By Nicholas Kulish
Sunday, November 30, 2008
The locally grown filet, a solid hunk of raw, red meat one moment, is teased apart with seeming ease by the hummingbird-quick dicing and mincing of the chef's hand the next. He plops in a bright yellow egg yolk and beats it into the mixture with such precision he might be preparing a tempera for a fine fresco.
The work of art in question, however, is Warsaw's most renowned steak tartare, disassembled and reassembled before your eyes, tableside at U Kucharzy. The name means simply "the chefs," and because the entire restaurant is in the converted former hotel kitchen of the Europejski Hotel, most of the plain-wood tables afford a view of the cooking process.
It remains a joy to watch kitchen masters straining, stirring and turning, all the more when you know the end result is coming your way. At U Kucharzy, that should prepare the diner for the fact that this is no low-calorie establishment.
If not, the spoonful of pure, liquid fat drizzled over the duck with cranberry sauce and red cabbage (68 zloty, about $23) will underscore the point. Yet as all but the crunchy skin dissolves in your mouth, you will think only of taste and texture. Supporting actors such as lane kluski, a Polish egg noodle similar to German spätzle, are divine simplicities.
Despite the pianist tickling Gershwin on a grand, the décor in the main restaurant is thematically shabby. Management probably saved a bundle on high-end lighting design, but the brightness makes it easier to see the food, which, to U Kucharzy's credit, is what it's all about.
The service in the restaurant is intentionally informal, even a little brusque - after all, everyone is hanging out in the service area together. Asked if the rabbit in cream sauce could be split in half, the waiter shrugged and replied, "Maybe with a chainsaw."
Yet the request was met. And casualness has its benefits. At a recent lunch, a waiter carved a few extra slices of ham for a curious patron on the way back from the neighboring table, just for a taste, the way Grandma might.
7 Ossolinskich Street (Europejski Hotel), 48-22-826-79-36, www.gessler.pl.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
By Lucy Hornby
The new face of AIDS in China is a shy man with a heavy provincial accent, a weathered face and the rough hands of a manual worker.
Zhang Xiaohu, a character in an educational film for migrant workers, is part of a trend that worries Chinese officials: the potential for AIDS to spread among the estimated 200 million rural migrants driving the country's rapid economic expansion.
AIDS in China has, to date, mostly been limited to drug users, gay men, prostitutes and the victims of reckless blood-buying schemes in the 1990s.
By the end of 2007, China had about 700,000 people with HIV/AIDS -- 0.05 percent of the total population -- health officials said on Sunday, ahead of World Aids Day the next day.
"The epidemic is lowly prevalent in general but it is highly prevalent among specific groups such as migrant workers, and in some regions particularly remote areas and the countryside," said Wang Weizhen, deputy director of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment at the Ministry of Health, according to state media.
Higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and other risk factors among male migrants have spurred an intensified effort to reach them before HIV spreads faster among them, and into the broader population.
"Other at-risk groups are rather small, but this one is huge," said Sun Xinhua, head of an office to combat AIDS that reports directly to the State Council, China's cabinet.
China's construction workers, miners and casual labourers have all the ingredients for HIV to spread. Often far from home, bored, and with some spare cash in their pockets, few of them use condoms when they visit prostitutes as rootless as themselves.
"You must stay away from these women and keep yourself out of trouble, especially when you are working away from home," said Liu Guilin, 38, at a dusty construction site in eastern Beijing.
"There are many dark corners now in Beijing. There are always women coming up to you and trying to drag you away."
Sexually transmitted diseases are more common among the migrants than the general population, but they have less access to healthcare and information than permanent city dwellers.
Their fear of rejection from co-workers and of losing jobs make many reluctant to test for HIV, which if not held back by drugs, leads to full-blown AIDS and usually death.
"I heard that you are doomed if you get AIDS. So if we found out anyone had it, we would stay well away from him," said Zhang Shiliang, 35, a slight cement layer who has left his family behind in Sichuan for six years while he forages for work.
Zhang, who said he was not clear on how AIDS spread, doubted that any of the hundreds of workers sharing his makeshift dormitory could have contracted the disease.
The stigma and fear surrounding AIDS and embarrassment about talking about sex compound the difficulty of reaching the migrant population, who often lack access to information and deeply distrust officialdom.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told AIDS workers and doctors on Sunday that more should be done to "strengthen prevention work in key areas and key populations," state radio news reported on Sunday. Wen also vowed more money for AIDS medicine, which has fallen short of needs.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the International Labour Organisation hope "Hometown Fellows," a short film with a Charlie Chaplin-like feel, will help break down barriers when it is shown at workplaces and mines.
In the film, shot partially in black and white, Chinese film star Wang Baoqiang, himself a former construction worker, shares toil, sweat and daily life with Zhang Xiaohu, a fellow worker ostracised because he has HIV.
Zhang is played by Wang Zhenting, a man who contracted HIV in 2002, and who knows what that rejection feels like.
"Some other workers had a lot of prejudice against us. But the government is working to raise awareness," he told reporters at the launch of the film.
"Now, some people are OK with me, but some are still not."
(Additional reporting by Phyllis Xu; Editing by Valerie Lee)
By Kirk Johnson
Sunday, November 30, 2008
BIG SKY, Montana: Every town has its walls and gates — some visible, some not — for keeping things out or in.
Here some of the gates are world famous. The Yellowstone Club, a cloistered and cosseted mountain retreat for the super-rich, helped define a style and an era with its creation in 1999.
The club had 340 members with a private ski mountain only a schuss away from $20 million vacation homes. It was the corner office and the executive suite of gated communities all in one — an exemplar of exclusivity.
But the sense of refuge was an illusion. The global financial crises have stormed even these gilded confines: This month, the Yellowstone Club filed for bankruptcy protection.
"The economy caught up with them," said L. C. Sammons, a retired physician from Memphis who lives in Big Sky just down the road from the club.
Other corners of the resort-economy West are taking punches. The Tamarack Resort in Idaho, which opened in 2004 north of Boise, is operating in receivership after the owners defaulted on a $250 million loan. Home construction has halted but the ski area is scheduled to open on Dec. 12. In Utah, the Promontory Club, a 7,224-acre, or 2,900-hectare, ski and golf development near Park City, declared bankruptcy in March when the company defaulted on a $275 million loan.
Here in Big Sky, the Yellowstone Club's troubles have been complicated by domestic entanglement. Tim Blixseth, the club's founder, and his wife, Edra, divorced this year, putting the club in her control. Blixseth then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the club's inability to restructure $399 million in debt.
"The freeze on the credit market put them in a bad place," said Bill Keegan, a spokesman for the club. "They need to restructure their debt, and they realized it wouldn't happen for the opening."
To open for the season, Blixseth asked for an expedited hearing to raise cash, and Judge Ralph Kirscher of U.S. Bankruptcy Court signed an order in mid-November allowing Credit Suisse to lend the club $4.5 million to pay its debtors.
Montana has a history as a sometimes brutal exurb of capitalism, with tensions between rich and poor and labor and capital a theme since the 1800s. Over the last decade, people with Yellowstone Club-size wallets bought vast swaths of land, spurring the leisure economy at the same time that wage stagnation — Montana sank to 39th in the nation in median family income, according to the most recent Census figures — took hold of much of the rest of the state's population.
Some residents, in interviews here and in Bozeman, an hour north of Big Sky, said they were not particularly upset about the club's plight, given its excesses and presumptions.
But most people also know someone whose fortunes are tied to the financial engines that made this corner of Montana's economy go in recent years — wealth, vacation housing and tourism.
"It's kind of like a double-edged sword for a lot of people around here," said Greg Thomas, a 31-year-old construction worker from Bozeman. "It's pretty grotesque and ridiculous, but at the same time, a lot of people depend on going up there for jobs."
Bill Hopkins was more to the point.
"I can kind of gloat on one hand, but I'm not really happy about it," said Hopkins, 51, who works at Yellowstone National Park, just south of here, coordinating volunteer trail maintenance crews. Hopkins said he disliked the club's environmental footprint — 13,500 acres of formerly pristine open-space backcountry, now sealed off and built on.
"The damage has been done, as far as development there," he said, "so as long as it's developed, I'd just as soon see it operational."
The reaction to the club's problems in Big Sky, population 2,500, has been filtered through an economic slowdown that was already well under way.
Mark Robin, owner of the Hungry Moose Deli, said the river of headlights that used to greet him at 6 a.m. each day when he opened the shop — cars and trucks full of construction and maintenance-crew commuters driving down from Bozeman, eager for coffee and breakfast — had already slowed to a trickle as housing construction slumped outside the club.
And the credit crisis had already struck home as well, at a Big Sky ski resort open to the public called Moonlight Basin, which received its financing from Lehman Brothers before it collapsed. Moonlight laid off much of its workforce this fall, then renegotiated its debt, rehired its workers and is planning to open for the season in December.
Residents of Big Sky say everybody knows how hard the day-to-day struggle can be in rural Montana. Scrambling and getting by is just part of the landscape in a seasonal economy, said Marne Hayes, the executive director of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce.
"People work really hard to stay here, and it's not always an easy thing to do," said Hayes, who came here from Pennsylvania in the early 1990s and took odd jobs for years to make ends meet. As for economic cycles, she added, "people who live and work here never thought they were immune."
Some of the Yellowstone Club's members, who paid $18,000 in annual dues for years, on top of their $250,000 deposit to join, are not quite so understanding. About 120 of them filed a brief in bankruptcy court asking what became of all the fat checks.
"That money seems to be gone," the brief states, "and members want to know why."
By Juliet Macur
Sunday, November 30, 2008
BOULDER, Colorado: When Donna Campiglia learned recently that a genetic test might be able to determine which sports suit the talents of her 2½-year-old son, Noah, she instantly said, "Where can I get it, and how much does it cost?"
"I could see how some people might think the test would pigeonhole your child into doing fewer sports or being exposed to fewer things, but I still think it's good to match them with the right activity," Campiglia, 36, said as she watched a toddler class at Boulder Indoor Soccer, in which Noah struggled to take direction from the coach between juice and potty breaks.
"I think it would prevent a lot of parental frustration," she said.
In sports-oriented Boulder, Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child's natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child's cheek and along the gums to collect the DNA and return it to a laboratory for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.
The test's goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.
In this era of genetic testing, DNA is being analyzed to determine predispositions to disease, but experts raise serious questions about marketing it as a first step in finding a child's sports niche, which some parents consider the road to a college scholarship or a career as a professional athlete.
Atlas executives acknowledge that their test has limitations but say that it could provide guidelines for placing youngsters up to age 8 in sports.
Some experts say ACTN3 testing is in its infancy and virtually useless. Dr. Theodore Friedmann, the director of the interdepartmental gene therapy program at the University of California, San Diego, Medical Center, called it "an opportunity to sell new versions of snake oil."
"This may or may not be quite that venal, but I would like to see a lot more research done before it is offered to the general public," he said. "I don't deny that these genes have a role in athletic success, but it's not that black and white."
Stephen Roth, director of the functional genomics laboratory at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health, has studied ACTN3. He said he believes the test will become popular. But he had reservations.
"The idea that it will be one or two genes that are contributing to the Michael Phelpses or the Usain Bolts of the world I think is shortsighted because it's much more complex than that," he said, adding that athletic performance has been found to be affected by at least 200 genes.
Roth called ACTN3 "one of the most exciting and eyebrow-raising genes out there in the sports-performance arena," but he said that tests for the gene would be best used only on top athletes looking to tailor workouts to their body types.
"It seems to be important at very elite levels of competition," Roth said. "But is it going to affect little Johnny when he participates in soccer, or Suzy's ability to perform sixth-grade track and field? There's very little evidence to suggest that."
The study that identified the connection between ACTN3 and elite performance was published in 2003 by researchers primarily based in Australia.
Those scientists looked at the gene's combinations, one copy provided by each parent. The R variant of ACTN3 instructs the body to produce a protein, alpha-actinin-3, found specifically in fast-twitch muscles. Those muscles are capable of the forceful, quick contractions necessary in speed and power sports. The X variant prevents production of the protein.
The ACTN3 study looked at 429 elite white athletes, including 50 Olympians, and found that 50 percent of the 107 sprint athletes had two copies of the R variant. Even more telling, no female elite sprinter had two copies of the X variant. All male Olympians in power sports had at least one copy of the R variant.
Conversely, nearly 25 percent of the elite endurance athletes had two copies of the X variant - only slightly higher than the control group at 18 percent. That means people with two X copies are more likely to be suited for endurance sports.
Still, some athletes prove science, and seemingly their genetics, wrong. Research on an Olympic long jumper from Spain showed that he had no copies of the R variant, demonstrating that athletic success is most likely affected by a combination of genes as well as factors like environment, work ethic, nutrition and luck.
"Just think if that Spanish kid's parents had done the test and said, 'No, your genes show that you are going to be a bad long jumper, so we are going to make you a golfer,"' said Carl Foster, a co-author of the study, who is the director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. "Now look at him. He's the springiest guy in Spain. He's Tigger. We don't yet understand what combination of genes creates that kind of explosiveness."
Foster suggested a better way to determine whether a child would be good at sprint and power sports. "Just line them up with their classmates for a race and see which ones are the fastest," he said.
Kevin Reilly, the president of Atlas Sports Genetics and a former weight-lifting coach, expected the test to be controversial. He said some people were concerned that it would cause "a rebirth of eugenics, similar to what Hitler did in trying to create this race of perfect athletes."
Reilly said he feared what he called misuse by parents who go overboard with the results and specialize their children too quickly and fervently.
"I'm nervous about people who get back results that don't match their expectations," he said. "What will they do if their son would not be good at football? How will they mentally and emotionally deal with that?"
If ACTN3 suggests a child may be a great athlete, he said, parents should take a step back and nurture that potential Olympian or NFL star with careful nutrition, coaching and planning. He also said they should hold off on placing a child in a competitive environment until about the age of 8 to avoid burnout.
"Based on the test of a 5-year-old or a newborn, you are not going to see if you have the next Michael Johnson; that's just not going to happen," Reilly said. "But if you wait until high school or college to find out if you have a good athlete on your hands, by then it will be too late. We need to identify these kids from 1 and up, so we can give the parents some guidelines on where to go from there."
Boyd Epley, the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Nebraska from 1969 to 2003, said the next step would be a physical test he devised. Atlas plans to direct children to Epic Athletic Performance, a talent identification company that uses Epley's index.
He founded the company; Reilly is its president.
China and Russia, Epley said, identify talent in the very young and whittle the pool of athletes until only the best remain for the national teams.
"This is how we could stay competitive with the rest of the world," Epley said of genetic and physical testing. "It could, at the very least, provide you with realistic goals for you and your children."
The ACTN3 test has been available through the Australian company Genetic Technologies since 2004. The company has marketed the test in Australia, Europe and Japan, but is now entering the United States through Atlas. The testing kit was scheduled to be available starting Monday through the Web site atlasgene.com.
The analysis takes two to three weeks, and the results arrive in the form of a certificate announcing Your Genetic Advantage, whether it is in sprint, power and strength sports; endurance sports; or activity sports (for those with one copy of each variant, and perhaps a combination of strengths). A packet of educational information suggests sports that are most appropriate and what paths to follow so the child reaches his or her potential.
"I find it worrisome because I don't think parents will be very clear-minded about this," said William Morgan, an expert on the philosophy of ethics and sport and author of "Why Sports Morally Matter." "This just contributes to the madness about sports because there are some parents who will just go nuts over the results."
"The problem here is that the kids are not old enough to make rational autonomous decisions about their own life," he said.
Some parents will steer clear of the test for that reason.
Dr. Ray Howe, a general practitioner in Denver, said he would rather see his 2-year-old, Joseph, find his own way in life and discover what sports he likes the best. Howe, a former professional cyclist, likened ACTN3 testing to gene testing for breast cancer or other diseases.
"You might be able to find those things out, but do you really want to know?" he said.
Others, like Lori Lacy, 36, said genetic testing would be inevitable. Lacy, who lives in Broomfield, Colorado, has three children ranging in age from 2 months to 5 years.
"Parents will start to say, 'I know one mom who's doing the test on her son, so maybe we should do the test too,"' she said. "Peer pressure and curiosity would send people over the edge. What if my son could be a pro football player and I don't know it?"
By Jad Mouawad
Sunday, November 30, 2008
CAIRO: Over the summer, the OPEC cartel could not prevent oil prices from surging to record levels even when its members pumped full out. Now, the producers seem equally unable to stop prices from collapsing as the global economy cools down.
Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries left an informal meeting in Cairo this weekend without an agreement to reduce production, but with rising doubts about fraying discipline and tensions within the group that accounts for 40 percent of the world's oil exports.
So great uncertainty still looms over the market. Have producers managed to draw a line in the sand, or will oil prices keep falling in coming months?
After topping $147 a barrel in July, prices have slipped by more than $90 because of lower economic growth around the world. Prices could keep falling next year, analysts say, with some predicting new lows of around $30 a barrel.
On Friday, oil for January delivery closed at $54.43 a barrel in New York, having dropped below $50 a week earlier - the lowest level in more than three years. The cartel said it would consider reducing production at a meeting in Algeria on Dec. 17.
OPEC members need prices of $60 to $90 a barrel to balance their budgets, so the prospect of lower prices and crimped revenues is daunting. Even Saudi Arabia indicated over the weekend that it considered $75 a barrel to be a "fair price," a far higher figure than most analysts expected from the kingdom.
As the meeting in Cairo this weekend illustrates, there are unmistakable signs that the group is struggling to maintain its unity.
"It is at times when the organization is under pressure that its cohesion is tested," said Raad Alkadiri, an energy expert at PFC Energy, a consulting firm, who was in Cairo during the meeting. "Right now, there is a sense it's not in the driving seat."
The oil market has gone full circle at an astonishing speed. The factors that pushed up prices since 2003 - including surging demand, sluggish production and investors flocking to commodity markets - have mostly disappeared.
Global growth, the biggest factor for oil demand, is under severe stress, new supplies are coming on the market, oil inventories are brimming and investors are fleeing commodities.
In the United States alone, oil demand plunged by 2.6 million barrels a day in September, or nearly 13 percent, according to monthly data released in November by the U.S. Energy Department. Demand fell to 17.7 million barrels a day, the lowest monthly level since October 1995.
Overall global oil consumption could drop for the first time in 25 years this year and might not recover before 2011, according to analysts. Some analysts said OPEC needed to cut output by at least three million barrels a day to make up for declining demand in industrialized nations.
Meanwhile, the credit crisis is hurting the ability of producers to finance new developments, and crimping high-cost producers, like those developing tar sands or deep water offshore fields, who need prices of $60 to $80 a barrel to be viable. This means supplies could be affected as oil companies cut back their investment spending. If prices keep falling, some existing fields could also become uneconomical and might be shut down.
Behind its facade, the cartel is facing its toughest test in years. The meeting, which was billed as an informal consultation rather than an official event, failed to resolve deep-seated issues like how much each country was pumping and to what degree they should reduce production. Instead, producers tried to stay on message.
"OPEC is united," said Shokri Ghanem, the Libyan oil minister, as he sped out of the meeting Saturday without slowing down for questions, his words echoing through the vast lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel.
But there were signs of tensions. The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, are unwilling to approve further supply reductions before other members of the cartel - particularly Iran and Venezuela - follow through on previous commitments to cut output.
Analysts said the Saudis wanted to show other members of the cartel just how serious they were about sharing the burden between all producers. But even as the Saudis appear ready to play hardball, with the risk of pushing down prices further, OPEC is also laying the grounds for a more coordinated approach with other producers.
The OPEC secretary general, Abdalla Salem el-Badri, has asked producers outside of the cartel, including Russia, Mexico and Norway, to restrain their own supplies to prop up prices, as some of them did in the late 1990s when prices slumped below $10 a barrel. These countries will attend the group's next meeting in Algeria.
"Our concern is about overproduction," said Abdullah al-Attiyah, Qatar's energy minister. "If you're producing oil and no one is buying it, this is the concern."
I could not agree more with Michael Johnson's article on the overall decline of restaurants in France ("Want a good French meal? Don't go to France," Meanwhile, Nov. 28).
I've lived in France for more than 20 years and I've seen both the quality of the food and the level of service at your average neighborhood bistro plummet in recent years. Half the servers could not care less about their work, which years ago was taken as an art. In Paris, you can probably still get a decent meal at Alain Ducasse's restaurants - provided you want to pay a fortune.
