all the inquiries from parents who call with even minor questions," says Kuniko Sugimoto, the assistant principal.
The 30-page manual details necessary supplies down to the number of pencils and advice such as: "Please refrain from buying expensive items or items not needed urgently"; or "As much as possible, have a bowel movement before coming to school." The guide proved so popular that 36 schools in the area now produce such handbooks.
I am overwhelmed trying to stay in good standing with the other mothers, especially as I started out way behind the similarity curve. My fashion style, bred from many years living in the United States, is casual practical. I'm a single parent of a mixed-race child in a nearly completely homogenous and married school population. So I double my efforts to blend in, and grovel to find out about the must-buys and then sew subtle patches and attach charms onto the prized possessions so my son won't mix them up with all the other, identical ones.
How far do I want to smother our identities in order to assimilate? (A few mothers avoid the entire complicated scene by not socializing at all. But these are extremely confident women who can survive on their own.)
I can accept my son being thrilled at the prospects of taking an identical soccer bag or pencil case as his friends' to school. "We can say, 'we have the same one!"' he explains. But it saddens me to see him bemoaning his shimmering brown hair, just a shade lighter than everyone else. In English language class, he adjusts his native pronunciation to have a Japanese accent like his classmates.
In fact, the deftness of concealing one's achievements is another skill in the art of sameness. Many children, for example, attend after-school academic classes but keep it confidential to hide their efforts to race ahead of the crowd. Word went around recently that one girl was "outed" when spotted bearing the satchel of such a program.
The spokes-in-a-wheel mothers had agreed to write brief and simple apology notes to the teacher. But one of the letters was revealed to be rich in detail after it was quoted and praised in a daily report from the teacher to the class. The other apologizers immediately began sleuthing to find out the culprit.
I need to sharpen my skills far more before attempting to join any wheels. First on the agenda is to find out how crucial it is to attend the upcoming fourth-grade potato-roasting event.
Kumiko Makihara is a freelance writer based in Tokyo.
Monday, December 1, 2008
BRUSSELS: Spain will receive 356 million euros (307 million pounds) in EU funds to buy more patrol boats and aircraft to keep illegal immigrants from reaching the wealthy 27-nation bloc, the EU executive said Monday.
Spain has long been a port of entry for immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe in a perilous journey on often rickety boats. Thousands are believed to drown in the attempt.
The cash will also finance other border security measures including helping Spain to bolster surveillance off the Canary Islands, Ibiza, Valencia and Alicante and to train border guards, the EU executive said.
Madrid has beefed up its border surveillance over the past few years, as the fight against illegal migration has become a priority for the EU as a whole, which wants to protect its largely border-free territory.
Spain's Interior Ministry has estimated that between January and August the number of illegal immigrants reaching its shores by boat fell by 8 percent compared with a year earlier.
The EU has earmarked over 1.80 billion euros for its 2007-2013 border protection fund, 825 million euros for the integration of migrants, 676 million euros for the expulsion or voluntary returns of refugees, and 628 million euros to help EU states take care of refugees.
The European Commission estimates that there are up to 8 million illegal migrants in the bloc.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark John and Katie Nguyen)
By Peter Baker
Monday, December 1, 2008
CHICAGO: President-elect Barack Obama has chosen his foreign policy adviser, Susan Rice, to be ambassador to the United Nations, picking an advocate of "dramatic action" against genocide as he rounds out his national security team, Democrats close to the transition said.
Obama was to announce Rice's selection at a news conference here Monday along with his previously reported decisions to nominate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, keep Robert Gates as defense secretary and appoint General James Jones, a retired Marine commandant, his national security adviser, the Democrats said Sunday.
The choice of Rice to represent the United States before the United Nations will make her one of the most visible faces of the Obama administration to the outside world aside from Clinton. It will also send to the world organization a prominent and forceful advocate of stronger action, including military force if necessary, to stop mass killings like those in the Darfur region of Sudan in recent years.
To reinforce his intention to work more closely with the United Nations after the tensions of President George W. Bush's tenure, Obama plans to restore the ambassador's post to cabinet rank, as it was under President Bill Clinton, according to Democrats close to the transition.