Philip Crawford, Paris
Michael Johnson has no idea what he is talking about and most of the opinions he expresses are absolute blather. Ever walk down the street in America and try to get a decent meal? It is tough going.
French cuisine has little competition in the world, whatever Michael Johnson may think. I find the permanent lambasting of the French increasingly difficult to digest.
Suzanne Weinberg, Paris
I heartily agree with Michael Johnson's article. Café food has become dismal and really good French food too expensive for everyday casual fare. Visitors to Paris should be introduced to the other great cuisines that one can find here - notably those linked to France's former colonies. Delicious North African tagines and couscous dishes, hearty Vietnamese salads, and mouth-watering Lebanese mezzé are just a few of the world cuisines that one can find in Paris. They are far better choices than the mediocre meals served in most mid-range priced French restaurants.
Charlotte Puckette, Paris
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Serena Chaudhry
Advertising executive Penny Holt loves her native South Africa but power cuts, a murky political climate and widespread violent crime made her think about leaving the nation she once viewed as a beacon of hope.
A robbery at her office was the last straw.
"There's a brutality, an anger that worries me," said the 32-year-old executive at Saatchi & Saatchi as she finished packing up her house in the well-heeled northern suburbs of Johannesburg ready to move to London.
Holt's decision reflects what appears to be an accelerating trend in Africa's biggest economy. Professionals, often young and in middle management but increasingly senior executives too, are leaving, adding to a skills shortage that is already acute.
Even though the global financial crisis is cutting job opportunities abroad -- prompting some South Africans to consider moving home to take them up -- at least eight top-level executives at listed companies have resigned this year to emigrate.
Clothing retailer Truworths said in October its financial director Wayne van der Merwe was relocating with his family to Australia, while wealth and asset management group Peregrine Holdings Ltd said in September its chief executive Keith Betty was moving to Australia.
The chief financial officer of chemical and explosives firm AECI emigrated after his 12-year-old daughter was shot in a robbery. And retail giant Massmart has reported a flight of senior management at the firm.
A property barometer by First National Bank released in October showed 18 percent of people selling their houses in the third quarter were doing so because they were emigrating, up from 9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.
South Africa's department of Home Affairs said it did not keep a record of the number of people emigrating.
For many, the main worry is South Africa's shockingly high crime levels. An average of 50 people are murdered every day, according to the 2008 government crime report, with robberies, break-ins and hold-ups at businesses up almost 50 percent.
"In most instances I think the fundamental reason for leaving is violent crime," said Azar Jammine, chief economist at Econometrix.
Peter Gent, chief operating officer of Rand Merchant Bank, said the investment firm is actively sourcing skilled labour overseas because of an exodus of investment bankers, accountants and information technology specialists.
"Certainly from the beginning of this year, one's seen an increase (in emigration)," Gent said. "I think it's a real issue for the country."
The skills exodus has hit the public sector too, and the government has been trying to recruit experienced artisans, particularly engineers, doctors and teachers, from abroad.
Those with the means to leave are still disproportionately white, but Gent said people of all races were emigrating.
"The 30-40 year range is where we've seen the bulk of the fallout, and typically it is people with specialist skills."
Analysts say power cuts in January and a wave of xenophobic attacks in May further clouded the mood.
And many middle class South Africans and foreign investors have been rattled by the worst political crisis since the end of apartheid, which saw the ousting of Thabo Mbeki as president by the ruling ANC party.
ANC leader Jacob Zuma, frontrunner to become president after an election next year, has strong ties to the left and there are worries he may veer away from Mbeki's pro-business policies.
A corruption case against Zuma, in which he denies wrongdoing, has also troubled some South Africans.
"The current political situation is a concern," said advertising executive Holt. "Zuma I feel is not a very moral, ethical person."
The global recession might help reverse, or at least slow the trend, as jobs in London's City freeze up.
South Africa has been shielded from much of the turmoil, as strict regulation has helped local banks like Standard Bank and Absa limit exposure to toxic U.S. assets.
While the country's big four banks are likely to see slower growth as the slowdown hits exports and batters the rand, Standard Bank, Absa, Nedbank and FirstRand have all reported healthy liquidity profiles.
"The grass on the other side is looking a little less green than it was six months ago," said Guy Lundy, co-author of "South Africa: Reasons to Believe," a book that highlights the positive aspects of South Africa.
The Homecoming Revolution, a group which tries to persuade South Africans living abroad to move home, says it has seen an increase in people wanting to return this year.
Managing Director Martine Schaffer said of the 1,000 South Africans who attended the group's exhibition in London this month, four out of five were planning to return to South Africa.
"It's such a beautiful country and there is so much potential, we need to come home and bring the skills that we got here from London and make a difference," said Kathryn Hallock, 30, who is moving home after more than eight years in Britain.
RMB's Gent said the global freeze may well prompt young South Africans to scrap or delay their emigration plans.
"The slowdown in the global economy and specifically around investment banking will address that to some degree."
(Editing by Rebecca Harrison and Sara Ledwith)
By Seth Mydans
Sunday, November 30, 2008
PHNOM PENH: It may be the only place in Cambodia where the children are nicknamed Homey, Frog, Floater, Fresh, Smiley, Bugs and Diamond.
And there are not many places like this small courtyard, thudding to the beat of a boom box, where dozens of boys in big T-shirts are spinning on their heads and doing one-hand hops, elbow tracks, flairs, halos, air tracks and windmills. Not to mention krumping.
It is a little slice of inner-city Long Beach, California, brought here by a former gang member by way of a federal penitentiary, an immigration jail and then expulsion from his homeland, the United States, to the homeland of his parents, Cambodia.
The former gang member is Tuy Sobil, 30, who goes by the street name K.K. The children with the funny names are Cambodian street children he has taken under his wing as he teaches them the art he brought with him, break dancing, as well as his hard lessons in life.
K.K. is not here because he wants to be. He is one of 189 Cambodian refugees who have been banished from the United States over the past six years under a law that mandates deportations for noncitizens who commit felonies. Hundreds more are still to be deported.
Like most of the others, K.K. is a noncitizen only by a technicality of paperwork. He is not an illegal alien. He is a refugee from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge "killing fields" who found a haven in America in 1980.
He was an infant when he arrived; in fact, he was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and had never seen Cambodia before he was deported here.
But like so many refugees, K.K.'s parents were unsophisticated farmers who failed to complete the citizenship process when they arrived.
Like some children of poor immigrants, K.K. drifted to the streets, where he became a member of the Crips gang and a champion break dancer. It was only after he was arrested for armed robbery at the age of 18 that he discovered that he was not a citizen.
Like many deportees, he arrived in Cambodia without possessions and without family contacts. He worked at first as a drug counselor and then founded his break dancing club, Tiny Toones Cambodia, which he said now works regularly with about 150 youngsters and reaches out to hundreds more.
With the help of international aid groups like Bridges Across Borders, based in Graham, Florida, he has expanded his center into a small school that teaches English and Khmer and computers in addition to back flips and head stands.
Some other deportees have found work that makes use of their English-language fluency, particularly in hotels. Some have reunited with families in the countryside. But many have slipped into unemployment, depression and sometimes drug use.
"Some were doing well initially but now over time have become unemployed or never did get employment, and just got discouraged," said Dimple Rana, who works with a group called Deported Diaspora, based in Revere, Massachusetts, that helps deportees to adjust.
"I know of a whole bunch of returnees whose mothers were sending money from their Social Security," she said. "Now with the economy in the United States it's very hard, and families are not able to send even $100 or $150."
K.K. stands out as a success, both in finding a calling and in embracing his fate.
"I think it was meant for me to be here," he said, "even though I lost my family. And my kid is there, Kayshawn. He's 8. Right now, you know, these kids are my family. I don't have a kid here, but I adopted one, a street kid; his mom and dad are on drugs."
The boys and girls leaping and spinning here on a hard linoleum floor are the children of Cambodia's underclass, like thousands who fill the slums and back streets of Phnom Penh - children who spend their evenings, as K.K. put it, "begging and digging through garbage to find food."
K.K., whose childhood was not so very different from theirs, says he teaches them to find pride in who they are.
One wall of his center is marked with small graffiti from his students: "I want to be a rapper," "I want to be a D.J.," "I want to be a doctor."
"I try to tell them not to judge people by the way they look," he said. "I still have a struggle here in Cambodia. People judge me. People see me with tattoos and think I'm a bad guy."
"Sometimes it's, 'Come on, we're going to kill some Americans,"' he said, describing his encounters with street toughs here. "I'm not American. I'm Khmer, man."
His journey between identities reached a point of strangeness when he was invited last December to perform with some of his students at a Christmas party at the U.S. Embassy.
"At the embassy the American ambassador gave me a handshake and a hug," K.K. recalled, "and asked me one day when his kid is a little older he wanted to put him in my school."
The ambassador at the time, Joseph Mussomeli, recalled the performance as "great fun," but he said the piquancy of the moment had not been lost on him.
"You are right that there is a certain wonderful irony to him being 'rejected' or at least 'ejected' from the U.S. and still landing on his feet - or shoulders and head - dancing," Mussomeli said in an e-mail message.
"While watching him I was reminded of that great patriotic speech by Bill Murray in 'Stripes,"' he added, "where he talks about Americans as being rejects from all the good, decent countries of the world! K.K. is/was an American in everything except in law, - and he has shown this by his creativity, tenacity, and undying optimism."
Now another wonderful irony is in store for K.K. His club has received several invitations to send a half-dozen dancers to perform in the United States, Cambodian boys who do not speak English and have never been outside their country.
The real American among them, K.K., deported and excluded from the United States for the rest of his life, will have to stay behind.
"I can't go," he said over the thump of the boom box, as his boys jumped and bounced around him like tiny springs. "I can understand that they deported me here. I'd like to go visit - only visit, because I live here now. I have a brand new life."
By Jim Rutenberg
Sunday, November 30, 2008
For Leslie Collier, the operator of a 600-acre grain farm, it was not so much the felony conviction for killing two bald eagles that stung the most, and that stung plenty. It was the loss of his hunting rifles that went with it.
For his mother, June Collier, it was the pain of seeing her son's name sullied in their town of about 5,000 people in southeastern Missouri, where her family had lived, farmed and hunted for four generations.
And for Lanie Black, a former Missouri state representative and a close family friend, it was the perceived injustice of the felony branding that prompted him to help Collier and his mother as they began, about a decade ago, to seek the ultimate redemption: a presidential pardon.
The effort proved successful last week, when Collier, 50, became one of 14 people to receive pardons from President George W. Bush, one of the stingiest granters of them in modern history.
The presidential pardon - providing absolution to felons, often in the final days of a presidency - is as American a tradition as Thanksgiving. The framers of the Constitution established presidential pardon power to help a president spread goodwill, particularly at crucial moments after insurrection or rebellion.
Public attention has usually focused on the more celebrated or disputed cases, like George Washington's pardons for the participants of the armed Whiskey Rebellion against high liquor taxes in 1795; Gerald Ford's preemptive pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974; and Bill Clinton's pardon in 2001 of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose former wife was a major contributor to his presidential library.
Public speculation on the expected next round of pardons from Bush has mostly focused on Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., and other administration officials involved in disputed policies like the domestic wiretapping program, or the Republican members of Congress convicted of fraud in his second term, like Representative Randy Cunningham of California.
But, in recent history, the list of those who have received pardons has been dominated less by convicts with connections to the upper echelons of U.S. power than by people of modest means in the heartland - an odometer cheat from Mississippi; a bootlegger from Tennessee; and Collier - all of whose relatively minor crimes ultimately led them to be labeled felons.
For most of them, it is a leap of faith to file an application with the pardon attorney's office at the U.S. Department of Justice, which culls through thousands of requests before making recommendations to the president, which he is under no obligation to follow.
In the case of Collier, who had no high-level Washington connections of his own, and who had never given a U.S. political donation, it was a matter of "just plain folks pursuing the path," June Collier said in an interview last week.
"The goal for me was to have his name cleared," June Collier added, tearfully, days after the pardon was granted.
Collier's crime was unlikely and, he said in an interview, unintended. Hunting on the farmland he rents, he began noticing the reappearance of wild turkeys, decades after they were believed to have died away. But he feared that a pack of coyotes in the area would not give them a chance to breed.
"I got it in my head that if we got rid of the coyotes, the turkeys would get off to a better start," Collier said. So he laid a trap of ground beef laced with the pesticide Furadan, which, under U.S. law, may not be used as animal poison.
Seven coyotes died after eating the beef. But several other animals fed on their carcasses and died as well, including the bald eagles.
The dead eagles were found by a passerby, who alerted the U.S. authorities who, in turn, identified the poison that killed them and tracked its purchase to Collier. He pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and to the misdemeanor charge of illegal use of a pesticide.
With no prior criminal history, he was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
As a convicted felon, Collier would have to give up his collection of hunting guns, a blow to his lifestyle. "We kind of got a hunting heritage in this family," Collier said. "It's what we do."
A local Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms official told him that only a presidential pardon would get him his guns back, Collier said. "He said, 'Good luck with that' - like, 'Fat chance,"' he said.
Of the nearly 8,000 pardon petitions Bush has received during his presidency, he has granted 171. He has separately commuted eight prison sentences. At the end of his term, Clinton had granted 396 pardons and commuted 61 sentences.
Usually, the Justice Department goes through the submissions - guidelines call for an expression of contrition and the completion of any punishment - and sends the requests to the White House with recommendations.
The president is not bound to follow them. Neither the U.S. Justice Department nor the White House would comment on how Bush made his pardon decisions.
Collier initially began exploring the possibility of a pardon when Clinton was president, he said, and local Democrats hinted he would have to make some high-level political contributions. But, "we got to talking to some of the government officials, and they said, 'Oh no, it's not a pay deal,"' Collier said.
And the process can be a mystery even for those with high-level connections.
"All you can do is be familiar with the process, wait and hope," said Michael Nussbaum, a lawyer for the rapper John Forte, who was halfway through a 14-year sentence on cocaine charges when Bush commuted it last week. Among Forte's supporters were the singer Carly Simon and Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah.
After years of hesitation and a long wait to get the application, Collier said, he submitted his request in 2001 with no help from lawyers or contributions. He expressed contrition but argued that his punishment seemed overly severe.
Black, the former Republican state legislator who was at Collier's hospital bedside years earlier when he lost his foot in a grain elevator accident, counseled patience. "I said that if we went through all of the effort to get one, it would not come until very near the end of Bush's term," said Black, who was among those to provide a character reference.
Black asserted that Collier was unfairly coaxed into a confession after he was given the impression that he would not be prosecuted, making him all the more angry that Collier's felony conviction "became common knowledge" in their town of Charleston.
"We all know each other, we farm together, we eat breakfast together, we talk - it's vintage Hillary Clinton 'It takes a village to raise a child'-type of environment," he said. "Sometimes that's good, sometimes that isn't so good. That's just the way it is."
As the years passed, friends at Collier's church wrote letters and buttonholed local U.S. officials at farm bureau meetings for news.
In 2004, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation came to town and interviewed Collier but was not heard from again.
Several months ago, Black said he was contacted by Catherine Hanaway, a former colleague in the Missouri House who was the executive director of Bush's campaign in her state in 2000, and, in 2005, was named as a U.S. attorney.
Telling Black that the White House had asked her to look into the matter of his friend, he said, "I told her the story and she said, 'O.K., that's what I need to know."'
Collier said he got the news of his pardon on Monday while working at a cattle auction. He was out hunting for deer by Tuesday with a "thirty-ought-six" - that is, he said, with "a real gun."
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Daria Sito-Sucic
Daniel Marinic, a convicted murderer, is a victim of Bosnia's ethnic rivalries: he must remain in a prison unit for convicts with psychiatric disorders even though his imprisonment is against the law.
Convicted in 1999 of killing his parents, the prisoner in his 30s is one of two dozen patients still in Zenica jail's psychiatric unit in contravention of a new criminal code that requires him to be treated in a specialised medical institution.
They spend time crammed in dark, damp rooms on the second floor of a 19th-century building, cut off from the world by thick iron bars. In two rooms, 10 plain iron beds on bare concrete floors are covered with blankets reminiscent of the kind Bosnia received as humanitarian aid during the 1992-95 war.
"It's better now," said Marinic, standing in a tiny corridor crammed with prisoners excited by the arrival of visitors. "It was really bad when there were 30 of us in the room." Until a few years ago, there were 70 patients in the unit.
Marinic seems calm enough, but doctors have advised against his release, saying he could be dangerous for other patients if put in a civilian hospital.
"They should not be in the prison but in a hospital, but we have no other place for them," said Zenica prison warden Nihad Spahic. "We aim to get rid of such patients eventually."
The reason the prisoners are stuck here is that Bosnia's two post-war autonomous regions -- the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic -- have for two years failed to agree on building an institution for them.
Both are coping with a lack of facilities -- a consequence of the disintegration of Bosnia's once-unified prison system.
The 122-year-old prison complex in the central town of Zenica is the largest in Bosnia and the sole high-security facility in the Muslim-Croat federation.
Bosnia was ordered in 2006 by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights to build a state medical facility to accommodate convicts with psychiatric disorders.
The central cabinet had agreed with the Swiss government to use a 2.8 million Swiss franc (1.6 million pounds) donation to build an extra wing on a psychiatric hospital in eastern Bosnia.
But bickering between the regions over its ownership and use has delayed the process. The central government has a 2008 budget of $887 million (578 million pounds), and each region has its own budget.
"Unless there is an agreement between the regions, it's difficult to move things out of the dead end," said Justice Ministry spokeswoman Marina Bakic.
Half of the 70 patients originally kept in Zenica have been released, because they are not deemed dangerous and their families have vouched for them and their care. But Marinic has been in prison illegally since the new criminal code came into effect in 2003.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered Bosnia in October to compensate him and he will receive 25,000 euros, but must stay put until a new facility is built.
Three other convicts who also brought suits against the state were released, because they were not considered to be dangerous.
"I want to go to a civilian hospital with better conditions," said Marinic, wearing a woollen cap like most other patients in the unit.
Everyone in Zenica, from the prison warden to guards to convicts, agrees the ruined mental health department is inadequate for prisoners with psychiatric problems.
"Tell me if this is a madhouse or a prison!" yelled Himzo Memic, sentenced to indefinite medical treatment for attempting to stab his girlfriend. "What are they going to do about this?" he asked, surrounded by a crowd of inmates.
Memic's group shares two rooms, prisoners' clothes hanging all around the iron beds. It is cold and dark and looks like an improvised military camp.
In the mental unit, one psychiatrist treats the patients and therapists spend all day with them, administering sedatives and drugs. For recreation they can use a segregated garden.
The rest of Zenica's 830 or so inmates sat on benches in prison parks on a sunny autumn day, some playing table-tennis or football, others working in an iron foundry or a joiner's workshop producing decorative wooden boxes for sale.
Niset Ramic is one of them. An ethnic Muslim jailed for 30 years for war crimes against Serbs, he said he feels almost at home in Zenica, where he has spent the past 16 years.
"I came here in 1992, when the guards still wore five-pointed red stars on their caps," he said, referring to a symbol of former socialist Yugoslavia.
Even if ethnic tensions persist in denying Marinic and his fellows proper treatment, Ramic said there were no clashes between the 16 regular prisoners convicted of war crimes: Muslims, Serbs and Croats coexist in calm.
"The brotherhood and unity still works here," he said.
(Editing by Adam Tanner, Peter Millership and Sara Ledwith)
By Kirk Semple
Sunday, November 30, 2008
KABUL: A suicide bomber detonated his payload of explosives in clogged traffic near a German Embassy vehicle Sunday, killing two Afghan bystanders and wounding three, the authorities said.
The road where the attack occurred passes in front of the Parliament building and is frequently traveled by convoys of government officials, foreign diplomats and security forces.
The blast perforated one side of the embassy vehicle, a white SUV, with dozens of shrapnel holes and punctured its tires, but its sole occupant, an Afghan employee of the embassy, escaped unharmed, a spokesman for the German Foreign Service said.
All the casualties were Afghan civilians, either in cars or passing by on foot, Afghan officials said.
Zabiula Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a telephone interview that the insurgency was responsibility for the attack and that the bomber was from the southern province of Kandahar.
It was the second suicide attack in the capital in three days. The Taliban also took responsibility for a suicide car bombing on Thursday that killed four and wounded 17.
Babur Shah Hassas, a Web site manager for Parliament, said he was strolling with a friend about 2:30 p.m. when the attack occurred. He remembered seeing out of the corner of his eye the white SUV and a man on a bicycle - by some eyewitness accounts, the bomber was on a bicycle or a motorbike.
"Suddenly there was a big blast, and me and my friend fell down and it was all dark and there was smoke coming out of the cars and I was so depressed," Hassas, 23, recalled in English. He said that he and his friend, who was not hurt, lay on the ground for a while. But when he tried to get up, he realized he could not move his left leg.
A stranger - Hassas never learned his name - lifted him into a car and drove him to a hospital.
As he told his story, Hassas was laying on a gurney at the hospital, an intravenous tube in his arm, and doctors were preparing him for surgery to repair two fractures in his left leg and to remove a piece of shrapnel.
"I can't determine whether the purpose of this attack was to destroy poor Afghans like me or to destroy foreigners," he said, as the hospital staff wheeled him to the operating room.
Also on Sunday, two Afghan journalists who were kidnapped by the Taliban last week were released, an Afghan official said.
The journalists - Dawa Khan Menapal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Azizullah Popal, who worked for a local radio station in Zabul Province - were kidnapped by the Taliban on Wednesday in Ghazni Province, south of Kabul, said Gulab Shah Alikheil, deputy governor of Zabul.
"They were freed through an effort by the elders of Zabul Province, Alikheil said. "The government did not intervene and we let the elders negotiate." He said both journalists were in good health.
Khalid Fazly and Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting.
By Judy Dempsey
Sunday, November 30, 2008
BERLIN: Breaking with a military tradition of keeping silent about policy, a top German general has branded his country's efforts in Afghanistan a failure, singling out its poor record in training the Afghan police and allocating development aid.
The comments came from General Hans-Christoph Ammon, head of the army's elite special commando unit, or KSK, whose officers are in Afghanistan fighting alongside U.S. forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Germany was responsible for training the Afghan police, but the German Interior Ministry, led by the conservative Wolfgang Schäuble, has come under repeated criticism from the United States and other NATO allies for providing too few experts and inappropriate training.
The training scheme was "a miserable failure," Ammon told DPA, the German press agency, after describing the German record in Afghanistan to a gathering last week of a reservists' association. The government had provided a mere €12 million for training the Afghan Army and police while the United States has already given more than $1 billion, he said.
"At that rate, it would take 82 years to have a properly trained police force," he said. More damaging for Germany's reputation, Ammon said, was that its police-training mission was considered such a "disaster" that the United States and EU had taken over responsibility.
The Defense Ministry said Ammon was expressing his personal views. Even so, because such views are rare, security experts said they showed the level of frustration building among senior military officers over German reluctance to provide adequate financing for Afghan mission or even explain to the public why Germany has 4,500 soldiers there.
Neither Chancellor Angela Merkel nor her conservative defense minister, Franz-Josef Jung, have been willing to debate the issue publicly.
For the first time since German soldiers were sent to Afghanistan six years ago, Jung referred in November to the "Gefallene," or fallen soldiers, who had died there.
Until now, any German soldiers killed in Afghanistan were referred to as casualties. In addition, the word "Krieg," or war, has been banned from use in any Defense Ministry public statements or speeches, say advisers to the ministry.
"I keep saying that it is time the public was told why we are in Afghanistan, what is happening there and what we are doing there," said Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, general secretary of the Christian Social Union, the allied party of the Christian Democrats led by Merkel.
Merkel, who has visited Afghanistan just once in three years in office, said in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that she was prepared to defend the mission in Afghanistan in the national election campaign next year. That could be a high-risk strategy given that the mission is highly unpopular with the public.
The foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who will run against Merkel to become chancellor, supports the mission.
But as foreign minister, he has to strike a balance between defending the war and taking account of the unpopularity of it. The pacifist wing in his party opposes keeping German troops there, particularly given the increasing attacks.
Two Afghan civilians were killed Sunday by a suicide bomber after he had strapped explosives to his body, targeting a vehicle used by German military attachés, the Afghan police said. No Germans were wounded.
Merkel, who will give a major speech Monday at the congress of her Christian Democratic Union party, is coming under pressure from a small group of defense and foreign policy advisers inside and outside her party to address the subject of Afghanistan.
The matter is considered urgent because President-elect Barack Obama has made Afghanistan a foreign policy priority. NATO officials said last week that they were expecting the incoming U.S. administration to ask NATO allies to contribute more troops and experts in order to beat back the Taliban and train up an Afghan Army and police force.
Only then, Obama has said, can the Afghan forces take responsibility for the security of their own country.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Following is the text of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's opening remarks at the All Party Meeting in New Delhi, as released by his office.
Esteemed Chairperson UPA, respected colleagues and friends. I thank you all for being here at such short notice.
The ordeal at Mumbai, which occupied the attention of the entire nation, has finally come to an end. All of us share the grief of those who have lost their loved ones in this dastardly and brutal attack and also the pain and anguish of those grievously wounded. We cannot lessen their grief. But we will do all we can to alleviate their suffering. I give you my solemn assurance that we will look after the needs of those who survive this horrible tragedy.
We salute the bravery of our security forces who fought the terrorists in exceptionally difficult circumstances. They tried their utmost to save innocent lives at great personal risk. Twenty officers and men made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down their lives. The entire nation owes a debt of gratitude to these men that we can never repay.
We have had terrorist attacks before also. But this attack was different. It was an attack by highly trained and well-armed terrorists targeting our largest city. They came with the explicit aim of killing large numbers of innocent civilians, including foreign visitors. They sought to destroy some of the best known symbols of our commercial capital.
We share the hurt of the people and their sense of anger and outrage. Several measures are already in place to deal with the situation. But clearly much more needs to be done and we are determined to take all necessary measures to overhaul the system.
We are further strengthening maritime and air security for which measures have been initiated. This will involve the Navy, the Coast Guard and the coastal police, as well as the Air Force and the Civil Aviation Ministry.
The anti-terrorist forces of the country will be further strengthened and streamlined. The National Security Guard, which is the principal anti-terrorist force of the country, will be given additional facilities and the size of the force is being augmented. Steps have also been initiated to establish another 4 NSG hubs in different parts of the country. Additionally, the special forces at the disposal of the Centre would be appropriately utilized in counter insurgency operations.
We have finalized a set of legal measures based on the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission which includes the setting up of a Federal Investigating Agency.
In the face of this national threat and in the aftermath of this national tragedy, all of us from different political parties must rise above narrow political considerations and stand united. We should work together in the interest of the country at this critical juncture.
We should build a consensus on what needs to be done to strengthen the ability of our system to meet these threats. The terrorists and enemies of our nation must know that their actions unite rather than divide us.
I do hope that at the end of our discussions today we will be able to give our collective assurance to the nation that, across the political spectrum, we stand together at this hour. I look forward to hearing the views of each one of you.
By Suketu Mehta
Sunday, November 30, 2008
My bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There's something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.
Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. "Mumbai is a golden songbird," he said. It flies quick and sly, and you'll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.
Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned, wouldn't you know it, the keeping of songbirds.
Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. "I am ashamed to say this," Amitabh Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his blog. "As the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow."
Mumbai is a "soft target," the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it's impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there's an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it - to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.
In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today's Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against.
In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets - for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families - for the crime of visiting Mumbai.
They attacked the luxury businessmen's hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad.
They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.
The terrorists' message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling trips.
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God's name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.
If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?
So I'm booking flights to Mumbai. I'm going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn't have to be just economic.
Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the author of "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found."
By Somini Sengupta and Keith Bradsher
Sunday, November 30, 2008
MUMBAI: The top domestic security official resigned in disgrace on Sunday for the failure to thwart or quickly contain the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week, as India's government announced a raft of measures to bolster antiterrorism efforts and struggled to calibrate a response to what it views as Pakistani complicity.
The Bush administration, hoping to defuse the possibility of hostilities, announced it was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India this week "to stand in solidarity with the people of India as we all work together to hold these extremists accountable."
Top officials have suggested that groups based in Pakistan had some involvement in the attacks, but the officials have not blamed the Pakistan government. Among the options on the table for responding, officials and analysts said, are the suspension of diplomatic relations and a cross-border raid into Pakistan against suspected training camps for militants.
The security official, Shivraj Patil, the home minister, became the first senior official in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration to leave office over the Mumbai attacks, which have traumatized the nation for their audacity and have laid bare glaring deficiencies in India's intelligence and enforcement abilities. The pressures on the government are especially acute with elections only six months away.
While Indian officials insisted publicly that the mayhem was carried out by only 10 heavily armed men, there were new indications that others had been involved and that the attackers had at least some accomplices pre-positioned on the ground.
The three-day siege of Mumbai, the country's financial capital, ended Saturday with a death toll of at least 188, hundreds wounded and two famous five-star hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Oberoi, where most of the killing took place, partly in ruins.
At least 28 of the dead were foreigners, including at least six Americans and eight Israelis killed at a Jewish religious center that had been seized by the attackers. It was stormed by elite Indian commandos.
Despite repeated assertions by Pakistan's government that it bore no responsibility, the attacks have raised the pitch of India-Pakistan tensions to their most dangerous level in years. Not since the December 2001 suicide attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which India blamed on Pakistani groups, have there been such blunt Indian accusations about outlaws based across the border; that episode prompted the two countries to send their armies to the border, sparking fears of war between the nuclear neighbors.
On Sunday, a senior government official said Singh's administration would have to consider a range of measures to show toughness toward Pakistan. "The government is under pressure; we are taking steps," the official said. "We're not trying to say we're going to attack them. Short of that everything will have to be pursued."
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation, said, "Certainly we are not going to sit back with Pakistan unleashing this terror on India."
Reuters quoted a senior police official as saying Sunday that the sole gunman captured alive had told the police he was a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba organization, blamed for attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere.
The government has not allowed outside access to the captive, who is said to have identified himself as Ajmal Amir Qasab, a Pakistani citizen who was wounded in the leg and was being treated at a military hospital.
An officer of the Anti-Terror Squad branch in Mumbai, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said the man had given inconsistent answers to questioning, sometimes saying there were 10 attackers, sometimes more than 10.
The officer also said that Anti-Terror Squad investigators believed there were accomplices who may have left weapons at the hotels for the gunmen, and that names and telephone numbers of five Mumbai residents were found among the cellphones and wallets of the attackers.
He also confirmed reports in the Indian press that a satellite phone used by the attackers had been used to call a phone number in the Pakistani city of Karachi during the assault.
The officer also disputed assertions in the Indian press that the attackers were Pakistani, saying they were of many nationalities, including Malaysian.
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 Singh's 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's attention on curbing radical groups on the Afghan border and can hardly afford another crisis between Pakistan and India.
At the same time, particularly with elections looming, Indian officials are keenly aware of the need to shore up confidence in the domestic security apparatus.
On Sunday evening, Singh said his government would expand the National Security Guards, the elite antiterrorist unit that sent commandos to flush out the attackers from the two hotels and the headquarters of a Jewish religious organization.
Singh also said in a written statement that discussions were under way to establish a federal agency of investigation to streamline the work of state and national agencies, and fortify maritime and air security. The police have said the attackers came by boat. The Indian government had been warned as far back as March 2007 of infiltration by sea.
"Clearly, much more needs to be done," Singh said, "and we are determined to take all necessary measures to overhaul the system."
The chairman of the Tata Group, the conglomerate that owns the Taj hotel, asserted that it had been warned about the possibility of a terrorist attack and had taken some measures, but that the assailants knew exactly how to penetrate the hotel's security.
"They came from somewhere in the back; they planned everything," the chairman, Ratan Tata, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN. "They went through the kitchen; they knew what they were doing."
In a telephone interview from the capital, the junior home minister, Shriprakash Jaiswal, said the government would double the size of the 7,400-strong National Security Guards. The force was created after the 1984 siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by Sikh separatist militants.
The guard's Black Cat commandos emerged as heroes last week, having slithered down ropes from helicopters and rescued trapped civilians as gunmen marauded through the hotels.
But uncomfortable questions have been raised about whether the guard could have begun its operations sooner and why it took its commandos so long to defeat the attackers.
In Israel, while leaders publicly praised India for its response to the attack, questions also were raised about whether the commando mission to rescue hostages in the Jewish center, Nariman House, had been botched.
Witnesses have compared the destruction inside the center to an earthquake, with floors, walls and stairwells blasted apart by two days of shooting, explosions and grenades.
The head of the guard, J. K. Dutt, confirmed on Sunday in a news conference that most of the civilians had been killed in the hotels before the guard's operation began. His troops' first obligation, he told reporters, was to make sure that there was "no loss of innocent lives."
One commando, Sunil Kumar Yadav, who was recovering at a hospital from bullet wounds in his leg, echoed that he was instructed to be extremely cautious inside the Taj hotel, because foreign guests were inside.
He said the commandos could not determine the exact locations of the gunmen, nor their total number, in such a large sprawling hotel — until they came out with guns blazing. It was dark and smoky from the countless explosions inside, he said, and visibility was poor.
Explaining the nearly 60 hours that passed before the Taj was cleared entirely, Dutt said that the terrorists were "well trained" and more familiar with the hotel than expected.
In addition, the Taj was littered with unexploded grenades, which had to be defused. He said the last three gunmen at the Taj eluded capture for so long by repeatedly setting fires.
On one side of the Taj, workers boarded up the sidewalk at one of the city's most exclusive shopping arcades, barricading the now-improbable row of luxury labels, from Zegna to Louis Vuitton.
Remu Javeri, owner of Joy Shoes, the only Indian boutique there, stood across the street. He had practically grown up at the Taj, he said, where his family opened the store before independence in 1947. "I know every single waiter in here," he said. "I've grown up with them. I've lost some very good friends."
By Mark Mazzetti and Peter Baker
Sunday, November 30, 2008
WASHINGTON: As evidence mounts that the Mumbai attacks may have originated on Pakistani soil, U.S. officials' aggressive campaign to strike at militants in Pakistan may complicate their efforts to prevent an Indian military response, which could lead to all-out war between the nuclear-armed enemies.
Pakistan insisted Saturday that it had not been involved in the attacks and pledged to take action against militants based in Pakistan if they were found to be implicated.
"Our hands are clean," the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said at a news conference. "We have nothing to be ashamed of. Any entity or group involved in the ghastly act, the Pakistan government will proceed against it."
The government called an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday, a day after Indian officials suggested that a militant group with Pakistani ties, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the attacks.
But while the civilian leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, called for calm Saturday, Pakistani security officials warned that the Pakistani Army might still send troops to the Indian border in short order.
In December 2001, when Pakistani militants attacked the Indian Parliament, and again last summer, when militants aided by Pakistani spies bombed the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, the Bush administration used aggressive diplomacy to reduce anger in New Delhi.
But this time the Indian government might not be so receptive to the American message - and that could derail the coming Obama administration's hopes of creating a broader, regional response to the threat posed by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already faced months of criticism from political rivals in India about his government's decision not to respond forcefully to past acts of terrorism, and domestic anger over the carnage in Mumbai has increased the pressure on his government to strike back.
Officials in New Delhi might also feel less compelled to follow calls for a controlled response from the Bush administration, which has steadily escalated a campaign of airstrikes on Pakistani soil using remotely piloted aircraft. The Pentagon has even sent Special Operations forces into Pakistan to attack what it believed were militant targets, partly in an attempt to stop the militants from crossing the border into Afghanistan, where they are helping fuel an increasingly robust Taliban insurgency.
The White House has adopted a clear position as it seeks to justify those attacks: If a country cannot deal with a terrorism problem on its own, the United States reserves the right to act unilaterally.
Should it become clear that the men who rampaged through Mumbai trained in Pakistan, even if the Pakistani government had no hand in the operation, what will stop the Indians from adopting the same position?
"In some ways, it doesn't even matter whether this attack was hatched in some office in Islamabad," said Paul Kapur, a South Asia expert at Stanford University. "The provocation in this case is orders of magnitude more than anything that's happened before."
Even if the Bush administration can keep the situation from escalating, President-elect Barack Obama will find his administration trying to broker cooperation between two angry and suspicious regional powers.
An important element of Obama's plan to reduce militancy in Pakistan and turn around the war in Afghanistan has been to push for a reconciliation between India and Pakistan, so that the Pakistani government could focus its energy on the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan that are controlled by Islamic extremists.
Obama's advisers have spent the past few days watching the unfolding crisis for hints about how the situation might look after Jan. 20. While they said they understood that the tensions unleashed by the Mumbai attacks might hobble the new president's aspirations, they held out hope that the attacks might, instead, open the door to increased cooperation between Pakistan and India to weed out militants intent on more attacks.
Some in the Bush administration, as well as outside experts, agree that an Indian military response is not a foregone conclusion. Singh's government has long believed that the instability caused by a conflict with Pakistan would act as a brake on the rapid economic growth India has enjoyed. Singh has also seen Pakistan's new civilian government as a hopeful departure from the militarism of former President Pervez Musharraf's government.
Washington could use Singh's past hopes for better relations to try to shape a modulated Indian response.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said one possibility was that the Indian government could decide to strike Kashmiri militant training facilities in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, rather than facilities in the heart of the disputed territory of Kashmir, where the Pakistani government has a greater presence.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author whose work has been studied by the Obama team, said that any hint of a military mobilization by the Indians would give the Pakistani military the excuse it wanted to shift forces away from its western border areas and back to its eastern border.
If that happens, he said, it could cause a repeat of 2002, when a standoff between the nations forced the United States to turn at least some of its attention away from fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda to work to avoid war between Pakistan and India.
That time, the impetus was an assault on Parliament in December 2001 that India said was the work of Kashmiri militants.
So far, Obama has tried to walk a careful line during the latest crisis, expressing support and concern without appearing to get in the way of President George W. Bush. Even as Obama was preparing to have several dozen guests for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, a foreign policy adviser, Mark Lippert, and a CIA official arrived at his house in Chicago to brief him on the latest from Mumbai, according to an aide.
Obama also called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice three times over the past few days seeking information. But he waited until after Bush called Singh to place his own call to the prime minister late Friday night. (The call was patched through the State Department operations center.)
Advisers to the president-elect said that while they were not aware of everything the Bush administration had done during the crisis, they knew of nothing that Obama would have necessarily done differently.
Given the disastrous implications of any armed conflict between India and Pakistan, it is not hard to envision the Obama administration following a similar playbook to the one the Bush administration followed during the two countries' previous flare-ups.
As some experts see it, though, there is a danger in the United States' continuing to intervene directly when tensions between India and Pakistan escalate.
"If both sides think they can afford to go closer to the edge because the U.S. is always going to keep them from going over," said Kapur of Stanford, "then they are more likely to edge up to the precipice."
Jane Perlez and Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
It should not be hard to trace the assault on India's commercial center to the masterminds behind the operation. Indeed, Indian officials have already said they have evidence pointing to Pakistan as the place of origin.
Consequently, there is a grave danger that the carnage in Mumbai could provoke much higher levels of violence across a wide arc of South Asia. This is what will happen if Indian and Pakistani leaders allow the Mumbai atrocities to undo the recent rapprochement between their two governments.
Those leaders will come under intense pressure to stoke nationalist passions. They need to exercise restraint.
The terrorists' barely concealed ties to Pakistan suggest that a key objective of the Mumbai assault was to fan the dying flames of Indian-Pakistani conflict. Which is all the more reason for both governments to avoid falling into that treacherous trap.
For the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, the first priority should be to make a crucial distinction for the Indian public. Singh has blamed the murders in Mumbai on "external forces." What he ought to explain to his people is that even if there were Pakistanis among the terrorists, that does not mean they were acting on orders from Pakistan's elected civilian government.
India's leaders know that extremist Pakistani groups as well as Al Qaeda have a strong interest in provoking fresh hostilities between Pakistan and India. A revival of India-Pakistan tension could relieve much of the domestic pressure on those groups; it could justify a renewal of support for the Taliban on the part of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence; and it could return the domestic focus in Pakistan to the plight of Muslims in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
For their part, Pakistan's leaders need to cooperate unstintingly with India's investigation into the Mumbai attacks. The early signs from Pakistan's prime minister, Asif Ali Zardari, have been encouraging. But the key determinant of the effect that the terrorist attacks will have on India-Pakistan relations will be the extent of honest cooperation extended to Indian investigators by Pakistan's intelligence agency.