While the cabinet consists of 15 department heads, a president can give other positions the same rank for the duration of his administration.
"She's obviously one of Obama's closest advisers, so it underscores how much of a priority he's making the position," said Nancy Soderberg, a senior U.S. diplomat at the United Nations under Bill Clinton. "If you look at the last eight years, we obviously need to be more engaged at the UN and realistic about what the UN can do."
At the announcement Monday, the president-elect was to also formally unveil his nominations of Eric Holder Jr. to be attorney general and Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona to be secretary of homeland security, the Democrats said. He will not announce any of the top intelligence appointments on Monday, but the Democrats said they expected him soon to name Admiral Dennis Blair, a retired Pacific Fleet commander, as director of national intelligence.
If confirmed, Rice, 44, would be the second-youngest U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A Rhodes scholar who earned a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University, she joined Bill Clinton's National Security Council staff in 1993 before rising to assistant secretary of state for African affairs at age 32. When Obama decided to run for president, she signed on as one of his top advisers, much to the consternation of the Clinton camp, which resented what it saw as a defection.
As the ambassador at the United Nations, Rice will have to coordinate with Hillary Clinton but will not be in the White House or State Department headquarters on a daily basis as major policies are formulated. One person close to Clinton said the senator did not object to Rice serving at the United Nations.
Some colleagues from her Clinton and Obama days said Rice could be blunt and unafraid to "mix it up," as one put it, on behalf of issues she cares about. Rice herself acknowledges a certain impatience at times.
Admirers said she was a good listener and able to stand up to strong personalities, including foreign autocrats and militants in volatile regions of the world.
"Susan certainly is tough, and she's tough in exactly the right way," said Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, where Rice worked in recent years. "She's intellectually tough," said Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state. "She's tough in her approach to how the policy-making process should work, and she will be very effective as a diplomat."
John Bolton, one of Bush's ambassadors at the United Nations, would not discuss Rice's selection but said it was unwise to elevate the position to the cabinet again. "One, it overstates the role and importance the UN should have in U.S. foreign policy," Bolton said.
"Second, you shouldn't have two secretaries in the same department."
During her first run at the State Department, Rice was a point person in responding to the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Al Qaeda. But her most searing experience was visiting Rwanda after the 1994 genocide when she was still on the NSC staff.
As she later described the scene, the hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing, hacked-up bodies that she saw haunted her and fueled a desire to never let it happen again.
"I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required," she told the Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration's handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of a U.S.-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.
Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, praised the pending Rice nomination on Sunday, calling it a powerful sign of the new president's interest in the issue. The coalition is urging Obama to begin a "peace surge" of sustained diplomacy to address the continuing problems in Sudan.
"It sends a very strong signal about his approach to the issue of Sudan and Africa in general," Fowler said.
Monday, December 1, 2008
LONDON: The British lender Royal Bank of Scotland said Monday that it would not repossess the homes of mortgage customers who default until six months after they first fall into arrears.
RBS, owner of NatWest bank, said the move was designed to give overstretched borrowers a chance to resolve their financial problems as falling house prices and a flagging economy put households under pressure.
"We fully understand that one of the biggest worries facing homeowners in financial difficulty is the thought of losing their home, and this is especially true given the current economic climate," the RBS managing director of retail banking Craig Donaldson said in a statement.
The biggest British mortgage lenders have already committed to waiting three months before repossessing customers' homes, under an agreement announced last week by the chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.
Mortgage arrears and repossessions have risen sharply this year, reflecting the economic slowdown as well as a sharp rise in borrowing costs in the wake of the credit crunch.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders said there were 168,000 households in arrears at end-September, up 8 percent from end-June.
A total 11,300 homes were repossessed in the three months to Sept. 30, an increase of 12 percent on the previous quarter.
The RBS move could force rival lenders to follow suit, potentially delaying the moment when the house price slump bottoms out, said an Evolution Securities analyst, Bruce Packard.
"This announcement does put pressure on the other banks, notably Lloyds and HBOS, which together have £348 billion of mortgages. The announcement may also delay when the UK housing market reaches a 'clearing price,"' Packard wrote in a note to clients.