And if it turns out that the ISI - which sponsored the Taliban and other Islamist militants in the past - was implicated in the Mumbai savagery, Zardari's government will have to come clean and punish the criminals in its midst.
By Anand Giridharadas
Sunday, November 30, 2008
VERLA, India: This was not terror - not as Indians understood it.
This was war.
The killers stormed the streets of Mumbai, India's financial capital, with machine guns and bags of grenades. They did not strike with the terrorist's fleeting anonymity. Their work was fastidiously deliberate. It went into a second day, then a third. They took time to ask your nationality and vocation. Then they spared you, or herded you elsewhere, or shot you in the back of your skull.
As a surprise attack became a struggle over several days, the burden of responding transferred from the police to soldiers. The language was of war: television anchors spoke of buildings "sanitized" and "flushed out," of "final assaults" and "collateral damage." Helicopters hovered over Mumbai, and commandos dropped onto roofs. The grainy television imagery suggested not so much a terrorist attack as the shapeless, omnidirectional chaos of Iraq.
While the hostage situation endured, more was unknown than known.
Rumors flew, unconfirmed. Did you hear? They shot all the women at the hotel switchboard. Did you hear? They executed a young mother and her children. Did you hear? They sent a hostage out of the building to get food for their attackers. Truth was complicated; everything blurred.
But what slowly became clear was that this was an attack of especial barbarism, because it was so personal. It was unlike the many strikes of the last many months, bombs left in thronging markets or trains or cars: acts of shrinking cowardice. The new men were not cowards. They seemed to prolong the fight as long as they could. They killed face to face; they wanted to see and speak to their victims; they could taste the violence they made.
A good story has characters, and a terrorist attack without characters tempts a society to forget. A wave of recent Indian attacks, more anonymous and less dramatic, offered little focus for public opinion.
For better or worse, the public has its characters now. As the weekend arrived, it was not clear who the men were, even as the Indian government hinted at Pakistani connections. But even without learning their names, it was so easy to imagine them this time, combing the hallways, asking life-or-death questions, pulling women and children from their rooms at midnight.
For a country with no dearth of terrorism in its past, it is perhaps the fleshy immediacy of these men and their deeds that makes this a defining assault - one that separates all attacks of the past from those yet to come. In the television studios, on the roads, in the anguished phone calls of friends to friends, Indians said the words again and again: This is our 9/11.
"It is an Indian variant of 9/11, and today India needs to respond the way America did," Ravi Shankar Prasad, a member of Parliament from the rightist Bharatiya Janata Party, said on television.
But if this was India's 9/11, it seemed so only to certain citizens, and not, apparently, to their government.
It took 18 hours for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to come on television. He is a reflective, decent man. But he was emotionless, his mouth moving and nothing else. He knows all too well the history of blaming Pakistan and its militants for attacks, only to come up short on evidence. He said the attacks "probably" had a foreign hand. His most specific idea was "police reform" and the "tightening" of laws to close "loopholes." He called for "peace and harmony."
His temperateness helped to keep the ever-present threat of religious riots at bay. But it also seemed to misread the mood of a country that wanted it to be 9/11 - if not in the sense of war and conquest, then in the sense of instant clarity, of the simple feeling that an era had ended and that enough was, at last, enough.
When the video of Singh's address was posted on YouTube, many said online what others were saying on the ground. He was "expressionless," a "brilliant teacher but no leader," an "ineffective puppet." One user wrote: "He should have given a strong warning and threat to terrorists and those who support them. Unfortunately he is too soft."
Nor did the government's retaliation inspire. The commandos who came at long last and saved the day were heroic, working room by room to retake the two besieged hotels. But India learned thereby that Mumbai, with its 19 million people, lacks commandos of its own. They were flown in from New Delhi.
Meanwhile, "army sources" leaked to the press that they had warned the government of an impending attack days before, only to be ignored, as usual.
"The scale, intensity and level of orchestration of terror attacks in Mumbai put one thing beyond doubt: India is effectively at war and it has deadly enemies in its midst," The Times of India, a leading English-language daily, wrote in an editorial published Friday. "The question now," it added, "is whether the nation can show any serious degree of resolve and coordination in confronting terror."
The government, in its defense, walks a fine line. Show too little resolve, and attacks happen. Show too much, and you galvanize hatred domestically and exacerbate tensions abroad, notably with Pakistan.
"It is extremely important to understand that the criminal activities of a minuscule group, even if it turns out to have home-grown elements, say nothing about Indian Muslims in general, who are an integral part of the country's social fabric," Amartya Sen, the Harvard economist and Indian-born Nobel laureate, wrote in an e-mail message.
With their brutality, their sophistication, their links to the ideology of terrorism elsewhere, these attacks seemed to usher in a new day. Late in the week, as the gunfire crackle trailed off, many Indians appeared to long for a sign that this attack would muster new will.
A text message moving among Mumbaikars expressed the uniqueness of the now: "Brothers and sisters, it's time to wake up and do something for the country - however little - related to this or not - start today and continue it through the years - do not forget as easily as we are used to forgetting."
Anand Giridharadas, a Page Two columnist for the International Herald Tribune, recently completed three and a half years as a correspondent in Mumbai for that newspaper and The New York Times.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
ISLAMABAD Pakistan: Terrorism in this part of the world usually means bombs exploding or hotels burning, as the latest horrific scenes from Mumbai attest. Yet alongside the brutal public terrorism that fills the television screens, there is an equally cruel form of terrorism that gets almost no attention and thrives as a result: flinging acid on a woman's face to leave her hideously deformed.
Here in Pakistan, I've been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid). Because women usually don't matter in this part of the world, their attackers are rarely prosecuted and acid sales are usually not controlled. It's a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region.
This month in Afghanistan, men on motorcycles threw acid on a group of girls who dared to attend school. One of the girls, a 17-year-old named Shamsia, told reporters from her hospital bed: "I will go to my school even if they kill me. My message for the enemies is that if they do this 100 times, I am still going to continue my studies."
When I met Naeema Azar, a Pakistani woman who had once been an attractive, self-confident real estate agent, she was wearing a black cloak that enveloped her head and face. Then she removed the covering, and I flinched.
Acid had burned away her left ear and most of her right ear. It had blinded her and burned away her eyelids and most of her face, leaving just bone.
Six skin grafts with flesh from her leg have helped, but she still cannot close her eyes or her mouth; she will not eat in front of others because it is too humiliating to have food slip out as she chews.
"Look at Naeema, she has lost her eyes," sighed Shahnaz Bukhari, a Pakistani activist who founded an organization to help such women, and who was beginning to tear up. "She makes me cry every time she comes in front of me."
Azar had earned a good income and was supporting her three small children when she decided to divorce her husband, Azar Jamsheed, a fruit seller who rarely brought money home. He agreed to end the (arranged) marriage because he had his eye on another woman.
After the divorce was final, Jamsheed came to say goodbye to the children, and then pulled out a bottle and poured acid on his wife's face, according to her account and that of their son.
"I screamed," Azar recalled. "The flesh of my cheeks was falling off. The bones on my face were showing, and all of my skin was falling off."
Neighbors came running, as smoke rose from her burning flesh and she ran about blindly, crashing into walls. Jamsheed was never arrested, and he has since disappeared. (I couldn't reach him for his side of the story.)
Azar has survived on the charity of friends and with support from Bukhari's group, the Progressive Women's Association (www.pwaisbd.org). Bukhari is raising money for a lawyer to push the police to prosecute Jamsheed, and to pay for eye surgery that - with a skilled surgeon - might be able to restore sight to one eye.
Bangladesh has imposed controls on acid sales to curb such attacks, but otherwise it is fairly easy in Asia to walk into a shop and buy sulfuric or hydrochloric acid suitable for destroying a human face.
Acid attacks and wife-burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies: They are poor and female. The first step is simply for the world to take note, to give voice to these women.
Since 1994, Bukhari has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.
For the last two years, Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar have co-sponsored an International Violence Against Women Act, which would adopt a range of measures to spotlight such brutality and nudge foreign governments to pay heed to it. Let's hope that with Biden's new influence the bill will pass in the next Congress.
That might help end the silence and culture of impunity surrounding this kind of terrorism.
The most haunting part of my visit with Azar, aside from seeing her face, was a remark by her 12-year-old son, Ahsan Shah, who lovingly leads her around everywhere. He told me that in one house where they stayed for a time after the attack, a man upstairs used to beat his wife every day and taunt her, saying: "You see the woman downstairs who was burned by her husband? I'll burn you just the same way."
Sunday, November 30, 2008
TEHRAN: Twelve people in southern Iran have died after drinking homemade liquor and dozens more have been blinded or are in a serious condition, health workers in the Islamic Republic said in remarks published Sunday.
Alcohol is banned in the Islamic Republic, which has enforced Islamic sharia law since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
The tiny minority of Iran's Christians, who mainly live in northern Iran, are permitted to make alcohol for personal consumption.
"Out of 92 who were poisoned from drinking homemade alcohol and hospitalised, 12 people died," said Farshid Abedi, head of Hormuzgan medical school, according to Hambastegi newspaper. He added that the dead were aged between 29 and 42.
Hormuzgan province is in south Iran. Abedi did not identify the religion of the victims.
Other newspapers carried similar reports.
The first patient came to hospital Tuesday, Abedi said, adding that four had been blinded and 69 people aged between 29 and 45 were in a critical state, with nine in a coma.
At least some of the victims had been at a wedding party.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Louise Ireland)
By Keith Bradsher
Sunday, November 30, 2008
MUMBAI: Just as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have had a lasting effect on aircraft cockpit security, with reinforced doors separating pilots from passengers, the deadly terrorist attacks that started Wednesday at the Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotels here could leave an enduring imprint on the design and procedures of luxury hotels.
With the death toll approaching 200, and with more bodies still being found at the Taj, the attacks have underlined the vulnerability of five-star hotels to determined attacks by determined gunmen armed with military assault rifles, as well as the attractiveness of such targets to terrorists.
P.R.S. Oberoi, chairman of the Oberoi Group, said that he had actually directed his company's hotels to step up security two months ago after a truck driver crashed into the Islamabad Marriott and detonated a bomb that killed more than 50 people and left a crater six meters, or 20 feet, wide. The Oberoi banned anyone from parking in front of its Mumbai hotel, for fear that a car bomb could destroy the glass wall at the front of the lobby - a risk at many hotels.
"I think all hotels are vulnerable - all hotels have glass doors when you enter," Oberoi said Saturday night at a news conference.
The Oberoi Group had no warning of the attack here, however, Oberoi said, questioning what any hotel operator could do to withstand such an assault. "The authorities have to help us," he said, by preventing such attacks from occurring at all.
The killings also come at a time of already declining demand for luxury accommodation because of the global economic downturn. Hotels in India are also suffering as many companies have slowed investments in the country and have even sold Indian real estate and shares.
Terrorist attacks in other cities have affected tourism, but the duration of the effect has depended mainly on public perceptions of the likelihood of another attack. London bounced back quickly from the public transport attacks on July 7, 2005, while Bali took several years to recover from the bombings there on Oct. 12, 2002.
Particularly in India, hotels are likely to become much more cautious about security policies, said S.S. Mukherji, vice chairman of EIH, an Oberoi Group subsidiary. "The concept of hospitality in this country is going to change," he said.
Michael Coldrick, a London security professional and a former explosives specialist with Scotland Yard, said hotels may need to start screening guests and monitoring their behavior during hotel visits, and to brief national and local security forces regularly on their layout.
"Security in the hotel business is a fine balance between effective security measures and the convenience of hotel customers, becoming more intrusive as the threat increases," Coldrick said.
The Oberoi and the old wing of the Taj hotel, where most of the fighting took place, both have high, central atriums. After throwing grenades and directing considerable automatic weapons fire at staff members and diners in ground-floor lobbies and restaurants, the attackers at each hotel ascended the atriums.
This allowed them to start hunting down guests while dropping grenades and shooting at commandos below who tried to engage them in combat.
The Oberoi Group employs many plainclothes security officers in its hotels, but these are unarmed, Oberoi said. Obtaining a license for even a single officer to carry a gun is extremely difficult in India, which has tight gun control laws.
Yet even security guards armed with handguns might hesitate to resist an assault by heavily armed terrorists who have a detailed knowledge of the hotel's layout, as was the case at the Oberoi and Taj.
J.K. Dutt, director general of the Indian National Security Guard, the commando force that took the lead in the fighting, said Sunday in a televised news conference that the hardest terrorist 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 a 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 rooms with no other exit.
By contrast, the commandos and the police had old blueprints of the massive, labyrinthine hotel that did not clearly show how passageways were connected or blocked or recent construction, Dutt said.
Coldrick said that 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 the hotel building structure. For example, a pre-recorded DVD walk-through could be used to brief special forces' assault teams so that they would know what to expect.
Terrorism concerns could have one small benefit for hotel companies. Many hotels have the best views from the front rooms, and travelers often demand these.
But experienced travelers concerned about terrorism now ask for rooms on the back of buildings, where they could be farther from any explosion in the lobby. Car bombs and truck bombs are also likely to do more damage to the front of the building because that is where the driveways are typically located, as was the case in the Jakarta Marriott bombing on Aug. 5, 2003.
Customers who ask for rooms in the back of a building can help a hotel balance demand for different rooms and keep more travelers happy.
Hotels may also ask staff members to keep a closer eye on customers. At some point, Coldrick said, "we might see cleaning ladies with explosives detectors."
Heather Timmons contributed reporting from New Delhi.
By Steven Lee Myers
Sunday, November 30, 2008
WASHINGTON: The security agreements between Iraq and the United States mark the beginning of the end of the war. They are only the beginning, though, and the terms of the agreements create uncertainties that could disrupt the smooth withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The agreements - a broad "strategic framework" and a more detailed security pact that were approved Thursday by the Iraqi Parliament - set a deadline that critics of the war have long wanted. They require that all U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq no later than Dec. 31, 2011, but they offer no timetable for withdrawals and in theory could add three more years to a war that has already lasted five and a half.
The United States has also agreed to remove all combat forces from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of June, though the agreements remain silent on what constitutes "combat" troops and where exactly they will move. Those decisions have been left to a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee, a body of Americans and Iraqis that could prove to be as ungainly as its acronym, Jmocc.
The committee will have the authority to approve U.S. military operations, the use of bases and facilities, the detention of Iraqis by U.S. forces and even - in rare cases, it would seem - the prosecution of U.S. troops accused of "grave premeditated felonies" committed while off duty and off base. Any number of circumstances could strain cooperation and even lead to conflict.
"Question marks remain in the agreement concerning freedom of action for U.S. soldiers, vague security commitments and protection of Iraqi assets," Travis Sharp, a defense analyst at the Council for a Livable World, an advocacy group, wrote in a statement after Parliament voted.
The council has long opposed the war, but tellingly, it expressed support for the agreements. The reason is that the vagueness of some of the terms and definitions also gives President-elect Barack Obama a fair amount of flexibility to carry out his campaign promises to end the war.
That opponents of the war support the agreements is a victory for President George W. Bush, albeit a mixed one. It is also a vindication of Obama's insistence on establishing a timetable to withdraw, forcing the Americans and the Iraqis to contemplate a time without foreign troops there.
Already U.S. commanders have begun considering how to accelerate withdrawals of combat brigades on a schedule much closer to Obama's than seemed possible a year ago. At the same time, the agreements leave room for keeping in place a larger contingent than Obama's supporters might have envisioned, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops remaining in roles including training and other support, at least for the time being.
Brooke Anderson, a policy adviser and spokeswoman for Obama's transition office, welcomed Iraq's approval of the agreements, saying that the Obama team was "encouraged to see progress" in establishing the conditions for a U.S. presence beyond the expiration of the UN mandate at the end of the year.
The reason the agreements are a victory for Bush is that his administration has effectively negotiated an end to a costly and widely unpopular war that was begun in 2003 with several rationales, the most alarming of which - eliminating unconventional weapons supposedly held by Saddam Hussein - has since been discredited.
In the waning months of his presidency, Bush had to drop his initial opposition to any firm deadlines for U.S. withdrawal - deadlines that Obama urged on the campaign trial - and agree to Iraqi demands to have a greater and greater say in the country's governance in the meantime.
"Given where we were in January 2007, we have seen an almost unthinkable pace of progress on political, economic and security issues," Bush's spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said in a statement, describing the agreements as evidence of the success of the president's strategy. "So much so that the improved conditions allowed us to come to this mutual agreement with a sovereign Iraq that is solving its problems in the political process, not with guns and bombs."
The concessions to Iraqi sovereignty that Bush accepted have raised concerns among prominent Democrats in the U.S. Congress, including Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ike Skelton, his counterpart in the House of Representatives.
But any withdrawal from Iraq was inevitably going to accompany stronger assertions of Iraqi sovereignty and thus an uncertain period of transition in which real operational control passes from the military of the United States to that of Iraq.
Article 9 of the agreement governing security forces, for example, gives Iraq control of its airspace for the first time since the first Gulf war but goes on to say that Iraq may request "temporary support" from the United States.
Still unclear is how many U.S. forces are expected to remain between now and the deadline for withdrawal, and whether any could stay beyond then. What is clear is that beginning on Jan. 1, when the agreements go into effect, U.S.-led operations in Iraq will be conducted under far greater restraints.
The history of the war suggests that security gains are reversible, that whatever political reconciliation unfolds will be punctuated by eruptions of violence, that U.S. forces will continue for some time to oversee an ethnic and sectarian patchwork that could quickly devolve into civil war.
As part of the effort to win passage from Parliament, the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki also agreed to hold a national referendum next year on the agreements. A vote against them would put the U.S. forces then in Iraq - almost certainly more than 100,000 troops - in a legal limbo without the UN mandate the agreements are intended to replace at the end of this year.
"It is quite apparent that the Bush administration will be leaving the Obama administration with a messy, complicated and unstable situation in Iraq," said the National Security Network, a policy group made up mostly of Democrats who have sharply criticized Bush's policies.
It has also left Obama a way out.
Top cleric expresses concerns
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, has expressed concern about the security pact with the United States, fearing it gives too much power to the Americans and does not protect Iraqi sovereignty, The Associated Press reported Saturday from Baghdad, citing an official at Sistani's office. He stopped short of outright rejection, however.
By Thomas L. Friedman
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Here's a story you don't see very often. Iraq's highest court told the Iraqi Parliament last Monday that it had no right to strip one of its members of immunity so he could be prosecuted for an alleged crime: visiting Israel for a seminar on counterterrorism. The Iraqi justices said the Sunni lawmaker, Mithal al-Alusi, had committed no crime and told the Parliament to back off.
That's not all. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Umma al-Iraqiyya carried an open letter signed by 400 Iraqi intellectuals, both Kurdish and Arab, defending al-Alusi. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of press freedom. I can't imagine any other Arab country today where independent judges would tell the government it could not prosecute a parliamentarian for visiting Israel - and intellectuals would openly defend him in the press.
In the case of Iraq, though, the federal high court, in a unanimous decision, vacated the Parliament's rescinding of Alusi's immunity, with the decision delivered personally by Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud. The decision explained that although a 1950s-era law made traveling to Israel a crime punishable by death, Iraq's new Constitution establishes freedom to travel. Therefore the Parliament's move was "illegal and unconstitutional because the current constitution does not prevent citizens from traveling to any country in the world," Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for the court, told The Associated Press. The judgment even made the Parliament speaker responsible for the expenses of the court and the defense counsel!
I don't think it's reasonable to expect Iraq to have relations with Israel anytime soon, but the fact that it may be developing an independent judiciary is good news. It's a reminder of the most important reason for the Iraq war: to try to collaborate with Iraqis to build progressive politics and rule of law in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, a region that stands out for its lack of consensual politics and independent judiciaries. And it's a reminder that a decent outcome may still be possible in Iraq, especially now that the Parliament has endorsed the U.S.-Iraqi plan for a 2011 withdrawal of American troops.
Al Qaeda has not been fully defeated in Iraq; suicide bombings are still an almost daily reality. But it has been dealt a severe blow, which I believe is one reason the jihadists - those brave warriors who specialize in killing women and children and defenseless tourists - have turned their attention to softer targets like India.
Just as they tried to stoke a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq, and failed, they are now trying to stoke a Hindu-Muslim civil war in India.
If Iraq can keep improving - still uncertain - and become a place where Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites can write their own social contract and live together with a modicum of stability, it could one day become a strategic asset for the United States in the post-9/11 effort to promote different politics in the Arab-Muslim world.
How so? Iraq is a geopolitical space that for the last three decades of the 20th century was dominated by a Baathist dictatorship, which, though it provided a bulwark against Iranian expansion, did so at the cost of a regime that murdered tens of thousands of its own people and attacked three of its neighbors.
In 2003, the United States, under President Bush, invaded Iraq to change the regime. Terrible postwar execution and unrelenting attempts by Al Qaeda to provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war turned the Iraqi geopolitical space into a different problem - a maelstrom of violence. A huge price was paid by Iraqis and Americans. This was the Iraq that Barack Obama ran against.
In the last year, though, the U.S. troop surge and the backlash from moderate Iraqi Sunnis against Al Qaeda and Iraqi Shiites against pro-Iranian extremists have brought a new measure of stability. There is now, for the first time, a chance that a reasonably stable democratizing government, though no doubt corrupt in places, can take root in the Iraqi political space.
That is the Iraq that Obama is inheriting. It is an Iraq where we have to begin drawing down our troops - because the occupation has gone on too long and because we have now committed to do so by treaty - but it is also an Iraq that has the potential to eventually tilt the Arab-Muslim world in a different direction.
I'm sure that Obama, whatever he said during the campaign, will play this smart. He has to avoid giving Iraqi leaders the feeling that Bush did - that he'll wait forever for them to sort out their politics - while also not suggesting that he is leaving tomorrow, so they all start stockpiling weapons.
If he can pull this off, and help that decent Iraq take root, Obama and the Democrats could not only end the Iraq war but salvage something positive from it. Nothing would do more to enhance the Democratic Party's national security credentials than that.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
NEW YORK: Imagine Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, saying this to Barack Obama:
"The United States has been wrong to write Israel a blank check every year; wrong to turn a blind eye to the settlements in the West Bank; wrong not to be more explicit about the need to divide Jerusalem; wrong to equip us with weaponry so sophisticated we now believe military might is the answer to all our problems; and wrong in not helping us reach out to Syria. Your prospective secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said during the campaign that 'The United States stands with Israel, now and forever.' Well, that's not good enough. You need to stand against us sometimes so we can avoid the curse of eternal militarism."
Perhaps that seems unimaginable. But Olmert has already said something close to this. In a frank September interview with the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, reprinted this month by The New York Review of Books, the Israeli leader chose to exit with a mea culpa for his country's policies.
Those policies have been encouraged by the Bush administration, whose war on terror was embraced by the Israeli government as a means to frame Israel's confrontation with the Palestinians as part of the same struggle. No matter that Al Qaeda and the Palestinian national movement are distinct. The facile conflation got Bush in lock step with whatever Israel did.
So, by saying Israel has been wrong, Olmert was also saying the United States has been wrong, even if he never mentioned America.
What Olmert, who appears on the verge of indictment for fraud, did say in his "soul-searching on behalf of the nation of Israel" was that he had made "mistakes" as a former right-wing hard-liner and that military power will not deliver his 60-year-old country from existential anguish.
"We could contend with any of our enemies or against all our enemies combined and win," Olmert said. "The question that I ask myself is, what happens when we win? First of all, we'd have to pay a painful price. And after we paid the price, what would we say to them? 'Let's talk."'
Olmert is now convinced of the need to settle with the Palestinians and Syria through giving up parts of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The fact such views come from a former Likudnik is a measure of how the political ground has shifted in Israel ahead of elections early next year.
I think Olmert's words should be emblazoned on the wall of Hillary Clinton's eighth-floor State Department office: "We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage elsewhere - without this, there will be no peace."
Asked if this included a compromise on Jerusalem, Olmert said: "Including Jerusalem."
He also declared: "I'd like to know if there's a serious person in the State of Israel who believes that we can make peace with the Syrians without, in the end, giving up the Golan Heights." Those words should go up on Clinton's wall, too.
For Olmert, "holding this or that hill" is "worthless" and Israeli generals deluded in clinging to them.
These ideas will sit uneasily with the pro-Israel constituency that Clinton has dealt with as a Democratic senator for the state of New York. Nobody's been more solidly pro-Israel than she. But to be effective, she must become a tough taskmaster in the name of Olmert's compromises. That is in the best long-term interest of Israel.
Clinton noted during the campaign that the United States could "obliterate" Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel. Olmert chose different language. He noted "a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran." Once again, his words are instructive.
I am fiercely attached to Israel's security. Everything depends, however, on how that security is viewed. Israel can continue humiliating the Palestinians, flaunting its power with a bully's braggadocio. It will survive that way - and be desperately corroded from within. Neither domination nor demography favors Israel over time.
Its moral authority is already compromised by a 41-year occupation. The Diaspora Jew did not go to Zion to build the Jew among nations.
This is the reality behind Olmert's warning that "we have a window of opportunity - a short amount of time." This is the reality behind his appeal to "designate a final and exact borderline between us and the Palestinians."
For that, Palestinians must also compromise, especially on the right of return, and they must renounce terrorism. Return must essentially mean return to a new and viable Palestinian state.
Getting to such a two-state deal at, or close to, the 1967 borders will require concerted U.S. involvement from Day One of the Obama administration. Its tone should be one of tough love, with the emphasis on tough.
Readers are invited to comment at my blog: www.iht.com/passages
Sunday, November 30, 2008
MOSCOW: Gunmen killed three policemen and a passerby in Dagestan in southern Russia on Sunday, news agencies said, a region where increased violence could destabilise the whole country.
The attackers fired at a police checkpoint in Dagestan's capital Makhachkala at around 8.40 p.m. (1740 GMT) before fleeing. The policemen returned fired and killed one of the attackers, a police source told RIA Novosti news agency.
Over the last two years violence has spread across the north Caucasus from Chechnya, where Russian forces have fought two wars against rebels since 1994.
Bomb attacks and shootouts occur almost daily in Dagestan but a death toll of three policemen, one pedestrian and one of the attackers is higher than usual. In October, five policemen was killed and another nine were wounded in an attack.
A mixture of economic frustration and heavy-handed police tactics make Dagestan a fertile recruitment ground for radical Islamists looking for disenchanted young men, analysts have said.
This week Russian security forces said that intensifying violence in the region could destabilise the entire country.
(Writing by James Kilner)
By Lydia Polgreen
Sunday, November 30, 2008
DAKAR, Senegal: On Sunday morning, Sani ibn Salihu went to pray for the dead. Even as he arrived at the central mosque of the Nigerian city of Jos to join a throng mourning 364 bodies that he said had already been brought there, the battered corpses kept coming, 11 in the hour he spent praying.
"There were women and children, old men," among the bodies, Salihu, a peace activist and journalist, said in a telephone interview from Jos, the central Nigerian city where two days of ferocious violence between Christians and Muslims in the wake of a disputed local election has left hundreds of people dead.
A tense calm returned to Jos on Sunday as soldiers wrested control of the streets from armed Christian and Muslim gangs that had roamed the city, slaughtering people with guns and machetes and setting fire to houses, churches, shops and cars, according to residents. The sudden and vociferous explosion of religious violence was the worst Nigeria had seen in at least four years.
Religious and health officials gave varying accounts of the death toll but agreed that at least 400 bodies had already been recovered and that there were probably still more in the charred churches, homes, cars and alleyways that had been no-go zones until Sunday. The Red Cross said about 7,000 people had fled the most violent neighborhoods and were living in shelters.
The clashes began suddenly, taking the entire city by surprise in both the swiftness and ferocity of the bloodshed, despite a long history of religious violence in the region. The trouble began Friday as the results of elections trickled in for important local government posts that control hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds.
Local elections have not been held here for years, in part because of fears that the political parties would split along religious lines, which is what happened. Even before the results were announced, gangs on both sides began rampaging, anticipating defeat.
Christian gangs claimed that the governing party, the PDP, was being cheated of victory, while Muslim gangs claimed that the opposition ANPP, which is identified largely with Muslims in the north, was being robbed of its victory.
Nigeria's 140 million people are evenly divided between the Muslim and Christian faiths. People of both religions live all across the country, often cheek by jowl, usually in relative peace.
But the religious divide in this polyglot nation of more than 250 ethnic groups mirrors a geographical one, between a historically Muslim north and a Christian and animist south, as well as deep political divisions that cross religious lines. Beyond that there are conflicts over land and political power, which are often intertwined as a result of traditional customs that hold the rights of indigenous people over those of migrants from other parts of the country. Religion is almost always a proxy for these grievances.
A dispute over a perceived insult to Islam during a beauty pageant in 2002 led to riots in which more hundreds died. In 2006, riots over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad led to slaughter in several Nigerian cities, killing nearly 200 people, more than in any other country that experienced violence in the global backlash against the cartoons.
Nigeria's Middle Belt, a band of fertile land that straddles the largely Muslim north and Christian south, has always been a hotbed of ethnic and religious violence, and Plateau State, of which Jos is the capital, has borne the brunt.
The state's original inhabitants come from a handful of tribes that are almost entirely Christian and animist, but the farmland and grazing pasture have attracted migrants for centuries, especially Muslim Hausa and Fulani people from the more arid north. In Jos, a picturesque city set on a verdant plateau in central Nigeria, 1,000 people died in religious riots in 2001, and in 2004 hundreds more were killed in a nearby city of Yelwa. Jos became a balkanized city, with Muslims and Christians retreating to separate neighborhoods.
Despite this history of religious bloodshed in the region, residents, officials and activists said the city had come a long way toward healing divisions. Interfaith commissions set up to improve relations between the faiths and ethnic groups in the aftermath of the 2001 riots appeared to be helping cool tensions.
"Things had really improved in Jos," said Nankin Bagudu, a Christian and state government commissioner who had worked with the Human Rights League. "Nobody expected this kind of violence this time."
Salihu, a Muslim, said that the violence threatened to undo years of careful bridge-building between the communities.
"As someone who has been involved in a peace work between Christian and Muslims, this has set our work back 10 years," he said. "It will take us a very long time to rebuild the confidence."
By William Safire
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Welcome to the socio-literary parlor game of "Name That Generation."
It all began in a quotation Ernest Hemingway attributed to his Paris patron, the poet and salonkeeper Gertrude Stein. On the title page of his novel "The Sun Also Rises," published in 1926, he quoted her saying to her circle of creatively disaffected writers, artists and intellectuals in the aftermath of World War I, "You are all a lost generation."
In the cultural nomenclature after that, the noun generation was applied to those "coming of age" in an era. Anne Soukhanov, U.S. editor of the excellent Encarta dictionary, observes, "Young people's attitudes, behavior and contributions, while being shaped by the ethos of, and major events during, their time, came in turn to represent the tenor of the time."
Taking that complex sense of generation as insightful, we can focus on its modifier as the decisive word in the phrases built upon it. The group after the lost generation did not find its adjective until long after its members turned gray. Belatedly given a title in a 1998 book by Tom Brokaw, the Greatest Generation defined "those American men and women who came of age in the Great Depression, served at home and abroad during World War II and then built the nation we have today."
That period, remembered as one characterized by gallantry and sacrifice, was followed by another time that was described in a sharply critical sobriquet: In 1951, people in their 20s were put down as the Silent Generation. That adjective was chosen, according to Neil Howe, author of the 1991 book "Generations," because of "how quiescent they were during the McCarthy era ... they were famously risk-averse." Overlapping that pejorative label in time was the Beat Generation, so named by the writer Jack Kerouac in the '50s. Though the author later claimed his word was rooted in religious Beatitudes, it was described by a New York Times writer as "more than mere weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw ... a sort of nakedness of mind."
Now we're up to the '70s, dubbed by Tom Wolfe in New York magazine in 1976 as the "me decade." That coinage led to the general castigation of young adults in that indulgent era as the Me Generation, preoccupied with material gain and "obsessed with self."
Then came the title denoting mystery of the demographically huge generation born from roughly 1946 to 1964 - begun as the Baby-Boom Generation, but in its later years its younger members took on a separate identity: Generation X. That is the title of a 1991 book by Douglas Coupland; "It is an identity-hiding label," the generationist Howe says, "of what is the generation with probably the weakest middle class of any of the other generations born in the 20th century." While most boomers proudly asserted their generational identity, "Xers" at first did not; now, however, most feel more comfortable with the label. It has been followed by Y and Z, but those are too obviously derivative, and the Millennial Generation - if narrowly defined as those beginning to come of age since 2000 - has members still in knee pants.
U.S. presidents like to identify themselves with the zeitgeist inspiriting their electorate. "This generation of Americans," FDR told the 1936 Democratic convention, "has a rendezvous with destiny," the final three words later evoked by both Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural address, said, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage."
Speaking in March 2007 at a chapel in Selma, Alabama, in commemoration of a bloody march for voting rights, Senator Barack Obama put forward a name for a new generation of African-Americans. After acknowledging "a certain presumptuousness" in running for president after such a short time in Washington, Obama credited the Reverend Otis Moss Jr. for writing him "to look at the story of Joshua because you're part of the Joshua generation."
He noted that the "Moses generation" had led his people out of bondage but was not permitted by God to cross the river from the wilderness to the Promised Land. In the Hebrew Bible, it was Joshua, chosen by Moses to be his successor, who led the people across, won the battle of Jericho and established the nation. "It was left to the Joshuas to finish the journey Moses had begun," Obama said to the youthful successors to the aging leaders of the civil rights movement, "and today we're called to be the Joshuas of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across the river."
By Peter S. Goodman
Sunday, November 30, 2008
From the Great Depression, we remember the bread lines. From the oil shocks of the 1970s, we recall lines of cars snaking from gasoline stations. And from our current moment, we may come to remember scenes like the one at a Wal-Mart in the New York suburbs in the dawn after Thanksgiving, when 2,000 frantic shoppers trampled to death an employee who stood between them and the bargains within.
If it was a tragedy, it did not feel like an accident. All those people were lined up in the cold and darkness, because of marketing forces that have produced this day called Black Friday. They were engaging in early-morning shopping as contact sport. American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out.
This year, that anxiety comes with special intensity for everyone involved - for shoppers, fully cognizant of the immense strains on the economy, which has made bargains more crucial than ever; for the stores, now grappling with what could be among the weakest holiday seasons on record; and for policy makers around the planet, grappling with what to substitute for the suddenly beleaguered American consumer, whose proclivities for new gadgets and clothing has long been the engine of economic growth from Guangzhou to Guatemala City.
For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop. China, Japan and other foreign powers have provided the wherewithal to purchase their goods by buying staggering quantities of American debt.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush dispatched Americans to the malls as a patriotic act. When the economy faltered early this year, the government gave out tax rebate checks and told people to spend. In a sense, those Chinese-made flat-screen televisions sitting inside Wal-Mart have become American comfort food.
And yet the ability to spend is constricting rapidly. Credit card limits are getting cut. Millions of Americans now owe the bank more than the value of their homes, making further borrowing impossible. The banks themselves are hunkered down, just hoping to survive.
Live within our means and save: This new commandment has entered the U.S. conversation, colliding with the deeply embedded imperative to spend. And yet much of the distress is less the product of extravagance than the result of the fact that in many households the means are nowhere near enough for traditional middle-class lives.
Wages for most Americans have fallen in real terms over the past eight years. Private retirement plans have just relinquished half their value to an angry market. Health benefits have been downgraded or eliminated altogether. Working hours are being cut, and full-time workers are having to settle for jobs through temporary agencies.
Indeed, this was the situation for the unfortunate man working at the Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. Friday, a temp at a company emblematic of low wages and weak benefits, earning his dollars by trying to police an unruly crowd worried about missing out.
In a sense, the American economy has become a kind of piñata - lots of treats in there, but no guarantee that you will get any, making people prone to frenzy.
It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began with violence fueled by desperation; with a mob making a frantic reach for things its members wanted badly, knowing they might go home empty-handed.
By Steve Lohr
Sunday, November 30, 2008
NEW YORK: Barack Obama may have to surrender his BlackBerry when he moves into the White House, in the interests of presidential security and confidentiality. But there is every sign that his administration will pursue a pro-technology agenda.
In speeches and policy statements, Obama has repeatedly emphasized a need to maintain America's technology leadership in the world and to invest government funds to do so. His campaign platform declared that government policy must "foster home-grown innovation" and "help ensure the competitiveness of United States technology-based businesses." Two of his favorite proposals - roundly endorsed by technology industry leaders and university scientists - are to double federal funding for basic research over the next several years and to train many thousands more scientists and engineers.
But such steps would probably amount to well-intentioned but misguided policies that risk doing more harm than good, according to Amar Bhidé, a professor at the Columbia Business School. In a new book, "The Venturesome Economy," Bhidé makes a detailed argument that contradicts the prevailing view of expert panels and authors who contend that U.S. prosperity is threatened by the technological rise of China and India, and that America's capacity for innovation is eroding. To arrest the decline, they insist that more scientists and engineers, and more government spending on research, are sorely needed.
Bhidé derides the conventional view in science and technology circles as "techno-nationalism," needlessly alarmist and based on a widely held misunderstanding of how technological innovation yields economic growth. In his view, many analysts put too much emphasis on the production of new technological ideas. Instead, he observes, the real economic payoff lies in innovations in how technologies are used.
America's competitive advantage, Bhidé explains, resides mainly in its creative use of information technology, especially in the large and growing services sector, led by companies like Wal-Mart. "Wal-Mart and its followers are as much a part of the technological success of America as Silicon Valley," he said.
The globalization of science and technology research, Bhidé added, should actually work to the advantage of the U.S. economy, as long as America remains the best place to commercialize inventions. As the rest of the world becomes a richer source of inventions, there is less need for the United States to come up with such a large share itself - and policy, he says, should reflect that reality.
"I'm not arguing for reductions in research spending in the United States," he said. "But in a world where investment in high-level science and technology is increasing, there is no compelling reason to invest a lot more."
The flaw in Bhidé's thesis is that it amounts to a "false choice," said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. Most of the economic gains from technology, Atkinson agrees, do come from its innovative use. "But that doesn't mean that the basic research is not critical," he said.
In fast-moving fields, Atkinson said, there are immense benefits when the knowledge produced in research projects quickly spills over into ventures that become powerhouses in new industries. Google, which grew out of a digital library project funded by the National Science Foundation, is among a host of such examples. Where the invention is done, Atkinson notes, is often vital.
Bhidé argues, however, that policy choices and tradeoffs have to be made, and that they should be guided by a deeper understanding of how innovation contributes to economic growth. That analysis is the basis of his 508-page book, which adds to the emerging field of "innovation economics."
His research builds on, but is also critical of, the doctrine of "new growth theory," developed in the 1980s and '90s. That theory holds that new ideas are the crucial engine of growth and presents mathematical models, created by economists like Paul Romer of Stanford, to simulate the process. The models have been used to justify increasing government subsidies for research.
What gets short shrift in the math models, Bhidé said, is "midlevel innovation." The category, by his definition, is broad, ranging from a venture capitalist who tweaks a business model to trim costs by a few percent to a technician who fine-tunes his company's software to save the accounting department a few data-entry steps.
These midlevel innovations, Bhidé said, do not show up in patent counts, and individually they are small steps indeed. But they add up, especially because there is so much of that kind of unsung innovation across the American economy.
While others bemoan the state of American education, Bhidé, who graduated from the elite Indian Institute of Technology before he earned advanced degrees at Harvard, is impressed with the general level of creativity and practical skills in the U.S. work force.
So instead of tilting policy toward the apex of the education system, Bhidé suggests, it may make more sense to invest scarce government resources further down the educational ladder. "The modern information technology economy is going to need a lot of foot soldiers," he said.
By N. Gregory Mankiw
Sunday, November 30, 2008
If you were going to turn to only one economist to understand the problems facing the U.S. economy, there is little doubt that the economist would be John Maynard Keynes. Although Keynes died more than a half-century ago, his diagnosis of recessions and depressions remains the foundation of modern macroeconomics. His insights go a long way toward explaining the challenges we now confront.