RBS said its six-month grace period would remain in place until "at least" the end of 2009, and that it would also ensure customers in arrears were given the opportunity to get independent advice.
RBS is 58 percent owned by the British state after shareholders mostly shunned an equity fundraising underwritten by the government last month.
The government, which has spent a total of £37 billion, or $57.09 billion, of public money bailing out RBS, Lloyds TSB and HBOS, has been urging banks to keep lending to consumers and businesses in a bid to bolster the flagging economy.
On Friday, the Financial Services Authority wrote to the heads of Britain's leading mortgage lenders asking them to make sure their arrears polices are in line with FSA requirements, which stipulate that repossession should only be used as a last resort.
House prices in Britain have declined sharply during the credit crisis. In the latest data from the housing market, property consultancy Hometrack said on Monday that prices in England and Wales fell by 1.1 percent in November to take them 8.1 percent lower on a year ago.
By John F. Burns
Monday, December 1, 2008
LONDON: Until last week, many in Britain would have had trouble identifying Damian Green, a quiet-mannered, 52-year-old Conservative member of Parliament, much less imagining him as the central figure in a storm over the sovereignty of Parliament that has led to accusations of "Stalinist" behavior by the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
But Green has been front-page news ever since Scotland Yard's counterterrorism squad arrested him Thursday, held him for nine hours of questioning and raided his House of Commons office, west London home, and another office and home in the town of Ashford.
British constitutional experts say that no serving parliamentarian in living memory, much less a front-bench member of the "shadow cabinet" like Green, has ever been subjected to such harsh treatment.
A team of 20 officers from what is officially known as Scotland Yard's "special operations" unit took Green's fingerprints and a DNA sample, seized his cellphone and BlackBerry, and froze his House of Commons e-mail account. They also carried off computers, documents and even personal letters exchanged by Green and his wife, Alicia, when they were dating at Oxford University 30 years ago.
Five days later, none of the seized materials has been returned.
Nobody at Scotland Yard suggests that Green is a terrorist or that he has done anything to undermine national security. His offense, if any, seems to lie in his relationship with a civil servant in the Home Office who is said to have offered himself to the Conservatives last year as a whistle-blower on immigration and other politically sensitive issues.
Christopher Galley, a 26-year-old assistant private secretary in the office of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, was also arrested in a dawn raid Thursday. Galley is believed to have helped Green become a trenchant critic of the Labour government's immigration policies, one of the most volatile issues in British politics.
The Conservative Party, which has been ahead of Labour for many months in opinion polls, says that it will make Labour's failure to control the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants arriving in Britain every year - and the resulting strain on health, education and other public services - an issue in a general election that Brown must call before June 2010.
Conservative Party officials have said that it was Galley who told Green that the Home Office was "covering up" information proving that 5,000 illegal immigrants had been given approval to work as security guards in Britain and that one of them was working as a guard at the Home Office itself. The disclosure caused a furor when Green asked Smith about it in November.
The Conservatives also say that Galley's leaks to Green included a list of 50 Labour lawmakers who were expected to vote against a controversial bill to extend to 42 days the length of time terrorism suspects can be detained before being charged.
Critics say that Green's plight has highlighted the range of potentially arbitrary powers available to the government and the police in Britain, an issue that has increasingly engaged civil libertarians.
Although Britain prides itself on being the "mother of all democracies" and the fount of the 18th-century liberal ideas that underpin freedoms around the world, there are many who fear that the modern British state is becoming increasingly invasive of personal liberties. They point in particular to the use of modern technologies like the closed-circuit television cameras that are ubiquitous in British city life.
For the moment, though, the central issue of debate here is the sovereignty of Parliament and its ability to hold accountable the government, features of the British political system that evolved over centuries and that were only settled with the Civil War of the 1640s and the execution of King Charles I.
Michael Howard, a former Conservative Party leader, compared Green's arrest to the moment in 1642 when King Charles burst into the House of Commons demanding the arrest of five of its members. "This is the sort of thing that led to the start of the civil war," Howard said.
Scotland Yard has said that Green, who was released on bail Thursday night - as was Galley - remains under investigation "on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office," a centuries-old offense most often used in cases of corruption.