According to Keynes, the root cause of economic downturns is insufficient aggregate demand. When the total demand for goods and services declines, businesses throughout the economy see their sales fall off. Lower sales induce companies to cut back production and to lay off workers. Rising unemployment and declining profits further depress demand, leading to a feedback loop with a very unhappy ending.
The situation reverses, Keynesian theory says, only when some event or policy increases aggregate demand. The problem right now is that it is hard to see where that demand might come from.
The economy's output of goods and services is traditionally divided into four components: consumption, investment, net exports and government purchases. Any expansion in demand has to come from one of these four. But in each case, strong forces are working to keep spending down.
Consumption: The Conference Board reports that U.S. consumer confidence is near its record low. It is easy to understand why consumers are so scared. House values have declined, retirement-account balances have shrunk and unemployment is up. For many people, the sense of economic uncertainty is greater than they've ever experienced. When it comes to discretionary purchases, like a new home, a car, or a washing machine, wait-and-see is the most rational course.
A bit more saving is not entirely unwelcome. Many economists have long lamented the U.S. saving rate, which is low by international and historical standards.
For the overall economy, however, a recession is not the best time for households to start saving. Keynesian theory suggests a "paradox of thrift." If all households try to save more, a short-run result could be lower aggregate demand and thus lower national income. Reduced incomes, in turn, could prevent households from reaching their new saving goals.
Investment: In normal times, a decline in consumption could be met by an increase in investment, which includes spending by businesses on plant and equipment and by households on new homes. But several factors are keeping investment spending at bay.
The most obvious is the state of the housing market. Over the past three years, residential investment has fallen 42 percent. With house prices continuing to decline, increased building of new homes is not likely to be a source of robust demand over the next few years.
Business investment has lately been stronger than residential investment, but it is unlikely to pick up the slack in the near future. With the stock market down, interest rates on corporate bonds up and the banking system teetering on the edge, financing new business projects will not be easy.
Net exports: Not long ago, it looked as if the rest of the world would save the U.S. economy from a deep downturn. From March 2004 to March 2008, the dollar fell 19 percent against an average of other major currencies. By increasing the price of foreign goods in the United States and reducing the price of American goods abroad, this depreciation discouraged imports and bolstered exports. Over the past three years, real net U.S. exports have increased by about $250 billion.
In the coming months, however, the situation may well go into reverse. As the U.S. financial crisis has spread to the rest of the world, fast-moving international capital has been looking for a haven. Paradoxically, that haven is the United States. Since March, the dollar has appreciated 19 percent, a move that will put a crimp in the export boom.
Government purchases: That leaves the government as the demander of last resort. Calls for increased infrastructure spending fit well with Keynesian theory. In principle, every dollar spent by the government could cause national income to increase by more than a dollar if it leads to a more vibrant economy and stimulates spending by consumers and companies. By all reports, that is precisely the plan that the incoming administration of Barack Obama has in mind.
The fly in the ointment - or perhaps it is more an elephant - is the long-term fiscal picture. Increased government spending might be a good short-run fix, but it would add to the budget deficit. The baby boomers are now starting to retire and claim Social Security and Medicare benefits. Any increase in the national debt will make fulfilling those unfunded promises harder in coming years.
Keynesian economists often dismiss these long-run concerns when the economy has short-run problems. "In the long run we are all dead," Keynes said.
The longer-term problem we now face, however, may be more serious than any that Keynes ever envisioned. Passing a larger national debt to the next generation may look attractive to those without children. (Keynes himself was childless.) But the rest of us cannot feel much comfort knowing that in the long run, when we are dead, our children and grandchildren will be dealing with our fiscal legacy.
So what is to be done? Many economists still hope that the Federal Reserve will save the day.
In normal times, the Fed can bolster aggregate demand by reducing interest rates. Lower interest rates encourage households and companies to borrow and spend. They also bolster equity values and, by encouraging international capital to look elsewhere, reduce the value of the dollar in foreign-exchange markets. Spending on consumption, investment and net exports all increase.
But these are not normal times. The Fed has already cut the federal funds rate, the interest on overnight loans between banks, to 1 percent, close to its lower bound of zero. Some fear that the central bank is almost out of ammunition.
Fortunately, the Fed has a few secret weapons. It can set a target for longer-term interest rates. It can commit itself to keeping interest rates low for a sustained period. Most important, it can try to manage expectations and assure markets that it will do whatever it takes to avoid prolonged deflation. The Fed's decision this past week to start buying mortgage debt shows its willingness to act creatively.
It is hard to say how successful monetary and fiscal policy will be in avoiding a deep downturn. But as events unfold, you can be sure that policy makers in the Fed and Treasury will be looking at them through a Keynesian lens.
In 1936, Keynes wrote, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slave of some defunct economist." In 2008, no defunct economist is more prominent than Keynes himself.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
By Brian Love
As recession extends its tentacles across the globe, it is getting hard just to track the hundreds of billions of dollars governments are throwing or promising to throw at the problem.
With unemployment surging and the car industry screaming for survival aid, governments in Washington, Beijing, Tokyo and the bulk of Europe appear to agree one thing -- that urgent fiscal stimulus is needed to support demand and limit the damage.
What is striking is that Germany, Europe's largest economy, appears unconvinced so far, or is at least reluctant to follow the rest of the pack into a spending splurge after years devoted to bringing the country's public finances back into balance.
However, the fact that the European Central Bank is expected to cut interest rates heavily again on Thursday, as is the Bank of England, demonstrates the seriousness of the deterioration in the economic climate.
But with much of the industrialized world now in or sliding into recession, economists believe it is time to deploy the fiscal guns alongside the monetary weaponry, and not just in the slower-growing industrialized world.
"It is clear that significant fiscal stimulus is needed both in the OECD countries and in emerging markets," said Torsten Slok, New York based economist for Deutsche Bank.
China has announced a stimulus package worth 4 trillion yuan, or roughly $586 billion (381 bilion pounds). And Tokyo plans a stimulus worth 5 trillion yen (34.5 billion pounds), though it plans only to submit the extra budget to parliament in the new year.
Washington has spent or committed trillions of dollars and is expected to come up with another big package -- some economists believe it may be worth upwards of $400 billion -- as soon as President-elect Barack Obama takes over in January.
And the European Commission has proposed that the 27-country European Union come up with an EU-wide package worth 200 billion euros, or 1.5 percent of EU gross domestic product.
While economists believe the announced plans mix new and old money in some cases, Germany's reticence is a more vexing question and one which casts a shadow on the EU-wide package to be discussed by finance ministers this week and which will be put to EU leaders for approval mid-December.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she does not want to get into a "race for billions", which is worrying some other governments in Europe, according to officials in other capitals. And it is troubling economists too.
"Germany's reluctance to pull its weight in fighting the global recession betrays lack of vision, lack of leadership, and a temptation to free-ride that, if widely mimicked, would truly condemn the world economy to a new great depression," says Marco Annunziata, chief economist at UniCredit bank.
Jim O'Neill, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, notes that domestic consumption in export-dependent Germany has barely budged in what will soon be 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And that is something that should change.
Europe's largest economy should do itself and the rest of the world a favour by raising wages, reducing sales tax, and thereby supporting higher levels of consumption, O'Neill argued in an article in the London Financial Times.
Berlin will get a chance to explain its stand when European Union finance ministers meet on Monday and Tuesday to discuss how they might deliver on the proposal for an EU-wide stimulus package worth 200 billion euros (169 billion pounds).
France is preparing its contribution, due to be announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, and Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced a package on Friday which he says is worth 80 billion euros. London has already announced a plan it says is worth 20 billion pounds.
Many economists believe a lot of the figures being announced involved a mixture of truly new money and recycling of existing commitments, so it remains hard to evaluate the impact.
Something must be done in any case, they say, at a time when unemployment is back on the rise and could surge.
European data last week showed that the unemployment rate ticked upwards to 7.7 percent in October from 7.6 percent the previous month, and more ugly numbers are expected this coming Friday in the United States.
Bank of America economists highlighted in a research note that employment as measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls data fell 77,000 a month on average in the first half of 2008, but by three to four times that amount in September and October.
For the November data due on Friday, the prediction is that the fall will be 316,000, according to a poll conducted by Reuters, after a drop of 240,000 in October.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
The U.S. government is going for broke in an attempt to avert the type of calamitous financial collapse that led to the Great Depression. No one would fault the objective, but throwing money at the problem is becoming an end in itself.
Last week alone, while everyone was still arguing whether a $25 billion loan to the Big Three carmakers would be money down a sinkhole, the government committed more than $1 trillion to prop up Citigroup and to try to spur lending to consumers and home buyers.
Moves to stabilize the system have put Americans in harm's way from possible losses on nearly $8 trillion pledged in loans, guarantees and investments to financial firms.
This page has consistently held that the government must intervene in markets when failure to do so would cause even greater economic harm. The impending collapse of Citi or an unrelenting credit freeze demand intervention. But good crisis management also requires that the calamity of the moment not be allowed to overwhelm good governing. Unfortunately, that is not the case now.
As the rescue tab rises, taxpayers are not being adequately informed or protected. There is as yet no effort to deal effectively with the underlying causes of the problem, especially mass mortgage defaults that feed bank losses.
In the Citi bailout, as in the bailout of American International Group and other financial interventions, the government has taken shares in the rescued firm in exchange for its investment. That is sensible, as far as it goes. But the upside for taxpayers has been overstated, because the risk in many of the investments may well outweigh the potential return. These gambles are the reason the government should attach more strings to its help, including a say in how the money is used and in major investments and management decisions. But the Treasury and the Federal Reserve have balked at taking greater charge, leaving taxpayers more exposed to losses than they probably realize.
Last week's plan from the Federal Reserve to jump-start mortgage lending also falls short. Even if it loosens credit, it will do little to stem foreclosures, because most of the defaults that are destabilizing the system do not result from the loans that the Fed has targeted. It is as if the Fed, fixated on the flames of a fire, is ignoring the fire's fuel source.
Another danger is that in fighting today's crises, the government is teeing up the next one. To finance the bailouts, the Treasury is borrowing money and the Fed is printing it. That bodes ill for a heavily indebted nation, presaging higher interest rates and higher prices - perhaps sharply higher. That is not an argument for inaction.
But frank acknowledgment of the dangers would put a premium on getting the rescues right today. As it is, the reckoning is postponed.
Fed and Treasury officials are locked in full emergency mode, reacting and defending. And they probably have neither the inclination nor the time to improve their responses. By selecting Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman, to head a team to oversee the financial crisis, President-elect Barack Obama seems committed to a different way, one that combines the ability to respond quickly with the resolve to act wisely.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Life is unfair, as the saying goes, but for investors still stuck in auction-rate securities, the inequities keep on coming.
Auction-rate securities, you may recall, are preferred shares or debt instruments with rates that reset regularly, usually every week, in auctions overseen by the brokerage firms that originally sold them.
They have long-term maturities or, in the case of the preferred shares, no maturity dates at all. The securities are issued by municipalities, student-loan companies, closed-end funds and tax-exempt institutions like hospitals and museums.
Brokers who peddled these securities told buyers that they were cash equivalents, easy to get out of and relatively safe.
But the promises of liquidity turned false in February when buyers for the securities disappeared and the auctions began failing. The $300 billion market for auction-rates ground to a halt, entrapping thousands of investors both large and small, sophisticated and novice.
Officials in Massachusetts, New York and other states came to the rescue earlier this year, striking settlements with some of the bigger brokerage firms in the arena.
But while some of the larger firms agreed to redeem the securities, not everyone is covered by those agreements. A group of people, size unknown, has fallen through the cracks in the settlements, and for several quirky reasons. They remain frozen in the securities and understandably upset.
Irene Scharf, a professor of immigration law at the Southern New England School of Law, in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, is one of them. Back in 2005, she invested $75,000 in several auction-rate securities backed by municipalities. The money was earmarked to pay college tuition bills for her two sons.
Scharf says she bought the auction-rate securities at the suggestion of her UBS broker. When that broker joined Smith Barney last year, she moved her account with him to the new firm.
Unfortunately, that sequence of events disqualifies her from participating in the redemption of her securities as dictated by the various state settlements.
The terms of the Massachusetts settlement with UBS, for example, require it to redeem auction-rate securities of only those clients who bought them from the firm between Oct. 1, 2007, and Feb. 13, 2008, and who still hold them at UBS. The settlement covers $19 billion in securities; UBS neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.
The agreement struck by Smith Barney states that it will redeem auction-rate securities that were bought by its customers directly from the firm before Feb. 11, 2008. The deal, in which the firm neither admits nor denies wrongdoing, covers $7.3 billion in securities.
That leaves Scharf, however, out in the cold. Making matters worse, the college bills that her securities were supposed to cover are coming due.
"We lived very frugally for years so I would not have to take out loans when my kids went to college," Scharf said. "I was not informed of any risk; my broker kept assuring me nothing was safer. When I asked about redeeming them, he said I'd only need to give him two or three days' notice to redeem."
She said she has tried to get help from the authorities in her home state - Massachusetts - in Texas and also at the Securities and Exchange Commission. She has received sympathy but little else.
A spokeswoman for UBS confirmed that former clients were not all covered by the settlement agreement it had struck with regulators.
"Investors who moved their relationships away from UBS while liquidity for auction-rate securities was still available through the auction process are not eligible for our settlement offering, as they were no longer using a UBS financial adviser for investment advisory or brokerage services at the time that auctions failed," said Karina Byrne, the spokeswoman. "We believe our settlement covers more auction-rate securities holders because it covers all UBS clients who were holding the securities, regardless of where they purchased them, and our settlement is the only one that covers retail, corporate and institutional holders."
Another victim of the auction-rate morass is Jeff Stier, associate director of the American Council on Science and Health, a nonprofit organization in New York. He, too, invested in auction-rate securities through UBS. The investments were to help fund his organization's $2 million budget.
Stier said he grew unhappy with the service at the firm and moved his account to a new financial adviser who used Fidelity Investments as a custodian. As was the situation for Scharf, the timing of his account shift means that he does not qualify for redemption by either firm, in his case UBS or Fidelity.
An offer made by Fidelity to redeem its clients' securities is limited to customers who bought the securities there before Feb. 13, 2008, explained Adam Banker, a spokesman for Fidelity. The buyback offer does not extend to customers who bought the securities through other firms or advisers, he said.
The result is that $250,000 of the nonprofit council's money overseen by Stier is frozen.
"These were marketed to us explicitly as an alternative to money markets for money that UBS knew we needed to have relatively liquid," Stier said. "We are getting to the point where we may soon need additional funds. We are at the verge of having a material loss as a result of lack of liquidity."
Why did securities regulators agree to settlement terms with UBS and other firms that wound up shutting some investors out? William Galvin, the secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the regulator who secured the deal with UBS, said that the Oct. 1, 2007, redemption starting point was based on the date that officials concluded UBS knew the auctions were beginning to fail.
"If we could have proved that they knew two years beforehand, we would have attached liability to that period," Galvin said. "Our goal was to get people out, and out as promptly as possible."
Still, he said that he was interested in trying to help investors who were stuck in the securities. "I recognize the fact that this problem is not completely solved," Galvin said, "and we need to keep working on it until we free up everybody."
This predicament is like so many of the messes created by Wall Street in recent years: Easy to make. Hard to fix.
By Steven Erlanger
Sunday, November 30, 2008
PARIS: NATO foreign ministers gather this week in Brussels, with the United States and Germany quarreling over just how much distance to keep from Georgia and Ukraine.
The debate is ostensibly over the mechanisms through which Georgia and Ukraine will, at some point, become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the real debate is over relations with Russia, especially in the aftermath of its conflict last summer with Georgia. And those ties with Moscow are wrapped up in domestic politics, both in Germany and the United States.
The administration of President George W. Bush, which has maintained close ties with Georgia and with pro-Western politicians in Ukraine, wants to give no concessions to what it sees as a newly aggressive Russia. It wants NATO to send a clear message that Moscow cannot intimidate the alliance and that it does not get to veto NATO membership.
At her last NATO ministerial meeting, the main task for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be to give substance to a vague promise by NATO last April that Georgia and Ukraine would some day become members.
After this week, the next NATO summit meeting will be held in April, when the organization marks its 60th anniversary and when France is scheduled to reintegrate fully into the military wing of the alliance. But by then, U.S. relations with NATO will be the responsibility of President-elect Barack Obama and his intended secretary of state, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In a possible indication of her views on Georgia and Ukraine, Clinton - alongside Senator John McCain of Arizona - nominated Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine for the Nobel Peace Prize in January 2005 for their roles "in leading freedom movements" and "their extraordinary commitment to peace."
Not all NATO members are so enthusiastic. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a strong challenge from her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will lead the Social Democratic Party into elections next year that will openly pit the parties of the divided coalition government against each other. Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has been relatively tough with Russia in the softer German context; Steinmeier is considered friendly to Russia, a powerful neighbor on which Germany depends for much of its energy supply.
Germany, according to both German and U.S. diplomats, wants to send an accommodating message to Moscow, both by slowing down NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and by welcoming a call by President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia for talks on a new "security architecture" for Europe.
For now, Germany insists that Georgia and Ukraine go through what is called a Membership Action Plan, or MAP, before NATO enlargement is considered.
At the NATO summit meeting in Bucharest last April, Germany and France blocked a last-minute push by Bush and some newer NATO members - those with experience under Soviet rule - to give Georgia and Ukraine immediate membership action plans. Berlin and Paris argued that Ukraine was politically divided and that neither it nor Georgia was ready.
They also argued that a membership action plan for Ukraine would outrage Russia, which regards Ukraine as a crucial part of its mental and physical landscape, and that a plan for Georgia could destabilize the Caucasus.
Bush fought hard but lost, after annoying Merkel, who thought she had received a promise from Bush not to press for membership plans.
Paris and Berlin compromised by agreeing that Ukraine and Georgia could become members, but they did not say when. They agreed with Washington that the membership action plans would be reconsidered at the meeting this week.
But that was before fighting in Georgia in August, when Russia ended up taking over the enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia - within the sovereign borders of Georgia - and then recognizing their independence. In doing so, Russia cited Washington's recognition of independence for Kosovo, wrested from Serbia militarily without a UN resolution.
Realizing that many Europeans are convinced that Saakashvili either started the Russian-Georgian conflict or fell rashly into a Russian trap, Washington now says that having a Membership Action Plan is not important. U.S. diplomats say that "MAP has been fetishized" by the Europeans, who see it as a step too far; by the Russians, who see it as an offensive move; and by the Georgians, who see it as a form of deterrence, a commitment of NATO aid even before membership.
Knowing that it would probably lose another fight for a plan now, Washington is instead arguing that NATO can work to make Ukraine and Georgia ready for membership through other means, in particular the NATO-Ukraine Commission, established 11 years ago, and the NATO-Georgia Commission, which was created after the August war.
Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said in Washington last week that "MAP was never an end in itself" and that it "is not the only way to get there." He emphasized that such plans were only created after the first former Soviet bloc nations joined in 1999.
France seems content with the U.S. formulation, which raises no new flags with Moscow and does little to hasten membership for Georgia and Ukraine.
But Berlin was angered, seeing the U.S. position as "MAP without MAP," or the substance without the label, according to one German official who spoke anonymously because of diplomatic practice.
Germany insists that MAP remain a condition of NATO membership and has accused Washington of making an "end run" around the Bucharest compromise.
A senior U.S. official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that everyone now accepted it would take "years and years" before Georgia and Ukraine are ready; even then, every NATO country must ratify enlargement. "I don't really understand what the Germans want," he said.
"They're clinging to MAP, but they refuse to use it. They will use it only when a country is already ready to become a NATO member, so why insist on it? They say they want to preserve it as a final hurdle. We say, 'Let's get out of this hamster ring, since everyone really is in agreement, and get on with it."'
As for Russia, the U.S. official said, Washington is telling Berlin that "if you make MAP such a big political deal, then it is more of an issue for Russia." But the official also conceded that Merkel remained angry about Bucharest and that "standing up to the United States," especially to a disliked, lame-duck Bush administration, may be good domestic politics.
The French are being constructive, the U.S. official said. "We want to get out of this conflict and move on, and they don't want it to be a big issue" for the April meeting, Obama's first and a big anniversary for the alliance.
By Kevin J. O'Brien
Sunday, November 30, 2008
BERLIN: When a dispute between two cellphone companies, Telenor of Norway and Altimo of Russia, returned to court recently, it seemed fitting that one of the settings was the Siberian city of Omsk, home of a Soviet-era labor camp.
For the feud, which began in 2004 over a disagreement about how to invest in Ukraine, has grown into a standoff of Cold War proportions, with accusations of corporate espionage and legal skullduggery being exchanged in courtrooms and arbitration panels on three continents.
Like other relationships between Russian investors and outside partners, the Altimo-Telenor alliance has soured at a time when Russia has grown increasingly assertive in business and other matters.
In 2001, when Altimo and Telenor agreed to joint management of Russian and Ukrainian mobile operators in which they both held stakes, the partnership seemed tailor-made for both sides. Telenor, one of the first Western telecommunications investors in the former Soviet Union, needed a local partner. Altimo wanted an experienced international operator with financial clout and technological know-how.
"Telenor had everything that Altimo needed," said Kresimir Alic, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Zagreb, Croatia.
The trouble started in 2004, when Telenor opposed Altimo's plan for VimpelCom, their partnership in Russia, to buy a Ukrainian mobile operator, Ukrainian Radio Systems. Telenor worried about damage to its partnership with Altimo in Ukraine, called Kyivstar.
With powerful business and political interests involved on both sides, the dispute broadened. Telenor is 54 percent owned by the Norwegian government. Altimo is controlled by Mikhail Fridman, a Kremlin ally and the chairman of Alfa Group, one of the largest telecommunications investors in Russia.
Analysts say the dispute has not had any direct effects on day-to-day operations of Kyivstar, which is the largest mobile operator in Ukraine, or VimpelCom, which is the second-biggest operator in Russia, after MTS. But they say the raw tone of the conflict is raising diplomatic tensions between Norway and Russia, which have cooperated on a number of business projects.
In Ukraine, Altimo prevailed, with VimpelCom taking over Ukrainian Radio Systems, or URS, in April 2006. In a series of rulings, the Ukrainian Supreme Court has sided with Altimo.
But that did not end matters. Telenor has contested the decisions, saying the companies had agreed under their partnership to settle disputes by arbitration in Geneva and New York, rather than Russia and Ukraine.
Telenor has sued Altimo in New York; Altimo has countered with its own lawsuit against Telenor in Geneva.
Over the past year, the companies have hurled increasingly bitter accusations at each other, and the dispute has been marked by bizarre twists.
In Omsk, Telenor is appealing the ruling of a Russian trial court judge in the Siberian town of Khanty-Mansiysk, who ordered Telenor in August to pay $2.8 billion for trying to obstruct VimpelCom's takeover of URS. The judge, E.A. Karankevich, made his ruling at 2 a.m., said Jan Edvard Thygesen, Telenor's head of central and Eastern Europe.
Before announcing the fine, Thygesen said, Karankevich openly discussed the level of the penalty - at one point considering $5.7 billion - before lawyers began arguing the case.
"This case has been a judicial farce," Thygesen said in an interview. "We are confident we will get this overturned when the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow hears our appeal."
Kirill Babaev, a senior vice president at Altimo in Moscow, disputed Thygesen's assertion that the Russian trial judge had improperly set fines before hearing the case.
"The judge was not doing this," Babaev said. "He was simply following Russian court procedure. Telenor has never respected our court system."
On Nov. 12, Altimo said in a news release that it had been offered documents suggesting that Telenor was behind the tapping of private phone conversations and e-mail messages of Alfa managers and investors traveling in the United States.
But Thygesen, of Telenor, said the documents were fabrications. Dag Melgaard, another Telenor spokesman, said that Telenor had hired investigators, but that they had done no wire-tapping.
Telenor, in turn, questions the origins of the lawsuit in Khanty-Mansiysk, which was filed in April by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands called Farimex Products, which said it owned a 0.002 percent stake in VimpelCom. It is not clear why the suit was filed in Khanty-Mansiysk, though that is the home of another Altimo partner, a company called CT-Mobile.
Farimex, in a class-action suit on behalf of VimpelCom shareholders, sued both Telenor and Altimo for $3.8 billion in damages allegedly caused by the dispute over Kyivstar.
Copies of Farimex's incorporation papers provided to the International Herald Tribune by Telenor appear to show a Russian citizen, Dmitry Fridman, as a registered officer of the company.
But Dmitry Fridman has never appeared in the Siberian court proceedings, Thygesen said. Telenor said it believed that Altimo had been added as a defendant to give Farimex the appearance of neutrality. The judge threw out the claims against Altimo.
Both Altimo and Telenor say they have no way of locating Dmitry Fridman. Thygesen said Dmitry Fridman was related to Mikhail Fridman, but Altimo denies any connection between the two men.
"Dmitry Fridman is not a relative of Mikhail Fridman," Babaev said.
Efforts to locate Dmitry Fridman and Farimex were unsuccessful.
Telenor has also questioned actions by the court in Omsk. In October, it froze Altimo and Telenor shares in VimpelCom. Altimo's owner, Alfa, had pledged the shares as collateral toward a loan from Deutsche Bank. At the time, Deutsche Bank was poised to seize the shares as security, after a decline in VimpelCom's share price. While the stock was frozen, Alfa secured a letter of credit from a Russian state development bank, avoiding seizure of the shares.
On Oct. 25, the Telenor chief executive, Jon Fredrik Baksaas, called Mikhail Fridman and offered to buy Altimo's Kyivstar stake, Thygesen said. Fridman rejected the offer, Thygesen said. Babaev said he was aware of the conversation, but he declined to comment on what had been discussed.
On Nov. 19, a U.S. federal judge in New York, acting at Telenor's request, found Altimo in contempt for violating a November 2007 arbitration ruling that faulted Altimo for skipping Kviystar board meetings and for owning stakes in Kyivstar competitors.
Babaev said Altimo was considering an appeal. In the meantime, analysts say, the fallout from the prolonged legal battle has deepened tensions between Norway and Russia, whose relationship has already been strained over fishing and energy development in the Barents Sea.
"The relationship between the two countries is in crisis at the moment," said Danila Bochkarev, an analyst in Brussels at The EastWest Institute, a think tank. "Telenor-Altimo is a part of that."
By Viktor Yushchenko
Sunday, November 30, 2008
This week, Brussels will host a meeting of NATO foreign ministers which will give a comprehensive assessment of Ukraine's progress in conducting reforms. Among other things, the meeting will discuss NATO's Membership Action Plan for Ukraine.
I shall be straightforward: We are interested in the MAP and we are expecting a positive signal from the alliance. We believe we are ready for deeper cooperation. Taking it to a qualitatively new level will undoubtedly be mutually beneficial.
Ukraine has more than once proved the effectiveness of its participation in the system of European and Euro-Atlantic security. At the NATO summit in Bucharest, the allies gave a high assessment of Ukraine's contribution to all peacekeeping operations and missions conducted under the aegis of NATO and the United Nations. We are ready and able to bear joint responsibility. This has been manifested in peacekeeping operations in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan and other "hot spots."
I should recall that Ukraine voluntarily gave up one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. At the present time, Ukraine guarantees the security of energy transit across its territory.
We have every reason to state that Ukraine's membership in NATO will strengthen the role and security capabilities of the alliance. That is why the conclusion made by the allies in Bucharest sounded unambiguous: Ukraine will be a NATO member.
Why does Ukraine aspire to join NATO? To us this is an issue of sovereign choice, a strategic course and civilization progress. Ukraine is striving to join NATO not for defense purposes only. After all, we do not regard a single country as one that could afford real threats against us.
However, Ukraine is part of a globalized world that is developing dynamically. Ukraine's desire to join NATO is an aspiration to become part of the most effective system of collective security and to share joint responsibility for common space.
We also clearly realize that Ukraine's success on the path towards NATO hinges on the implementation of key reforms in this country. We are not walking away from this course even though sometimes we have to overcome not only objective, but also subjective, artificial and at times aggressive obstacles.
I am convinced that NATO is interested in Ukraine no less than Ukraine is interested in NATO. We understand the discussions going on inside the organization: The main concern is Russia's negative reaction to Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. In this respect I should note that the alliance has always emphasized an open-door policy.
The dissatisfaction of third countries cannot be a signal for the alliance to give up its declared principles. The position of the Russian Federation on NATO enlargement has been known for a long time and did not emerge yesterday.
We remember the first and second waves of NATO enlargement in 1999 and 2004. Back then we also heard angry rhetoric and calls "not to interfere in the sphere of Russian interests." But this did not stop the alliance from gaining new members.
We are not so much worried about Russia's attempts to control the alliance's cooperation with Ukraine as we are about the policy of double standards in our northern neighbor's security approaches. The rhetoric gets particularly tough when it comes to the right of sovereign Ukraine to independently determine its own security policy. We keep trying to persuade our Russian partners to change their categorical stance, taking present-day realities into account. It is no secret that at the moment Russia is gaining far more in practical terms from cooperation with NATO than Ukraine is. In addition, Russia declares interest in continued, deeper cooperation.
Therefore, there is no need for, or sense in, blocking natural processes, which have already reached a point of no return. Let's negotiate and develop beneficial, open and sincere dialogue on security issues.
NATO is currently looking for ways to adapt to new realities and conditions. The development of a new strategy blueprint for the alliance is aimed precisely at that. We welcome these efforts, and we are convinced that the new strategy should envisage all future realities, including Ukraine's membership of NATO and the development of collaboration with Russia.
We actively continue diplomatic consultations with all our partners in the alliance, and we see that some NATO member states still have doubts about the advisability of Ukraine gaining membership in the alliance or even being granted a MAP.
I would like to advise them not to form their opinion on Ukraine on the basis of stereotypes of the past, much less under the influence of external pressure.
It is very easy to dispel the doubts: It is enough to compare the Ukraine 15 years ago with the present-day Ukraine and to make a fair assessment of our progress and our bilateral cooperation with NATO.
We have in effect been functioning under a MAP for quite a long time. Ukraine completely fulfills annual target cooperation plans. Most of the basic criteria of reform and getting closer to NATO standards have been met, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine are ready for full-fledged integration into the alliance's unified system. Practice shows that this is even more important than the formal presence or absence of a MAP.
I would not like the ongoing political developments in Ukraine to be used as a pretext. Democracy is always a complicated political process. A consensus emerges in society as a result of people being informed and making a conscious choice. These processes are continuing. A national consensus is, meanwhile, reflected in legislation. Ukrainian legislation, which has been approved jointly by the authorities and the opposition, sets the goal of attaining NATO membership.
The MAP is just one of the rungs of a ladder. It can either be included in the itinerary or be omitted. This is not a decision on membership in the alliance. A decision will not be made until both Ukraine and NATO are ready. It is the forward outlook, political will and strategic action that are topical today. New, enlarged Europe has got a chance to finally do away with the division lines and zones of influence that have lingered on since the times of the Cold War.
Do we see Europe as strong, secure and united? If so, there are no obstacles to Ukraine being granted NATO's MAP and membership.
Viktor Yushchenko is the president of Ukraine.
By Michael Schwirtz
Sunday, November 30, 2008
KIEV: With the Ukrainian government reeling from a financial crisis and internal power struggles, the country's pro-Russian opposition has been leveling potentially damaging allegations of improper arms sales to Georgia during that country's brief war with Russia.
And Russia's leaders, furious with Ukraine's president over his pro-Western leanings and vocal support of Georgia, have personally weighed in, making accusations of their own.
It may not matter that the opposition has provided no conclusive evidence of the claims, despite weeks of pronouncements that the evidence - once released - will be explosive. The claims alone, which have made headlines, have nonetheless helped to further undermine the government's authority at a time of heightened political instability, while also roiling Ukraine's already tense relationship with Russia.
At issue are accusations that the government of President Viktor Yushchenko, who supported Georgia during the crisis, covertly supplied it with weapons before and soon after the fighting broke out in August, and sold tanks and an antiaircraft system to the Georgians at reduced prices.
A parliamentary commission set up by Ukraine's opposition parties has been investigating the claims, which also include allegations that the president decommissioned equipment sorely needed by Ukraine's military and gave it to Georgia.
Yushchenko has flatly denied any wrongdoing, describing the investigation as nothing more than a political show. He has indicated that Ukraine has every right to sell weapons to any country, including Georgia, that is not under international sanctions.
The opposition lawmakers say the point is not whether Ukraine had a right to sell weapons to Georgia. They say the government secretly sent the arms, bypassing disclosure rules to avoid antagonizing Russia. They also say that some of the proceeds of the sales have gone not to the treasury, but to people in Yushchenko's circle, even as Ukraine's military is in dire need of cash.
"We are on the verge of a huge political scandal that could have immense political repercussions," said Vitaly Konovalyuk, a member of Parliament who leads the commission. Konovalyuk is from the leading opposition party, the Party of Regions, which seeks closer ties with the Kremlin.
The charges come at a time of a deep economic downturn and political discord in Ukraine, with a seemingly intractable power struggle between Yushchenko and his main pro-Western rival, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. The Parliament has often been stalemated, and Yushchenko's popularity has plunged.
Russia's senior officials have been fueling the dispute. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the alleged weapons sales a "crime against the Russian and Ukrainian people" in a meeting with Timoshenko in October.
The Kremlin has long opposed Yushchenko because of his pro-Western bent and was infuriated by his vocal backing of Georgia during the crisis. The leadership of both Ukraine and Georgia took power in the so-called color revolutions, and both want to join NATO. Russia has vociferously opposed such steps.
Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, last month accused countries that supplied Georgia with weapons of helping to provoke the August conflict.
"Unfortunately, several countries close to us participated in this," he said. "We will never forget this, and, for sure, we will consider this when formulating policy."
Last week, Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas monopoly once headed by Medvedev, announced that it might double the price of gas for Ukraine if it failed to pay off $2.4 billion in debt by Jan. 1.
Two years ago, in a similar dispute, Gazprom turned off the gas to Ukraine. (Gazprom has said it will try to refrain from doing so again this time.)
Ukraine was left with huge stockpiles of weapons and military equipment after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and has relied on arms exports as a key source of income.
In 2007, Ukraine sold Georgia 74 T-72 tanks, some armored combat vehicles, a BUK M1 surface-to-air missile system, and two 2S7 self-propelled artillery guns, among other weapons, according to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.
Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council said in a statement that the country's last shipment of military hardware arrived at the Georgian Black Sea port in Poti on Aug. 8, the day the war started, but that the cargo "did not include weaponry." Rather, the statement said, "pyrotechnical equipment" for aircraft emergency and fire prevention systems were delivered.
Although Ukraine's weapons export regime has been criticized for lack of oversight, most analysts say controls over weapons sales have improved since the 1990s, when the country was a main source of weapons sent to conflict zones around the world.
Yushchenko has said Ukraine's arms shipments did not violate any laws, and has indicated that Ukraine will continue to sell weapons to Georgia. Ukraine also sells military hardware to Russia.
By Jeffrey Gettleman
Sunday, November 30, 2008
NAIROBI: The saga over the pirated Ukrainian freighter stuffed with weapons may be coming to an end.
Andrew Mwangura, head of a Kenyan maritime association, said the Somali pirates who captured the freighter more than two months ago have reached an agreement with the ship's owners on a ransom, though he would not reveal the amount. The only thing left to figure out, he said, is how to get the ransom to the pirates and regain the ship - no simple feat with a half-dozen American and European vessels circling the freighter and a band of jumpy pirates aboard.
"There is some good news," Mwangura said Sunday. "Both sides have agreed. They are now working on modalities of transferring the money."
Mwangura, who has helped several times before in the delicate negotiations over hijacked ships and has a network of seamen in Kenya and Somalia, said he expected the situation to be resolved peacefully in the coming days.
A businessman in Xarardheere, the sun-baked pirate den on the Somali coast near where the freighter is anchored, said that he spoke to the pirates Sunday via radio and that they said the ship would be freed in "the next day or so." The businessman, who declined to be identified, helps supply the pirates with milk, water, goats and cartons of cigarettes.
But this is not the first time there have been such hopes. The Ukrainian ship was hijacked Sept. 25, hundreds of kilometers off Somalia's coast, and several times a deal has seemed tantalizingly close only to implode in recriminations and disputes over money.
On Sunday night, a Western diplomat in Kenya with knowledge of the negotiations said he had heard there might be a deal, but he could not confirm it. Although the pirates first demanded an astronomical ransom - $35 million - maritime officials in Kenya said the ultimate price would most likely be around $3 million to $5 million.
Somalia has been plagued by pirates for years. But the hijacking of the Ukrainian ship rang alarm bells around the world because of its cargo: 33 Soviet-era battle tanks, 150 grenade launchers, 6 antiaircraft guns and heaps of ammunition. Western powers, including the United States and Russia, fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist insurgents who are gobbling up territory across Somalia and who are widely believed to be providing sanctuary to terrorists from Al Qaeda. Somalia has not had a functioning central government for nearly 18 years.
The United States, Russia, India, NATO and the European Union have all sent warships to Somalia's waters, but the piracy problem still rages. An enormous Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million of oil was hijacked last month, and that ship, along with about a dozen others, is still being held.
Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.
By Fred A. Bernstein
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect who designed one of the world's most recognizable buildings, the Sydney Opera House, but never saw it finished, died in Copenhagen on Saturday. He was 90.
He died of heart failure in his sleep, according to his son Kim.
Floodlights that illuminate the Opera House were dimmed for one hour Sunday night to mark Utzon's death, The Associated Press reported from Sydney, and the New South Wales government said flags on the city's other landmark, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, would be lowered to half-staff Monday.
Utzon left Australia amid controversy seven years before the Opera House was completed. He lived out most of his final decades on the Spanish island of Majorca while his gull-roofed building came to symbolize Australia, half a world away.
As a young architect Utzon worked for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden and Alvar Aalto in Finland before establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950. In 1956, he read about the Sydney Opera House competition in a Swedish architecture magazine. He spent six months designing a building with sail-like roofs, their geometry, he said, derived from the sections of an orange. Utzon's plan was championed by Eero Saarinen, the Finnish architect who was one of the judges in the competition.
In 1957, Utzon - who until then was hardly known outside his native country - was declared the winner, and for the next five years he worked on the project from his office in Denmark. In 1962, he moved with his wife, Lis, sons Jan and Kim, and daughter, Lin, to Sydney.
When only the shell of the opera house was complete, the architect found himself at odds with Davis Hughes, the New South Wales minister for public works, over cost overruns and delays. When Hughes stopped payments to Utzon in 1966, the architect packed up his family and left the country.
Supporters of Utzon said that an unreasonably low construction estimate made it seem as though costs had escalated far more than they had, and that Utzon had been treated unfairly.
Writing in Harvard Design Magazine in 2005, Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor of planning at Aalborg University in Denmark, argued: "The real loss in the Sydney Opera House project is not the huge cost overrun in itself. It is that the overrun and the controversy it created kept Utzon from building more masterpieces."
In recent years, Australian organizations tried to heal the breach. In 2002, Utzon was commissioned to design interior renovations that would bring the building closer to his original vision; his son Jan, who is also an architect, traveled to Australia to carry out the work. And in 2003, Utzon received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney. (Jan took his place at the ceremony.)
The same year, Utzon won the Pritzker Prize, considered architecture's highest honor. Frank Gehry, who was a Pritzker juror at the time, said that Utzon "made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country."
Jorn Utzon, the son of a naval architect, was born in Aalborg, Denmark, on April 9, 1918. He studied architecture at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. After leaving Australia, he worked in Hawaii, Switzerland and Spain before settling in Majorca in the mid-1970s. In addition to the Sydney Opera House, he designed the National Assembly of Kuwait, a church at Bagsvaerd, Denmark, and many private homes, including two in Majorca for himself and his wife. He chose the spot for the first house, he said, because it reminded him of the Australian beachfront he had hurriedly departed.
Though he suffered from failing eyesight in his final years, he continued to discuss architecture and could visualize plans the way a chess player can visualize a board, Jan Utzon said.
When he was accepting the honorary doctorate in 2003, Jan Utzon said the fact that his father had never visited the Opera House did not mean he had not experienced the building. "As its creator, he just has to close his eyes to see it," he said.
By Jeffrey Rosen
Sunday, November 30, 2008
NEW YORK: In March 2007, Nicole Wong, the deputy general counsel of Google, was notified that there had been a precipitous drop in activity on YouTube in Turkey, and that the press was reporting that the Turkish government was blocking access to the video-sharing site. Apparently unaware that Google owns YouTube, Turkish officials did not tell Google that a judge had ordered telecommunications providers to block access to the site in response to videos that insulted the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is a crime under Turkish law.