Unidentified Scotland Yard officers were quoted in British newspapers on Monday as saying that Green was suspected of "grooming" Galley to be a whistle-blower. But spokesmen for the Conservatives have said that Galley was not paid, directed or induced in any way.
Meanwhile, the political storm mounts. Smith, the home secretary whose ministry oversees the police, has said that while she knew that Scotland Yard was conducting an inquiry into the leak of secret Home Office information - an inquiry officially requested by David Normington, the top Home Office civil servant, after a string of parliamentary embarrassments for Smith - the police did not give her advance notice of their plans to arrest Green.
Similar denials have been voiced from the office of the prime minister and other ministries that deal with law-and-order issues.
A House of Commons committee has vowed to investigate the events, while officials at 10 Downing Street have said that the prime minister is considering a wider public inquiry into the issue of civil servants leaking information to politicians and the point at which police action may be justified.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Defending champion South Africa must play Wales at the next rugby union World Cup in 2011 and host New Zealand will meet France in a repeat of their dramatic quarterfinal a year ago.
England and Scotland were also put into the same group when the draw was made in London on Monday, with Argentina as the top seed. Australia, the only team to win the trophy twice, is grouped with Ireland and Italy.
The competition will involve 20 teams and qualifying rounds to decide the other eight teams have already started.
New Zealand, France and Tonga will also play a qualifier from North or South America and one from Asia. Argentina, England and Scotland are grouped with a European qualifier and also the winner of a qualifying playoff.
Australia, Ireland and Italy also face qualifiers from Europe and the Americas and South Africa, Wales and Fiji meet qualifiers from Oceania - likely to be two-time quarterfinalist Samoa - and Africa.
South Africa, which beat England in the 2007 final, had a narrow 20-15 victory over Wales a month ago in Cardiff.
"Last time, we were drawn against the top team from Britain, which was then England, and this time we have been drawn against Wales, who are the current Six Nations champions," said South Africa captain John Smit. "We also played two teams from the Pacific Islands, and this time we have Fiji and an Oceania qualifier, which is very likely to be Samoa."
New Zealand's 20-18 loss to France in Cardiff was one of the big upsets of the last World Cup.
"I guess my first thought was 'that's what the talk will be about, what happened last time,"' New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said. "Because of that there'll be a bit more intrigue about the match."
England against Scotland is the oldest international matchup, first played in 1871.
"I'm excited by the draw," said Scotland captain Mike Blair, whose team has reached the quarterfinal of all six World Cups. "In England and Argentina we have two extremely tough sides in our pool who have a very proud record in the tournament."
The draw means that England, the 2003 winner and 2007 runner up, has a tough path just to get through to the semifinal.
Martin Johnson's team, which has lost to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the past three weeks, would meet either New Zealand or France in the quarterfinal as long as it finishes in the top two in its group.
"We've got Scotland which will be the first time we've played them for 20 years," Johnson said. "Argentina were third in the last tournament. A lot of people will think we've got a good draw but it will be tough.
"Looking at the other pools - France playing New Zealand in a pool, Australia in with Ireland and South Africa with Wales and Fiji - it's going to be a great World Cup even before the quarterfinals.
Current Six Nations champion Wales will likely meet Australia in the quarterfinals but could avoid that by beating South Africa and finishing top of their own group.
"Look at the World Cup last year. The winners of the competition came from the toughest pool," Wales coach Warren Gatland said. "If we come out of it, then we are in pretty good shape for the quarterfinals as we will have played some tough rugby, as long as we don't pick up too many injuries. I think this is the toughest pool."
2011 WORLD CUP DRAW
LONDON (AP) - Monday's draw for the first round of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand:
Quarterfinal 1: Pool B Winner vs. Pool A Runnerup
Quarterfinal 2: Pool C Winner vs. Pool D Runnerup
Quarterfinal 3: Pool A Winner vs. Pool B Runnerup
Quarterfinal 4: Pool D Winner vs. Pool C Runnerup
Semifinal 1: Quarterfinal 1 winner vs. Quarterfinal 2 winner
Semifinal 2: Quarterfinal 3 winner vs. Quarterfinal 4 winner
Semifinal 1 winner vs. Semifinal 2 winner
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