Wong scrambled to figure out which videos had provoked the court order and made the first in a series of tense telephone calls to Google's legal advisers in London and Turkey as angry protesters gathered in Istanbul. Eventually, Wong and several colleagues concluded that the video that had sparked the controversy was a parody news broadcast that declared that Ataturk was gay. The clip was posted by Greek soccer fans looking to taunt their Turkish rivals.
Wong and her colleagues asked the Turkish authorities to reconsider their decision, pointing out that the original offending video had already been voluntarily removed by YouTube users. But after the video was taken down, Turkish prosecutors objected to dozens of other YouTube videos that they claimed insulted either Ataturk or "Turkishness." These clips ranged from Kurdish-militia recruitment videos and Kurdish morality plays to additional videos speculating about the sexual orientation of Ataturk, including one superimposing his image on characters from the television series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."
After having many of the videos translated into English, Wong and her colleagues set out to determine which ones were, in fact, illegal in Turkey; which ones violated YouTube's terms of service prohibiting hate speech but allowing political speech; and which constituted expression that Google and YouTube would try to protect.
There was a vigorous internal debate among Wong and her colleagues at the top of Google's legal pyramid. Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of global public policy, took an aggressive civil-libertarian position, arguing that the company should protect as much speech as possible. Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, took a more pragmatic approach, expressing concern for the safety of the dozen or so employees at Google's Turkish office. The responsibility for balancing these and other competing concerns about the controversial content fell to Wong, whose colleagues jokingly call her "the Decider," after President George W. Bush's folksy self-description.
Wong decided that Google, by using a technique called IP blocking, would prevent access to videos that clearly violated Turkish law, but only in Turkey. For a time, her solution seemed to satisfy the Turkish judges, who restored YouTube access.
But last June, as part of a campaign against threats to symbols of Turkish secularism, a Turkish prosecutor made a sweeping demand: that Google block access to the offending videos throughout the world, to protect the rights and sensitivities of Turks living outside the country. Google refused, arguing that one nation's government should not be able to set the limits of speech for Internet users worldwide. Unmoved, the Turkish government today continues to block access to YouTube in Turkey.
The Web might seem like a free-speech panacea: It has given anyone with Internet access the potential to reach a global audience. But though technology enthusiasts often celebrate the raucous explosion of Web speech, there is less focus on how the Internet is actually regulated, and by whom. As more and more speech migrates online, the ultimate power to decide who has an opportunity to be heard, and what we may say, lies increasingly with Internet service providers, search engines and other Internet companies like Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook and even eBay.
The most powerful and protean of these Internet gatekeepers is, of course, Google. With control of 63 percent of the world's Internet searches, as well as ownership of YouTube, Google has enormous influence over who can find an audience on the Web around the world.
As an acknowledgment of its power, Google has given Wong a central role in the company's decision-making process about what controversial user-generated content goes down or stays up on YouTube and other applications owned by Google, including Blogger, the blog site; Picasa, the photo-sharing site; and Orkut, the social networking site.
Wong and her colleagues also oversee Google's search engine. They decide what controversial material does and does not appear on the local search engines that Google maintains in many countries in the world, as well as on google.com. As a result, Wong and her colleagues arguably have more influence over the contours of online expression than anyone else on the planet.
For the past two years, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, along with other international Internet companies, have been meeting regularly with human rights and civil-liberties advocacy groups to agree on voluntary standards for resisting worldwide censorship requests. At the end of October, the Internet companies and the advocacy groups announced the Global Network Initiative, a series of principles for protecting global free expression and privacy.
Voluntary self-regulation means that, for the foreseeable future, Wong and her colleagues will continue to exercise extraordinary power over global speech online. Which raises a perennial but increasingly urgent question: Can we trust a corporation to be good - even a corporation whose informal motto is "Don't be evil"?
Recently, I spent several days talking with Wong and her colleagues at Google's headquarters, the so-called Googleplex in Mountain View, California. As we sat around a conference table, they told me about their debates as they wrestled with hard cases like the dispute in Turkey, as well as the experiences that have informed their thinking about free speech.
I asked Wong what the best analogy was for her role at Google. Was she acting like a judge? An editor? "I don't think it's either of those," she said. "I definitely am not trying to pass judgment on anything. I'm taking my best guess at what will allow our products to move forward in a country, and that's not a judge role, more an enabling role."
When Google was founded 10 years ago, it was not at all obvious whether the proprietors of search engines would obey the local laws of the countries in which they did business, or whether they would remove links from search results in response to requests from foreign governments. This began to change in 2000, when a French Jew surfed a Yahoo auction site to look for collections of Nazi memorabilia, which violated a French law banning the sale and display of anything that incites racism.
After a French judge determined that it was feasible for Yahoo to identify 90 percent of its French users by analyzing their IP addresses and to screen the material from the users, he ordered Yahoo to make reasonable efforts to block French users from gaining access to the prohibited content or else to face fines and the seizure of income from Yahoo's French subsidiary. In January 2001, Yahoo banned the sale of Nazi memorabilia on its Web sites.
The Yahoo case was a landmark. It made clear that search engines based in the United States, like Google and Yahoo, could be held liable outside America for indexing or directing users to content after having been notified that it was illegal in a foreign country.
In the wake of the Yahoo decision, Google decided to comply with governmental requests to take down links on its national search engines to material that clearly violated national laws. (In the interest of disclosure, however, Google has agreed to report all the links it takes down in response to government demands to a Web site, chillingeffects.com, run by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, that keeps a record of censored online materials.)
Over the past couple of years, Google and its various applications have been blocked, to different degrees, by 24 countries. Blogger is blocked in Pakistan, for example, and Orkut in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, governments are increasingly pressing telecommunications companies to block controversial speech at the network level. Europe and the United States recently agreed to require Internet service providers to identify and block child pornography, and in Europe there are growing demands for networkwide blocking of terrorist-incitement videos.
As a result, Wong and her colleagues said, they worried that Google's ability to make case-by-case decisions about what links and videos are accessible through Google's sites might be slowly circumvented, as countries were requiring the companies that gave people access to the Internet to build top-down censorship into the network pipes.
I asked Wong whether she thought the "Decider" model was feasible in the long term, and to my surprise, she said no. "I think the Decider model is an inconsistent model because the Internet is big and Google isn't the only one making the decisions," she told me.
When I pressed Wong and her colleagues about who they thought should make these decisions, they said they would be happiest, of course, if more countries would adopt U.S.-style free-speech protections. Knowing that that was unlikely, they said they would prefer that countries around the world set up accountable bodies that provided direct guidance about what controversial content to restrict.
As an example of his preferred alternative, McLaughlin pointed to Germany, which has established a state agency that gathers the URLs of sites hosting Nazi and violent content illegal under German law and gives the list to an industry body, which then passes it on to Google so that it can block the material on its German site. (Whenever Google blocks material there or on its other foreign sites, it indicates in the search results that it has done so.)
Those review boards might protect far less free speech than Google's lawyers have. When I raised this concern, McLaughlin said he hoped that the growing trends to censor speech, at the network level and elsewhere, would be resisted by millions of individual users who would agitate against censorship as they experienced the benefits of free speech. But what is left out of McLaughlin's vision is uncertainty about one question: the future ethics and behavior of gatekeepers like Google itself.
Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and former scholar in residence at Google, said, "Right now, we're trusting Google because it's good, but of course, we run the risk that the day will come when Google goes bad." In his view, that day might come when Google would allow its automated Web crawlers, or search bots, to be used for law-enforcement and national-security purposes.
"Under pressure to fight terrorism or to pacify repressive governments, Google could track everything we've searched for, everything we're writing on Gmail, everything we're writing on Google docs, to figure out who we are and what we do," he said. "It would make the Internet a much scarier place for free expression."
Wu's fears that violations of privacy could chill free speech are grounded in recent history: in 2005, Yahoo turned over to the Chinese government the e-mail address of Shi Tao, a Chinese dissident who was imprisoned as a result. Yahoo has since come to realize that the best way of resisting government subpoenas is to ensure that private data cannot be turned over, even if a government demands it. In some repressive countries, I was told by Michael Samway, who heads Yahoo's human rights efforts, Yahoo now stores personal data offshore and limits access to local employees; in the most repressive countries, Yahoo has an instant purge system for search queries so that it cannot turn them over even when ordered to do so.
Purging data is the best way of protecting privacy and free expression in the Internet age: It is the only way of ensuring that government officials cannot force companies like Google and Yahoo to turn over information that allows individuals to be identified. Google, which refused to discuss its data-purging policies on the record, has raised the suspicion of advocacy groups like Privacy International. It announced in September that it would retain all the IP addresses on its server logs for only nine months. Until that time, however, it stores a wealth of personal information about people's search results and viewing habits that - in large part for the purpose of improving its customizing of advertising and thus remaining profitable. As Wu suggested, it would be a catastrophe for privacy and free speech if this information fell into the wrong hands.
Google is, after all, a company in the advertising and media business. In the future, Wu said, it might slant its search results to favor its own media applications or to bury its competitors.
If Google allowed its search results to be biased for economic reasons, it would transform the way people think about Google as a neutral free-speech tool. The only editor is supposed to be a neutral algorithm. But that would make it all the more insidious if the search algorithm were to become biased.
"They have enormous control over a platform of all the world's data, and everything they do is designed to improve their control of the underlying data," says the Internet scholar Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School. "If your whole game is to increase market share, it's hard to do good, and to gather data in ways that don't raise privacy concerns or that might help repressive governments to block controversial content."
Wong and her colleagues at Google seem to be working impressively to put the company's long-term commitment to free expression above its short-term financial interests. But they won't be at Google forever.
Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine.
By John Markoff
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harrison Brown, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, didn't need to do complex calculations to figure out he liked this deal: in exchange for letting researchers track his every move, he receives a free smartphone.
Now, when he dials another student, researchers know. When he sends an e-mail or text message, they also know. When he listens to music, they know the song. Every moment he has his Windows Mobile smartphone with him, they know where he is, and who is nearby.
Brown and about 100 other students living in Random Hall at MIT have agreed to swap their privacy for smartphones that generate digital trails to be beamed to a central computer. Beyond individual actions, the devices capture a moving picture of the dorm's social network.
The students' data are but a bubble in a vast sea of digital information being recorded by an ever thicker web of sensors, from phones to GPS units to the tags in office ID badges, that capture our movements and interactions. Coupled with information already gathered from sources like Web surfing and credit cards, the data are the basis for an emerging field called collective intelligence.
Propelled by new technologies and the Internet's steady incursion into every nook and cranny of life, collective intelligence offers powerful capabilities, from improving the efficiency of advertising to giving community groups new ways to organize.
But even its practitioners acknowledge that, if misused, collective intelligence tools could create an Orwellian future on a level Big Brother could only dream of.
Collective intelligence could make it possible for insurance companies, for example, to use behavioral data to covertly identify people suffering from a particular disease and deny them insurance coverage. Similarly, the government or law enforcement agencies could identify members of a protest group by tracking social networks revealed by the new technology. "There are so many uses for this technology — from marketing to war fighting — that I can't imagine it not pervading our lives in just the next few years," says Steve Steinberg, a computer scientist who works for an investment firm in New York.
In a widely read Web posting, he argued that there were significant chances that it would be misused, "This is one of the most significant technology trends I have seen in years; it may also be one of the most pernicious."
For the last 50 years, Americans have worried about the privacy of the individual in the computer age. But new technologies have become so powerful that protecting individual privacy may no longer be the only issue. Now, with the Internet, wireless sensors, and the capability to analyze an avalanche of data, a person's profile can be drawn without monitoring him or her directly.
"Some have argued that with new technology there is a diminished expectation of privacy," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy rights group in Washington. "But the opposite may also be true. New techniques may require us to expand our understanding of privacy and to address the impact that data collection has on groups of individuals and not simply a single person."
Brown, for one, isn't concerned about losing his privacy. The MIT researchers have convinced him that they have gone to great lengths to protect any information generated by the experiment that would reveal his identity.
Besides, he says, "the way I see it, we all have Facebook pages, we all have e-mail and Web sites and blogs."
"This is a drop in the bucket in terms of privacy," he adds.
Google and its vast farm of more than a million search engine servers spread around the globe remain the best example of the power and wealth-building potential of collective intelligence. Google's fabled PageRank algorithm, which was originally responsible for the quality of Google's search results, drew its precision from the inherent wisdom in the billions of individual Web links that people create.
The company introduced a speech-recognition service in early November, initially for the Apple iPhone, that gains its accuracy in large part from a statistical model built from several trillion search terms that its users have entered in the last decade. In the future, Google will take advantage of spoken queries to predict even more accurately the questions its users will ask.
And, a few weeks ago, Google deployed an early-warning service for spotting flu trends, based on search queries for flu-related symptoms.
The success of Google, along with the rapid spread of the wireless Internet and sensors — like location trackers in cellphones and GPS units in cars — has touched off a race to cash in on collective intelligence technologies.
In 2006, Sense Networks, based in New York, proved that there was a wealth of useful information hidden in a digital archive of GPS data generated by tens of thousands of taxi rides in San Francisco. It could see, for example, that people who worked in the city's financial district would tend to go to work early when the market was booming, but later when it was down.
It also noticed that middle-income people — as determined by ZIP code data — tended to order cabs more often just before market downturns.
Sense has developed two applications, one for consumers to use on smartphones like the BlackBerry and the iPhone, and the other for companies interested in forecasting social trends and financial behavior. The consumer application, Citysense, identifies entertainment hot spots in a city. It connects information from Yelp and Google about nightclubs and music clubs with data generated by tracking locations of anonymous cellphone users.
The second application, Macrosense, is intended to give businesses insight into human activities. It uses a vast database that merges GPS, Wi-Fi positioning, cell-tower triangulation, radio frequency identification chips and other sensors.
"There is a whole new set of metrics that no one has ever measured," said Greg Skibiski, chief executive of Sense. "We were able to look at people moving around stores" and other locations. Such travel patterns, coupled with data on incomes, can give retailers early insights into sales levels and who is shopping at competitors' stores.
Alex Pentland, a professor at the Media Lab at MIT who is leading the dormitory research project, was a co-founder of Sense Networks. He is part of a new generation of researchers who have relatively effortless access to data that in the past was either painstakingly assembled by hand or acquired from questionnaires or interviews that relied on the memories and honesty of the subjects.
The Media Lab researchers have worked with Hitachi Data Systems, the Japanese technology company, to use some of the lab's technologies to improve businesses' efficiency. For example, by equipping employees with sensor badges that generate the same kinds of data provided by the students' smartphones, the researchers determined that face-to-face communication was far more important to an organization's work than was generally believed.
Productivity improved 30 percent with an incremental increase in face-to-face communication, Pentland said. The results were so promising that Hitachi has established a consulting business that overhauls organizations via the researchers' techniques.
Pentland calls his research "reality mining" to differentiate it from an earlier generation of data mining conducted through more traditional methods.
Pentland "is the emperor of networked sensor research," said Michael Macy, a sociologist at Cornell who studies communications networks and their role as social networks. People and organizations, he said, are increasingly choosing to interact with one another through digital means that record traces of those interactions. "This allows scientists to study those interactions in ways that five years ago we never would have thought we could do," he said.
Once based on networked personal computers, collective intelligence systems are increasingly being created to leverage wireless networks of digital sensors and smartphones. In one application, groups of scientists and political and environmental activists are developing "participatory sensing" networks.
At the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at the University of California, Los Angeles, for example, researchers are developing a Web service they call a Personal Environmental Impact Report to build a community map of air quality in Los Angeles. It is intended to let people assess how their activities affect the environment and to make decisions about their health. Users may decide to change their jogging route, or run at a different time of day, depending on air quality at the time.
"Our mantra is to make it possible to observe what was previously unobservable," said Deborah Estrin, director of the center and a computer scientist at UCLA
But Estrin said the project still faced a host of challenges, both with the accuracy of tiny sensors and with the researchers' ability to be certain that personal information remains private. She is skeptical about technical efforts to obscure the identity of individual contributors to databases of information collected by network sensors.
Attempts to blur the identity of individuals have only a limited capability, she said. The researchers encrypt the data to protect against identifying particular people, but that has limits.
"Even though we are protecting the information, it is still subject to subpoena and subject to bullying bosses or spouses," she said.
She says that there may still be ways to protect privacy. "I can imagine a system where the data will disappear," she said.
Already, activist groups have seized on the technology to improve the effectiveness of their organizing. A service called MobileActive helps nonprofit organizations around the world use mobile phones to harness the expertise and the energy of their participants, by sending out action alerts, for instance.
Pachube (pronounced "PATCH-bay") is a Web service that lets people share real-time sensor data from anywhere in the world. With Pachube, one can combine and display sensor data, from the cost of energy in one location, to temperature and pollution monitoring, to data flowing from a buoy off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, all creating an information-laden snapshot of the world.
Such a complete and constantly updated picture will undoubtedly redefine traditional notions of privacy.
Pentland says there are ways to avoid surveillance-society pitfalls that lurk in the technology. For the commercial use of such information, he has proposed a set of principles derived from English common law to guarantee that people have ownership rights to data about their behavior. The idea revolves around three principles: that you have a right to possess your own data, that you control the data that is collected about you, and that you can destroy, remove or redeploy your data as you wish.
At the same time, he argued that individual privacy rights must also be weighed against the public good.
Citing the epidemic involving severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in recent years, he said technology would have helped health officials watch the movement of infected people as it happened, providing an opportunity to limit the spread of the disease.
"If I could have looked at the cellphone records, it could have been stopped that morning rather than a couple of weeks later," he said. "I'm sorry, that trumps minute concerns about privacy."
Indeed, some collective-intelligence researchers argue that strong concerns about privacy rights are a relatively recent phenomenon in human history.
"The new information tools symbolized by the Internet are radically changing the possibility of how we can organize large-scale human efforts," said Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.
"For most of human history, people have lived in small tribes where everything they did was known by everyone they knew," Malone said. "In some sense we're becoming a global village. Privacy may turn out to have become an anomaly."
Sunday, November 30, 2008
TIJUANA, Mexico: Nine decapitated bodies were discovered on Sunday in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, a hot spot in an increasingly gruesome war between drug cartels.
The bodies, along with their removed heads, had been left in a vacant lot beside a factory, witnesses and police told reporters.
Mexico is facing spiralling drug violence, especially along its border with the United States. Cities like Tijuana, south of San Diego, are seeing horrendous levels of crime, with bodies set on fire, cut up and dumped in acid and strung over highways.
Beheadings, kidnappings and daylight shootings have become common as vicious drug cartels fight over smuggling routes into the United States.
President Felipe Calderon has sent some 40,000 troops and federal police across Mexico to try to stop the killings. But despite major drug seizures and arrests, the killings continue.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Sunday, November 30, 2008
By Aref Mohammed
Iran and Iraq on Sunday exchanged the remains of a total of 241 soldiers killed in their 1980-88 war, resuming a swap that had been suspended since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The bodies of 41 Iranians and 200 Iraqis, most of them unidentified, were handed over at the border crossing point of Shalamcha in southern Iraq, while Iraqi and Iranian military bands played martial music and national anthems.
The bodies came from border areas that witnessed major battles in a war estimated to have killed one million people.
Iranian naval personnel carried the coffins of Iraqi soldiers, wrapped in Iraqi flags, to the border and then crossed into Iraq where they placed the coffins in rows.
Iraqi soldiers then did the same with the coffins of Iranians draped in Iranian flags. Iranian women veiled and shrouded in black threw themselves over some coffins and wailed.
The coffins of the Iranian remains were numbered. Most were marked with "Unidentified," and the place where they were found.
"Families on both sides have been waiting for this moment," said Bruno Husquinet, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's Basra office, which supervised Sunday's exchange.
It was the first such handover since May 2003, two months after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Although the Iran-Iraq war ended 20 years ago, the fate of many soldiers on both sides remains unknown.
"We want to pursue this long unresolved humanitarian case until it is totally closed," said Mohammed Baghban, the Iranian Consul in Basra.
"There will be more remains to be handed over because there are still people missing," he said.
(Writing by Aseel Kami; editing by Michael Christie)